The poverty of biking

One of the most popular “Overheards” we have run in the paper came from a summer tourist who commented, “There must be a lot of poor people in Crested Butte because they all have to ride bikes.”

If that is the case, then this weekend and next there will be a lot of poor people flocking to Crested Butte. The Ride the Rockies bike tour this year kicks off in what may be one the best bike communities in Colorado. Thousands of “poor people” will be here to ride, and they will mingle with the like-minded souls who live here. Welcome to Poverty Gulch!

So often there is a refrain from locals that we have to remember that Crested Butte is a ski town. And we are. But we are also a bike town. There is a certain pride that this is considered one of the birthplaces of mountain biking. The local tourism organization made a decision to hang its hat on the idea that the bike history, the accompanying culture and the trail network would draw people. It has and for good reason. The biking culture here is deep and the trails abundant. Tourism numbers are up.

The trails speak for themselves and some of the most famous mountain bike trails in the world are located here. But it is the more sublime bike culture that permeates the community that I love. You will see the two-year-old on a wobbly strider and an 82-year-old riding to the post office to get her mail. There are bike parking spaces on Elk Avenue and they will fill up at happy hour. Look at the number and variety of bikes parked outside any community event, whether it is a film or concert at the Center for the Arts or a student play at the community school. The town administration asked the Town Council for some staff townies instead of another company car.

Residents here love to bike. People here have road bikes, mountain bikes, hybrid bikes, townie bikes and even fat bikes for winter riding. Personally, the mountain bike I own at any given time is usually worth more than my car or truck. While that might say more about my car than my bike, the fact is my bike has given me more pleasure than any Subaru or Tahoe I’ve driven.

Studies have shown that those who bike boost not only their physical health but also their mental health. From what I see all over the internet, riding a bike floods the body with powerful neurotransmitters, the same chemical compounds targeted by anti-anxiety and anti-depression medications. As you ride, levels of serotonin and dopamine increase and stay elevated throughout the day, sustaining that post-ride high all bikers have experienced. In that vein, bodies that bike also produce endorphins and cannabinoids (yup, the same chemical family associated with marijuana). Shocking!

The thousands of riders we will see this weekend and next will mostly be cruising on skinny road tires instead of the wider mountain bike tires or super-wide fat bike tires of the winter. But the smiles from the seat will have a Crested Butte familiarity; it is biking, after all. Frankly, being “poor” because you ride a bike is one of the richest experiences you can ever have and people in this valley have embraced that poverty wholeheartedly.

Kindred souls from all over the world will descend on this bike community a couple of times in the next week and they are sure to have a wonderful time. How could they not? They are here to bike.

—Mark Reaman

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