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The Joy Of Cycling

An in-depth look at Denver's cycling culture and community for the casual biker.

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The Centennial State may be bike-friendly, but Denver? More like bike-lukewarmish. In a state heralded for its cycling culture and recognized as one of the country’s best for bikers (Colorado hasn’t placed lower than seventh on the League of American Bicyclists’ annual rankings since 2011), it’d be logical to assume our largest city is also super bike-friendly. But when you focus the lens on Denver, things get a little wobbly.

The Mile High City is currently number 12—just below Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Austin, Texas—on Bicycling magazine’s biennial ranking of the country’s most bike-friendly cities (a new list is set to be released this month). It’s our highest ranking; Boulder, on the other hand, regularly shows up in the top 10, and Fort Collins recently nabbed the number nine spot. Although our status is nothing to scoff at, it’s not as high as you might expect given all of Denver’s cycling upsides, like our obsession with being active, our relatively flat landscape, and a cycling legacy that includes the nation’s first large-scale bike-share program—now called B-cycle—and the Coors International Bicycle Classic (one of the four largest stage races in the world in the 1980s).

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But becoming friendlier for cyclists requires more than a good reputation and a couple of creekside bike paths. It takes infrastructure that makes it easy and safe for cyclists of all ages and abilities to get around—not just the 2.3 percent of enthusiasts who commute to work on two wheels every day. And that takes money: more precisely, $119 million, the amount the city’s Department of Public Works (DPW) estimated it would cost to carry out all of the improvements suggested in the 2011 Denver Moves plan, an ambitious effort to upgrade Denver’s bikeability and walkability.

Trouble is, unlike in cities like Seattle, which recently approved a property tax increase that will generate $65 million specifically for bicycle safety improvements over the next nine years, in Denver, DPW has to ask the city for a new bike infrastructure budget every year, so no dollars are ever assured. Since 2011, Denver has only implemented about $5 million of the Denver Moves–recommended improvements; at that rate, it would take decades to execute the rest. “Right now, Denver is more bike-friendly than a lot of cities,” says Dan Grunig, executive director of the advocacy group Bicycle Colorado. “The concern is that we might fall behind.” It’s not an unreasonable fear: In 2010, the League of American Bicyclists downgraded Denver’s status as a bike-friendly city from silver to bronze. It was only the third time a city had been downgraded.

Fortunately, Colorado change-makers now seem to be paying attention. This past fall, Governor John Hickenlooper announced the $100 million Colorado Pedals Project, a statewide initiative to improve cycling infrastructure and connectivity, and a few months later, Mayor Michael Hancock committed to Vision Zero, a multinational push for zero traffic fatalities and serious injuries. And last year, after a scolding from the city auditor about the lack of progress on Denver Moves, the city upped its annual funding from about $500,000 to $2.2 million. By the end of 2015, we had a total of 128 miles of bike lanes, including Denver’s first protected lanes (finally), and more improvements are planned this year (see “Pardon Our Mess” below). So watch out, Cambridge: We’re coming for ya.


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Rules To Know—And Actually Follow

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A primer on the (legal) way to play nice while sharing the road. —Aaron H. Bible

FULL STOP While some Colorado towns (Aspen, Breckenridge, Dillon) have accepted the “Idaho stop,” which allows cyclists to treat stop signs or stoplights as yield signs, Denver hasn’t. Here, you’re required to come to a complete stop at both.

STAY IN THE STREET It’s illegal to ride on the sidewalks in Denver, except in the very few places where the sidewalk is part of a designated bike route, or if you’re delivering newspapers, or when you’re mounting or dismounting your bike. But when you do, keep your speed under 6 mph to be street (er, sidewalk) legal.

SLOW DOWN The Cherry Creek Trail might seem like a bike superhighway, but the speed limit is actually 15 mph. Get busted for going over and you could face a ticket (up to $200)—although Denver Police says it rarely hands them out.

