Memorial Day brings with it the excitement of the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic. In 2011, the 40th annual Memorial weekend running of the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic pitted about 2500 bicycle riders against the Durango/Silverton Narrow Gauge Train in a race to Silverton. You can see highlights of the 2011 race here: 2011 Iron Horse Classic.
The idea is to see if the bicyclers can negotiate the 48 miles and almost 1000 meters of elevation gain (1988 m. in Durango to 2836 m. in Silverton) and can beat the train to Silverton. The riders must deal with the constant gain in elevation to Purgatory Mountain before attacking the steep slopes of Coal Bank Pass. Once they reach the top of Coal Bank at 3242 m. they get a bit of a breather, descending at breathtaking speeds on the 6.5% grade of the descent. The final test involves another climb to the top of Molas Pass. At 3325 m., Molas is the peak elevation of the competition. The racers must then manage the switchbacks, unprotected by guard rails, of the descent into Silverton.
Highway 550 is closed to vehicular traffic during the race, one of the few races in the United States to close a major highway for a bicycle road race. If the racers haven’t topped Molas Pass by 12:30 p.m. (they leave Durango at 9:00 a.m.), they must accept a ride into Silverton. Some riders beat the train every year, although this year there were rumors that the D&NG would add an extra engine in order to try to even the playing field.
If you can’t get here for the race, you can still make this ride from May through October. In fact, fall probably presents the best opportunity to enjoy the beautiful fall colors and mild temperatures on the road from Durango to Silverton. Any time of year, this ride is on every bikers bucket list!