Costumes galore at the Chainless and Bridges of the Butte
by Dawne Belloise
Summer is finally upon us, we hope, and to kick it off is one of Crested Butte’s favorite events: Crested Butte 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 28, with racers screaming down the dusty descent beginning at the traditional 4:20 p.m. This is 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, 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.
In past races, Mike Arbaney’s front end, loose pivot point bike named the Gambler that can bend itself in two was always amusing to watch. Racers 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 more tough 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. Executive director Ashley UpChurch recalls her favorite costumes from years past, “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 a mountain, 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 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 eclectic assortment of handmade bikes, art bikes and all the crafty sculptures that people now take up Kebler Road.
Nod to Matty Robb
Crested Butte lost one of its own much loved locals recently, an avid Chainless contestant, Matty Robb, and in honor of Matty, his friends have also organized an after party at the Big Mine Ice Rink with live music, and the typical local fare and fun. Donations for the pig roast will be accepted and appreciated and the shindig celebration will go until the sky gets darkish.
There’s a big nod to the also celebrated and never forgotten Andy Bamberg, who was a huge inspiration to Matty. The teal-colored, three-person bike that Andy built, now called the Bamberg and bequeathed to Matty when Andy passed, was ridden by Matty and Andy in what was purportedly the first Chainless, which legend has it, was not on Kebler but off Baldy mountain and down to the Slate River in the late 1990s when a small band of local wahoos got together for Buttian craziness and decided they could ride without chains, and possibly without brakes. Matty rode that bike in every Chainless since. Watch for the Bamberg bike in the race this Friday.
UpChurch notes that only 300 racers are allowed in the Chainless 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 Friday at the Four-Way Stop, behind the chamber of commerce, beginning at 9 a.m. until the deadline at noon, but the earlier the better, and UpChurch advises not to wait until the last minute.
The shuttle to schlep the racers to Kebler Pass summit starts hauling at 2:30 p.m. until the last bus up at 3:30 p.m. and if that last shuttle is full, you’re on your own to get to the summit. The chamber reminds participants to wear a helmet and sign the waiver.
The Chainless World Championship Bike Race official after-party is still at the First Street and Elk Avenue parking lot. Local brewers, Irwin Brewing is sponsoring so there’ll be beer (yay!) at all the weekend events.
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. From ballerina faeries 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 feel—families, individuals, businesses who drum up their own teams, everyone from little kids to grandparents.
New this year is Adaptive’s goal to have 100 people raise $100 each and if you raise that, you’re entered to win one of the many donated awesome prizes that will be announced at the after party at noon Sunday at the Town Park base camp. If you raise over $250, you’ll get the chance to win a townie bike. Those who are ambitious and raise over $500 can win a Crested Butte Mountain Resort ski pass for the 2019-2010 season. Someone’s going to be real happy.
Last year saw the registration limit of 300 participants sign up. Registration is online at adaptivesports.org/events until 5 p.m. on Friday or until they sell out, whichever comes first, and it usually sells out, so get registered.
The tour was the brainchild of a couple of instructors, created specifically as a fundraiser for their 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 their activities are subsidized and accessible to as many people as possible. Bridges of the Butte Townie Tour helps to give hope 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. “Bike Week is a favorite event and I just love any event that rings in the summer. 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. You can also browse page 60 of this issue to see the schedule.
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. Info and events can be found at adaptivesports.org.