STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald
These days, a new mountain bike with full suspension starts around $2,000. Committed cyclists commonly will spend between $4,000 and $7,000 on a new bike. The most expensive bike at Mountain Bike Specialists on Main Avenue sells for $10,000.
Because so many bicycles get traded and resold in Durango, it’s not so hard to find a relatively new bicycle for $800 that is better than anything made in the early 1990s, said Steve DeBelina, former production manager for Yeti when it was based in Bodo Industrial Park.
“Technology has improved that much,” said DeBelina, who still lives in Durango.
This is not to say there is no appreciation for mountain bikes made in an era when designers still were working out the kinks of making an off-road bike flexible enough for comfort but sturdy enough for a sense of control – “so you didn’t feel like you were riding a noodle,” DeBelina said.
Like the Abominable Snowman for which it’s named, the Yeti and other collector bikes are set to make a startling if fleeting reappearance in Durango, showing up in a vintage category of the mountain bike race May 26, the Sunday of Iron Horse weekend.
Anne Cheeney, logistics coordinator of the race, noted that Iron Horse is celebrating its 42nd anniversary.
“There’s a lot of history, there’s a lot of tradition (in Durango),” Cheeney said. “We know there are people who have sweet bikes, sweet helmets, sweet jerseys sitting around. We thought, ‘let’s bring it out and give (collectors) an avenue to use it.’”
Mike Wilk, a local collector and restorer who will be riding a 1992 Yeti, said, “It’s going to be a step back in time. It’s nostalgia.”
But not too far back because the bikes are expected to be from the early 1990s.
Because mountain biking is a relatively new sport, not really getting popular until the 1980s, its history seems to be counted in dog years.
“Bikes have come so far that bikes of the 1990s seem vintage. These days, last year’s bike seems like old news,” Cheeney said.
For Iron Horses purposes, there is no set definition of vintage.
“If you showed up on a bike from 1998 that had better brakes and better suspension, we would not frown on you, but my personal line in the sand is 1995,” Wilk said.
While the bikes won’t be formally displayed on a stage, spectators should be able to pick them out from the race lineup because they typically are painted in the offensively bright, neon colors that were popular in the 1990s.
Riders would be in style if they wore mullet wigs, too. A YouTube video of a Yeti plant tour in Durango shows many of the workers with their hair kept short in front and long in back.
DeBelina said the plant would have been a perfect setting for a reality-based TV show like “Pawn Stars” if reality shows had been invented then.
“There were a lot of characters who worked there,” he said.
The company left Durango in 1999 and has since been resold many times. The brand now is located in Golden.
Wilk said one of his Yetis is on display at the Golden plant. He emphasized that he enjoys riding his vintage bikes, too. He does not collect just to own them.
But Wilk, 33, who rode for the Fort Lewis College cycling team, said he likes to buy the bikes that he could not afford when he was a kid.
Bicycle collectors are enough of a force that they merit their own category in Bike Tribes: A Field Guide to the North American Cyclists by Mike Magnuson, published in 2012.
The joy of riding a well-preserved bike is like looking through a View-Master, those plastic 3-D picture-viewers popular with kids in the 1960s and ’70s, Magnuson said.
“There is an element of retro art to the vintage-bike community, too,” Magnuson wrote.
To keep the vintage race genteel, riders will do just two laps.
“To encourage them to bring out their old steed, we’re not going to make them hammer it out by making them do three or four laps,” Cheeney said.
Prizes will be vintage, as well – perhaps an old pair of bike shorts from the time period.
“Who wouldn’t want an old vintage chamois?” she said.