For road cyclists in the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic, there’s nothing more motivating than the sonorous whine of a faraway train whistle. That’s the sound of their top competitor: the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. The road biking race was born in the early 1970s, when beating the train to Silverton on a bicycle was deemed impossible—until cyclist Tom Mayer pulled it off in a bet with his brother, a train worker. Now, the race has expanded to a full weekend of festivities, including a kids’ race, mountain bike race, and the Cruiser Criterium, a cruiser-bike parade and costume contest held on Main Street.
The Silverton race is still the marquis event, with around 1,000 racers who compete in pro divisions and 1,500 amateurs, who race the train over a 50-mile course with two 10,000-foot passes and 6,650 feet of climbing. Though pros have sped through the course in as little as two hours, most riders take a more leisurely pace to enjoy the cheers of locals on the roadsides and ogle the views of 13,000-foot snowcapped peaks.