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Derrick Purvis: Two-wheeled Commuting

By Abby Laub

I sat shivering uncontrollably on the Central Kentucky bike path in early February as Derrick Purvis breezed past atop his bicycle, decked out in snazzy cold-weather cycling garb. Purvis, 30, bikes to work in Lexington 11 miles each way, year-round, panniers packed with his daily essentials. His commute takes him past serene horse country and rolling green hills on one of the area's newest multi-use trails, in a state gaining awareness of the need for such paths. In all but a few short segments of his route, Purvis skirts the auto traffic, gas stations and coffee stops that define the morning grind for most commuters. And in his time off, he rides with his wife, Angie, hauling their three young children on his Xtracycle.

How did you become interested in bicycle commuting?
A few years ago a co-worker was bike commuting and talked another co-worker, Jeff, into doing it. Jeff and I lived in the same neighborhood at the time. In the spring, when Jeff pulled it off, I thought, "Yeah that's totally possible." I wanted to know if I could do it one time and it was fun! It became one of those deals where we did it together about once a week and sometimes separately. I started off riding on an old mountain bike but slowly realized I needed a new bike. I have three bikes right now, all for different purposes and weather conditions.

How did that once-a-week quest grow into an everyday, all-weather venture?
I couldn't believe how fast the ride was! On the routes we had at the time, there were huge traffic issues. To drive 10 miles took anywhere from 25 to 45 minutes, and riding my bike took between 40 and 50 minutes. It was really enjoyable, so I started doing it more and gradually built up the gear to do it every day. Plus we have showers and lockers where I work. I've always enjoyed being outside, and commuting by bike allowed me to start and end my day outside. It feels like a little adventure every day. I come to work in a better mood and arrive home in a better mood.

© Abby Laub
Year-round, no matter the temperature, Purvis
saddles up for his ride into work.

Have you had any on-bike revelations?
I'm a natural extrovert, so it's incredibly beneficial for me to have alone time. It forces me to use some time for just contemplation. I would almost say every good thought I've had during the last several years has been on a bicycle. I can fill my life with a lot of activity, but riding gives me an opportunity to think productively. It prepares my mind for a day of work, and it allows me to detox after work and be on as a dad and husband when I get home.

Did you ever think you would be "one of those people" biking everywhere?
Honestly, no. It's funny because bike blogs were my primary source of information for transportation commuting. The cycling culture is in favor of racing versus everyday transportation, so I didn't really know what it was until I discovered blogs. The bloggers were the regular guys. I commuted by bike for years before I became a blogger myself. I started blogging out of a commitment to stick with it. Now I do almost 100 percent of my errands by bike and often take the kids.

How have you tried to make bike commuting more accessible to other non-racers like yourself?
I work in an office with about 80 people, and every day someone there comments about my bike commuting. I use that as an opportunity to encourage people, telling them that biking is truly accessible, and that you don't need a $3,000 bike. Just take that junky bike that's hanging in your garage, dust it off, and you can do anything with it. Some of my co-workers have tried it and also have tried running or walking to work.

© Abby Laub
Part of his commute takes Purvis past Springmint
Farm, the birthplace of 2006 Kentucky Derby Winner
Barbaro, whose racing career was tragically cut
short by a broken leg.

What are the funniest things you've seen or experienced on your bike that would not be possible when riding in a car?
It's almost always funny to pass the kids waiting at the bus stop, because they can't figure out why a grown man in a beard would ride a bike. One time I rode past a bus stop, and a girl yelled, "Hey, Neil Armstrong!" I just said, "I think you mean Lance Armstrong."

Because we live in horse country here in Kentucky, there is a lot of horse lovemaking out in the fields. When you're traveling 13 mph, you notice that.

Any scary experiences?
On two occasions, cars pulled in front of me on the one spot where the bike path crosses the road, but it was because drivers don't know how to treat cyclists.

Did Angie think you were crazy when you had the idea of towing your children along in a bike trailer and your self-made kids' seat on the back of the Xtracycle?
Any mom is going to think safety first. Being able to rattle off some facts about bike safety and the route we take helped her, since we can't always ride on divided bike paths. We live in a small town, and there is a blind turn in the road in one spot that's a little hairy. When you're in a car driving 55 mph, it may seem bad, but I was able to show Angie that it's not bad on a bike because you're past the spot so quickly.

Do your kids beg to go for bike rides now?
Yes. That would be our next step in the finances, to get them the right gear to ride in the winter. They can't wait. When we have a day of sunshine, it might be 35 degrees out, but they think they can go for a bike ride.

Are these family rides teaching your children environmental lessons?
I definitely think they are learning that a car is not a necessity. Our culture wastes resources because we assume things are necessities that really aren't. Environmental protection and lifestyle go together when you reevaluate habits of consumption and waste versus need. Bicycling unplugs the assumption that you need a car.

© Abby Laub
Purvis buckles on a helmet for his son Clive, 4.

How do you feel that biking has improved your family's quality of life?
It's probably a matter of pace. It's the easiest to get a picture of this in the summer. We could run errands in a minivan and get home in time to watch two movies, or we could ride our bikes to the grocery, go to the library and stop for some ice cream. The bike trip fills an entire afternoon. Everywhere along the way we've laughed and enjoyed the entire process, as opposed to just jetting around from one place to another. When we started doing this, my wife, who is an athlete, couldn't believe how much she enjoyed it. There's something about riding a bike that brings a lot of joy. And the fitness side of it has been great. I never had regular exercise before, and my quality of life grew because of the biking.

What is your ultimate biking goal with cycling?
As soon as our kids are more self-sufficient, we'd love to get rid of one of our cars and be a car-free or a car-light family. I would like to live in a world where it wasn't so hard to ride a bike everywhere—where bike riding from place to place was more accessible.

How has the infrastructure of this region been changed to promote cycling?
Lexington has opened clearly marked bike paths. Louisville also is getting great at developing a more bike-friendly attitude. I'm really proud of what Kentucky has.


Abby Laub is a freelance writer, photographer and fitness instructor based in Lexington, Ky., who can usually be found outside either running with her dog or cycling on the new, multi-use path next to her house.

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