Dr. Ben Kirkley lives in Denver with his wife, snow-loving dog Dylan, and many bikes! Read about his awesome Bike Stylish lifestyle below!
Where are you from originally, and what brought you to Colorado?
I was born in Nashville, and grew up in North Carolina. After graduating from medical school, I came to Denver to complete medical residency and start being a doctor! I am a family doctor, working in Commerce City just north of Denver.
When did you first get into bikes?
The story goes that I was riding a little kids’ bike at 2 years old, around our cul-de-sac! I’ve always loved bikes, everything about them!
So you grew up biking?
In high school I started mountain biking, my older brother got into it and I got his hand me down bikes. In college, I started looking at biking as a viable means for transportation, and really trying to find alternative non-car forms of transportation. I went to North Carolina State University, in Raleigh, and bike commuted around campus. I also got into triathlons. Actually, I took a triathlon PE class, for an easy credit, and really fell in love with it! I didn’t even own a road bike before that class! I was riding my old clunky mountain bike on our group rides! After that, I got really into road biking and triathlons. In Medical school, I raced for the University of North Carolina cycling team, which was a lot of fun.
What type of biking do you do now?
I use my bike primarily for transportation; I try to bike everywhere. And I road bike and mountain bike for fun, things like the Triple Bypass ride or the Colorado Trail!
How far do you bike to work every day?
My commute to work is 7 miles each way.
So 14 miles total to and from work… even if it’s snowing or raining?!
I bike regardless of the weather; my commuting bike can pretty much go through anything!
What is your daily commute like? Are you on main roads, is there a bike lane or path?
For most of my commute, there is a bike lane or a mixed use greenway, which is really nice, and as I head north the view of the mountains becomes more prominent as I go.
What bike do you use for commuting?
An older, late 80’s Specialized. A hybrid bike, called a Street Stomper. I found it on Craigslist, it was old and needed a lot of work! I took it apart, repainted, and built it up into a new bike. It has 3 by 9 gearing, so 27 speeds total, plenty of speeds for commuting. It has drop handlebars with cantilever brakes. I also have a back up commuting bike with studded snow tires. It’s an old, beater bike! It’s another specialized, a mountain bike from the early 90s, called a Hard Rock. I got it for $10 on Craigslist! I stripped it down, put it back together, regressed everything and got it running well. I had some old wheels, and added studded snow tires.
How many bikes do you own?
As of right now, 5 bikes. My commuting bike, my snow bike, a racing road bike that has been my recent project – I’m always working on a project!, a road bike I’ve had for 10 years, and a single speed bike that I used for commuting when my commute was a shorter.
It sounds like you typically purchase your bikes secondhand.
Yes, I do – all of them.
You do a lot of work to these bikes, taking them apart and basically creating custom bikes that you build. How did you learn to do this?
A lot trial and error! Riding bikes with friends, something goes wrong or a part breaks, you do whatever you can to figure that out. When I was first learning, it was scavenging, finding a bike repair book, and talking to people. Now there are tons of DIY YouTube videos online. Recently I took a bicycle mechanics and repair class at the Bike Depot in Denver, a great bike shop and organization, and I did a wheel building class as well. It’s a combination of things!
Did you ever have malfunctions when you were learning, at the beginning?
Yes! In Chapel Hill, I had a friend who was learning along with me how to take our bikes apart and put them back together. We headed out on a big group ride one day, and in the middle of the ride his pedals fell off!
What gear do you use to keep your commute easy?
Panniers that carry everything I need, from work necessities to groceries. Also a front rack with a bag. I have fenders, front and rear, and a mud flap. A helmet with a mirror that attaches. I always carry a spare tube, tire changing tools, a pump, and an extra jacket.
Any specific brands of gear you really enjoy?
Cygolite – my front and rear lights are awesome, they’re USB rechargeable. I’ve had mine for 3 or 4 years and still going strong.
Fizik – I recently got shoe covers, like booties that slip over your footwear and keep you dry and warm. These are great in the winter!
Planet Bike – they make fenders in different widths, for a good fit whether you have a road bike, mountain bike, or hybrid
Marmot – my rain jacket has kept me dry on many occasions!
Velo Orange – My front rack is a touring rack, with a bag that attaches. Very useful.
Do you have advice for people who bike commute, or are thinking about bike commuting?
