Vagneur: To be on the road bike again | AspenTimes.com

Vagneur: To be on the road bike again

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

The summer and fall traffic on Woody Creek Road is prolific, and I don't mean automobiles. It's the bikers, mountain and road, who usually travel in groups, but sometimes, there's a lone wolf, like my buddy Bill Braun, who travels it religiously, as do some other folks I know. What can you say? It's good exercise, and the loudest thing about it are some of the conversations that reverberate off the close canyon walls. Oh, the secrets I could tell.

Back when I was a kid, and I know some of you think that was a very long time ago, I was a bike-riding fanatic. Not quite like Mick Ireland, mostly because I had to go to school during the day, but still I hit it pretty hard. No skintight spandex, no helmets and no fancy shoes that clipped onto the pedals — whatever we wore that day was our uniform.

The most sophisticated bicycles available to us were Raleighs, of English descent and sold through Sears or Monkey Wards. Three-speed wonders they were, low, medium and high, excellent for mountain travel. The tires were much like the road-and-mountain-bike combos of today and were tougher than hell. Still, flats were commonplace, and we could affix hot patches to tubes with our eyes closed.

It was probably not because of my love of bike riding but rather my quest for independence that got me into the habit in the first place. With hard-earned money from a potato crop or a 4-H steer — I can't remember which — I purchased a sleek, maroon Raleigh beauty from the catalog of choice and found myself on the borderline of freedom.

It didn't take long to figure out that I could ride my bike to school each day, saving "Joe Cool" (me) the ignominy of a school-bus ride, especially in the afternoon, when after-school activities sometimes conflicted with my need to catch a ride home. "Just be home by dark" was the mantra I received from higher-ups like my parents, but even then, I found a generator made especially for bicycles, which spun against the front tire, creating enough power to run a headlight. Not even darkness could put a lid on my enthusiasm to do what I wanted when I wanted. My dad was not impressed, and the brilliance of the light idea didn't last very long.

It was about 10 miles from Aspen to our house in Woody Creek, Highway 82 being the only paved section. McLain Flats was all dirt and not very popular but sometimes served as a nice variation to Highway 82. Unlike today, bike riding was not viewed as a competition against the forces of nature or your friends but rather as just another way to get around. It was so unusual to see a guy like me out on 82 (this was well before Howard Awrey became the iconic Highway 82 biker of the 1970s and '80s) that people would often stop and offer me rides. They couldn't imagine anyone would be out on the highway pedaling with a purpose, and surely a kid as young as I was had to be in some kind of trouble for doing so. My buddy Terry Morse rode his bike to school every day, as well, but he had less exposure to such problems, turning off at the west end of the Maroon Creek Bridge.

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High school couldn't come quickly enough, but when it finally did, I scored a spot on the football team and could bum a ride home with my older cousins, Howard and Calvin Vagneur. They'd let me off at the intersection of Woody Creek Road and Upper River Road, where my dad would faithfully pick me up each evening. No more bike, not even in the spring, because then I was running track and getting the same ride home.

Not until 2000, that is, the year I made room in my schedule for extracurricular activities, did I take up bicycling again. I loved it and traveled about 200 to 300 miles per week on a sweet road bike, goading some of my truck-driver friends into insanity when I'd sneak up on them in my spandex shorts and helmeted visage. They thought I'd sold out, I reckon.

I pounded it hard most days, feeling fit and great, until that fateful event about five or six years ago when a car hit me. For some reason, stuff like that takes your enthusiasm away, and I began hiking instead, staying on nonvehicular trails.

But now, as autumn extends its warm and inviting persona, and as I look up at Woody Creek Road and watch the bikers glide by, I get a feeling deep in my gut that maybe I should drag the ol' road bike out and fire it up once again. We'll see.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at ajv@sopris.net.