PEDAL PAIRS Hey drivers, before you start honking: Cyclists are allowed to ride two abreast (but no more) on roadways as long as they’re not impeding the “normal and reasonable movement of traffic.”

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BE SEEN Those white and red lights on the front and back of your bike aren’t suggestions; they’re legal requirements from dusk till dawn so drivers can see you.

IN THE RIGHT Denver’s municipal code requires that cyclists ride in the right-hand lane and stay as far right as the biker deems safe. If you cannot safely ride close to the curb because of road conditions or the lane isn’t wide enough, you may ride in the lane’s normal path. Other exceptions: when passing a vehicle, preparing to turn left, or avoiding hazards. Cars are required to give cyclists at least three feet of space at all times.

MALL RIDE You can bike on the 16th Street Mall—but only on weekends, and even then only in the transit lanes, never on the sidewalks.

HEAD GEAR Love your Beats headphones? Us too. But don’t wear them while cycling. As with other moving vehicles, it’s illegal to wear headphones while riding a bike. Although police don’t often enforce this rule, when they do, a ticket could set you back $22. Just think of all the iTunes songs you could buy instead!


Legal Aid

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Courtesy of Allen Krughoff

Three questions for Boulder cycling attorney and former World Cup racer Megan Hottman. —AHB

5280: What’s your key piece of advice for drivers?

Megan Hottman: Give riders as much space as possible. The law requires three feet, but honestly, that’s the minimum.

How should a cyclist handle a nasty confrontation, or worse, a collision with a motor vehicle?

Engaging with an angry motorist is never a good idea. Instead, call in the incident to local police and add it to the Close Call Database (closecalldatabase.com), a national site that tracks dangerous areas for cyclists as well as repeat offenders. You can also call the Colorado State Patrol aggressive driver hotline at *277. If there’s a collision, call 911. The cyclist needs to stay put where she landed to prevent potential further injury—unless, of course, she is in danger of being run over. Someone should take photos of everything and get the driver’s info and witness info.

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What kind of legal recourse does a cyclist have if she’s been hurt or her bike has been damaged in an accident?

A cyclist who is hit and injured by a motorist can pursue civil claims against the motorist for medical expenses and lost income, as well as broken bicycle equipment. If the at-fault driver doesn’t have sufficient insurance to cover the cyclist’s claims, the cyclist may file a UIM (underinsured motorist) claim with her own auto insurer.


Pedaling For Dollars

The business of biking in Colorado. —Haley Gray

1 in 5: Coloradans who cycle for fun, work, or sport

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$2 billion: Estimated amount Coloradans spend on cycling trips (think: lunch, hotels, granola bars) each year

$1,991,816: Net revenue of bike-sharing service Denver B-cycle in 2015

$130 million: Reported amount the state missed out on after this year’s USA Pro Challenge was canceled

32: Bicycle manufacturers in Colorado

56: Retail bike stores in Denver

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Register Your Ride

Last year, 2,579 bicycles were stolen in Denver. Registering your bike with the police before it gets pinched presents your best chance at getting it back. It’s easy and free: Simply visit the theft and fraud prevention section of denvergov.org, and have your ride’s make, model, and registration number handy. If police can’t find the owners of stolen bikes within about eight weeks, the unclaimed cycles wind up at the Denver Police Bicycle Bureau Bicycle Auction in RiNo, where they’re auctioned off five or six times a year. Keep an eye on the auction page at denvergov.org for the next date. —AHB


Leaders Of The Pack

Dozens of drool-worthy bikes are created in Colorado. These five Denver-area brands are sure to trigger your Pavlovian response. —Joe Lindsey

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Yeticycles

Headquarters: Golden

Established: 1985

Makes: Mountain bikes

Claim To Fame: Yeti has long been recognized for constantly innovating. To wit: Its Switch Infinity suspension, which keeps your ride smooth over the roughest terrain and doesn’t bounce you around when you pedal, has drawn universal praise.

