John F. Russell: Bikes have changed; the freedom they offer hasn't

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It wasn't fancy, but I still remember the thin tires and clanking gears of my first 10-speed bicycle.

Before I got a driver's license, the light brown Huffy got me around my neighborhood. It took me to school and everywhere I wanted to go.

It was a time before the fat tires and space-aged suspension of today's all-terrain mountain bikes.

But times change.

Today, lightweight mountain bikes are fast on pavement and durable on single track. They are at home on the Yampa River Core Trail and at home on the rugged single tracks of Howelsen Hill and Mount Werner.

Mountain bikes have become the sport-utility vehicles of cycling. In the summer, they are everywhere in our mountain town. The popular Town Challenge mountain bike series is driven by our town's love of the outdoors and fitness.

But if the mountain bike is the ever-present SUV of the cycling world, the road bike is the sports car -- and it's making a comeback.

For years, road bikes have survived in the shadows with a core group of riders keeping the sport alive locally with weekly rides.

But a quick look at the people pedaling along Colorado Highway 131 or Twentymile Road is all it takes to know that elite athletes aren't the only ones favoring skinny tires and smooth pavement these days.

Some say the road bike's rediscovered popularity comes from Lance Armstrong's success in the Tour de France. Most people agree the American rider has brought new attention to the sport.

Some say the road bike's recent popularity in the valley has been fueled by mountain bikers who have hit the roads for some early season conditioning. Many of them have rediscovered the joy of riding a bike without knobby tires.

Whatever the reason, I'm glad to see it.

I know today's road bikes are a far cry from the 10-speeds I rode as a child. The new bikes are lighter, faster and just slightly more expensive than my old Huffy.

But the sight of a "roadie" heading down the highway brings back memories of a time when a10-speed bike could take you anywhere you wanted to go.

It was a time when we raced to see who could get to the baseball field first, and the only accessory we needed to be cool was a baseball card and clothes pin to hold it in place.

The only training loop we knew of included a ride to school in the morning and back home in the afternoon. Of course it included a stop for classes.

It was a time when bikes had kickstands and nobody minded the extra weight of a plastic-covered chain wrapped around the seat post to lock up the bike when it wasn't being used.

It was a time when the 10-speed was king.

-- To reach John F. Russelll call 871-4209 or e-mail jrussell@steamboatpilot.com

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