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Iron Horse Bicycle Classic Durango

Finally managed to beat the train!

Chris Tham Chris Tham Monday, 27 February 2023 at 11:00:00 am AEDT 2 min read

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Brothers Tom and Jim Mayer concocted the idea behind the first Iron Horse Bicycle Classic. Jim worked as a brakeman on the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad, which had operated the steam-powered line between Durango and Silverton since the 1880s. Tom was a young bicycling enthusiast who enjoyed riding alongside the railroad tracks.

One day in 1971, Tom challenged his older brother to a race to Silverton. Steam engine versus bicycle. They wagered a candy bar on the results.

When Jim pulled into the Silverton station, there was Tom, waiting for him. He’d beaten the train, despite having a longer road and having to climb two mountain passes. He won his candy bar, alright, and he had no idea that he had just started a famous race that would draw thousands of riders to southwest Colorado.

Tom decided the best way to get others to try his favorite ride was to start a race. So in 1972, a group of 36 riders celebrated the train’s first run of the spring by accepting his challenge. Five of them managed to beat the train to Silverton, and it’s been all uphill since then.

For the last half-century, the Iron Horse has become one of the premier bicycle events in the West. Durango is centrally located between Denver, Albuquerque, Phoenix, and Salt Lake City.

In the Wahoo RGT recreation of the ride, in the first 4km the ride simulator makes you compete with a train - if you are not fast enough the train overtakes you (oh the embarrassment), then you have to climb a hill, and then do a sprint. Fortunately today, I beat the train by cycling at an average over 30 km/h for the 4km, then achieved a personal best on the climb and the sprint. Unfortunately, I bonked towards the end - the ride used up all my stored energy and I had nothing left.

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