Commuter Kyle

If you raced or attended any cross-racing over the Fall/Winter, you probably saw the guy wearing the unicorn head heckling at the top of a run-up. That guy is Kyle Gisbert. Kyle also happens to use his bike more than his car. You're probably thinking, "Well, he wears a unicorn head at cross races. And there were some really hot days last season. It obviously made him crazy, so I'll skip this one," think again. He is sane enough to know that alternative transportation (bike vs. car) makes more sense than a bacon hand-up.

[303]: Where did you grow up and did you do much cycling as a youngster (so...last year)?
Kyle: I was born and raised in Colorado, and I've lived on the south side of Denver almost all my life, evenly split between Englewood and Littleton. As for my interest in cycling, If I remember correctly, my dad put together a 16" diamondback BMX bike for me at the age of 4 (I was so stoked, the bike was painted green like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles van!), and I was hooked.

I raced BMX from the age of 7 until my late teens, and as early as I can remember I was using my bike to get places. By by mid teens I recall riding from my parents house to the BMX track (roughly 6 miles) just to race. I recall riding* to every job I have ever had from the age of 15. After I quit racing BMX, I moved on to riding a bit of dirt jumps and riding more 'street' as they refer to it. But I was never very good at it. I enjoyed the crap out of bashing around town and being a punk and grinding ledges but It just was too abrasive for me after a while and I got fed up with being hurt so much from falling and trying to push myself too much. By the time I was 20 I was riding a lot less in general, I was in school, I was balancing 2 jobs, I had a beautiful girlfriend and I just had a lot going on. I was riding from time to time but nothing serious

*To be clear, I have never had a job that is more than 16 mikes from my home, and at the age of 18 I did own a car, so I have had the luxury of driving to work/school/social functions as well.

As I started becoming more involved with bike shops and focused on that as my choice of career, I always dabbled with road and mountains bikes, and shockingly with my BMX background my first road and mountain bikes were single speed. I always had something more 'substantial' than a BMX bike for commuting sake.

So I would say that I did a fair amount of cycling in my youth, not as much as some and definitely not as structured as most people who end up trying to be a CAT 4 superstar in cross, but I will never forget any of it, the memories, the crashes the trips to the ER, the bike rides to nowhere and back. My fascination in Cyclo-cross came much later as I was working in bike shops and I was genuinely intrigued by a discipline that evenly meshed mountain biking and road cycling.

[303]: What is your favorite bike/style of biking?
Kyle: I can't say I genuinely have a 'favorite' bike or 'style of biking.' I can say that as a bicycle mechanic, I have a love for bikes that are simple (No Di2, no internal hubs, minimal amount of gears, tubes in my tires.) As for style of biking, anything that is equal parts challenging, scary, and fun. (That usually ends up being mountain biking.)

[303]: Let's talk some more about commuting. How long have you been a die-hard commuter?
Kyle: Die-Hard is a serious term…. (and a decent movie.) I would say that I have used a bike for more than 70% of all commuting I have done to and from work since the age of 15. As I noted earlier, I didn't own a car until I was almost 19 and I just never saw the point. I watched my parents chew through cars like bubble gum growing up and I knew that there was a negative financial repercussion due to the fact that we were always throwing money at them. So I guess one could say I was always deterred from seeing cars as a tool and I saw them as more of a pain in the ass.

To answer this in a more direct manner, I would say that I have been more committed to commuting by bike for the past year in a fairly dedicated manner. The last car I owned was costing me upwards of $200 a month to insure, fuel, and maintain. It clicked in my head to just let go. When my wife and I came back from CX worlds in February (2013), I started a new job and my car sat for the most part. I think the biggest thing over the past year was that I decided to use my bike for all the little trips within 10 mi of the house. Things like; haircuts, small grocery trips, library trips, and so on.

I would like to state that there are people who will read this and might balk at this and rightfully so. I feel that each persons needs, goals and desires can and should be determined by that person. My rationale for commuting came from the fact that I enjoy turning pedals on my bike and it has been reasonable for me to do so for a majority of my life.

