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The Freedom to Ride 

We recently asked Red Rock Bicycle Co. Owner Ryan Gurr why riding for transportation matters to him. Bikes were Ryan’s passion long before they became his business. Bicycle commuting has been part of his routine since he was a teenager. Here’s his story. 


“I am not an exclusive commuter. If I am judged by whether I ride my bike five days a week, I am not going to pass that test. But through all the ebbs and flows of life, since the late nineties until now, commuting has been part of my life. At certain times more than others. That’s the back story of commuting for me. It's always been about choice. About the freedom to choose how I get from a to b. It's the freedom that interests me, not necessarily the strict commitment.”  

-Ryan gurr, owner, red rock bicycle co.

Ryan, can you tell us a little bit about how you got into bike commuting?  

We recently asked Red Rock Bicycle Co. Owner Ryan Gurr why riding for transportation matters to him. Bikes were Ryan’s passion long before they became his business. Bicycle commuting has been part of his routine since he was a teenager. Here’s his story. 

I started commuting as an alternative to driving when I turned 16. I specify it that way because before you’re 16 it's not a choice, it's just what you do. When you turn 16 and you get your license, it becomes a choice. 

I was working for a bike shop in Northern Utah. There was a culture of fitness, and I found that I could have an edge fitness-wise if I rode my bike to and from school. I was lucky because my cousin lived right next to the high school, so I could ride to her house. She had a garage that her dad kept stocked with soda in the summer and heat in the winter. I could park my bike, change, and then walk to school. That was my routine. It doesn't mean I rode my bike every day, but I made the choice when I could.  

 

When I moved to Saint George, I used biking as a tool to explore the area. I didn't know anything about Saint George. Saint George was as far away from where I grew up as I could go without paying out of state tuition. I came here to go to college, had my bike, and I just wanted to ride to explore. 

A couple of years later, I moved up to Green Springs and I had this brown 3-speed Electra beach cruiser that I loved because I could wear whatever I wanted and ride my bike. So, then I used that to commute to school or college.  

From then I integrated bike commuting into my life.  

The way that I look at it, I am not an exclusive commuter. If I am judged by whether I ride my bike five days a week, I am not going to pass that test. But through all the ebbs and flows of life, since the late nineties until now, commuting has been part of my life. At certain times more than others. That’s the back story of commuting for me. It's always been about choice. About the freedom to choose how I get from a to b. It's the freedom that interests me, not necessarily the strict commitment.  

BENEFITS: BEYOND FITNESS

“I've commuted when I'm fit, and I've commuted when I wish I was fitter. The mental element is something that always follows through. It comes quick, and you don't have to train into it. You know, if you haven't biked for three months, and you start on a Monday, you feel better on a Monday. Where if you focus on the fitness and you haven't been riding for three months and you start on a Monday, you still feel out of shape on Tuesday, but mentally, you feel good.” 

YOU MENTIONED THAT YOU NEVER STOPPED BIKE COMMUTING SINCE YOU STARTED AS A TEENAGER - WHAT DOES IT DO FOR YOU?  

There's a mental health element to it that I didn't recognize until considerably later. 10, 15 years later. Of having a moment, minutes, or an hour, whatever it is, that you can be completely in your own mind and get somewhere. It's not something we should embrace when we're driving a vehicle, we should be attentive and alert and - of course you should be alert when you're riding a bike, but there's a certain element of zoning out that you can do and still be safe and courteous for everyone around you that I think is important. The ability to disconnect.  

For me that's it more than the fitness element. I've commuted when I'm fit, and I've commuted when I wish I was fitter. The mental element is something that always follows through. It comes quick, and you don't have to train into it. You know, if you haven't biked for three months, and you start on a Monday, you feel better on a Monday. Where if you focus on the fitness and you haven't been riding for three months and you start on a Monday, you still feel out of shape on Tuesday, but mentally you feel good. That mental element is what's important to me.  

What do you like most about riding your bike for transportation?  

 I love seeing the community. I really enjoy seeing minor changes, and I like the seasonality of commuting. On my scenic ride to work, I hit the paved trails, the Tonaquint Nature Area, Red Hills Parkway up through the Reserve. I like watching the seasons change, the plants change, the animals. I enjoy seeing other people out and about enjoying themselves. Which was a fun - and sometimes overwhelming - feeling when Covid hit. You see so many people. I ride the same commute almost every time because I like to see the changes.  



