Riding from Crested Butte to Aspen: The 46th Annual Pearl Pass Klunker Tour

Before there was mountain biking, there were just mountains and bikes

In September of 1976, a motley group of 15 decided to ride bikes from Crested Butte to Aspen over Pearl Pass at 12,700 feet. They called it the Pearl Pass Klunker Tour, in homage to the place, and to the bikes ridden.

The 38-mile journey is arduous still today due to the elevation and incredibly rough terrain on the northwestern side of the pass. However, it’s easily doable (to ride from CB to Aspen and even back) in one day on modern bikes and with the benefit of lived experience.

Back then, however, no one had done it.

Of the 15, seven made it from the Grubstake Saloon in downtown CB to a planned camp at Cumberland Basin, 10 miles from town and a thousand feet shy of the pass. After an evening of steak and beer and bike repair, only one rider, Richard Ullery, had the equipment (or was the least hungover?) to complete the voyage to Aspen.

The whole thing was enough to set the wheels of history in motion. Germinating in those early pedal strokes were the seeds of mountain biking. Year after year, the Pearl Pass Klunker Tour provided fertile soil for innovation and invention, as intrigued riders from all over — including some notables from Marin County, California — traveled to Crested Butte to take place in the revelry while simultaneously developing a whole new way to ride bikes.

46 years later, mountain biking is a sport unto itself, one that has rapidly grown in tandem with both technology and trail infrastructure. Youth can now select mountain biking as a school sport, and there are world championships and career paths for the truly inspired.

And, on the second weekend of September, no matter who you are or what bike you ride, you can still pedal and push your way from Crested Butte to Aspen, just to experience what it was like.

I’m so glad I did.