[303]: What is your goal "Commuter Quest" this year for commuting?
Kyle: To become king of the mountain on Strava on all the hills along the C-470 path between University and Yosemite*. Or, more precisely, I would like to stay healthy, take more photos along my rides and just enjoy the scenery that Colorado offers on a daily basis.

*For a short while I became obsessed with Strava, 'getting miles in' and beating 'so and so'. The more I thought about it, the more I realized it was negating what cycling means to me. (For the record I DO have a Strava account and after I went to Strava Rehab I, am much better and primarily use it to track overall miles. I now use it as a tool to socialize with some friends whom I might otherwise not.)

Last year was a big year (for me) I rode a lot more Mountain bike, I rode a little road bike and I rode some messed up race in KS called The Dirty Kanza. After that, my legs let me know they were in no shape to be raced on, and last year I noticed that the harder I pushed during CX season the more I couldn't rebound from that. I think that in the end I never gave my legs a legitimate break from riding bikes, which is good if you don't want to be competitive, but absolutely horrible if you want to go fast for CX.

So this year I would just like to ride my bike every day, whether its 7 miles or 200 miles, I just want to pedal every day.

[303]: How do you suggest one get started with their own "Commuter Quest"?
Kyle: Over the past 2 years I've seen a lot of things change with my habits of commuting, my style and choice of clothing and bikes and 'goals.' I would recommend that if you're interested in a commuter quest, take baby steps.

  • Start with 2-3 days a week and see how that feels (this really applies when your commute is more than 10 mi each way).
  • Put the money into a bike fit and the proper saddle and handlebar configuration. Remember, if this is going to be your transportation, you're going to want to be comfortable. Don't be afraid to over-dress. In Colorado, in this month alone I have ridden to work in jeans and a sweatshirt at 50º and rode home that same day in a blizzard at 25º.
  • Be realistic, don't over-do it. Its a commute, not a race, and besides who wants to rush to work, it's work.
  • Figure out what "portaging system" works best for you. I used a backpack for multiple years and it was alright until you really started loading it down, then the neck and back pain started. This year I purchased a rack and a pannier bag I and although it took some time to get used to, I don't know how I put up with a backpack for so long.

[303]: Daily problem/death-traps that you watch out for?
Kyle: Cars are always a pain. A lot of commuters especially in the major cities are forced to use streets with the cars. I feel that if you're riding in the street without a bike lane and a block over, there's a perfectly good street with a marked bike lane, but it's "cool" to swerve through the "death maze" you're doing it wrong. The bike lanes and paths are there for us to use, SO USE THEM. It still makes me cringe when I read of a cyclist that is injured or killed in a collision with a automobile. I know that the war will wage on between cars and bikes, but most cities have made noticeable improvements in their attempts to make their city more "bike friendly" so PLEASE, PLEASE for the love of whatever you believe in, use the lanes and paths.

Besides cars, I've actually run into a few cyclists who practice horrible commuting habits. LIGHTS people! You almost can't have too many! I know that Denver and Arapaho Counties require use of a head-light and a tail-light. Not to sound pompous, but I have had my fair share of run-ins with cars and I can deal with the best of them. Accidents happen. But I have almost obliterated cyclists riding on the "wrong side" of the path coming at me head on with no lights. Funny to think that if I didn't have enough lights I might not have ever seen them coming.

Also if you commute year round, Ice is always a fun one, I usually beef up the width on my tires in the winter to deal with icy/rutted snow paths that can be oh so merciless. And if you don't want to wear a helmet, don't ride your bike. It's too simple to have an accident you didn't see coming and you might not ever be the same, so if you don't want to wear a helmet, you probably should stay inside.

Lastly, the cold. If it's too cold, nobody is going to heckle you for driving or taking the bus/lightrail. I rode to work in temperatures that were -7º standing and I knew that if it got much colder, it was just a bad idea. Spending that much time in that weather without being able to seek shelter if needed isn't the smartest thing. I had a serious cough for a week after that, and in retrospect it might not have been a bad idea to hitch a ride and to have been more comfortable for that following week.

