Oldest Mountain Biking Event in the world – Pearl Pass Tour

They say life begins at the end of your comfort zone. I couldn’t agree more. Every experience I’ve had that’s outside of what I’m used to has breathed fresh air into my soul. From backcountry skiing on Mt. Tallac to starting mountain biking, once I break through that mental barrier, the flood gates open. I immerse myself in whatever it is, trying to learn techniques and the history. “Where did it come from? How did it evolve?” Right at the top of this list sits the Pearl Pass Tour.

The idea of the Pearl Pass Tour is born

Before mega events like the Red Bull Rampage in Utah or the Crankworx Festival in Whistler, there were grassroots events helping pump passion into the sport like the Downieville Classic. One of the most critical for the evolution of the sport is the Pearl Pass Tour and undoubtedly the OLDEST organized mountain biking event in the world. Back in the summer of ‘76, a group of boisterous motorcyclists from Aspen decided to trek up Pearl Pass and down into Crested Butte, making a raucous that they’d accomplished an insurmountable feat.

Crested Butte Locals take on the challenge on Schwinns

1980 Pearl Pass Tour Colorado Oldest Mountain biking event

The start of the Pearl Pass Tour, 1980. Photo by Kevin Montgomery

The locals must’ve thought if a bunch of Aspen Hollywood-types could do the pass on motorcycles, why couldn’t they do it on bikes? You have to remember in 1976 the concept of a mountain bike was foreign. All they had were Schwinn Excelsior bikes with longhorn-style handlebars and ballooner tires. Talk about insane! Fourteen locals huffed & puffed their way over the pass from Crested Butte into the town of Aspen, piling their clunkers in front of Aspen’s Hotel Jerome. Boy, that must’ve been sight especially in that era! And so… the story of this tour began to spread like wildfire throughout the United States.

California Mountain Bike Invasion

Climbing up on the Pearl Pass Tour, 1980. Photo by Kevin Montgomery

Around the same time & a few thousand miles west, mountain biking was beginning its life. A crew of Bay Area cyclists were pushing their limits on the trails of Mt. Tamalpais when the story of the Pearl Pass Tour reached them. Talk about the ULTIMATE test for their newly designed bikes! So, in 1978, Charlie Kelly and Gary Fisher reached out to the Crested Butte town hall to learn if the event was happening. The person on the line was Myles Rademan. Though there wasn’t a “real” event at the time, he saw the opportunity to bring in tourism revenue with a cyclist group from California. And thus, the race was born.

Pearl Pass not for the faint-hearted

Pearl Pass Tour Highest Colorado Pass Sign Aspen Crested Butte

Standing at 12,750′ the pass is one of the highest in Colorado – Image courtesy: Trail Source

Pearl Pass Tour Highest Colorado Pass Alpine Wildflowers

The Pearl Pass itself offers spectacular high alpine scenery – Image courtesy: Trail Source

Compared to any other mountain biking race, the 39 mile trek is a serious test even in today’s standards. First, Pearl Pass is one of the HIGHEST mountain passes in Colorado standing at 12,750 feet & some years with snow not melting at the top! Second, this pass was built in 1872 by miners to get from Crested Butte to the mining town of Ashcroft, meaning it takes what the land gives it.

For the first 20 miles you can expect single-track riding and long sections of hike-a-bikes followed by seven icy stream crossings across a 4,000-foot climb to the peak of Pearl Pass. Then on the descent, certain sections take riders over tightly packed rocks the size of bowling balls. In the words of the CB Klunkers team, “I thought that some sadistic miner had taken truckloads of them and dumped them on the road, just to make the tour a little more challenging.” The original race may have taken two days but now with bike technology, it’s done in one.

Why you should go to the Pearl Pass Tour

Sure, you can participate in any of the large organized festivals or races that exist, but to truly embrace the mountain bike culture, you should put the Pearl Pass Tour on your bucket list. It will be painful. It will be arduous. But in the end, you will have an understanding of what the forefathers of mountain biking did for the sport and truly appreciate how far technology has come.

Event Details

1980 Pearl Pass Tour Colorado Oldest Mountain biking event

Hike-a-bike on the Pearl Pass Tour, 1980. Photo by Kevin Montgomery

Date: September 9th & September 10th

Time:

  • 2-day Klunker Tour starts on Saturday September 9th, camp-out and ride to Aspen on Sunday the 10th
  • 1-day Mountain Bike starts & finishes on September 10th

Location: Crested Butte Mountain Heritage Museum @ 9 am

Cost: $25 for Shuttle

For more info: cbklunkers@yahoo.com

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