Four Bikes and One Big Adventure in Aspen

By Sarah Ripplinger

If you live in Aspen, CO, chances are you’re a cyclist. The number and variety of cycling activities in and around this city of about 6,000 people makes it easy.

For starters, Aspenites have access to a varied terrain. The inner-city is flat enough that you can travel around on a single-speed cruiser without much trouble. The Aspen Historical Society tour of the city was effortlessly accomplished from the seat of a sturdy Electra cruiser rented from the Limelight Lodge.

Aspen is pleasant to ride through because of the low traffic volumes and designated bicycle/ pedestrian roads. Along Hopkins Avenue, pylons are set up at intersections to prevent cars from traveling more than one block at a time. The advantage is that local car traffic still has access to the homes along the street, but cars cannot go zipping in a straight line over several blocks. This has a natural traffic-calming effect on the street and has resolved some of the traffic issues that formerly affected the neighborhood.

As you might expect, Aspen is a quiet mountain town. Sitting at an elevation of 8,000 feet above sea level, residents have breathtaking views of the central Rocky Mountain range, which includes the Aspen, Smuggler and Red mountains, and the White River National Forest. The city is a reflection of the many wealthy celebrities and individuals that call Aspen home. Luxury stores, such as Louis Vuitton and J.Crew, border the Mill Street Plaza, and the tidy enclave of street shopping and patio/ lounge areas in the Hyman Avenue Mall. There was a discretely positioned McDonald’s. Several black fire hydrants blended appealingly into their surroundings. And a free bus system with front ski/ bike racks carried young and old to and from areas of the city – where there is a relatively vibrant nightlife – and nearby communities.

Cyclists often ignore the available bike parking – and ski racks that double as bike racks – which means you see gorgeous unlocked cruiser bikes nestled between benches and under shady trees. For a big city-dweller, it was a shock to see unlocked bikes literally piled in the bushes outside the Jazz Aspen Snowmass festival and the Woody Creek Tavern (famous for its margaritas, nachos and the infamous Hunter S. Thompson).

“Aren’t people concerned about getting their bikes stolen?” I naively inquired to our local tour guide. “Well, no,” she replied, “this is Aspen!”

Aside from being a great commuter town, the surrounding environs are a playground for mountain bikers and road riders alike.

I had my first long-distance-on-a-road bike experience traveling up to the Maroon Bells on an Orbea Onix road bike rented from the five star luxury hotel, The Little Nell, which, I must say, has a lovely menu at the Montagna restaurant, and exceptional service. Considering that my present and past bikes have all been either cruisers or mountain bikes, riding on a skinny-tire carbon fiber aerodynamic road eater like the Orbea was a bit nerve-racking at first. But, after a short distance, I got used to the forward position and dropdown handlebars.

The Maroon Bells ride up Maroon Creek Road is considered one of the more advanced rides, so I was surprised to find the climb quite manageable – although I did take a few breaks. The view from the top and chance to see Lance Armstrong – who was training along that same route that day and lives part-time in Aspen – whiz past me down the road made it worth the two-three-hour ride.

Possibly the most impressive part of my adventure was having the opportunity to try not one, but four bikes! Which brings me to the Kalkhoff electric bike rented from The Little Nell. I’m normally a fan of electric bikes, and the Kalkhoff didn’t disappoint. Having already ridden a similar model, but with a step-through design, it was like visiting an old friend. We got along swimmingly, and my Kalkhoff and I bounced along the Rio Grande Trail, one of the first rails-to-trails projects in the country, under a blue sky with nothing but the sound of my tires on the gravel trail and my riding companion to distract us.

For the more “dirt”-inclined, there is a plethora of mountain biking trails to explore.

Again, being the city commuter that I am, I wasn’t too sure how I would fare on a steep downhill slope through trees. So, I was happy to take the Mountain Biking 101 course that is operated out of the Aspen Snowmass Mountain ski resort.

