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By Leah Nott

With more than 50 miles of trails accessed from downtown, Durango prides itself on creating a common ground for mountain bikers of all abilities. From toddlers on pushbikes to adult beginners to race-winning pros like Sepp Kuss, winner of the 2023 Vuelta a España, cycling has a solid place in the heart of the community.

Besides the thrills it provides, cycling aficionados also tout the friendships built and passions grown along the way. Those friendships and passions are where Durango Devo comes in.

“Of course, riding bikes is super fun, but riding bikes with your friends is more fun,” said Levi Kurlander, Devo’s executive director. “Almost all of my closest and longest-lasting friendships have come from Devo.”

Kurlander explained Devo is a bike club for all age groups, from tikes on Strider bikes to adults looking to improve their skills. Students learn from seasoned mountain bike coaches and apply those skills on Durango trails with teammates of similar ages. Classes meet in spring, summer, and fall.

“My number one focus is safety,” said Devo alumni and coach Shane Ellis. “Safety, then fun, and then becoming a better cyclist. We always ride through town in a group to get to the trails. It’s good to teach the kids how to navigate the streets. I always tell my groups this will teach them independence. It gives the kids a sense of freedom and teaches them how to do it safely and in a group.”

Devo’s mission is to create a lifelong love for cycling in a safe and constructive way. Founded in 2006 by Sarah Tescher and Chad Cheeney, Devo is the first bike development program of its kind and has become a prominent part of Durango’s cycling culture. The founders continue to play active roles in the non-profit organization, showcasing their enthusiastic dedication to cycling.

While its foundations lie in pursuing fun and growing excitement around the sport, many former students have evolved into world and national champions, like Olympians Howard Grotts and Christopher Blevins. Most recently, Durango local and former “Devo kid” Sepp Kuss brought home the victory of La Vuelta a España. Kurlander noted that Sepp wasn’t always driven to race, but Devo gave him a lifelong passion for biking, which turned into a drive to excel.

“I think everyone comes to it with their own goals and reasons,” Kurlander said of Devo and biking. “Making high-performing athletes is never the objective that we’re working toward. It usually happens as a side effect of kids having a fun time.”

For Kurlander, Devo’s influence extended into his collegiate and professional cycling pursuits. The bonds formed through Devo played a pivotal role in shaping Kurlander’s cycling journey, leading him to competitive endeavors and a drive to share the joys of the sport. Engaging in mountain and road bike racing, his stoke for cycling deepened over the years, becoming a central aspect of his identity.

Reflecting on the impact of Devo in the lives of students and coaches alike, it’s clear the program’s influence extends beyond the realm of sports, shaping individuals into devoted cyclists who form a profoundly committed community. Mountain biking is an expensive sport to step into. Fortunately, youth interested in Devo can access registration and find gear assistance from various resources. The Devo Scholarship Fund helps families with registration fees, bikes, and equipment. Scholarships are awarded based on financial need and Devo’s focus on promoting diversity within the program.

Kurlander explained that the goal is to ensure financial constraints do not hinder any rider from participating in outdoor activities. Funding for the scholarship program ensures that most applicants who meet the financial criteria will receive support. Last year, participants received more than $24,000 in Devo scholarships, and the organization plans to increase support in the future.

Devo has pioneered an age-based, team-oriented cycling model for children, and the concept has since spread across Colorado, inspiring similar programs in states nationwide. Devo emphasizes the significance of building a community around cycling which fosters a love for the sport that transcends competitive ambitions, encouraging individuals to embrace cycling as a lifestyle. While the thrill of riding bikes is undeniable, the camaraderie of riding with friends elevates the experience and shapes social circles for years to come.

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