months, I eyed her longingly, reminding myself of a teen-age
boy of modest means. I’d fallen hopelessly in love
with her basic Italian frame, her unique, sloping top
tube, seamless welds and classic drop handlebars. All
in all, she was reminiscent of the European motorcycles
of another age with one crucial difference – this
bike had no motor.
But, it would have to remain a secret affair. I had little
to no chance of tricking my wife into letting me add another
bicycle to my already excessive quiver of three. This
Italian beauty would have to remain in the realm of the
glossy page, forever out of reach. Luckily, fate intervened
when we moved north of town and into the Animas Valley.
During a discussion of adding a second car to the family,
I casually dropped the notion of buying a “commuter”
bike. Prior to the move, I had been happily pushing a
single-speed Schwinn klunker around the streets of Durango.
But that nearly 40-pound Schwinn wouldn’t cut it
on my new, nearly 6-mile commute. After a short discussion
and brief analysis of figures, the Schwinn went on moth
balls and the quiver grew to four.
A couple months later, a friend of my wife’s took
a break from urban life and paid us a visit. Of all the
sights and faces she saw during her first trip to Colorado,
I think she was most amused by my love affair with that
bike. One night, she laughed out loud as I saddled up
and pointed it toward town and a local watering hole.
“At least you know he won’t be bringing anyone
home,” she chuckled to my wife.
At first I also was mildly amused. But after a couple
dozen pedal strokes, I had different thoughts. Many believe
that people who ride bicycles for transportation are either
couriers or dirtbags – people who can’t afford
a proper automobile. Ride a bike twice a day into and
out of Durango, and you quickly realize that this belief
is shared by many local residents. America’s love
affair with the automobile is all-powerful, even in this
self-proclaimed bicycle mecca.
Consequently, I started approaching my commute with an
air of bravado. I went out of my way to push my beloved
Italian as hard as possible. For weeks, I timed myself,
going for new records and consistently arriving at work
drenched in sweat. More than anything, I was out to prove
that a car doesn’t have that much on my seven gears.
And truthfully, it doesn’t, give or take 10 minutes.
Those pushes also gave me a particular sense for the
struggle between piston and pedal. I’ve seen more
than a few middle fingers, had a few souped-up trucks
decide they wanted to race in close quarters, heard a
handful of horns and read a statement that there’s
no local transportation conflict because no cyclists have
been seriously injured or killed. The struggle was especially
evident as I came dangerously close to disproving that
Oblivious, a woman had pulled her sedan into my lane
at a steep intersection and was rapidly creeping forward
with her head craned in a search for oncoming car traffic.
Forced to relinquish my right-of-way, I jammed on the
brakes as the rear wheel whipped around. Just before the
point of no return and contact with the sedan’s
windshield, I released the brakes and the bike stood back
up. As I passed the car’s open window, I could have
easily tapped that woman’s shoulder and uttered
a polite “pardon me.” However, she never even
It was that experience more than anything that pushed
me off my own throttle and back into the Italian love
affair. During daylight hours, my current commute is no
longer a nonmotorized version of the all-American rat
race. I spend much of my 6 miles in and 6 miles out in
a lazy daydream these days. The distance also has been
known to increase after dark, as sleek, straight lines
become slow-speed wobbles.
The beauty of my commute is not that I can beat cars
to town and milk some extra desk time. The beauty is that
if I weren’t riding to work, I’d probably
be riding a similar route with another member of my quiver.
So lately, I’ve started slowing down and taking
it all in.
Instead of staring at blacktop and brake lights, I spend
my mornings and evenings with the red cliffs of the valley,
the winding progress of the Animas, dozens of people out
finding solace on the river trail and several different
flavors of Durango neighborhoods. I spend large amounts
of time on my Italian, and she transports me not simply
across town, but into better places.