Chamber hoping to mellow out next year’s Chainless Race

What the Al is in the winter, the Chainless is in the summer…

The local organizers of the annual chainless bike race are deciding how to deal with some of the obvious problems of safety and legality in the competition. Those problems may end up mellowing out the June race that has traditionally started at the top of Kebler Pass and ended on Elk Avenue. The Tigger costume is okay but the pre-race refreshments may have to go and helmets absolutely required. The Crested Butte-Mt. Crested Butte Chamber of Commerce organizes the chainless race and event organizer Scott Still is hesitant to have a repeat of last year’s event.





This past June a couple of Forest Service rangers from the Paonia Ranger District happened by at the start of the race. They admittedly were surprised to witness 150 costumed bikers from Crested Butte, some of whom were drinking beer or smoking pot (maybe it was medicinal), getting ready to take over Kebler Pass road at high speed. The Chamber’s Erin Cerise, who was helping to organize the start along with local participant and attorney Aaron Huckstep, wearing a Mexican Wrestler mask, provided information to the rangers and the race was held without any overt incidents.
But Still came away from the event with several serious concerns. In his July report to the chamber board, he recommended not holding the race, at least not in the same manner. One suggestion was to move the venue to Mt. Crested Butte. The Crested Butte Town Council members heard about that recommendation last week at their board meeting and were not pleased.

In Still’s report, he said the event “was extremely dangerous.” He cited the fact some racers came around blind corners in the wrong lane and if traffic hadn’t been stopped, severe accidents could have easily occurred. He said 25 to 40 cars were detained and about a half dozen of the motorists were “very irate.”
Still said he expected the Forest Service to be stricter about the event in 2010. His report stated, “I am certain that the Forest Service will require many significant changes that will prove impossible or impractical to enforce. In addition, it would not surprise me if the county were to intervene as well.” Kebler Pass Road is a county road.
He said many of the riders did not register with the chamber for the event or pay the $20 fee. He said it would probably take a dozen paid employees to help run a safe event. But even then, “if we could officially close Kebler next year and get the assistance of the various governing agencies to enforce any new rules they may require, I believe the event would ‘lose its free spirit’ and be shunned. As an example, many people took great exception to the helmet rule this year and did not register as official participants,” he reported.
In an interview this week, Still said his goal was to grow the entire Fat Tire Bike Week (FTBW) festival. To do that, he wanted to focus on expanding the Fat Tire 40 bike race that was held for the first time this past year. It was limited to 100 riders and Still would like to see it expanded to 250 or more this next year. He would also like to time FTBW to correspond with the Wildflower Rush expo and race that takes place each spring at the ski area. He sees more racing and fewer guided bike tours. He would also like to work toward a major musical event as part of the deal.
“The Fat Tire 40 was limited to 100 racers last year and it filled up quickly,” Still explained. “If we can get the permit expanded to allow 250 or 500 racers, I’ll be able to promote it and feel it could bring a large number of people to the valley.”
As for the Chainless Race, Still said time seems to have mellowed everyone out. “I talked to Jim Wessel over in the Paonia office, who was at the race last year,” he said. “All in all, he seems on board with figuring out the proper way to keep the race and get the proper permits. No one wants to kill the event. We want a safe and legal event.”
Fat Tire Bike Week does carry a Forest Service permit through the Gunnison Ranger District. Ray Rossman, outdoor recreation planner with the Gunnison Ranger District, said last week that he didn’t foresee any issues with the permit. “It will of course be evaluated when they resubmit the application in February or March,” he explained. “But typically, if the are no problems and they do the same thing, 99 times out of 100, they’ll get it. There have been no problems that I am aware of with Fat Tire Bike Week.”
Rossman did say that the Forest Service didn’t want any event “to love our land to death,” so they want to monitor growth of events.
Still said he would make the effort to perhaps work with the county as well to get them to officially close the road for the duration of the race. “We don’t want to police the people drinking or smoking but it has to be a bit more under control,” he said. “We just don’t want to do it like it’s happened in the past.
“It’s a great event and we want to keep the Chainless Race,” Still continued. “Immediately after the event last summer I thought it might be better from a control angle to stage it on the mountain but we will work to keep it on Kebler and in town. It just has to be safer.”
Crested Butte councilman Dan Escalante sits on the chamber board and reported to the council the potential changes. He was not pleased with the uphill direction the chamber was taking with the chainless.
“I wasn’t at the chamber meeting when this was discussed,” admitted Escalante. “But I don’t like the idea of the town losing a major event.”
He said he had been assured that no final decision on the chainless location had been made but he was admittedly fired up over the discussion.
“I don’t want to lose the chainless,” agreed councilmember Reed Betz. “If the chamber wants to add on to Fat Tire Bike Week activities on the mountain, go for it. But the Chainless Race stays in town.”
Mayor Alan Bernholtz reminded the councilmembers that the Chamber of Commerce organized the event. “We can’t tell the chamber what to do,” he said. “But when they come to us for money in the service grants we can tell them we want certain events to stay in town. The Chainless is a staple in the community and it’s a good event. It’s one of the best events in the Fat Tire Festival.”
“I think it is safe to say that most if not all the participants would want to keep it where it is,” added councilman Billy Rankin.
Escalante was pleased to hear that the momentum had shifted back to keep the race in Crested Butte. “The Chainless is to Crested Butte in the summer what the Al Johnson is to Mt. Crested Butte in the winter,” he said this week. “We don’t want to see the event disappear from town. I’m pleased they’re working to keep it in Crested Butte and look forward to seeing it here next June.”

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