Photos and words by Daniel Walker
For most Americans, Memorial Day means BBQ's and relaxation; but to over 3500 road, mountain, and trials riders -- it means it's Iron Horse weekend.
The Iron Horse Bicycle Classic originally started as a bet between two brothers -- a railroad man and a cyclist -- as to who could make the journey from Durango to Silverton the fastest, one on a bicycle and the other riding the mining train. Now in its 42nd year, the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic is still best remembered in the stories of those who have taken on the same challenge -- 47 miles in approximately 3.5 hours will take home those honors.
But even though the road race still draws the most participants, everyone knows that the real party is the following afternoon. The normally bustling downtown streets are closed off and transformed into one of the most spectator friendly mountain bike courses around. The racers must navigate wooden bridges, skinnies, and jumps while making their way down 2nd Avenue before taking a hard corner onto a ramp that takes them up and through the front window of Steamworks Brewing Company.
The scene inside is the best kind of chaos. After ducking through the window, the racers sprint parallel to the bar (packed to the brim with screaming fans, of course) before making a hard 90 degree corner and exiting out onto the upper level patio where an even rowdier group of fans awaits them. The exit of the brewery is lined with empty kegs and enthusiastic locals trying their hardest to get the racers to accept a beer feed -- those who do are met with deafening cheers... and very shortly after by a steep ramp down to the street below and out to the rest of the course.
The pro field makes three laps through Steamworks, so any break in the action is only momentary... but even the most ADD of spectators only has to look over the edge of the balcony for the action to continue as Durango's finest trials riders put on a show on a custom built course.
In the end, the Iron Horse isn't so much a race as it is a celebration of biking and a town that lives for the turning of two wheels -- whether on the road, the dirt, or in the air. When the riders are this stoked and the fans are even more so... it's easy to see why riders from all disciplines and all areas of the world make the annual trek to Durango to celebrate the beginning of summer in the best way they know how.