Our instructor, Kevin, showed our group of around 10 people the proper “attack” riding position – where you stand up on the pedals and lean forward on your bike, elbows out – the correct way to brake when going downhill and how to maneuver around obstacles and angle into turns. Step number two was to test our newfound skills on a single track loop, one gondola stop up from the base of the mountain.

Then it was up to the top – where we also saw the area for a wilderness camping experience for beginners – for lunch and a brief repose before tackling the intermediate run (not the one soon to be completed specifically for the 101 course). Again, not having done this ever before in my life, I managed to dodge boulders, roll over roots and corner hairpin turns with relative ease (it was all downhill after all).

And what a sense of accomplishment at the end! Looking back at the elevation drop that I chewed up with the knobby tires of my Norco Fluid trail bike made me feel like, if I could tackle this, I could tackle the worst potholes, protruding manholes, loose gravel and miscellaneous garbage the streets of my city can muster.

Originally published on momentummag.com.

Exploring New Territory

Sarah Ripplinger IconSarah Ripplinger portrait by Terry Sunderland

There’s an element of excitement when traveling abroad, or even when taking a new route to work or the grocery store. This experience is particularly special when you are the navigator and primary engine of your voyage. At the end of the day, though, the enjoyment factor of any given trip often depends on what you use to get there.

My excursion to Richmond, Virginia, for the North American Handmade Bicycle Show (February 26-28, 2010) involved a tour around the historic city with some veteran local cyclists. I felt the bumps in the cobblestone streets, the gusts of wind coming off the James River and enjoyed the camaraderie of traveling with a group of like-minded individuals. Similar to our travel story writers, I was exploring a distant land, learning about the local culture and tackling the challenges of the landscape.

That adventure involved a harrowing introduction to a classic 1985 road bike that would have been perfect for someone five inches taller than me – which gave me a deeper appreciation for how much what you ride affects how you feel. In comparison, my most recent adventure with an electric-assist bike was a breeze.

I have several hills to contend with on my trip home. Riding an e-bike, however, I no longer opt to cool my heels on the bus after hoisting my bike onto the front rack, but zip up the longest series of hills on my route with a little help from the electric-assist. Similar to our e-bike riders in this issue’s subculture story, I am testing the waters of one of the newest arrivals in the North American commuter cycling scene. And if China and the Netherlands are any indication of things to come, there are likely to be many more cyclists venturing into e-cycling territory in the future.

In many ways similar to Richmond, VA, urban cycling is starting to get a foothold in Detroit, MI (city feature). Both places have plenty of road space for bicycles – as a result of the removal of some large industrial complexes and decreased or stable population numbers – which has left a lot of room to incorporate bicycle infrastructure. Many barriers will need to be overcome before these cities reach the ranks of “bicycle-friendly,” but the future of cycling in both locations looks bright.

Happy spring cycling,

Sarah Ripplinger

Editor, momentum magazine

sarah@momentumplanet.com

Originally published in the May/ June 2010 issue of Momentum Magazine and on momentummag.com.

Taking it E-sy

Lisa Brown and E-Bike Lead
Photo by Christian Webber
Lisa Brown and her E-Bike (left) have enough power to toe partner, Stefan Reinsberg, up a neighborhood hill.

By Sarah Ripplinger

Rushing about in her housecoat, Lisa Brown is up early to get Theodor (Theo for short) to daycare before she heads to work. The sun shines in through the kitchen window, casting a beam of bright light on the floor – the heat from it is palpable. It reminds Brown of her aching calf muscles, sore from the long run she took the day before. Her energy levels are low, but her partner, Stefan Reinsberg, has the car, so she’ll take either the bus or the bike. There isn’t enough time to take the bus, so bike it is. Her mind balks: what about that behemoth hill she has to climb? But, then she remembers the little motor waiting to jump into action – a birthday present from Reinsberg. One twist of her handlebar throttle and even the steep UBC hill will feel like a breeze.

Stefan and Theo
Photo by Christian Webber
Stefan Reinsberg (left) shows Theo, 2, the many components of an e-bike while mom, Lisa Brown, looks on.

