AMERICAN FORK CANYON — There's no smog or honking in this commute. And the only rushing Ty Hopkins hears is the creek flowing alongside him as he pedals up and down the winding canyon roads. Sometimes, his iPod keeps him company, while other times, he quietly soaks up the early morning sun as it trickles through the treetops.
Just a simple morning bike ride.
A "simple" 36.75-mile-with-an-11-mile-uphill-climb-from-American-Fork-to-Provo ride. No biggie.
"It's a nice workout," Hopkins says modestly. "I'm just an old man trying to get some exercise in."
The "old" man, a 39-year-old father of four girls and an associate professor in exercise science at BYU, has always been a mountain biking aficionado, but he wasn't really a cycling fan until he discovered that road bikes offered an incredibly convenient way to combine triathlon training and commuting.
So in the summer, rather than drive the 30 minutes from his American Fork home to his Richards Building office, he bikes it — just call it the 140-minute Alpine Loop extreme nature commute. (His office is conveniently located next to the men's locker room, where he has stashed a few changes of clothes.)
"It's funny, people used to be amazed that he would bike to work at all," says Hopkins' wife, Holly. "But then he starts going over the mountains and all that kind of stuff. It's no big deal to him; it's not something he has to pump himself up for. It just comes naturally to him."
Sometimes, Hopkins will even pedal the Squaw Peak trail or the South Fork loop for an extra workout.
"One of the reasons I started doing this is I wanted to be able to get some rides in, some miles in, but I didn't want to take up too much time," Hopkins said. "This was a nice little compromise."
Hopkins, who also rides for Mad Dog Cycles, punched out six triathlons last summer and has plans for a few more this year, along with several bike-specific races, including LOTOJA, a 206-mile bike ride from Logan to Jackson, Wyo., and some 100-mile "century" rides.
When he's out mountain biking, his wife always asks for his itinerary and at what time she should send out a search party if he's not back.
Road biking isn't as worrisome, she says, except when Hopkins tells her that he occasionally flies downhill at 55 mph, which means the thought of a small puddle or a renegade pebble is enough to make her nervous.
But it's the cars and oversized trailers that keep Hopkins most alert.
"You have to be pretty careful coming down," he says. "Every now and then there are people who don't appreciate cyclists."
He casually mentions the few times he's been driven off the road and pinched for space by road-hogging motorists.
Both Hopkins and his wife say they'd like to see Utah become more encouraging and protective of bikers, like her home state of Colorado. Utah is working on it, Hopkins says, but slowly.
After all, biking doesn't just offer great health benefits. It also reduces pollution and saves money, especially when summer gasoline prices soar.
Although at the rate Hopkins burns calories (4,000 to 5,000 on a long ride), "what I've saved in gas, I've paid for in eating more," he laughs, and Holly Hopkins confirms his huge appetite is no joke.
On a ride, he may slam a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a few energy gels, and when he's done, it's time for a hamburger and some pasta and "whatever I can get my hands on," he says.
Some nights, he'll pack away three bagels while setting the table for dinner, says Holly Hopkins, who is also a registered dietitian and his carbo-loading coach.
"I'm thrilled he has a hobby that's so health-oriented," she says. "He's a big sports fan, but now he probably spends less time watching sports since he's out on the road biking. It's better he's out on the road than watching other people perform."