Honoring the day the klunkers from Crested Butte invaded Aspen

Scott Condon | The Aspen Times
Participants in the initial Peal Pass Tour push their klunkers up a steep grade in a photo originally published by the Crested Butte Pilot.
Crested Butte Klunkers Collection |


There are a couple of great sources of information for the Pearl Pass Tour, which started in 1976.

Crested Butte Klunkers has video and articles by publication that help paint the picture of how the event put Crested Butte on the mountain biking map, at

The Marin (California) Museum of Bicycling has additional information about the epic tour at

They didn’t have super-light carbon frames, tubeless tires, dropper posts or disc brakes. Far from it. What they did have was a love of adventure, a desire to get away from it all and imagination.

They were the kings and queens of the klunkers — the men and women from Crested Butte who altered regular bicycles to make them road and trail worthy in the backcountry. They would strip off chain guards and fenders and add balloon tires to typically single-speed bikes with coaster brakes. They were pioneers of mountain biking, along with kindred spirits in Marin, California.

Forty years ago come early September marks the anniversary of when they made an epic journey from downtown Crested Butte to Aspen. The seared their lungs climbing to Cumberland Basin, coaxed their klunkers over 12,705-foot Pearl Pass, bounced down the kidney-punching rough road on the Aspen side until hitting blessed pavement in Castle Creek Valley above Ashcroft.

The tradition has been carried on every year since, with numbers of participants ebbing and flowing. The 40th Annual Pearl Pass Tour will be held Sept. 10 and 11, with a campout Saturday night.

Kay Peterson-Cook, longtime co-organizer of the tour with husband Don Cook, said the tour is vital to the history of Crested Butte and worth celebrating.

“It is the original event that put Crested Butte on the map for mountain biking,” she said. It was the first mountain-biking event anywhere that drew participants from somewhere else, she said.

The Aspen invasion

The first ride was a low-key affair, with just a few “dirt bags” riding into Aspen on mud-crusted bikes, said Don Cook, who moved to Crested Butte shortly after and joined the tour in 1980.

An article in the Crested Butte Pilot said 15 riders started out but only seven rode into base camp. The others shuttled in with the official “Groupie Club,” the newspaper reported. They had a hell of a party that night.

The original year’s riders raised a little hell at the Hotel Jerome in Aspen the next day and then vanished as quickly as they appeared. The pioneers decided “What the hell?” the following year and mounted their klunkers again, attracting additional participants. A national magazine covered the second year’s event, so interest soared.

California mountain-biking pioneers such as Gary Fisher caught wind of the tour, showed up in 1978 and made quick friends with the riders from Crested Butte.

Peterson-Cook estimated she’s ridden the tour 25 times and began organizing about 20 years ago. The biggest years came in the mid-1980s when the number of riders topped 300 and the popularity of mountain biking in general surged. The manufacturers jumped on the bandwagon and started mass-producing “mountain bikes.” “Klunkers” wouldn’t cut it in the commercial world, Don said.

Event has gone “off the radar”

Crested Butte started Fat Tire Week to celebrate the biking craze. The tour lost numbers as races gained participation. Fat Tire Week was eventually switched to late June, while the Pearl Pass Tour has remained true to its roots in early September.

“It has gone off the radar,” Don lamented. “We haven’t had much participation in recent years because we do it as a one-day over. Most of the time we have between 11 and 20 (riders).”

The 35th anniversary was organized as a campout for the Saturday night of that year’s ride, but heavy snow put a damper on that year’s activities. Nevertheless, one intrepid rider made it across the pass and into Aspen.

“It’s never been canceled, because (riders) either did up and over or sometimes up and back,” Cook said.

Klunkers remain the preferred method of travel. Any old modified bicycle or early mountain bike qualifies as a klunker, Don said, but anyone riding any type of bike is welcomed.

“You can show up on anything you want,” he said.

He acknowledges that he no longer has the desire to ride a klunker when he can tackle brutal Pearl Pass on a carbon fiber, full-suspension steed.

A group of young Crested Butte men took an interest in riding klunkers for the event a few years ago. That generated additional interest and now about nine to 12 riders are on vintage bikes, Cook said.

Tour is Sept. 10 and 11

The 40th Anniversary Pearl Pass Tour will depart Crested Butte at 9 a.m. sharp Sept. 10 and climb Brush Creek Road. A 17-mile ride will deliver participants at the base camp at about 10,900 feet. Dinner that night and breakfast on Sept. 11 will be provided by Rim Tours. Beer will be provided by Wichita Brewing Co.

It will be a 2-mile grunt, pushing and riding, to the summit of Pearl Pass on Sept. 11. After 6 miles of descent on rough roads, the riders will hit pavement on Castle Creek Valley Road for a nice coast into Aspen — and beers at the Hotel Jerome.

There is room for 25 people on the shuttle from Aspen to Crested Butte. The cost is $80 for the tour to Aspen, which includes hauling the essentials — tent, sleeping gear and warm clothes. Register at

For questions, email Don and Kay at


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