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Pictured: The new SB5.5c (from $5,699) blends the longer suspension travel of enduro-style bikes with the larger wheels of cross-country models for an all-mountain rig that can tackle any trail in Colorado.

Connorwood Bicycles

Headquarters: Denver

Established: 2012

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Makes: Mountain, city, cyclocross, and cruiser bikes

Claim To Fame: Connor Wood is one of two U.S. bike makers crafting performance bikes from hardwood. Don’t be concerned about durability: These bikes have survived races like the Leadville 100. But do prepare for your ride to be a conversation piece.

Pictured: The Mountain Cruiser (from $4,500), made of American white ash (like this one) or black walnut hardwood, arrives sans paint and large decals.

Alchemy Bicycle Co.

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Headquarters: Denver

Established: 2008

Makes: Road, track, triathlon, mountain, and cyclocross bikes

Claim To Fame: Once the domain of serious (and seriously flush) cyclists seeking custom, made-in-the-USA bikes, Alchemy’s pretty rides are now available to a wider audience: The company recently began offering a range of less-expensive models with stock sizing.

Pictured: The carbon fiber Hyas (from $5,499), whose hydraulic disc brakes and room for meaty tires mean it can roll fast on pavement while still handling off-road adventures.

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Reeb Cycles

Headquarters: Longmont

Established: 2012

Makes: Mountain and cyclocross bikes

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Claim To Fame: Oskar Blues Brewery founder Dale Katechis loves beer, but bikes are a close second. He created Reeb to bring the same kind of fun and irreverence found in his brewery to the biking world.

Pictured: Sam’s Pants (from $2,800), a versatile ride that can be transformed into an urban utility bike, an off-road adventure machine, or anything in between.

Spotbrand Bicycles

Headquarters: Golden?

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Established: 1999

Makes: Road, mountain, cyclocross, and city bikes

Claim To Fame: All city bikes come with a rust-, grease-, and maintenance-free carbon belt drive from Denver’s own Gates Corporation—so there’s minimal upkeep required.

Pictured: Although Spot made its name with mountain bikes, single-speeds and city bikes like this beauty—the Five Points (from $949)—have gained traction since their debut in 2010.

—Photography by Paul Miller

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The Essentials

Photo courtesy of Handlebar Mustache

—Boulder-based Handlebar Mustache’s line of casual bike-themed shirts (from $26) feature designs that range from whimsical to obscure.

Photo courtesy Green Guru

—Haul your gear in style with Green Guru’s Joyride Roll Pop Backpack ($100), made in Boulder from upcycled fabrics and weatherproof vinyl.

Photo courtesy of Mad Alchemy

Denver’s Mad Alchemy Pro+ Chamois Cream ($19) ends saddle chafing.

Photo courtesy of Feedback Sports

Store your bike without scratching the walls with the Velo Wall Rack 2D ($42) from Golden’s Feedback Sports.

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Photo courtesy of Skratch Labs

Fuel your ride with energy food such as the tasty Fruit Drops ($2 per package) from Boulder’s Skratch Labs.


Pardon Our Mess

Keep your bike tuned for a ride along one of these new bike lanes.

If you weren’t sure about Denver’s commitment to two wheels, the city is doing its best to convince you: Last year, Denver added 13 miles of buffered and protected bike lanes (meaning parked cars and/or small curbs separate riders from traffic). It also established the “Green Wave” along East 16th Avenue between Park Avenue and Broadway: Ride your bike at a steady 13 mph along this stretch to downtown, and you’ll never hit a red light. These new routes were part of a $119 million plan to improve Mile High City bikeability, but they were just a start; several more projects break ground this year. Here are the highlights.

Stout and Champa Streets: Riders along these busy Curtis Park one-ways will get their own space when the city narrows one car lane on Stout, between 19th and 26th streets, to make space for a protected bike lane. Champa can’t accommodate a protected lane—fire trucks need the room—but it is getting a “buffered lane,” a path with a painted buffer to separate cars and cyclists, from 20th to Downing streets. (Stout’s protected lane becomes a buffered one from 26th to Downing streets.)

