Press "Enter" to skip to content

Bike vs. train: The story behind Durango’s Iron Horse Bicycle Classic

A fifty percent century ago, two Durango brothers challenged every other to a race. Tom Mayer, an avid bike owner, guess his older brother Jim that his 10-velocity bicycle was more quickly than a steam-powered train. Jim was an engineer for the Durango & Silverton Slim Gauge Railroad at the time and assumed the coach was up to the challenge. 

Tom and Jim lined up their respective metal steeds in Durango and took off. As the bike and the educate pulled out of Durango, Jim blasted the prepare whistle. When the teach last but not least arrived in Silverton, 47-miles away, Tom was waiting around by the tracks with his bicycle by his side.

That race in 1971 encouraged a Durango bicycle shop proprietor to arrange the initial Iron Horse Bicycle Traditional the subsequent calendar year. Because then, the race has been held every single Memorial Day weekend — with the occasional cancellation due to the fact of a late-spring blizzard — with riders coming from much and huge to take part.

Colorado Issues senior host Ryan Warner spoke with Gaige Sippy, one particular of the administrators of the race about its heritage, a famous competitor recognized as “Deadly Nedly” and no matter whether the Mayer brothers will be in attendance this calendar year (they will reprise their roles on bike and educate). Warner also questioned no matter if the coach can ever acquire. Not a opportunity, explained Sippy.      

This interview has been edited for clarity and duration.


Ryan Warner: It begun with a problem between two brothers in Durango, one particular on a bike, the other on a practice. That was fifty percent a century back. And the Iron Horse Bicycle Common this yr will consist of a lot more than 3,000 cyclists peddling more than mountain passes as they race in opposition to the Durango and Silverton Slim Gauge Railroad. Race director Gaige Sippy is on the line ahead of the Memorial Working day weekend celebration. Hi Gaige.

Gaige Sippy: Superior early morning.

Warner: How did these brothers desire up a contest amongst a steam-belching prepare and a flimsy 10-speed?

Sippy: Primarily in the early 1970s. Equally of them have been adventurous and, as mentioned, a person [Jim] labored for the educate. The other a single was a bit of an eccentric cyclist. That brother, Tom, stored viewing the train go by — he experienced been riding up into the large region on the highway and believed he could most likely beat that darn coach to Silverton. 

And they created the bet. As the teach went by, Tom jumped on his bike and when the coach arrived in Silverton, Tom was presently standing there to greet the coach. So, he attained it in the 1st round.

Warner: So Tom on the bike, defeat Jim on the train?

Sippy: Appropriate.

Fort Lewis College
Cyclists race in the Durango & Silverton Slender Gauge Railroad in the Iron Horse Bicycle Traditional.

Warner: It results in being an formal race subsequent year, right?

Sippy: It does. How it transpired was the brothers shared their challenge with a regional businessman who also owned a bicycle store. His title was Ed Zink. Back then Durango wasn’t the flourishing metropolis it is now, so it appeared like a fantastic thought for some form of distinctive party. They got commenced back in 1972 as a way to kick off the initial prepare to Silverton Memorial Day weekend. And the rest, they say, is historical past — 50 a long time afterwards.

Warner: Did the brothers keep competing?

Sippy: Of course, totally. Tom was involved in it for lots of of the early yrs, and Jim was a member of the educate crew for numerous decades. They each have since retired, but they are revisiting us for the 50th anniversary, and they are both heading to be in the very same roles as soon as once again.

Warner: Oh, which is so pleasurable! The race sounds challenging: 47 miles around two steep corkscrew passes on freeway 550, and however, each and every calendar year much more and a lot more riders want to do it. Is there a mystique below?

Sippy: Definitely. It has grow to be a tradition for highway bikers and cyclists in our region and throughout the place. This yr, we will have riders from 43 states and five countries. That is rather customary for us, and [competitors] selection from specialist-degree athletes to the to start with-timer, weekend-warrior people today setting a intention for on their own to get in form. 

I imagine the energy of the function is the truth that among all of these contributors, we have a pretty diverse amount of physical fitness, enthusiasm and capacity, but they all make their way above the hill.

Warner: Is it tough on all those very first-timers however?

Sippy: Totally. The skilled racers can do this route in about 2 several hours and 15 minutes. For some of the initially-timers, it normally takes them appropriate in the spot of 6 several hours. That gives you an notion of the span, but we only have about 20 every year that never make it the whole way. So, our complete price is particularly substantial.

Warner: Does the prepare at any time acquire? You have 49 many years of proof here.

Sippy: It has received when we have canceled mainly because of snowstorms, but it never received mainly because it can defeat all those quickest riders. It requires the teach anywhere from 3 hours and 30 minutes to 3 hours and 45 minutes to get to Silverton from Durango. Like I stated, the prime-close cyclist can do it in 2 hours and 15 minutes to 2 several hours and 20 minutes.

Warner: So, the coach beats some of the slower cyclists. Do they attempt to supercharge the prepare at all to get it to defeat its individual time?

Sippy: While they would never acknowledge to it, I have heard rumblings that there may perhaps be a tiny much more coal that will get thrown in the hearth that day to get [the train] up and in excess of the hill. But it is a heavy piece of machinery, and I never assume it can modulate its velocity a complete large amount.

Warner: You have raced this race, accurate?

Sippy: Suitable.

Warner: Are there moments when you are right up together with the practice? That will have to be this sort of a thrilling sensation.

