Crested Butte to Aspen Pearl Pass Klunker Tour, September 1978

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Photo courtesy of Wende Cragg, Rolling Dinosaur Archives, copyright 2008. Account below written by Joe Breeze for Upslope Brewing Co.

The ride that made mountain biking epic. Founded in 1976 by Crested Butte Hotshot firefighters, the ride’s goal was to one-up Aspenites who rode motorcycles over Pearl Pass to Crested Butte. The 1978 ride was the first edition to attract outsiders, with six riders making it out from California, including one woman (whose camera captured this image). In contrast to the Buttians, who rode old Schwinn clunkers and did most of their training at the Grubstake Saloon, the Marin riders actually trained on bikes and half of them sported state-of-the-art chrome-moly steel Breezers. They were immediately accused of cheating.Seen here, are the thirteen survivors at the top of 12,700-foot Pearl Pass. They are, left to right (bike in parenthesis): Wende Cragg, Fairfax, CA (Breezer); the infamous “Neil Murdoch,” Crested Butte, CO (’50s Schwinn); Richard Neilsen, Hotchkiss, CO (’60s Schwinn); Charlie Kelly, San Anselmo, CA (Breezer); Joe Breeze, Mill Valley, CA (Breezer); Jim Cloud, Crested Butte, CO (’50s Schwinn); Bob Starr, Crested Butte, CO (’50s Schwinn); Richard Ullery, Crested Butte, CO (’50s Schwinn); Gary Fisher, San Anselmo, CA (’38 Schwinn); Archie Archiletta, Crested Butte, CO (’50s Schwinn); Chris Carroll, Crested Butte, CO (’50s Schwinn); Albert Maunz, Crested Butte, CO (’50s Schwinn); Michael Castelli, Point Reyes, CA (’30s Schwinn).

This image and the description above hang in a prominent place in the Upslope Tap Room. It epitomizes the idea that all of what we enjoy doing in the outdoors of Colorado didn’t just happen by chance. There were certain crazed and passionate people, remote places, and often some rudimentary technology that bridged concept to reality.

It’s 1978 and Crested Butte has one paved street, 1500 hearty souls, and a wild group of Grubstake Saloon regulars who rode bikes designed for paper boys’ early morning deliveries. The Pearl Pass Tour was in its third year, but this year was different. Avid mountain bike pioneers from both coasts wanted to experience the climb to 12,700 feet that the Buttians had achieved in previous years. Gary Fisher flew in from his Bicycling Magazine gig in NYC for a shot at Pearl Pass. Joe Breeze and friends traveled from Marin County with their modified rides to bridge the ideas and comaraderie that would eventually form the roots of what we know today as mountain biking. That hardtail 29er that you just picked up at the local shop, those endless trails that you seek out every season . . . did it all just kind of happen?

As the California 12-speeds rocketed up the pass, the locals found themselves pushing their single speed Schwinn klunkers all the way up to camp, near the switchbacks around Pearl Pass. There they met up with a supply truck, bringing dinner and well-deserved rehydration, a keg of Coors, provided by the propietor of the Grubstake. After a night out on the pass, the riders descended into Aspen, following a narrow trail through loose rock and boulders.

The road over Pearl Pass, built circa 1884 for mule trains to bring ore from mining camps near Aspen to the railhead at Crested Butte, played an important part in the history of the area. Almost a century later, a group of locals saw that same road as a challenge to do what no one had ever done before and, little did they know, help establish a sport that would change Colorado forever.

There is little question as to why the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame is located in Crested Butte, Colorado. Let’s remember why and celebrate it by clipping in and swooping down those trails just a little bit out of our comfort range.