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Crested Butte Bike Week’s Unchained Melody: Costume Up for Crested Butte Bike Week

By Dawne Belloise

Summer is finally upon us and to kick it off is one of Crested Butte’s favorite events: Bike Week. The craziest and most anticipated race event of the weekend is the famed Chainless World Championship Bike Race, which screams down from the top of Kebler Pass into the heart of town and is immediately followed by a celebratory party.

Seven miles of gravitationally challenging dirt road that drops into the top of Elk Avenue takes place this Friday, June 23, with racers screaming down the dusty descent, beginning at the traditional 4:20 p.m.

It’s the oldest mountain bike festival in the world. Originally dubbed Fat Tire Bike Week before its name change several years ago, the race highlights Crested Butte as the legendary home of not only mountain biking, but of costuming.

Most Crested Butte competitions and events involve costuming up and Buttians take their costume creating seriously. In fact, many start creating their themes and get-ups months in advance—even as they cross the finish line they’ve got next year’s costumes already materializing in their heads. From teams to individuals, they are pros leaning to the theatrical extreme and they shine in the Chainless Race.

Through the years, the costumes have gotten more elaborate, complex and comical. Boat bikes, gorilla and chicken suits, Vikings, several Darth Vaders and Star Wars characters, pirates and disco glitterati, even real-life brides and grooms in their wedding garb, and on a variety of contraptions. Mike Arbaney’s front-end, loose-pivot point bike named the Gambler that can bend itself in two is always amusing to watch. They do it for the prestige and the glory, the fun, and of course, the bragging rights.

There are prizes for the best bike, best costume and an assortment of other funky awards in addition to the tougher first, second and third arriving at the bottom in one piece. The no guts-no glory race is also famous for its carnage as racers descend the final hill trying to avoid the side-slide right turn onto Elk Avenue from old Kebler Road into screaming throngs of fans.

The Crested Butte/Mt. Crested Butte Chamber of Commerce now hosts the weekend event that originally started about 37 years ago. Executive director Ashley Upchurch recalls her favorite costumes from last year: “There was the Beatles-themed Yellow Submarine,” a life-sized, bright yellow sub captained by Rick Murray and crew in full Sgt. Pepper garb, from the 1967 album and 1968 animated film. It was a 3-D sculpture on bike frames sailing down the pass and the subject of bar conversations for many months afterwards.

Another best-loved theme was the family team costumed up as the Mario Brothers video game, complete with a daring chariot that sported their toddler dressed up as the Toad character. “It was like a racing Mario game,” Upchurch laughs, “Not that I condone putting young children in the Chainless. The costumes are my favorite part of the Chainless, and the Chainless is the most fun.”

The Chainless race began when a gaggle of locals decided to pedal their klunkers up Kebler Pass Road, disconnect their chains and fly down the pass just to see what would happen. If you go with a coaster brake bike you don’t have brakes when you take the chain off. In the old days, they were ballsy, using only their feet, so they’d wear heavy boots to brake. The participants use zip ties to bind up the chains now, which allows them to brake but not pedal.

It’s a true celebration of the townie klunker bike, although all bikes are welcome, and there is an eclectic assortment of handmade bikes, art bikes, and all the crafty sculptures that people take up there.

Upchurch notes that only 300 racers are allowed because any more than that, she says, gets a little out of hand, although she adds, “It’s not a strict cap.”

Racers drop off their bikes at the Four-way Stop, behind the chamber of commerce, beginning at 10 a.m., but the earlier the better, and Upchurch advises not waiting until the last minute. The shuttle to schlep the racers to Kebler Pass summit starts hauling at 2:30 p.m.

This year, all of Crested Butte Bike Week will take place behind the Crested Butte Center for the Arts, including vendors, but Chainless World Championship Bike Race after-party is still at the First Street and Elk Avenue parking lot. Bristol Brewing out of Colorado Springs is sponsoring so there’ll be beer (yay!) at all the weekend events.

Bridges of the Butte

The Chainless isn’t the only event that features insane costumes. The annual Bridges of the Butte 24-Hour Townie Tour starts Saturday, high noon at the Town Park, and is a benefit fundraiser for the Adaptive Sports Center. Everyone shows up to loop through the streets of town and over every bridge, riding into the wee hours of the night for 24 solid hours—it’s an ongoing pedal party with lots of time to socialize.

There are ballerina faeries to aliens, psychedelic squid to super-heroes, on decked-out cycles with bells and whistles that will go nuclear with disco mirror balls, flashing LEDs and glow-in-the-dark spokes when the night falls—because when the sun goes down, the aurora borealis of Crested Butte kicks in as the riders get to show off their snazzy bike lights. Some participants’ metal steeds are an all-out light show. It’s a tour, not a race, so everyone can participate and ride as much, or as little, as they want—families, individuals, businesses that drum up their own teams, everyone from little kids to grandparents. Last year saw the registration limit of 300 participants sign up.

The tour was the brainchild of a couple of instructors, created specifically as a fundraiser for the Adaptive Sports Center’s Argentina program for training instructors and volunteers. Now, the money that’s raised from Bridges of the Butte goes for Adaptive’s general scholarship fund because all the activities they do are subsidized and accessible to as many people as possible. Bridges of the Butte Townie Tour helps give inspiration to those who don’t have access to the same recreation others have. Adaptive helps those who have lost some of their abilities.

Upchurch says she’s really looking forward to the weekend’s events, in her role as the new chamber director. “I’m really excited to be in a larger role at the chamber and this is my first event as a director. Bike Week is a favorite event and I just love any event that rings in the summer. We recognize that changes need to be made to make Bike Week what it used to be and we want to ensure that it’s a community event. Revitalizing it is high on our priority list. I hope people come out and costume-up, party, ride bikes and drink beer.”

Registration and a full schedule of events for Crested Butte Bike Week is online at cbbikeweek.com.

Adaptive Sports Center, a non-profit organization located in Crested Butte, provides life-enhancing year-round recreation activities for people with disabilities and their families. Information and events can be found at adaptivesports.org.

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