The Iron Horse Bicycle Classic celebrates 50 years of racing the train

In 1972 Ed Zink founded the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic. 

His original intent was to drive the economies of Durango and Silverton by ensuring the first weekend of summer had sold-out hotels and restaurants. The event could have been anything, but he chose to build on the story of the Mayer brothers’ race to see whether the train or the cyclist would arrive in Silverton first. 

Tom and Jim Mayer were both avid cyclists. Jim was also a brakeman on the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad, which had operated between Durango and Silverton since the 1880s. Tom proposed a challenge one day: They would race to Silverton, Tom on his bike and Jim on the train. The winner got a candy bar.

The race has been going on ever since and is now the second-oldest cycling event in the country, growing from 36 riders in its first year to 2,500 in the 50th-anniversary ride. 

“Cyclists from around the U.S. and the world consider this a bucket list ride,” says Jim Mayer, the original rider. “With fifty miles of cycling over two mountain passes that summit just under 11,000 feet, it’s a challenging early-season ride to brag about.”

Over the years, the Iron Horse has sparked a cycling culture that has produced national champions and Tour de France stage winners from southwest Colorado. The rise of Durango Devo, an internationally significant cycling development team, has turned out professional cyclists such as Sepp Kuss and Quinn Simmons. Many in the sport say cycling in Colorado wouldn’t be what it is today without the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic.

Jim adds that money invested in putting on the event stays in the local community. Iron Horse Bicycle Classic hires many local businesses to execute this premier cycling event each year. In addition, local nonprofits receive support from event proceeds.

“In the ’60s there wasn’t a movement like this. When you fast-forward and see what’s happened in areas like Durango and Moab and other places where all the bicyclists continue to race and ride, it’s incredible. I never would’ve thought his challenge to me would result in something this big. It’s a legend,” says Jim. He adds that ever since Alpine Bank opened its branch in Durango it has strongly supported the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic. “We’re grateful for our partnership with Alpine Bank and the ability to continue bringing this premier event to southwest Colorado.”

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