The biggest thing I would say, is if you’re wondering if you should do it, do it! Being on a bicycle is a great way to commute! You will figure it out as you go, and Denver has a great bicycle culture and community. Other advice – knowing how do dress on a bike is the biggest thing! Being able to regulate your body temperature is a combination of choosing the right layers, riding at a speed that’s appropriate for you, and knowing your personal sweat threshold of how quickly you heat up! My rule of thumb is 5 miles or less, I bike in my everyday clothes. Over 5 miles, I wear a cycling outfit and bring a change of clothes.
Any safety tips?
Being on a bicycle, you are an equivalent vehicle on the road. You get every right that a car does, but you also have to follow the rules and obey traffic laws. Visibility is huge. Both visibility to the eye as far as having your lights on day or night, reflectors, a fluorescent jacket or vest, and also riding in a way that makes you visible. There is a tendency for people to ride all the way to the right of the road, almost in the gutter, on the shoulder, which can be a fairly dangerous place to ride because cars will see that and take the full lane and can pass you really close. I prefer riding in the lane, or in the right half of the lane, which helps encourage a car to pass by changing lanes, which they should be doing anyways.
You mentioned you keep your lights on during the daytime as well as at night?
Yes, this can only make you more visible. I favor blinking lights as well, front and back, for urban biking. The blinking front light helps for turns, if you’re in a bike lane, cars are turning across the bike lane, and it’s good for the car in front of you to know there is a bike behind them and not turn across that lane when you’re there.
What is your cycling outfit for the ride to work?
Bib shorts, a padded short with overall-type suspenders, and a cycling jersey, made of synthetic fabric as my base layer. When it’s cold outside I’ll add riding tights that are fleece lined, and layers on top, jackets or snow wear or rain wear as needed. There are showers at my building, which is a nice resource to have. In the colder winter months, usually I don’t use them because I don’t get too warm on the way.
Any DIY tips or modifications you’ve made that benefit you when you’re out riding your bike?
Most front lights are mounted on the handlebars, but when putting together my commuting bike I wanted my light lower. On the front rack, like a traditional touring bike. This avoids the light shining into the eyes of drivers, and helps visualize the road. I didn’t have a light that specifically mounts to a rack, I had a classic handle bar mounted light. So I drilled a hole into the base of the light, tapered so a screw or bolt could fit. I attached that to the rack, and now I can mount my light there! That was my proudest DIY in a while!
You have the option of purchasing new bikes – is there a reason that you get bikes secondhand, and modify them yourself, rather than buying a new bike?
I’ve always been a big fan of recycling! The same goes for bikes. There are many bikes out there that don’t get used, don’t get ridden, and they’re great bikes and have a lot of life left in them! One of the most beautiful things about bikes, is that you can take any bike regardless of how new or old, and give it more life and really personalize it. There’s a certain gratification I get from the personalization of it. Also, I love doing the bike mechanic work, so it’s an opportunity to do that! Not only for my own bikes, I love finding other people bikes, finding those bikes that look like people are done with, and putting some life into them and giving them to somebody else who will enjoy that bike. I love the process. I enjoy piecing it together over time and putting in the work myself.
Do you think you take this approach is other aspects of your life as well, trying to repurpose or make the most of things?
That’s probably true! Certainly the recycling/repurposing is something I take to heart in many facets of life, but even more I think I find the hardest pathway, and then go that way! It’s my natural tendency.
What do you love most about bikes?
Everything! Biking is great for so many reasons. If I had to pick one thing that could take away most of the problems in the world, I would say everybody ride a bicycle. Imagine if everybody in this world rode a bicycle as their primary means of transportation. As a physician, I constantly see the struggle with diseases related to inactivity. Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, heart disease, high blood pressure, depression, many things related to being an inactive nation. Health can be improved by biking. Also, you typically don’t have a lot of road rage if you’re on a bike! Endorphins are produced. You feel less violent, less angry, and not to mention that you’re not using natural resources that are rare and fought over all around the world. The bicycle can be a cure to a lot of evils.
You clearly love bikes. Would you rank bikes in your top 3 favorite things in life?
For sure! Bikes, family, and friends!
Want to learn more? Dr. Ben Kirkley’s favorite resources:
Editors Note: Contributor Monica Fedrigo is so inspired by bike culture that she is profiling a series of bike commuters in the Greater Denver Area for Bike Stylish. You Rock Monica! If you’re interested in contributing a Bike Stylish profile, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org