Life on two wheels: Scott Toepfer traces the evolution of Summit biking
Special to the Daily
“There wasn’t any bike paths so I just went on the roads … there wasn’t many cars,” Scott Toepfer paused. “Or many bikes.”
A lot has changed for biking in Summit County, in the over-40 years that Toepfer has lived here.
Moving to Summit in the spring of 1974, he lived a simple life near the Snake River in Summit Cove. Toepfer worked as a cook at Arapahoe Basin, and rarely travelled to other parts of the county — but that was fine, because his trusty, emerald green, Schwinn Continental road bike, took him everywhere he needed to go.
“I couldn’t afford gas, so I’d bike as much as I could,” Toepfer explained with a rich cackle. “We’d say you’d need a visa to get over to Breck.”
A Passion Starts To Blossom
Soon after arriving, a deep love for road-biking started to develop in the Iowa native. Scott fondly remembers, frequent slogs up Loveland Pass in the 1980s — cut-off jean clad, and hair flowing wildly in the wind — but in his mind he was every ounce a Greg LeMond.
“I definitely had some false confidence,” Toepfer laughed.
False confidence or not, Toepfer excelled on an amateur cycling level, boasting a handful of wins at local time trials, and a 6th place performance at the prestigious Mount Evans Hill Climb.
Around this time in 1984, mountain biking was also starting to take off in the county. Knowing little about the sport, but always eager for a new challenge, Toepfer managed to get his hands on a Specialized Stumpjumper, and rode in the inaugural Fall Classic, a now historic Summit mountain-bike race.
“It was just more of a laid-back culture than road-biking — I guess that’s what drew me to it,” Topefer remembered. “It was still competitive, but I guess a little more fun.”
Formal mountain-bike trails didn’t exist at the time, so, old mining and jeep trails, were the main route of passage. The plethora of old paths, brought out the inner-explorer in Topefer, even if it meant a few misadventures along the way.
“There was one time we rode over Independence Mountain to … Ida Bell Mine. When we got up there we saw sticks of dynamite lying in the mine,” said Toepfer. “Dynamite that’s been out in the natural environment for 40-50 years isn’t very safe to be around.”
Not only was Toepfer a long-time participant in the bike scene, but he also helped lay its early framework. In an early 1990s Summit Symposium, he and other local bike enthusiasts successfully petitioned for formal bike trails and paths to be built in the county, most notably the development of the Vail Pass path. Toepfer, ironically, was also a member of the Colorado Department of Transportation crew that built the path.
“Those construction guys were grumbling because they thought no one was going to use it,” Toepfer chuckled.
Over the course of the ‘90s, Toepfer would see the amount of trails in Summit grow ten-fold, along with a vast influx of new riders. When asked if having to share the trail and roads with many more cyclists annoyed him, Toepfer assured me that it was quite the opposite.
“Not at all — I enjoy it. Besides, if you go far enough out, there’s plenty of spots where if you go far enough out, you won’t see anyone for miles and miles.”
Toepfer, now around 60-years old, may no longer be paving bike paths or winning races, but his dedication to the sport hasn’t wavered. He still assists at local races, often sweeping the course for fallen riders. He also recently added a new toy to his arsenal, with the purchase of a cyclo-cross bicycle. Cyclo-cross bikes — most comparable to a road bike with mountain bike tires — are designed for travel over inconsistent ground, obstacles and sharp turns.
“It’s awesome, it’s like a whole new sport … it allows you to explore areas with thicker trees and carry the bike really easily,” said Toepfer excitedly. “Also, there’s a lot of cyclo-cross courses on the Front Range, so I can ride down there in the winter when it’s too snowy up here.”
Technology has changed, as well as his abilities, but for Toepfer, one of life’s greatest thrills will always be the feeling of wind in his hair, while he cruises in the saddle.
“I try to bike whenever possible; it’s the most efficient transportation out there. It doesn’t pollute the air and it’s just fun to do. When I work in Boulder in the winter … I’ve got the mountain bike and cyclo-cross bike waiting in the garage.
The two things that give me the biggest smiles in life are when I see my son … and when I put my leg over the seat, to get onto a bike. It’s unconscious and I do it every time — I’ve just got the biggest grin on my face. One of my earliest memories was my dad teaching me to ride a bike, so it’s been with me practically my whole life. It’ll probably be that way until I’m in my 80s — maybe then I’ll pick up golf.”
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