Not your average cycle commute
Bicycling to work, for some, is a break from the mindless routine of driving there. But one Eagle-Vail bike shop owner stretches the definition of bicycle commuting by riding regularly to and from Leadville. Bruce Kelly, a co-owner of Pedal Power who has migrated from Vail to Leadville, makes the monster commute to keep himself fit enough to compete in endurance sports.It must work, because Kelly, 51, looks to be 100 percent gristle. “I don’t think there’s a more picturesque Colorado mountain road,” he said. “I know every inch of it.”He’s a regular competitor in bike, foot, snowshoe and other races and he maintains a body-fat level of just 3 or 4 percent on his 5-foot 9-inch, 143-pound frame. He makes the commute up to 10 days a month when weather and his schedule permits.Next month he’ll compete in his seventh Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race, which he aims to finish in less than nine hours. Over the years he has run 15 marathons, but his favorite competition is the 20-mile snowshoe race around Turquoise Lake outside of Leadville.Kelly’s commute is 37 miles one-way and going home for him means a ride of 2 hours and 20 minutes that has a vertical gain just shy of a mile. The to-work part of the ride has about 600 feet of vertical and can be accomplished in an hour and 40 minutes. He’s been making the ride for nearly eight years and it’s far from a trivial pursuit. Highway 6 &24 is the “Top of the Rockies” National Scenic Byway and it’s also the site of a relatively furious rush-hour in and out of Leadville. It’s dubbed “The Leadville 500″ by locals and riding it takes concentration and a watchful eye, Kelly said.”It’s a team effort,” he said. “It’s doable because of my wife.”Kelly’s wife Stacy, a teacher in Leadville, will shuttle him if foul weather is closing in or if he’s running out of daylight on some of his rides.Started at a yard saleThe ride and Kelly’s bike business had their start nearly 30 years ago at a West Vail yard sale. Kelly came to Vail to visit friends and like so many locals, decided to stay. One day while walking through West Vail, he saw a French-made road bike for sale for $50 at a yard sale, and on a whim, decided to buy it. He hadn’t ridden much because in college he was a runner and hockey player.One ride led to another, and he soon was riding south of Minturn, then up Battle Mountain with its switchbacks and hills, and one day he visited Red Cliff. Another ride took Kelly toward Camp Hale, where he encountered one of the few area cyclists at the time, Paul Jankauskas, who was riding the 90-mile Leadville Loop from Vail. They rode together and he was hooked.”That was when it was still just Highway 6 (over Vail Pass,” he said. Soon, Kelly and friends were taking longer and longer rides. In the mean time, Kelly went to Boulder to finish his commercial recreation degree. “I was pretty much a ski bum,” he said. But like many ski bums, he had a dream and decided that he wanted to start his own business and that – unsurprisingly – was a bike shop. He partnered with Hooker Lowe and John Whitney to open Pedal Power in Vail Village, and from the get-go, it was a learning experience.”We used to go to JB Imports in Denver with a shopping cart,” Kelly said. “We had no idea how, where and what to buy.”Eventually they became savvier and in time, Kelly bought out his partners and is co-owner of the shop in Eagle-Vail where he he sells and repairs all manner of on and off-road bikes, as well as selling equipment and accessories.His shop has become somewhat of a clearinghouse for local endurance athletes and super-serious cyclists.Not for the timidKelly’s commute is something he takes seriously.”I have rules that I follow,” he said. “I’m not reckless and I don’t make any gestures to incite drivers.”He also constantly watches what’s going on with the traffic. “You get a sense of what’s happening around you,” he said. He has had no mishaps, and he’s done the commute for long enough that he believes some of the regular commuters, excepting to see him and his bicycle, are beginning to drive a little slower.”Now I have people I don’t know beeping at me and waving,” he said.So how much longer will he keep riding? That’s a matter of how long he wants to stay competitive, he said. “I don’t just try to complete events, he said. “I compete. My wife said she hopes I never stop.”
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