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14th Street Protected Bike Lane: Downtown’s 15th Street bike route will get a mate this summer when 11 blocks of bike lane on 14th Street between Market Street and West Colfax Avenue are converted into a protected lane.

Broadway Demo: Last fall, Bike Denver created a weekendlong pop-up bike lane on Broadway between First Street and Bayaud Avenue. This summer, the city will run a demonstration project of its own along Broadway (dates and locations weren’t available at press time) with the goal of collecting enough data to see if a permanent lane along the busy thoroughfare is possible.


First Person: Inspired Riding

Media Bakery

How to get your kids excited about biking.

“Daddy? Can I ride my bike?”

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I look up from my phone to see my nine-year-old, Allie, sitting on her Hello Kitty bike in our driveway. My stomach tightens. It’s a simple question, and it should have a simple answer. After all, I want my daughters to be active and love bikes as much as I do (I regularly take five- to 15-mile-long rides). But a couple of years ago, Allie’s twin, Andie, fell off her bike and fractured her skull the one time we forgot her helmet. (She’s OK.) It was one of my scariest moments as a parent. So I hesitate.

I’m not alone: The number of children riding bikes declined by more than 20 percent between 2000 and 2010, according to the American Bicyclist Study. It might be easy to blame helicopter parenting, but the reality is today’s kids spend more time on other after-school activities. In fact, most kids spend just seven minutes outside a day.

There are, however, ways to get your child excited about biking. Start with finding her a sweet ride (buy one cheap from Lucky Bikes Re-Cyclery, which sells refurbished bikes and uses the proceeds to take at-risk youth mountain biking with the nonprofit Trips for Kids) and teaching her how to take care of it. Nonprofits like Denver’s Bikes Together and Boulder’s Community Cycles offer maintenance classes and camps that teach kids the basics of caring for their wheels. Continue their education—and calm your nerves—by getting involved in Safe Routes to School; the program works to improve bike and walking routes to schools and educate families about the least dangerous paths.

But I’ve found the best way to keep your mini me excited is by setting an example. Which is why I put my phone down and smile at my expectant daughter. “Yes, sweetie,” I say. “I’ll come with you. But let’s make sure we wear our helmets.”—Dan England


Crash Course

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Cars and bikes collide nearly 300 times per year in Denver, particularly during evening rush hour. We studied five years’ worth of Denver Police data to determine the city’s most dangerous intersections for cyclists. Keep your guard up when you pedal through these three—or avoid them altogether. —Kevin Janowiak

Broadway and East 12th Avenue

Accidents (since 2011): 10

Why: With no designated bike lane, Broadway isn’t exactly friendly to two-wheelers. Plus, on this stretch drivers are tempted to accelerate as the cityscape opens up and density drops.

Lincoln Street and East 11th Avenue

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Accidents (since 2011): 11

Why: Lincoln was designed to quickly funnel autos into downtown, so bikers have to squeeze through heavy one-way traffic.

South Parker Road and East Mississippi Avenue

Accidents (since 2011): 8

Why: The High Line Canal trail halts here, and riders must cross seven lanes of a major road to continue on the path. Meanwhile, a dedicated right-turn lane from Mississippi onto Parker leads drivers to assume they can zoom through without checking for bikers.

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Get In Gear

Got a bike but no one to ride it with? Check out these group-ride events.

BIKE DENVER’S BIKE AMBASSADOR RIDES

What: These small (10 to 15 people) group rides, which debuted this summer to help educate newer riders about how and where to bike safely, also introduce cyclists to bike routes they can take for short trips (like to the grocery store) instead of hopping in their cars.

When: Visit bikedenver.org for upcoming ride details

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Photo courtesy of New Belgium Brewing

TOUR DE FAT

What: Brought to you by New Belgium Brewing, this festival celebrates bikes, beer, and music. It kicks off with a family-friendly three-mile ride around City Park (costumes are encouraged) before transitioning into a more grown-up affair as the day—and beer consumption—wears on.

