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 notorious 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 22, with racers cruising down the dusty descent. The race from the top of the pass traditionally starts at 4:20 p.m.
It’s the oldest mountain bike festival in the world and undeniably the best. Originally dubbed Fat Tire Bike Week before its name change several years ago, it highlights Crested Butte as the legendary home of not only mountain biking, but also 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, and 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 in creative costuming and in innovative bike contraptions. 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.
Favorite costumes from years past include 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 the family’s toddler dressed up as the Toad character, a full-on racing Mario game.
The costumes are everyone’s favorite part of the Chainless, along with the variety of contraptions. Mike Arbaney’s front-end, loose-pivot point bike named the Gambler can bend itself in two and is always amusing to watch.
Participants risk scraped knees and bruises—they do it for the prestige and the glory, the fun, the cummunity comradeship and, of course, the bragging rights.
There are prizes for the best bike and the best costume and an assortment of other funky awards in addition to the more tough first, second and third arriving at the bottom intact and 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 into cheering throngs of fans right turn onto Elk Avenue from old Kebler Road.
The Crested Butte/Mt. Crested Butte Chamber of Commerce hosts the weekend event that originally started 38 years ago.
The Chainless race began when a gaggle of locals decided to pedal their klunkers up Kebler 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. Nowadays, participants use zip ties to bind up the chains, which allows them to be able to brake but not pedal. It’s a true celebration of the townie klunker bike, although all bikes are welcome, and there is an ecclectic assortment of handmade bikes, art bikes, and all the crafty sculptures that people take up there.
The race is capped at 300 racers because any more than that would become unmanageble, although apparently, it’s not a strict cap. Racers drop off their bikes at the Four-way Stop parking lot, behind the chamber of commerce building, from at 9 a.m. to noon, but the earlier the better, so don’t wait until the last minute as all bikes must be dropped off by the noon deadline or you’ll have to transport your bike up the pass yourself since no bikes will be allowed on the passenger shuttles.
Registration is $35 for the day of the race, and you can register in person, or you can register online until June 21 at cbchamber.com.
The shuttle to schlep the racers to Kebler Pass summit starts hauling at 2:30 p.m. and runs until 3:30 p.m. and the chamber notes that if the last shuttle is full, participants will be turned away.
The Chainless World Championship Bike Race after-party is still at the First Street and Elk Avenue parking lot.
The Chainless isn’t the only event that features insane costumes. The annual Bridges of the Butte 24-Hour Townie Tour starts Saturday, June 23, at 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.
From ballerina fairies to aliens, psychedelic squid to super heroes, 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 like—families, individuals, businesses who drum up their own teams, everyone from little kids to grandparents. The registration is capped at 300 participants.
The Tour was the brainchild of a couple of Adaptive instructors, created specifically as a fundraiser for Adaptive’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 hope to those who don’t have access to the same recreation others have and Adaptive helps those who have lost some of their abilities.
It’s a fabulous weekend with an array of fun-filled races, events and, of course, beer, so grab yourself a klunker bike or find that best viewing spot and get out to the best and oldest bike celebration.
Registration and a full schedule of events for Crested Butte Bike Week is online at cbbikeweek.com or cbchamber.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