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Two-wheeled time machine

Collin Szewczyk
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Courtesy of Brown CyclesChris Brown and his daughter, Breezy, out on a training ride with this 1930s single-speed, coaster brake tandem bike.
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If you’re traveling through western Garfield County next weekend, you may encounter some interesting looking folks headed toward Glenwood Springs.

Anachronistic cyclists adorning vintage clothing atop various 19th-century bikes may wave as they pass you by.

Fear not, you haven’t stumbled through a wormhole, and even if you’re in a DeLorean, you probably haven’t traveled back through time.



On May 19, cyclists will again take part in the L’Eroica (The Hero) bike race from Grand Junction to Glenwood Springs. The race returns for the second straight year, and is a fun-filled blast from the past.

The race is a tribute to a storied event that first took place the year Ernest Hemingway was born.



Beginning in 1899, a group of cyclists made an annual 102-mile ride from Grand Junction to Glenwood Springs.

The original races lasted until 1915.

Flash forward to 2011, and Chris Brown, owner of Brown Cycles in Grand Junction, decided it was time to revisit the ride and offer a chance for cycling enthusiasts to step back in time and make the storied trip to Glenwood.

Last year’s event featured six riders, and 18 are already signed up for the 2012 incarnation of the Western Slope L’Eroica.

“It was never more than a small group of riders in the past,” said Brown. “We looked at the old newspaper articles and saw that it was a core group of buddies that made the ride. Usually 10 to 15 guys, the local cycling culture.”

The route, known originally as the Midland Trail Rail Route, takes cyclists across 90 miles of paved road as well as 12 miles on dirt. The route will pass through the towns of Palisade, Plateau City, Collbran, Silt and New Castle on its way to the riders’ final destination, the Hotel Denver in Glenwood Springs.

Brown was inspired to get the event on its wheels after participating in the L’Eroica race in Italy.

“We do a ride in Italy, the L’Eroica, that draws about 3,000 cyclists. The ride crosses over the dirt cobbles and is a lot of fun,” Brown said. “We’ve been watching the race for years, and I’m very interested in the bike history in Grand Junction, so we thought we’d combine the old race with the race in Italy. We throw them together in a soup, and add in the time period dress, and it really takes the edge off of the testosterone. … It’s a nice little party.”

Crossing the finish line first doesn’t necessarily mean you’re the winner – through it will nab you 60 points – as the race is designed on a point system to determine the victor.

Cyclists are encouraged to use venerable equipment, with the oldest bikes receiving the most points.

Dress is important, too.

The more true the rider’s outfit is to the original race-day style, the more points the cyclist receives.

Also, less gears on the bike means more points.

Random point grabbers are available, too, if riders stumble upon unique situations.

• If a cyclist happens to lose a limb “by self amputation due to unforeseen unfortunate circumstance with book and movie deal,” tack on 20 points.

• If the rider “sleeps overnight in an animal carcass,” 18 points are awarded.

• Finding and petting a skunk will nab you 10 points, and most likely a date with a tomato juice bath.

• Riders who leave all technology at home, iPhone, iPod, etc., will earn 8 points.

• Miscellaneous point grabbers include wooden rims (8 points), mustache handlebars (6), wearing goggles (4) and bun hair like Jane Seymore (10), among others.

These variables leave the race wide open, as a creative rider can still best a more physically able cyclist. And it makes the Western Slope L’Eroica a unique riding experience.

“The [points system] makes it a real kind of trip. First it’s a costume ride, until 20 miles in, then it becomes a sport,” Brown said. “If something breaks, you have to fix it yourself (which would net you 16 points if you used a broken broom handle) like in the old days … you really can’t be a poser.”

And while Brown finished second to last in 2011, he still claimed second place due to his gear and attire.

What’s he riding this year?

“A 1930s tandem bike that steers from the rear as well as the front,” he said.

“And my co-pilot is my 11-year-old daughter, Breezy.”

Brown’s cycle will be a relatively new model compared to a few others in this year’s race, however, as there are two 1880s Dutch Pedersen models already entered.

Also competing in this year’s event is Brandy Eisenbrei, who survived a traumatic brain injury and has suffered several small strokes. She had major brain surgery 8 years ago and is now back on the road to self-sufficiency. Eisenbrei, 29, lives in Grand Junction, but has also lived in Rifle and Collbran and has a passion for cycling.

All of which makes the ride a homecoming of sorts.

“This ride opens up memories for me that I otherwise wouldn’t remember,” Eisenbrei said.

“When I’m out on a ride I hear God’s music,” she said. “God puts a will in me that helps me to get back up every time I’m down.”

Eisenbrei’s will impresses everyone she meets, especially those at Brown Cycles.

“Brandy rides an old-school, large-wheeled tricycle to her [neurologist’s] office in Fruita, which is 13 or 14 miles each way, to get ready for the race,” Brown said. “Gary Schlagheck will be her co-pilot on a tandem bike this year.”

Eisenbrei is also raising money for youth programs through her church, The First United Methodist Church in Grand Junction.

“I have sponsorships to help fund youth camp and mission programs for the church,” she said. “Sponsors can donate by the mile or for the entire race.”

Racers will leave Grand Junction at 7 a.m. on Saturday, May 19, and should get to Glenwood between 2 and 7 p.m. that night.

Riders will then meet up for a banquet at the Hotel Denver at 7 p.m. that will feature a presentation on the history of biking on the Western Slope.

The following morning, riders from Grand Junction will board the Amtrak train in Glenwood and head back home.

Brown hopes that the L’Eroica builds into a fun competition for Western Slope riders in years to come.

“Our communities [Glenwood Springs and Grand Junction] used to joust each other, and compete for the trophy,” Brown said. “We’d love to alternate the route and have it go from Glenwood to Grand Junction every other year, and we have other routes we’re considering as well.”

As for Glenwood’s participation in the race, there is still more than a week to sign up for interested parties.

And for cyclists at the Gear Exchange, it could depend on recovery time.

“We’re still thinking about it,” said Kendall Spyker, owner of the Gear Exchange. “It’s a great race that follows the historical route, it’s really a great thing, but we just got back from the 18 Hours of Fruita, and it takes time to recover from something like that.

“Darin [Binion] won that, by the way,” Spyker added.

Binion, co-owner of the Gear Exchange and the two-time reigning champion, completed a three-peat at the Fruita race, riding 28 laps for 194 miles in 18 hours.

These two shops know each other well, and it could become a great challenge in years to come.

“We love to joust with the Gear Exchange guys,” Brown said. “But they never show up, we’ll see this year. They talk a lot of trash …”

Game on.

cszewczyk@postindependent.com


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