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Bike to Work Day: The commuters came, mingled, declined to eat bananas

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Aside from the weather being particularly fine, my bike commute on Bike to Work Day this morning was not a whole lot different that it usually is -- most of my trip is on side streets as opposed to paths, since I live on the west side and apparently poor people don't need bike paths (actually, there is a trail in my neighborhood, but it's been closed for construction for about two years now). Even the Cherry Creek trail where I hit it near Auraria was pretty dead. By the time I came up on Speer and Broadway, though, traffic was starting to pick up, and at the 9News stand at Speer and Logan, a crowd had gathered. "They're giving away free food over there," a guy called to me, gesturing with his thumb as he rode by. Because when there is free food, a crowd always gathers.

The mood was festive and the bike-parking scarce, as people dismounted to chat at the various booths set up there and eat Cliff bars and fruit; the 9News stand people immediately urged me to eat a banana: "We've got a ton of these things," the stand person told me. "Here, take another one. We've got a whole 'nother box." Since it's my personal policy never to turn down an offer of free food, I can vouch that the bananas were indeed pretty good; nevertheless, they seemed unpopular.

Walking around and chatting with folks, I got the impression that most of the people there were, like me, regular bike-commuters -- it would seem that the festivities failed to draw a whole lot of newcomers to cycling world. Rider Cynthia said that, while she doesn't bike every day, she does so "occasionally" from her home in Bonnie Brae to her job downtown. "It's more fun when there's a lot of people out like this," she said. And while I have to disagree -- I personally think it's kind of a pain in the ass when the path is crowded -- it was nice to see people getting out of their cars, too. On the other end of the spectrum was Rex, a guy who was not so much biking to work as biking is his job; he works for an organization called Biking for Baseball, with whom he's planning to do a 10,000-mile ride next year that will hit a major league home-game in thirty cities to raise money for youth sports. "Just because I'm technically unemployed right now," he joked, "doesn't mean I can't bike to work." Nicole and Karl, on the other hand, were probably about the average: The couple, who live near Invesco Field, bike most days of the week to her job in the Lower Highlands and his near Colorado Boulevard and 1-25, respectively -- today, even though it was a bit out of their way, they were taking some time to bike together.

As regular commuters, both said they were well acquainted with the trials and tribulations of the road. "For me, the worst part of commuting is when drivers aren't aware that we're part of traffic," said Nicole.

"Even when I'm in bike lanes," Karl added, "I sometimes get heckled, like 'get off the road.' Still, when I'm driving, I see bikers blowing through four-way stops all the time, and that's the kind of thing that, if we're going to make it as a culture, we've really got to stop doing stuff like that."

Still, in the end, it's worth it. "I work on the 14th floor, so I have a perfect view of 1-25," said Karl. "And I'm not going to lie: When it's coming up on 5 o'clock and I look out there and see that gridlock, and I know it'll take me less time to get home on a bike that it would to drive, it's pretty satisfying."

Although there most of the refreshment stations went up and came down this morning, there are also a few open for the ride home -- plus, there's the Cactus Bike from Work Bash, a party complete with a bike valet ("we expect to park about 1,000 bikes," said Bike Denver organizer Piep van Heuven), free burritos and free beer. That's right: free beer. That shindig starts and 5 p.m. and continues until 9 at 15th and Little Raven Streets. Hopefully, they'll have plenty of bananas.

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