Bike routes across the Denver metro area were sprinkled Wednesday morning with Bike to Work Day pit stops offering breakfast burritos and other tasty treats, along with pitches from cycling advocacy groups — but Shawn Nunez captured all the excitement in a couple of sentences.
“Just getting out, and the feel of everything, it’s amazing,” said Nunez, 45, who once a week from April to October rides 9.7 miles from Commerce City to her job downtown. ”You feel so much better, you’re awake, you’re alert, your body feels good.”
Those were my thoughts exactly after my 17-mile, two-burrito ride from Golden to Denver.
Nunez and Lee Ann Stice, a friend who joins Nunez on her weekly bike commutes, were among the hundreds at Civic Center park who were checking out bike-related booths and refueling with free eats and drinks. An estimated 35,000 people across Colorado were expected to take part in Wednesday’s event.
Nunez and Stice may have created converts when they recruited two bike-to-work newbies, Lisa Gibbs and Crystal Pando.
“I’ve been thinking about joining in on their once-a-week (commute), so it was my chance to see if I could do it,” said Gibbs, 34. “I’m proud of myself. I definitely think I will do it again.”
With visions of pancakes at downtown’s Skyline Park drawing me east, I knew I had only a few hours to make the most of the morning. My first stop was at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden moments before it opened at 6:30 a.m. Volunteer Margaret Martin was in place, ready to pass out water and Gatorade while waiting for breakfast burritos to be delivered. With her was Stuart Black, a chemist in NREL’s thermochemical division and who was waiting nearby with a bike stand and tools in case riders needed minor maintenance. I let him tighten my gear-shift cables ahead of my long adventure.
“It just so fits in what we’re all about,” said Martin, a quality manager for site operations with NREL. “We’re all about healthy employees, healthy environment, enjoying life — work hard, play hard, be smart, save our environment, save our planet.”
A half-hour later, I found Amy Kingston of Golden at Wadsworth Boulevard on West 26th Avenue. She was on her way to downtown, where she works for the state.
“I’ve never biked to work before, but I’m going to see if I like it today, and if I like it, maybe I’ll do it more often,” said Kingston, 35. “This is about an hour to work, and that’s only 30 minutes longer than my regular commute. I get a little exercise and it’s nice out. And, hopefully, the way home isn’t too bad.”
Downtown’s swarm of moving cyclists suggested a kaleidoscope of fluttering butterflies. At a station near the Denver Broncos’ stadium, I grabbed a free Broncos shirt for my son. Awaiting riders at Metropolitan State University were free Clementines, bagels with cream cheese, breakfast burritos, orange juice, coffee and red cycling blinkers. At the University of Colorado at Denver, I sipped a free, chilled Red Bull while listening to Linda Theus-Lee, accompanied by recorded music, croon bluesy jazz. It was hard to leave the concert, but I needed to get to Skyline Park for those pancakes before the station closed.
Earlier at Civic Center, Allegra “Happy” Haynes, executive director of Denver Parks and Recreation, was hanging out after her commute. She was clad in a bike shirt touting Chocolate Spokes, a Five Points bike shop.
“They do wonderful bike work and have excellent chocolate,” Haynes said. “Some of the best chocolate you’ve ever had.“
Haynes, who said she tries to bike to work once or twice a week, is a big fan of the protected bike lanes that have been built downtown in recent years.
“It’s been a terrific addition, because many of the bike lanes have been out there to get us downtown, but in the past, once you got to downtown, you were taking your life in your hands,” Haynes said. “This has really improved the safety for those of us who are trying to get downtown.”
But a few minutes later, Gary Kleeman, cycling north on 15th Street at Tremont Place, had to hit his brakes hard after a young motorist crossed in front to enter a parking garage. I was right behind him. We both cringed.
“She had seen me riding right along next to her, just a half block before that,” said Kleeman, 65. “But for some reason, she thought she could just turn. She thought she had the right of way to pull right through the bike lane.”
All avid cyclists have stories like that. Kleeman, sporting a Ride the Rockies shirt and who has done that tour nine or 10 times, wishes motorists would be more mindful.
“This bike lane is good, but it’s not perfect,” he said. “Be more aware of the bicyclists around you, especially if you’re turning across a designated bike lane.”
On the flip side, the pancakes, by the way, were excellent.