When: September 10

DENVER CRUISER RIDE

What: To join a roving party of two-wheelers, point your single-speed to the Gin Mill or Little Machine Beer at 7 p.m. This usually costumed ride is held through the end of September and can draw crowds of hundreds—probably more on August 31, when the theme is Birds & Bees.

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When: Wednesdays

DENVER CENTURY RIDE

What: Start training now for next year’s 100-mile tour of the Denver area. The 2016 route took cyclists through Genesee Park, past Cherry Creek Reservoir and Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre, and out near Buckley Air Force Base. Those with shakier legs (and saner minds) can bite off smaller chunks instead.

When: June

PARK HILL PELOTON

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What: This group’s weekday morning rides trace a 28-mile circuit from Park Hill to Cherry Creek Reservoir, while the weekend route tackles 48 lung-burning miles to the airport and back. Novices need not apply; this ride is only for those who can sustain 20 mph and faster—and hold their lines.

When: Tuesdays, Fridays, or Saturdays


Take A Bikecation

Get a little R & R (ride and relaxation) with an overnight in Golden—but get there by bike! The easy 14-mile ride along bike lanes and greenways presents a low-key, low-stress sightseeing tour of the Front Range that even the most casual of cyclists can handle. —JL

Roll out of downtown via Water Street to the West 23rd Avenue bike lane, then detour a few blocks north on Clay Street for a Southern breakfast at Sassafras American Eatery (the breakfast po’ boy should provide adequate caloric prep). Properly fueled, head west on 23rd again to Sloan’s Lake; pedal northwest through the park to West 26th Avenue, where you’ll pick up a dedicated bike lane. Cut across 242-acre Crown Hill Park—past its bass-, trout-, and catfish-stocked lake—and disobey Google Maps’ suggestion to stay on West 32nd Avenue. Instead, pick up Holland Street and follow it north to West 38th Avenue. Turn left, then go right on Independence Court and left on Kline Street. A bike path on the right, west of the tennis courts, leads under Kipling Street. Keep left at both forks, then follow it north to West 41st Avenue, where you’ll pick up the Clear Creek Trail for six miles of worry-free riding all the way to Golden.

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Golden bike park
Photo by Sarah Boyum

When you get close to town, go left on 44th Avenue, then turn left again on Easley Road for a detour to the Golden Bike Park to watch the dirt jumpers soar. Post-gawking, pause for a flight of tasters from Barrels & Bottles Brewery, home to 21 taps of craft beer, on your way to the Golden Hotel. Park your ride and pick your sweat-removal method: the shower or jetted tub in your Creekside Suite (from $359/night) or a refreshing float at nearby Clear Creek Whitewater Park (tube rentals are $25 from Golden River Sports).

Golden Hotel
Photo courtesy of the Golden Hotel

Once you’ve cleaned up, you can easily walk to the Foothills Art Center, where sculpted works in wood, glass, metal, and other mediums are currently on view for the Fine Craft Invitational exhibition ($8). Or wander over to the American Alpine Club to take in thousands of photos and artifacts at the on-site Bradford Washburn American Mountaineering Museum ($5; closed Sundays). Come dinnertime, your destination is one-year-old Abejas, home to longtime Denver-area culinary vets Brandon Bortles, Barry Dobesh, and Nicholas Ames’ French-influenced
cuisine. We suggest the roasted beets and baked pancetta.

Foothills Art Center
Piece at the Foothills Arts Center. Courtesy of Jay Clawson
Abejas Restaurant
Dish at Abejas restaurant. Courtesy of Kari Cummings

The next morning, hit Pangea Coffee Roasters for an a.m. buzz and a breakfast burrito, then pedal south on Illinois Street until it turns into a bike path, which takes you to the Jefferson County Government Center light-rail station and the W line back to downtown Denver. You’ve earned the lift.