TRIP PLANNING

I would say that one of my superpowers when it comes to commuting is figuring out the back alleys and the lesser traveled roads.” 

CAN YOU SAY A LITTLE BIT MORE ABOUT YOUR ROUTE?  

My route is a little creative. I try to hit as much of the paved trail network as I can, and I try to stay off every major road. I would say that one of my superpowers when it comes to commuting is figuring out the back alleys and the lesser traveled roads. I ride through Little Valley which is just suburbia, and then I hit Bloomington Hills, where I found all the quiet roads that weave me through the area. Kind of like the paved trails.  

On my long commute in, I ride the paved trail for as long as I can. That’s why I ride the Virgin River Trails to the trail along Dixie Drive, up to Halfway Wash. Halfway Wash will then connect to Red Hills Parkway, then I drop down through the city.  

Dropping down through the city is something I really enjoy. Especially on the weekend I like seeing the buzzling element of downtown Saint George in the morning. It’s quiet, but everyone who is there is intentional. You see the beer truck showing up to the restaurants, the food delivery trucks, everyone is getting ready for the morning. That’s fun for me to see.  

What other factors do you consider when you plan your trip?  

Really, it’s perceived safety. I don’t tend to favor official bike routes. Not because the bike routes are safe or not safe, but because I’m not going to assume that it is safe. I test it myself and see if I feel safe. I travel through neighborhoods vs. on main roads, I try to find the easiest way to cross a road that’s maybe a more congested road. I might go out of my way a couple of blocks if the crossing feels better.  


Obstacles

“My biggest obstacle for commuting is the evening traffic. Where I live, there is a pretty big migration from people who live on the north side of town or outside of town driving to the south side of town. I don't commute around five o clock. If I am commuting, I am either leaving before that or I stay until seven to miss that.” 

Are there any obstacles to commuting by bike? If so, what do you do to overcome them?  

Unannounced maintenance on the city streets or on the paved trails is a pretty big obstacle. We're so landlocked that there are some areas where we've only got one or two options to safely get somewhere. And if that option has a maintenance project or is under construction, that can be a pretty big deterrent. The city is getting better at announcing it ahead of time and offering reroutes. But that can just be hard, there's only so many places you can go and feel safe.  

Time of the day can be an obstacle. On my long commute I pass two Elementary Schools, and I have to make sure I am not riding past the school when it is either drop off or pick up time for kindergarten.  

And then my biggest obstacle to commuting is the evening traffic. Where I live, there is a pretty big migration from people who live on the north side of town or outside of town driving to the south side of town. I don't commute around five o clock. If I am commuting, I am either leaving before that or I stay until seven to miss that.  

How about the summer heat?  

Well, luckily, I have adopted e-riding and so it doesn't affect me as much as it used to. Then there are common sense approaches. Hydration, obviously, and then timing. In the middle of the summer, I don't typically ride home at 5PM. I'll stay till 7, and it's going to be 7:15 or 7:30 when it cools off a bit. And I've lived here long enough, it's not like 105 is going to break me.  

I feel like you get used to it pretty well through riding.  

Yes, there is a certain temperature where it doesn't matter how prepared you are, it's just hot. You know, for me that also comes back to my original statement about commuting, where it is about freedom and choice. If people are willing to give commuting a chance, that doesn't mean that they have to push through the most dangerous parts of the day. If you want to commute and make that part of your lifestyle, you shouldn't be ashamed because on days that it is triple digits you are driving. If you are sensitive to the heat, just be safe and drive and wait till it cools off a bit and then ride your bike. It goes back to the element of freedom ... people shouldn't be shamed into pushing through pain.  

Commuting by E-Bike

It's been a game changer for me. Where I live - it was really challenging. My commute is 20-25 miles a day. And it's really hard to commit to that. Not from a fitness perspective, but from a time away from your family perspective. Now, I can do the short distance in 35 minutes. The drive time is 20 minutes.” 


TELL ME, WHAT KIND OF BIKE DO YOU RIDE, AND WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT IT?  

So, the Specialized Vado is my primary commuter. It's Specialized’s European, utilitarian cruiser. 700c wheels, rack and fenders, you can put panniers on it, it's just a functional commuter. It's first gen, it's got 10k miles on it, I'm never going to be able to sell it, the battery is held on with duct tape, I think I have put ten chains on it at this point, four drive trains. In the spring, I ride it through flooded sections of the paved trail, it just is a goer. It's holding up and it's awesome.  

