Sean Beckwith: Trying to shift gears

It only took a decade, a pandemic and an onslaught of boredom to get me to ride a bike somewhere other than Centennial to work or the store and back. I understand the benefits of exercise but, to paraphrase Kenny Powers, “I play real sports; I don’t try to be the best at working out.”

Get me on a sand volleyball court, and I’ll come home with sand in places you didn’t think was possible. Only instead of a manageable amount of sand that comes with a careless 4-year-old, I’m unintentionally turning the entire apartment into seashore. Competition gives working out a purpose. Unfortunately, pickup basketball and myriad other contact sports are kind of sketchy right now. (That, and Aspen doesn’t do normal sports outside of golf. Polo? Really? We’re going to pick something that requires a horse? It’s like choosing 2-7 Triple Draw when it’s your deal on poker night.)

I don’t mind hiking, but there’s not enough adrenaline to fulfill the “I’m going to do this every day” quota. I’ve also never cared about a view mostly because I’m too busy trying to breathe.

So that leaves biking as the activity that hits the bare minimum marks for adrenaline and competition. Once I finally got my bike — an almost 20-year-old Trek fixie — operating, I gradually explored Aspen’s easier bike routes. The main reasoning being I don’t have gears, so any incline is a chore.

I recently took my dad’s new bike for a spin and, I have to say, gears make hills dramatically easier. It’s almost as if cycling isn’t that difficult, which would explain all the questionably in-shape people who reach the top of Independence Pass.

I definitely would’ve tried riding to Highlands or the Woody Creek Tavern by now if I had a suitable bike. Having said that, I think the fixie adds to the perceived competition. Whether people on the ABC or Rio Grande trails realize it, we’re racing. I take a similar approach on the mountain.

I get a lot of enjoyment out of Steve Rogers-ing — aka shouting “On your left” as you blow by someone — fellow bikers. It’s even more satisfying if you pass some goober on an E-bike.

However, I haven’t reached the point where I can pass the serious cyclist wrapped in spandex. They’re always hunched over the handlebars and pedaling like it’s Stage 17 of the Tour. Occasionally, I can pass an old guy asleep at the wheel but that’s not as gratifying as giving Lance Lite a bit of chase.

My hypothesis for why people wear those hideous and entirely too revealing spandex outfits is they got them for free from some friend who doesn’t want to be only person who looks like a jackass. And from there it’s just a vicious gift cycle to make sure you’re not the only aerodynamic enthusiast.

I don’t care how comfortable the padded pants are; either wear a pair of light soccer shorts over them or wear normal shorts and toughen your ass up. I know Aspen is exclusive but you don’t want to be in that members-only club.

I can feel cyclists’ eyes on me, judging me, watching me when we pass on the trail and I’m sweating through a T-shirt and cargo shorts while wearing a Cardinals ball cap rather than a helmet. And that’s fine because I absolutely am judging you, too.

I think my etiquette is as good as anyone else’s. I announce myself when passing and loosely know how to manage intersections. Whenever I’m on a street with cars, I get as far over to the right as possible. I also ride on bike paths, and not in the middle of McClain Flats to prove that I am a hardcore cyclist.

I can see why roads are more alluring. The urban flight also applies to trails. Visitors are learning that you can recreate in Aspen over the summer, too, and not just day drink in downtown.

I’ve found that people on E-bikes either go way too fast or too slow; there’s no normal speed. It’s like some E-bikes have governors — or people who literally couldn’t make it block on a real bike before having to walk it around town.

If you want to motor around town without physical exertion, rent a Segway or buy one of those automatic skateboards. Though I know for sure that both of those devices have governors.

You know what doesn’t? That’s right. Old reliable. Ripping down hills without even a finger on the brake is as close as I’m willing to get to snowboarding in the summer. (I pondered buying a skateboard to mess around with during COVID but figured any trip to the hospital for an ailment other than Rona is pretty selfish.)

Cycling isn’t quite the release that snowboarding is, but it’s a release nonetheless. Maybe someday I’ll upgrade to a bike with a gears and a seat that’s not rapidly deteriorating so I can kill myself pedaling up the Pass.

But this virus will be gone someday, too, and that patio chair and accompanying beverage will look a lot more appealing than a bike seat. Well, perhaps that beverage can wait until after a quick ride.

Sean Beckwith is a copy editor at The Aspen Times. Reach him at