The history of mountain biking is short compared to many sports. Bicycles have been around for a few hundred years, but it wasn’t until the second half of the 20th century that we reached a critical mass of adventurers exploring mountains on their bikes.
The Birth of Mountain Biking
People started using bicycles for mountain transportation shortly after biking was invented. In fact, the Buffalo Soldiers of Montana invented bikepacking in 1896 when they created the 25th Infantry Experimental Bicycle Corps. They hoped to replace horses with bikes for two reasons. Bikes don’t need to eat and they can’t get scared or killed during battle.
In the 1960s, people started building bikes specifically to go into the mountains. That’s also when people started to mountain bike because it was fun. Crested Butte, along with Marin County and Cupertino in California, burst onto the mountain biking scene with their bikers pushing the limits of what bikes could do.
Klunkers and Pearl Pass
Crested Butte’s claim to fame in the mountain biking world during the 1970s rested on two things: “klunkers” and the Pearl Pass Mountain Bike Tour.
Crested Butte residents tinkered with their bikes, modifying a mix of road bikes, motorcycle parts, junkers, and the occasional bit of flare. They called these creations Crested Butte Klunkers. They didn’t have lofty goals for these klunkers. Instead they were just hoping for something that could handle our potholed main street. But once they had klunkers, Buttians started to venture farther from town and higher into the mountains.
In September of 1976, the Crested Butte Klunker riders decided to make the trek to Aspen over Pearl Pass. Those who were there say it was to get back at the Aspen men for riding their motorcycles to Crested Butte to steal our women. After word got out about the tour, the Marin County cyclists started bringing their fancy California bikes to Crested Butte to attempt the annual Pearl Pass tour. At that time it was the gnarliest terrain bikers were able to ride and a great way to test the latest bike technology.
Since then, we’ve developed over 750 miles of trail in the Gunnison Valley, much of it far more thrilling than Pearl Pass. We have one of the best adaptive mountain biking programs in the United States. And we still tackle Pearl Pass every September on the way to Aspen.
Mountain Bike History Exhibit
Our Crested Butte Mountain Heritage Museum plays tribute to the history of mountain biking in the Gunnison Valley with their mountain bike history exhibit. So while you’re here riding trails, don’t forget to stop in and learn a little bit more about the klunkers.