“For me, it’s about mobility; it’s not about exercise,” Brown said one sunny morning at her home in Vancouver’s West Point Grey area. Like many urban dwellers in search of alternatives to the car, Brown decided that she could satisfy her daily transportation needs on the saddle of a bike. However, she didn’t necessarily want her cycling regimen to cut into her running routine. The solution: Rev up her bike.

Brown has embarked on what could be the next revolution in bike transportation: the electric bike, or e-bike. A small motor sits inside her front wheel hub. Wires attach it to a pack of 36 volt Nickel Cadmium (NiCad) batteries nestled in a pouch under the top tube of her bike frame. A small computer on her handlebars, called a Cycle Analyst, lets her know how much juice is left in the battery and how fast she’s motoring – up to a maximum 50 km/h or about 32 km/h without pedalling. (ICBC regulations set a maximum speed of 32 km/h for e-bikes when they are not being pedalled on level ground). A motor controller, located at the rear of the bike, regulates the output and speed of the bike. Two lights, one mounted on the rear and one at the front, draw energy from the battery to light Brown’s way. The equipment does add about 35 extra pounds to the bike, including the front-wheel motor. “The one disadvantage, I must say, is that it’s quite heavy,” Reinsberg said. “And if you do run out of juice, you have to cycle a very heavy bike.”

E-bike batteries tend to last about two to three years before they need to be replaced. Brown says that she gets around 25-35 kilometres out of her battery before it needs to be placed in the charger, which can be plugged in to any standard outlet. That’s part of the convenience of the e-bike, Brown says. If you run out of power, “you can just bring a charger and plug it in and have a break.”

Brown grew up in the Okanagan where the family car was a mainstay of everyday commuter life. She presently works as a capital project development engineer, which has meant that she often needs to travel to destinations throughout Metro Vancouver. Using an e-bike, she said, is convenient and more affordable. Plus, commute times on her e-bike are comparable to travel times by bus or car. A trip from the Cambie Street Bridge to UBC on her e-mountain-bike, she said, can easily be completed within half an hour – this is one of the primary reasons why Brown is happy to own one. “It’s essentially the convenience and the speed you can travel at… you just go.”

E-Bike Batteries
Photo by Christian Webber
Rows of NICAD batteries are protected from the elements in a soft bag with zipper. Charging the batteries is easy, just attach them to the charger and plug it into the nearest outlet.

Owning an e-bike has had a positive impact on their family-time too. The couple, who have been together for almost 10 years, say that they can tow Theo, two – in their Chariot trailer with shock-absorbers – down to the beach and back with relative ease and without the headache of finding scarce parking.

Reinsberg purchased the electric assist kit for about $1,400 from the Renaissance Bike Company, located on Main Street, near 30th Avenue in Vancouver. He installed it on Brown’s well-used bike in their kitchen, which was transformed into a makeshift bike shop during the cool and rainy month of March. “It’s not that tricky,” Reinsberg said. The bike operates similarly to an electric wheelchair, he said. Brown’s “freewheel” e-bike allows the front wheel to spin and be pedalled freely when the motor is not engaged. The manual that came with the motor took all the guesswork out of the job. The hardest part was getting the fork of Brown’s old bike onto the new front wheel that houses the motor. That motor transmits a fair amount of force on the axle – enough force to carry him and Brown together up a fairly steep incline. This can be harder on the bike over the long-term, Reinsberg said, but is fine for the purposes of everyday commuting.

Reinsberg laughs now when he thinks of his first reaction to the idea of Brown riding an e-bike: “Initially I was thinking that e-hubs are for sissies; I wasn’t too thrilled with the idea that she wanted that for a birthday present.” He changed his mind after seeing how much more amenable Brown was to riding her bike with the motor, and after finding out how much fun it was to have the little electric boost.

“It’s magic,” Reinsberg said. “Nobody really likes going up hills.”

Renaissance Bicycle Company: ebikes.ca

Originally published in the July/ August 2009 issue of Momentum Magazine and on momentummag.com.