Life on Two Wheels: Mike Zobbe and the pioneers of Breck’s trail system
In a past life, Mike Zobbe was a self-proclaimed motorhead.
These days, the longtime executive director of the Summit Huts Association is more likely to disappear for a few hours on a mountain bike, pedaling solo or with a tight-knit group of diehard riders across the spiderwebbed trails of Breckenridge, his adopted hometown.
But, as the son of an Indianapolis racecar driver in the ‘70s and ‘80s, his childhood was filled with exhaust fumes at sweltering hot racetracks.
“I had dabbled in cycling a little bit up until that point, but not very seriously,” Zobbe says. “I was really into motorcycles and racecars when I was younger. And, really, that ties everything together.”
Along with racecars, Zobbe also had a soft spot for skiing and, well, just about anything that was faster than walking. His family took an annual excursion to Colorado every winter — the “typical Midwestern skier thing,” he dubs it — but, when he was 22 years old, he decided to try his luck as a ski bum.
That November, he spent the first week in Colorado living in the back of a small, cramped car before taking a job with Sharpshooter Photography at Breckenridge. From there he worked just about every hourly job imaginable, from waiting and busing tables to construction and, finally, full-time work as a stonemason.
Through it all, Zobbe was still a motorhead at heart, but his new alpine surroundings weren’t exactly fit for racecars. So, he quickly found a different distraction: Biking.
In 1984, Zobbe’s good friend bought a Specialized Stumpjumper, one of the first true mountain bikes, and the Indy transplant was hooked. He rode in his first Fall Classic the next year, then went on to seek out the old, long-forgotten mining routes spread across Breck — the same routes that became the modern trail system.
The town’s early mountain biking crew was small but dedicated, guys like Jeff Hill, Bob Orris, Greg Walter and Scott Yule. Many went on to help Zobbe found Summit Fat Tire Society, a local mountain bike advocacy and stewardship organization.
After 33 years in Breck, Zobbe has seen the local biking culture — and the sport as a whole — grow and evolve and expand every year. And it all started as an adrenaline-fueled pastime, the sort of thing a lifelong motorhead just couldn’t ignore.
“I had dabbled with racing for a long time, but it took me a few years to break away from that — from that existence, so to speak. A friend of the family owned a bicycle company, called American Bicycle Manufacturing out of St Cloud, Minnesota. He had this bicycle that was pretty high-tech for its time. It was aluminum — there weren’t many of those around — and it was just very cool. I had to get my hands on one and he wanted to get his bikes exposure in Colorado, so he let me have it.
“Back then, bikes just weren’t user-friendly. I broke three frames in a row — the equipment wasn’t up for the kind of use we were putting it through, the damage we did to it. I think guys like us, a lot of those early riders, were the ones who almost made the manufacturers up their game. They saw that a bunch of young boys in Colorado were beating them up and breaking them, so they started making better bikes.
“That’s when we were spending so much time exploring the old mining roads and trails, the trails people are riding now. There was only a small group of people that pioneered and found those trails, and we spent quite a few years getting lost and pushing our bikes through the woods. We realized just how much private property was up there — almost all the trails we were on crossed that property. This was long before open space, so that’s when I realized we needed something like the Fat Tire Society. You needed stewardship ethics instilled in the community. I had always been sort of a tree hugger, despite my motorhead background, but there are so many people who come out with so many motivations. You needed accountability. The sport has grown with our open space department, not only in Breckenridge, but also in Summit County. We also have a great relationship with the Forest Service, and we’ve always been able to do things in a cooperative manner. The trail system we have now is a result of that.”
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