Where rubber meets road
Bike Durango wants to get more butts out of the driver's seat and into the saddle

Where rubber meets road

Jennaye Derge, founder of Bike Durango, on one of her many bicycles. The organization works to advocate for bicycle commuters, educate riders on the rules of the road and inspire would-be commuters to give it a try./ Courtesy photo

Missy Votel - 06/01/2023

Don’t know the difference between a top tube and an innertube, a seat and a saddle, or an Idaho stop and an Idaho spud? Not to worry. Bike Durango, a newish organization in town, is here to demystify all the bikespeak in an effort to get more people in the saddle (or the seat, which, as it turns out, is the same thing) and out of their cars.

“I created Bike Durango a couple years ago to promote, educate, advocate and inspire folks to commute by bike more and drive their cars less,” Bike Durango’s big cog Jennaye Derge said.

Derge, who moved to Durango from the Front Range to attend Fort Lewis College in 2006, said she has been getting around town by bike for almost as long. One could say she was scared into it after taking a class called “End of Oil” taught by the late, great Professor Dennis Lum at FLC.

“Dr. Lum was this really fiery professor of sociology who would throw chairs and curse about the end of cheap oil,” Derge recalled. Well, the antics worked, and from that class forward, Derge vowed to be one less car on the road to climate disaster (at least as reasonably as possible; a girl’s gotta get to the ski hill once in a while.)

“I went straight to the Cyclery and bought a cheap Jamis,” she said of her first steed, which unfortunately was stolen (a story for another day.) “I started commuting everywhere, and soon after, I started mountain biking and bike touring and doing all these bike things.” (As an aside, Derge even wrote a book of essays about biking called “How to Cry While Riding Your Bicycle.”)

Still, Derge said in a town of bicycle superheroes, she never really felt secure in referring to herself as a cyclist. “I ride my bike every single day and spend all my free time on my mountain bike, but I felt uncomfortable calling myself a cyclist,” she said. “There’s something wrong with that.”

She said from there, the seeds for Bike Durango were planted. However, they didn’t start to sprout until about 2020 when a friend reached out with a very solvable bike problem.

“She wanted to start bike commuting but didn’t know how to move her seat up and down and was too nervous to go into a bike shop,” Derge said.

So, Derge went over to her friend’s house and showed her not only how to adjust her seat to her height but also how to lube her chain and fix her brakes. And that’s when the wheels really started to turn.

“I said, ‘OK, something needs to happen where people can feel confident finding resources to learn about these things and feel inspired to commute,” she said. “If moving a seat is keeping someone from riding to work, it’s such a simple fix.”

And with that, Bike Durango was off and, uh, rolling. Derge set up a website (www.bikedurango.org), began DIY-publishing a semi-regular ’zine on her laser jet and started setting up a booth at any and all bike commuting-related events. She said the mission of Bike Durango is threefold: to advocate, educate and inspire.

In the advocacy department, Derge has made it her (unpaid) job to attend all those snoozy city meetings to be the oft-lone voice advocating for bicycle commuters. “One day, there was all this gravel in the road, and it was really dangerous, so I emailed the city,” she said. “That’s when I realized there wasn’t anyone saying, ‘Hey, we need to be cleaning up the streets and shoulders to make it safer for cyclists.’”

From there, she began attending all of the city’s multimodal budget meetings to speak up for cyclists and their needs. She has also taken part in the city’s downtown and midtown planning meetings, where she and a few others are often the only voice for bikes in a car-centric world.

“It’s been really frustrating; cyclists are really underrepresented,” she said. “Everyone else is just worried about parking.”

In fact, after one recent meeting, she left in such despair that she sent out a rallying cry to the bike community to start showing up. And, she said, word got out. “I went to a city meeting last week at the library, and the bike rack was full,” she said. “I could tell more cyclists were showing up.”

And speaking of more cyclists, we can all agree that recently, there has been an influx of bikes, particularly e-bikes, on the road. This is where Bike Durango’s second tenet of education comes in, Derge said.

“There are more people on bikes, which is good,” she said. “But I also see more and more people blowing through stop signs.”

Yes, Colorado did just pass a law legalizing the so-called “Idaho stop,” whereby bikers can yield instead of coming to a full stop at a stop sign, if no cars are present. However, this is not carte blanche to blatantly ignore traffic signs willy-nilly. For starters (and we shouldn’t have to tell you this), it’s dangerous. “If a bike gets hit by a car, the bike will lose,” Derge said. Not to mention, it makes the rest of us law-abiding cyclists look bad. “It just perpetuates the car vs. cyclists war and increases tensions,” she said.

So, if you don’t want to be that guy, Derge is in the process of posting Colorado’s cycling laws on her website, in laypeople’s terms. However, she admits it is still a work in progress, because Derge is working unpaid during her free time and in between bike rides.

Which brings us, in a roundabout way, to the third tenet: inspiration. In order to share the spoke, er stoke, Bike Durango will host its second annual “Filmed by Bike” film festival on Fri., June 9, at the FLC Community Concert Hall. Films start rolling at 6 p.m. and include 89 minutes of short films (I suppose you could call them “bike shorts,” but that might be confusing.) curated by the Portland-based Filmed by Bike nonprofit. The event is also a fundraiser for Bike Durango to continue spreading the bike-commuting gospel.

“All the films are really good and meant to be approachable, inspirational and feel-good,” Derge said. “The whole point of the film fest – and Bike Durango – is to make cycling more inclusive.”

To that end, there will be a group bike ride starting at 5 p.m. at Second Ave. Sports to the Concert Hall. And for those who may be daunted by the thought of riding up Goeglein Gulch (present company included), Derge said the Trolley will also be running, and she is working with The Hive to have the Buzz Bus available for rides after the event.

“It sort of defeats the purpose of having a bike film fest, and everyone drives,” she noted. 

And that is something Professor Lum, rest his soul, would wholeheartedly agree with.

For more on Bike Durango or to buy tickets to the “Filmed by Bike” film fest, go to www.bikedurango.org.