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Out for a spin
IWhether they ride for practical reasons or the sheer joy of speed, the number of bicyclists in Grand Rapids seems to be on the rise.

By Cristina Stavro
Photography by Johnny Quirin


It’s easy to believe 29-year-old Derek Graham when he says that cycling is an addicting sport. The Grand Rapids resident has multiple bikes, including a Pinarello road bike with “lightweight carbon fiber frame and wheels, skinny tires and drop handlebars — like what you see in the Tour de France.”

Graham has been riding since he was a kid, becoming hooked after his first mountain bike race at Pando Ski Area in 1991. Now as a member of the Bissell/Advantage Benefits Group team, he focuses more on road racing.

“I love the sense of freedom and the feeling of going fast under my own power,” he said. “As you get more and more fit and start going faster and faster, the more fun it becomes.”

Bike fever is catching on with a growing number of Grand Rapidians.

Daniel Koert, owner of Commute GR in downtown Grand Rapids, rides his bike to run errands all year round.

Cyclists seem to be everywhere. Some, like Graham, crouch over their handlebars wearing spandex shorts and bright jerseys. Others have their pant legs rolled up and a pack slung across their shoulder, cycling to class or work. Like 26-year-old Daniel Koert.

In summer 2009, Koert opened a bicycle shop in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids. And just as the shop’s name suggests — Commute GR — Koert relies on his bicycle as his primary means of transportation.

“A whole day of errands and running around is about 20 miles, tops,” said Koert, who enlists his bike in all weather.

With a rear rack on his bike, he can carry around $100-$120 worth of groceries. “That’s a lot of groceries,” he said with a smile, hinting that bikes can handle more than most people think.

Koert has spent the past five years without a car simply because he loves cycling. Others may be motivated to take up bicycling for more practical reasons.

“When gas prices went up three years ago, bike sales skyrocketed. Bikes became more a means of transportation, and people were getting off their butts and riding,” explained Koert.

Brian Bangma, owner of Grand Rapids Bicycle Co., a bike shop on Celebration Drive near East Beltline and Knapp, experienced his first taste of competitive cycling 20 years ago.

“I enjoy the speeds that we are able to maintain as a group,” said Bangma. “Combine the speeds with the chess-like strategy, and I was hooked.”

With racing season in full swing, the 33-year-old Ada resident is on his bike almost every day, training during the week for races that occur almost every weekend.

However, not everyone has the need for speed. For Sarah Andro, beverage manager at Grand River Grocery, cycling is not about competition.

 

The Grand Rapids Mountain Bike Park that opened this summer at 580 Kirtland SW was a project of the Western Chapter of the Michigan Mountain Biking Association, the city and the local bicycle community.

“I love that you can just go outside and go forever.” And “go forever” is just about what Andro does on her bike.

After her daughter, Sophie, was diagnosed with diabetes five years ago, Andro heard about an opportunity to benefit the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation through a 100-mile bike ride in Death Valley, Calif.
“ I bought a bike in April, trained in six months, and rode 100 miles in October,” she said.

Now, she said, cycling is a big part of her life. The whole family, including her husband and their three children, ride together at least once a week. Even the youngest go along, sitting in a Burley Bike Trailer that attaches to Andro’s bicycle.

Andro said she rides her Cannondale bike four or five times a week, either on her own or with friends.

“We will go out, ride and talk. It’s a fun and social exercise; you’re outside, and I feel good about it.” GR

Cristina Stavro is a former Gemini intern and a student at Calvin College.

   
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