A splashing noise first hinted that something had gone awry. Within moments, Brian Grim was coated with a black, tarry substance leaking from a passing truck on a Colorado Avenue overpass.
That experience a few years ago gummed Grim's hair and ruined his favorite shirt. Yet it did not dampen his year-round enthusiasm for bicycle commuting, spun through seasons of near-misses and messy encounters.
"It becomes a lifestyle," Grim says.
The weather can be icky, the roads busy. And biking clearly wasn't at the forefront of anyone's mind when the city sprawled over miles of prairie. But as commuters face climbing gas prices and an itch for healthy living, biking clearly has a place.
One promising sign for the bike-inclined is the city's growing network of multi-use trails and bike lanes. Multi-use trails now stretch out over more than 100 miles, and Christian Lieber, the city's Trails, Open Space and Parks program manager, says the completion of missing links will make it more useful.
The city also has nearly 60 miles of bike lanes, with more a possibility as roads are re-surfaced.
Kristin Bennett, a senior transportation planner with the city and a bicycle commuter, says these amenities should amount to a big plus when the League of American Bicyclists considers the Springs for recognition as a bicycle-friendly community.
Bennett helped complete the application for the recognition in March, and a response is expected in May. So far in Colorado, Boulder, Denver, Longmont and Fort Collins have made the cut, with Boulder holding an impressive gold-star rating. Bennett hopes the league will be able to help her and other planners make Colorado Springs an easier place to commute by bike, in spite of its 180-square-mile footprint.
Of course, ease is not the most important factor for some people. Nate Kiser lives in Manitou Springs but works for T. Rowe Price up in the Briargate area. He's an avid triathlete, so he sees the commute, which he completes by bike about 100 times a year, as both a training opportunity and a stress reliever.
It takes him about 55 minutes to complete the 17 miles, though sometimes he strays from the shortest route on the way home to add miles or meet friends downtown. He always tries to get to work early; once there, he takes a shower, changes and pads to his desk in sock-clad feet to fetch his work shoes and belt.
Kiser admits that on cold days, it can be hours after arriving at work that his toes thaw. Once he had to pull aside and shelter in a thrift store when a downpour left 3 inches of standing water in the road. But he's nonchalant about having a long bike ride loom at the end of his day.
"I sit in a cube all day, so I've got a lot of energy left," he says.
While long rides might be all but impossible in the worst of winter weather, shorter commutes might require just a set of gritted teeth. Bennett, hardened by a childhood in Michigan, commutes daily about 2 miles across downtown. When the ice gets scary, she'll hop on a bus.
Asked why she chooses to bike, she explains it's a way to get exercise and save money. But then she explains she's always ridden a bike: "I can't imagine not."