[303]: How does commuting fuel cross and cross fuel commuting?
Kyle: I don't know if there's a distinct connection. Cyclo-cross is a sport for the loons, you have to be out of your mind to take it seriously. On the other hand you have to be slightly nuts to ride 8 miles to work in a foot of snow at -7º. So they can feed off of each other in a way. My clothing selection is more refined due to commuting, my ability to sense when it's just too damn cold to do anything for more than an hour is more keen. I think that I learned more about myself commuting than I ever will racing cross. CX is just a burst of all out energy for 40-60 minutes. Commuting is a much more relaxed style of cycling and they each have their benefits. I feel that as long as I am pedaling a bike, it's not hurting the fact that the next day I will also be pedaling a bike. My body seems to just be used to it.

I have spent many hours contemplating if it's worth it to try and ride all the time, and race in the fall. I know that my over all endurance has increased, but my interval endurance is shot, I have 0 interval endurance. On an positive note my cadence is WAY up, and I have a more dedicated meal plan. (Due to pedaling so much, I have become more in tune with how much, what, and when to eat.)

[303]: Does Sir Reginald (Kyle and Melinda's pet Beta fish) approve of commuting?
Kyle: He's a fish, but if fish could talk he'd probably be stoked on bikes, and bike riding.

[303]: What's your favorite commuter tool/secret that you COULD NOT DO WITHOUT.
Kyle: A wool cycling cap. They're warm in the winter, they breathe well in the summer, and they're stylish.

[303]: What's the lamest excuse people use for NOT using their bike as transportation? What do you say to shatter that excuse?
Kyle: I dislike when people complain that they don't have the "right bike". I feel that the cycling industry has stereotyped each 'discipline' of cycling into having it's on niche of bikes, clothing, accessories. I rode for years on a 20" BMX bike with a backpack. I rode for years on a SS MTB with a backpack. Sometimes I ride my race bike to work with a backpack, I usually use my old CX race bike with a rack and a pannier bag to get to work. There's no "right bike" to commute on. Yes there's bikes that are better equipped but, no "wrong bike".

Also people seem to think that it takes an exorbitant amount of time to commute via bike. Depending on how you route your ride it can vary. I ride from 1-25 and Lincoln (the Lincoln south of Denver, not in the heart of Denver.) To C-470 and University almost everyday. If I drove and used those 2 highways in rush hour it'd take me 20+ minutes to get from door to door. If I push a it a little bit on the bike I can make it to work in 25 minutes using the C-470 path. Even if it's snowy and horrible the longest it's taken me using that same route is about 45 minutes. So yes, it will take at least a few more minutes, but if you want to split hairs over 5-10 minutes be my guest, I'll be smiling ear to ear riding my bike.

[303]: What's one thing most people (even on those on your team Salvigetti Happy Coffee) don't know?
Kyle: Nobody on that team seems to realize that Old Chub is the absolute WORST hand-up beer. They also might not know that I played JV basketball in high school, all 5'6" of me.

[303]: And finally, where did you find the unicorn head that you wore religiously for the 2013 CX season?
Kyle: The masks were actually a birthday gift from my lovely wife Melinda. It was originally an expansion on a comment I made to her about CO not having enough heckling/fun at some of the cross races. Id like to add that it also has something to do with a gracious gift from Mr. Reeves Macdonald. I won the spirit award at our 2012 Salvagetti Happy Coffee CX team party and I was gifted `a cape with a crudely stenciled unicorn spray painted on. It had the saying "Keep Cross Funky" on it. Things only got better from there.

Do you want to start your own "Commuter Quest"? Winter Bike to Work Day is right around the corner. Just get yourself a nice woolen cap and follow Kyle's tips.

Are you in the Highland's Ranch area? You could get yourself all fixed up and ready at Kyle's place of business, Bike Source. No more excuses. Thanks to Kyle for the interview, the commuter tips and of course, for "Keeping Cross Funky."

News Item: 

1 Comment

lowered expectations

Kyle was the first person I'd ever met after a cross race, he approached me and shamed me for not taking any beer handups during the race. I was immediately hooked and found it refreshing there was a racing style that involved people like him.
Super bummed there's no unicorn head at crits.