Sippy: Unquestionably. For the first 10 miles, [the train] travels just about up coming to the road that you happen to be on, so you get a sense appropriate absent if you are retaining up, or going at the rear of. It truly is a flat area by our valley leaving city, and then we get into the hills and the prepare begins using a unique — albeit a little bit easier route — to Silverton. It stays along the River Valley, whereas the highway goes about the mountain passes. The practice never ever reaches the elevations that the bicycle riders do, so one particular could argue that the bicycle riders have an even more difficult route.

Iron Horse Bicycle ClassicFort Lewis Higher education
Ned Overend races in the Durango & Silverton Slender Gauge Railroad in the Iron Horse Bicycle Typical.

Warner: The teach has it straightforward. A famous Durango author named Ned Overend has competed in each Iron Horse due to the fact 1982. Is it correct that racers get a thrill when they are passed by a male they contact “Deadly Nedly,” who is 66 yrs outdated this 12 months?

Sippy: Ned is, by far, our greatest ambassador for the occasion as a bicycle owner. He did start off competing in ’82 He has won many times. He has competed on the entire world stage in equally mountain biking and road racing, and he won the to start with ever Mountain Bike Planet Championships in 1990. So, he is a hero amongst all cyclists.

But at our function, there are individuals that are just thrilled when they get passed by Ned Overend simply because they truly feel like they are definitely component of the party. It truly is the essence of the function. And sure: Ned is 66 several years outdated and, I guarantee you, he will be in the combine in the pro men’s race in opposition to 20-12 months-outdated riders. He is by much 1 of our finest riders at this celebration.

Warner: Till 1979, feminine racers weren’t permitted to go past the Purgatory Ski Vacation resort, which is 27 miles north of Durango, since it was thought the passes were being also tough for them. Do a lot of females now ride the Iron Horse?

Sippy: Certainly. Thirty per cent of our rider inhabitants is female. Apparently sufficient, though Ned would not like me to say this, the winningest rider in the Iron Horse is Mara Abbot from Boulder, Colorado. She has won the event 6 periods Ned has won it five periods. 

But of course, we have robust woman participation. It nearly would seem laughable at this stage that it took right up until 1979 for the ladies to go all the way. But, by far, they are proper up there with some of our very best instances.

Warner: The race tops out on two 10,000-foot-additionally passes: Molas and Cold Financial institution. That suggests that even at the stop of May, the weather conditions can be not just poor, but downright terrible. Do you stress about snow?

Sippy: Completely. We have had lots of snow functions as a result of the decades. We have a good deal of safeguards in position on how we can consist of men and women up on the passes if the weather turns nasty. It can be a 10-minute snowstorm, or it can be a clearly show stopper. For instance, in 2008, it snowed 18 inches on Chilly Financial institution Go. That canceled the celebration altogether. But we have also experienced a long time where it snowed in the course of the function, melted off and persons maintain likely. Weather conditions is our largest challenge just about every and each year.

Warner: Gaige, right before I get your feelings on the purpose that this race has played in elevating the city, why do you get in touch with Ned “The Pope of Silverton”? 

Sippy: I say that simply because there will be a lot of people today that finish the race, or trip in Silverton on May possibly 28th — thousands of persons. There will be tons of other qualified cyclists and notable folks, but no a single is as popular as Ned Overend in Silverton on Iron Horse day.

Most people get off the bicycle and they say, “How did Ned do,” since he is by considerably, as I have reported in advance of, the ambassador or the Pope of Silverton.

Iron Horse Bicycle ClassicFort Lewis Faculty
Cyclists race in the Durango & Silverton Slender Gauge Railroad in the Iron Horse Bicycle Vintage.

Warner: You have witnessed Durango’s cycling track record abroad. What’s this story in Italy?

Sippy: Last summertime, I experienced the option to go to Italy for the Mountain Bike Globe Championships. Now, retain in intellect, Durango hosted the initially World Mountain Bike Championships in 1990. As I stood there watching individuals from all over the planet and listening to the announcer talking about riders from numerous spots across the world, Durango kept coming up.

Durango had nine athletes at the World Championships this earlier year. Nine from a city of 18,000 [people]. I went back again that night and I begun scrolling by the benefits of all of the occasions that experienced taken place that day. Durango experienced the most riders competing than any other town in any other nation in the environment.

Warner: Exceptional.

Sippy: We have a exclusive thing heading on in this article in Durango, in the United States, with the sort of cyclists we have. That displays on a international phase when you go to substantial-caliber occasions.

Warner: There are all varieties of events going on with this celebration on Memorial Day weekend, proper?

Sippy: We will do our common Durango to Silverton occasion. But this calendar year, we have extra a Ouray to Silverton journey, which goes above Crimson Mountain Move. We will do other mountain bicycle-connected biking pursuits, and gravel-related actions more than the weekend. We also have an show starting at the Middle for Southwest Experiments: 50 yrs of the Iron Horse and our cycling lifestyle here in Durango. 

You only convert 50 once, as they say. We are setting up to celebrate by means of the weekend to thank our group, and anyone that has been involved with this [race] as a result of the a long time. But without the need of the assist of the local community, this still would not be occurring 50 a long time afterwards.

Warner: Gaige, thank you so much for your time. Are you driving this calendar year?

Sippy: I am not riding.

Warner: Well, I was likely to say excellent luck, but I withdraw. Many thanks Gaige, I respect it.

Sippy: I assume I still want some luck.

Warner: I will ship it your way. Gaige Sippy, Director of the Iron Horse Bicycle Common, the historic bicycle vs . practice race, usually takes position Memorial Day weekend in Durango.