How long have you had it?  

This will be my fourth summer.  

Has commuting with an e-bike changed things a lot for you?  

It's been a game changer for me. Where I live - it was really challenging. My commute is 20-25 miles a day. And it's really hard to commit to that. Not from a fitness perspective, but from a time away from your family perspective. When I work the long hours and I try to add two plus hours of commuting, that's a challenge. Now, I can do the short distance in 35 minutes. The drive time is 20 minutes. I'm only talking a 15-minute difference between drive time and ride time. So yeah, it's been a game changer.  
 

Bike Parking 

What do you do about bike parking?  

It's hard. It just depends on where I am going. Most of the city facilities have bike parking now, so it's fine there. Honestly, if I don't think that a business has adequate facilities for me to park my bike, the chances are I just don't ride there. And that just kind of falls into the practicality of businesses having bike parking. When they don't have it, they have to commit to housing my jeep instead of my bike. Which, you know, they could fit a lot more bikes than jeeps.  

And what you would want is a place to lock it to? 

Correct. Since it is an e-bike, since I tend to have gear on it, I need something to put a wheel in, where it feels substantial. Some of the decorative bike parking just isn't as functional for a bike like mine.  

How to Get Started

“Just get started, and then slowly try to move the barriers. Don't try to do it all at once. Don't try to overthink it to the point where you remove every barrier that could possibly come up, and the day has to be perfect, and the bike has to be perfect. Then you'll just never get started.” 

What advice do you have for folks who want to try riding their bikes for transportation?  

Really, it is - don't overthink it. You just don't need a whole bunch of gear, and a very specific purpose-built bike, and all the high-end bags, you don't need that to get started. Now you might find that those check off some boxes as you develop a habit of riding through different weather conditions or different times of days. What I mean by that is - do you need a spare change of clothes? Take a lunch? Do you ever take your laptop? Those sorts of things can affect what you need to have gear-wise, but otherwise, just get started.  

And then slowly try to remove the barriers that make it hard. One of those barriers can be traffic. Maybe you did your first ride and traffic was a little heavy. Don't let that be the reason why you don't do it again - try and see if there is a different route you can take. And then after you do that a couple of times, maybe you're a little uncomfortable. So now, ok, remove that barrier, maybe buy a pair of cycling shorts, a different saddle, or whatever fits what your goals are.  

Same with the gear. Don't let the fact that you need to carry an iPad be the reason why you don't commute. Then you invest in the bags. Just get started, and the slowly try to move the barriers. Don't try to do it all at once. Don't try to overthink it to the point where you remove every barrier that could possibly come up, and the day has to be perfect, and the bike has to be perfect. Then you'll just never get started.  

All the things you notice when you're riding a bike. You get the mental health benefits, the physical health benefit, and then you get the benefit of an interconnected community. Coming out of Covid, I think it is more important than ever that people start to feel connected with their community again.” 


As a shop owner, why is riding for transportation something that matters to you? 

You know, I keep going back to the element of freedom. I just think there is a sometimes-underplayed element to riding your bike as it pertains to freedom. I don't mean in a patriotic sense; I mean the freedom to choose. 

My kids decided, when they were old enough, to ride their bikes to elementary school. And that's possible because of where we live. We've got a great safe route, and we've got a great school, it's in the middle of the neighborhood, not on the outside of the neighborhood, so everyone can ride inward through the neighborhood, to the school, and they were able to choose that.  

Or if you are a mountain biker, and you're able to choose “I'm just going to ride my bike from my house because there is a safe route from my house to the place I want to ride.” Same goes for going to the store or going to work. 

That freedom to be able to choose is really powerful because of all the benefits of riding a bike: mental health, physical health, community health, having a community that feels more connected. It relates to what I said in the beginning about how I choose my commutes. I want to see things, I want to see nature change, I want to see the commercial project along river road. What phase is it at? Is that coffee shop open yet? All the things you notice when you're riding a bike. You get the mental health benefits, the physical health benefit, and then you get the benefit of an interconnected community.  

Coming out of Covid, I think it is more important than ever that people start to feel connected with their community again.   


Thank you, Ryan!

Interview by Judith Rognli

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