Zen and the art of winter bike commuting

Celebration draws 103 hardy commuters

Braving Thursday morning’s freezing temperatures to cycle to work are, from left, Kevin Sainio, Tom Streiffert, Kristi Streiffert and Corey Chavez. The riders pass Ninth Street along Main Avenue as they head to Durango Coffee Co., which provided hardy winter participants with hot coffee, treats and prizes for Winter Bike to Work Day. Enlarge photo

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald

Braving Thursday morning’s freezing temperatures to cycle to work are, from left, Kevin Sainio, Tom Streiffert, Kristi Streiffert and Corey Chavez. The riders pass Ninth Street along Main Avenue as they head to Durango Coffee Co., which provided hardy winter participants with hot coffee, treats and prizes for Winter Bike to Work Day.

Charles Shaw’s family bikes to ski, carrying their skis on racks, at Chapman Hill from their home in the Smiley Building downtown.

Their trips to the grocery store are by bicycle, too, packing a grocery-cartload of food into four panniers.

Charles and Lisa Shaw’s 3-year-old son, Raleigh, named for the bicycle brand, has been riding on two wheels since he was 2.

“It’s good for our son. When we’re going somewhere, he goes to get his bike. He doesn’t think about it. He’s grown up that way,” said Charles Shaw, developer and manager of the Smiley Building, an office and arts space converted from a former junior high school.

On Thursday, the city celebrated its third annual Winter Bike to Work Day to get more people into the habit of cycling every day, frigid temperatures or not.

People were hopping in place and gulping Italian roast outside Durango Coffee Co. to stay warm in temperatures that ranged from 14 to 20 degrees, but all agreed cycling to work is the way to go.

“I can’t see driving my car two miles (to go to work). It just drives me nuts,” Alan Morris said. “Once I started commuting (by bicycle), I can’t stand getting in my car in the morning.”

Morris teaches second grade at Needham Elementary School. His colleague and fellow bicycle commuter, Nora Stafford, a first-grade teacher, said she has not driven to work in six years.

“The kids think we’re crazy,” Stafford said. “I started doing this as a challenge. I told the kids, ‘I’m going to see if I can do this.’ It’s to save gas, for future generations. Then it became such an easy thing. We talk about the eagles we see in the morning, the muskrats.”

Stafford, who takes the Animas River Trail from her home on Riverview Drive, said her commute is her “moment of Zen.”

The cold does not seem to bother them. When they start pedaling, their bodies warm up.

“I’m from South Dakota. It’s not cold here. I just bundle up,” Stafford said.

John Gadbois, an economics professor at Fort Lewis College, said, “The coldest I have ever ridden is minus 22, and that was fun. You just plug along.”

Gadbois bundles up in Gore-Tex and wears snow pants for his ride uphill to FLC. He thinks riding in the summer is more of a challenge “because you get sweaty.”

The economics of bicycling is far from a dismal science.

“It cracks me up every time I see on the news, ‘The average family spends $3,000 a year in gas.’ I spend $40,” Gadbois said. “So I can take that $3,000 and do some pretty cool stuff. That’s the way I look at it.”

Anna Hendricks commutes four miles one way to her job at the Southwest Conservation Corps in the Commons near Albertsons.

“I used to be an outdoor person, but now I sit at a desk,” Hendricks said. “So (commuting by bicycle is) a great opportunity to make sure I get up and move every single day.”

Hendricks would encourage anyone to take the plunge.

“Durango is really a bike-friendly town. So they should just get out and do it,” she said. “It’s a little bit intimidating at first, but compared to big cities, it’s a great place to ride your bike. The drivers are really aware of the bikers.”

Durango is a gold-rated bicycle city by the League of American Bicyclists.

According to the U.S. Census, 7 percent of all Durango workers commute by bicycle, which is 11 times more than the national average of 0.6 percent.

The third annual Winter Bike to Work Day attracted 103 area cyclists Thursday. Amber Blake, the city’s multi-modal director, said she hopes more people think about commuting by bicycle year-round.

The longest commute reported was 26 miles from Ignacio. Altogether, the cyclists said they commuted a total of 347 miles.

If conditions are bad, cyclists said they put studs on their tires, take mountain bikes or walk to work.

They might take their cars if the roads are especially slick, but it’s a decision they often regret.

“When it’s cold, you jump in your car, (then) you see somebody riding their bike. (You think) ‘I knew it, I should have ridden my bike today.’ Now I feel lazy,” Hendricks said. “Once you get into the habit, it feels inadequate to travel any other way.”

jhaug@durangoherald.com

Equipped with a Go Pro video camera attached to his helmet, 3-year-old Raleigh Shaw arrives at Durango Coffee Co. with his parents, Lisa and Charles Shaw, as they, and about 100 others, participate in Winter Bike To Work Day. Enlarge photo

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald

Equipped with a Go Pro video camera attached to his helmet, 3-year-old Raleigh Shaw arrives at Durango Coffee Co. with his parents, Lisa and Charles Shaw, as they, and about 100 others, participate in Winter Bike To Work Day.

Charles Shaw and his 3-year-old son, Raleigh, ride their bicycles just about wherever they go in Durango. Raleigh also is the son of Lisa Shaw. Enlarge photo

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald

Charles Shaw and his 3-year-old son, Raleigh, ride their bicycles just about wherever they go in Durango. Raleigh also is the son of Lisa Shaw.

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