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Rolling religionists 

Sure, when our city is mentioned in most any national media outlet, there's some lazy reference to us as the Religious Pun of the West. But let's be serious: When it comes to sectarian turmoil, the real battle for hearts and minds is fought on the bikes.

In Colorado Springs, we've got all kinds of true believers; below is a look at three of them. Rest assured that once Aug. 24 has come and gone, they'll still be out there, spreading the Gospel.

Al Brody

Of all the local advocates beating the drum for connected trails, better street design, and improved education of other road-goers, 13-year-resident Al Brody generally pounds the loudest. His Bike Colorado Springs group often appears before government bodies to "fight for the continuation of bicycle infrastructure improvement," as he puts it.

Otherwise, though, the 53-year-old retired Air Force officer likes to play with his collection, which includes, at the least, a pedal-powered boat he built himself, a tandem bike, and a couple recumbents (wherein the biker rides lower to the ground in a reclined position, centrally redistributing the weight). All told, around 20 creations sit in his 2½-car garage.

One of the most fun is a one-speed with two hard plastic tires in the back that would look pretty familiar to any 5-year-old: an adult-sized Big Wheel, which usually run around $600.

And what does one do on an adult-sized Big Wheel?

"There's [people] that just like the feeling of a power slide," Brody says. "And if you've never done that, you owe it to yourself to try it. And if you're a guy, watching a woman have her first power-slide experience is pretty enjoyable."

Umm, what?

"If you can picture a little kid's Big Wheel: You're riding along in a straight line, and the next thing you know you're spinning around. The back end comes loose, and it starts to spin. That feeling is what drifting is — it's the same thing," he says. "It really is interesting to see a woman on a Big Wheel that's never done it; and then it breaks loose, and they just have this ... almost like an orgasm. It's an amazing thing to watch. And I've seen it many times. It's good for guys, but watching a woman do it is even better."

That aside, Brody also built a bicycle that has a 20-inch-wide, 34-inch-tall race-car tire in the back — the Hoosier Daddy, he calls it.

"It's huge for a bicycle — it's huge for a car," he says. And, as attendees at New Belgium Brewing Co.'s annual Tour de Fat festival already know, "It looks absurd."

Brody lives in Rockrimmon, and when evacuating the Waldo Canyon Fire, he took documents, pictures, a few mountain bikes and his wife's electric folding bike. He then rode one of them back into the evacuation zone to check on things, when the city was not releasing information on damaged houses.

Since his home went unharmed, Brody's been free to get back to his welding ways. He describes the whole bike-modification thing as a subculture that's driven, in part, by the folks who partake of the Burning Man festival. It's an intense crowd, he says, and he's just doing the best he can.

"I try to be on the leading edge, but it's hard to stay there."

Ben Schwenk

Recumbents come in all shapes and sizes, but the one Ben Schwenk commutes on is a tricycle, with two wheels on the front and one in the back. He's put some 2,700 miles on it in the last year or so, and likes the added speed and stability. The latter's important because Schwenk, 40, had his left leg amputated when he was 18.

The amputation was forced by a staph infection contracted during a string of 25-plus surgeries attacking the cancerous osteosarcoma in his left femur. More recently, doctors discovered a thumb-sized tumor at the base of his skull. It's unknown whether it's malignant or benign, but it's causing intense vertigo, and surgery is scheduled soon either way.

All that, and Schwenk says that still, life's pretty good.

"Like I say, and a lot of people know me: I lost my leg, but I gained my life," explains the employee of Compassion International, a globally focused religious organization that tries to lift children out of poverty. "And I really did. I wouldn't be who I am if I still had the leg."

In addition to converting to Christianity in the intervening years, Schwenk's earned a black belt in taekwondo, and become something of an inspiration to the school kids he talks to and the other amputees he meets (and asks to join his riding group). And for a man who says he'd "love to see that our community goes beyond cycling just as a hobby," the pedal-powered proselytizing just makes sense.

"It's very freeing," he says of his trike. "I don't run right now — I've never run since I've been an amputee. So, this is really giving me a lot of freedom to just get out there and do what I want to do. And since January this year, we've sold a car just so I would go out and cycle a lot more. I've lost 70-plus pounds in the cycling process."

Living in the northeast Powers Boulevard area, and cycling to Voyager Parkway daily, Schwenk is clearly a braver man than most. And he's got the brushes with death to prove it.

"I have to use a flag to get everybody's attention — otherwise, being so low, I could be on a truck's grill," he says with a note of wry irritation. "I was joking recently, saying I was being invited to a barbecue. And they're like, 'What does that mean?' I was like: 'I was about to be on a Dodge grill because they didn't want to stop.'"

Besides the typically thoughtful motorist, other perils lurk — like the city's infrastructure.

"Not all the bike trails start and finish — some of them start and finish in the middle of nowhere, and they're never connecting through," Schwenk says. In addition: "There's not always a sidewalk; sometimes it's a trail system that just ends and goes into a dirt road, and that makes it really difficult."

Allen Beauchamp

Besides being a firm advocate for all things recumbent — the shop he works at, Angletech/Cycle Different, calls the typical upright bike the "upwrong" — Allen Beauchamp just wants you to ride something.

"My main focus is getting people on bikes that are on the periphery: people that have a very difficult time," says the 44-year-old advocate and board member of the Colorado Springs Cycling Club. "Either they just don't have knowledge and they feel really intimidated walking into a bike shop — which is a lot of people, I've found out — or people that just haven't been riding for years and years and years, and they just don't feel safe. And then kids and people with physical needs."

In addition to working with the city to help spread the good word in general, helping the latter group is a big part of what Beauchamp does. Besides selling two-, three- and four-wheel recumbent bikes, Angletech can then customize almost any part to fit somebody's malady. They can suggest different shifters; calculate ranges of motion; balance each cycle according to body size; and change something based on how much strength a certain limb has.

"Many times we have people that come in [with] either a traumatic brain injury or stroke, and they have one very weak side, and maybe limited control, or no control, at all," Beauchamp says. "So, what we can do is, the trikes have a left and a right brake and a left and a right shifter on their hand grips. So what we do is, we swap all of the controls over to the strong side."

Among others, the shop sells the Challenger Velomobile — an enclosed pod with wheels on the outside that can feature internal fans and windshield wipers, and could've been designed by Apple — and the Yuba Mundo, a bike capable of packing up to 440 pounds. Generally, prices for all these run between $750 and $3,500, with customizations ranging up to an additional $1,000.

Beauchamp himself has nine bikes at home.

"Another thing that I'm into, is, they're called fat bikes — some people call them snow or sand bikes — and it's something that, in the last two years, has really blossomed; and they have immense tires," he says. "In the last year or two they've become a little bit more mainstream, and people, like myself included, are finding out that they're just plain fun to ride everywhere. And it's the only bike I own that I can ride up a full flight of stairs on, because the tires are so big."

bryce@csindy.com

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