Trend: Give Bikepacking A Try

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If the Clear Creek Trail is a little too tame, up the adventure with a bikepacking excursion, which is essentially off-road exploration and camping by bike. (It’s a tweak on the road-touring tradition, in which cyclists “tour” areas by pedaling from city to city.) Golden Gate Canyon State Park, with its dirt roads and 23 miles of mostly single-track trail, presents the perfect introduction. Campsites (from $20) require reservations, but you can also get a permit for one of the 20 backcountry sites ($12). cpw.state.co.us —JL

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The Players

Six must-follow social media accounts for riders in the know—or those who just want to ogle pretty bike pics. —Chris Outcalt

Photo courtesy of Stephen Fitzgerald

@velosteef (Instagram)

Who: Stephen Fitzgerald, founder of Denver-based cycling team Rodeo Adventure Labs

What: Inspiring landscape and action shots of Adventure Labs riders in Colorado and beyond

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@BikeDenver (Twitter)

Who: Advocacy group for Mile High City cyclists

What: An up-to-the-minute source for metro Denver’s newest bike developments; a heads up about local fund-raising events and City Council agenda items of interest to cyclists

Photo courtesy of Matthew Beaudin

@matthewcbeaudin (Instagram)

Who: Personal account of Colorado Springs’ Matthew Beaudin, communication director for Cannondale Pro Cycling

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What: Well-informed and humorous insights into the sport of pro cycling and top-tier events such as the Giro d’Italia

@CycloFemme (Twitter)

Who: Grassroots Boulder group that celebrates women and cycling in less-developed parts of the world

What: Inspirational quotes and stories; updates about the organization’s casual meet-up rides.

Photo courtesy of Roxanne King

@taylorphinney (Instagram)

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Who: Pro cyclist and Boulder resident Taylor Phinney

What: An inside look at the life of a professional cyclist—everything from how he trains to how he spends his rest days (hint: he’s not a bad artist)

@BicycleColo (Twitter)

Who: Nonprofit dedicated to improving cycling conditions across Colorado

What: A genuinely useful catalog of cycling-related news from around the state

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Essay: The Slow Lane

The key to unlocking a new city is seeing it via two wheels.

I’ve moved at least 10 times in my life, creating new homes in nine cities, three states, and two countries. An armchair psychologist might deduce that I covet change—but what I’m really after is discovery. And as I’ve learned with every major relocation, there’s no better vehicle for discovery than a bike.

When I was nine, my family traded an orchard, garden, and massive backyard in a town on the fringes of Portland, Oregon, for safer streets and better schools in inner suburbia. My Diamondback BMX bike proved key to finding new friends: Make enough laps around the neighborhood and eventually some kid is bound to come out and play. Later, in my 20s, I transitioned from living carless overseas to living carless back in Portland, where my cheap hybrid helped me unlock little-known corners of my hometown I would have missed had I been speeding by at 35 miles per hour.

When I landed, bikeless, in Colorado a few years ago, my City Park West apartment came with a signing bonus: a cheerful orange and white cruiser that made evening runs to City Park Jazz so absurdly easy I felt guilty about not going. Henry (every reliable ride needs a name) shared not only my moments of joy—only a 10-minute jaunt to Coors Field and monitored bike parking!—but also quietly commiserated as I attempted to unravel Denver’s wonky street grid. He bore witness to my shock at the jarring transition from Stapleton’s Mayberry-esque plots to some neglected blocks near Syracuse Street on a long ride to Lowry Beer Garden. And when the end of an eight-year relationship precipitated a move to the Harvard Gulch Park area, well, Henry was there to navigate that terrain, too, with restorative rides under a canopy of trees.

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It’s not that I don’t like my car (Frank, for the record). But there’s only so much you can see and learn in a high-speed vehicle that can’t meander along a riverside path or shortcut through a narrow back alley. On a bike, the city opens up and exposes a bit of its soft underbelly (and yours). It’s an invitation for adventure and also a way to experience our rapidly changing city at speeds slow enough to truly appreciate it.

—Kasey Cordell

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