DURANGO, Colo. (AP) — Mick Longley lives in the Three Springs neighborhood near Mercy Regional Medical Center. Whenever he heads downtown to shop, he packs his fat-tire bike in his truck.
Bundled up against single-digit morning temperatures, Charlie Kiene retrieves his bike from a shed behind his house for his morning commute to work.
“I drive down to Home Depot and then I ride into town from there,” Longley said. “The other day I took a quick trip to Nature’s Oasis. It was so much fun. I had the snowboard helmet and goggles on. I was loaded down with dry goods. It was like a mission. It made it fun.
“I could drive into town, but you’re so much more connected with the seasons (on a bicycle). It’s super peaceful, especially when it’s snowing and you’re right by the river.
“My truck is a two-wheel drive. I feel way more safe riding my bike (when it’s icy).”
Whether it’s snow, ice or sleet, the wheels never stop spinning for avid cyclists.
Charlie Kiene is grateful the snowplows clear the Animas River Trail, his path to work at the Animas Surgical Center where he is a maintenance technician. He loves checking out the muskrats, bald eagles and beavers along the river and the camaraderie of the fellow travelers bundled up for their winter bicycle commute.
Commuting to work by bike is “a habit that’s hard to break,” said Kiene who has logged more than 1,000 miles this year.
The city of Durango will celebrate the commitment of the winter cyclist commuter with a third annual gathering Feb. 28 outside Durango Coffee Co. between 7 and 9 a.m., said Amber Blake, the city’s multi- modal administrator.
Participation has been growing.
“The first year, we had approximately 40 participants, last year we had approximately 70,” Blake said. “There will be swag given out at the event to participants. One lucky commuter will win a bag donated by Osprey and few others will win bike lights by Planet Bike. The first participants to arrive will have their choice of a commemorative hat or scarf.”
Kiene said it is a fun event allowing participants to network with the hard-core cyclists.
Even in Colorado, it does not occur to some cyclists to take a break for a more traditional winter sport.
“I don’t think I have ever touched a ski or a ski boot,’ said Joey Ernst, owner of Velorution bicycle store. “Part of it is, I don’t want another expensive hobby. I’m also a bike nut.”
Frigid weather is not an impediment for those who know how to dress, but how many layers to put on is often more art than science.
“If you get too bundled up, you’re going to be sweating,” Longley said. “You’re working pretty hard (on a bicycle). You get warmed up pretty quickly.”
But avoiding lots of layers of clothing is counter-intuitive, too.
“It’s hard to get in the mind shift you’re going to be warmed quickly,” Longley said. “So you get all bundled up. (Then) I get super hot.”
Glen Shoemaker, a mountain biker, artist and bartender at Carver Brewing Co., notes that the “fat-tire bike has turned (cycling) into a four-season pursuit. Before it was just spring, summer and fall. It’s a double-edged sword because it’s good to get a rest from cycling, too.”
At twice the usual width of a regular mountain bike tire, the 4-inch-wide fat tire is like “a snowshoe because it gives you a bigger surface. You float on top of the snow,” said Chris Herting, owner of 3D Racing in Durango, which custom builds fat-tire bikes.
The fat-tire bike is the Jeep experience on two wheels.
“Your confidence goes up, as far as what you can ride over and go through,” Herting said.
But he warns that “a lot of people think you can take off like a snowmobile and blast through the snow. You can’t. You have to be a little more selective, do some snowpacked trails. I have gone to Horse Gulch with fresh snow. It’s like cross country skiing or snowshoeing. It’s a killer workout.”
There’s a false sense of invulnerability astride the tank-like bike. The all-black Pugsley Necromancer bears an uncanny resemblance to Batman’s motorcycle.
“That’s probably the worst thing. You get a little cocky and overconfident, thinking I got this big fat tire, but if you hit a patch of ice, you’re going down. Because there is more surface touching (the ground) it’s going to slide even faster on the ice,” Herting said.
Cyclists don’t think the fat-tire bikes are that much heavier than regular mountain bikes. One of Herting’s fat-tire bikes weighs about 35 pounds, which includes the weight of two 8-pound tires.
Besides snow, the fat-tire bike gets traction on beach or desert sand, too.
Herting has an order from a South Dakota customer who wants a fat-tire bike to make a shortcut to work. With a fat-tire bike, he will be able to glide over the gravel of a railroad track bed.
Herting also builds a fat-tire bike for the outdoor adventurer who wants to ride through the woods to a river and then go rafting. The bike can then be disassembled and attached to the front of the raft, which is a one-person boat that unfolds like a tent and can be carried on the bike.
Jon Bailey, of Durango Cyclery, thinks the fat-tire bike has so much potential because of its durability and versatility.
When civilization declines and “we’re surviving from our neighbors’ gardens, this is the one bike I want,” he said.
Riding a fat-tire bike on city streets after a snowstorm also can give a cyclist the sensation he or she survived the apocalypse because no one else is out.
On a Christmas morning a few years ago, when a winter storm blanketed Durango, Bailey was riding his fat-tire bicycle through 6 inches of powder.
“I was doing ‘S’ turns on (U.S. Highway) 550 by Lightner Creek,” Bailey said. “No one else was out. That’s when it’s heavenly.”