SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald
Living in Germany as a contractor for the U.S. Army, Jim Newman got the bug for bicycling. But he dropped the habit when he moved to Barstow, Calif.
The heat, roads and heavy traffic discouraged him from riding, he said. His health suffered.
When he retired to Durango, a cardiologist gave him the choice of losing weight or taking medication. So Newman began bicycling again and lost 35 pounds. The physical satisfaction makes life so worthwhile, he said, especially when gliding downhill from Durango Mountain Resort.
Durango compares favorably to Europe, Newman said, where motorists give cyclists lots of room and everyone is “very courteous.”
“Durango fits that mold,” said Newman, 66, who pedals about 5,000 miles a year. “I never worry about cars coming up behind me. It’s a dream.”
Durango wants national recognition as a great cycling community, too. In 2008, Durango was rated a Silver Bicycle Friendly Community by the American League of Bicyclists. Four years later, as part of its renewal process, Durango is going for the gold.
Mary Oswald of Bicycle Friendly Durango said the city has added to its portfolio in the last four years, not the least of which is hosting the first stage of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in August.
“I think it really strengthens our application,” Oswald said.
Bicycle friendly communities are judged on how well they provide safe accommodation to bicycles and encourage people to ride for recreation and transportation.
Some recent advancements the city can tout:
Hiring a multimodal coordinator.
Filling in gaps on the Animas River Trail.
Creating additional soft trails.
Establishing parking for bicycles on Main Avenue.
Making Florida Road a multimodal corridor with a bike lane and pedestrian sidewalk.
An announcement about Durango’s bicycle friendly status is expected in May, National Bicycle Month.
If it succeeds, Durango would join an elite club. Of 100 bicycle friendly communities, 14 are gold-level, including Tucson, Ariz., Madison, Wis., and Steamboat Springs. Above gold, only three are platinum-level communities: Boulder, Davis, Calif., and Portland, Ore.
A high rating would speak well of Durango as a community, Oswald said.
“Being designated as a bicycle friendly community means we have a high quality of life,” she said.
Six of the top 10 best places to live as rated by US News & World Report are bicycle-friendly communities, she noted.
If Newman has any criticism of Durango, it might be the community is a little too athletic or competitive about cycling. He is trying to establish a bicycle group primarily for those 50 years old and up – so there’s not as much pressure to maintain a speed of 21 miles an hour on group rides.
His group meets twice a week, at 10 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, and leaves by 10:30 a.m. from Santa Rita Park.
Joey Ernst was one of the “spandex guys always wanting to go fast,” he said. As a former mechanic for the USA Cycling National Mountain Bike Team, Ernst followed team member Tad Elliott to Elliott’s hometown of Durango.
Ernst owns Velorution Cycles, 1077 Main Ave. The store’s name is a combination of the French word “velo” for bicycle and “revolution.”
Ernst rides his bicycle to work every day, packing his lunch and change of clothes in a side saddle bag.
He wants to elevate attitudes about bicycles.
“People have this idea of bikes as race toys, but they can be so much more,” Ernst said.
He thinks of the bicycle as a vehicle for social change, a cure for many of society’s ills, such as the obesity epidemic, the energy crisis and climate change.
“Bicycles can really change the world,” he said.