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Boulder Cyclist to Ride Leadville 100 on 35-year-old, Vintage Mountain Bike

August 4, 2018

Spencer Powlison, a Boulder resident who is the VeloNews news director, will be riding this week in the Leadville 100 on this vintage bike, a 1983 Stumpjumper.

A 34-year-old, mustachioed Boulder cyclist plans to conquer the Leadville 100 on a bike a few months older than himself.

The Leadville 100 is a race that starts above 10,000 feet and climbs to 12,424 feet, and cyclists complete the out-and-back route in a day. For his part, Spencer Powlison plans to ride the race this Saturday on a 1983 Stumpjumper.

His silver Stumpjumper lacks any of the trappings of a modern-day mountain bike: suspension, disc brakes or improved gear shifting. Its steel frame makes it significantly heavier than today’s carbon fiber frames, too.

However, Powlison, who is the news director at VeloNews, decided to attempt the race on the vintage mountain bike to demonstrate that cyclists don’t need every piece of modern (read: expensive) gear to get out, enjoy themselves and maybe even compete in an event.

“With bike racing, there’s a real obsession with technology and equipment, and there’s this drive to always be buying the latest and greatest gear,” Powlison said. “People get obsessive about it, and part of that is due to people like me who have these magazines that tell everyone about this new gear and how amazing it is and how you should go out and spend thousands of dollars on it.

“But at the end of the day, I get a lot of satisfaction when I see people out riding on old bikes they just have.”

Powlison described the challenge in a piece for VeloNews this way: “Stripped down to the very basics, bicycles new and old are actually all the same. They each offer an identical, enduring experience: the sensation of riding. It is that little bit of magic that gives a bike life when the gyroscopic forces take hold and your ride — whether around the block or across the country — begins.”

Using this bike will also have a sentimental quality for him, he said. He came to love mountain biking during his childhood in rural Vermont.

“I’ve been mountain biking since I was 12 or so,” Powlison said. “Some of this has a little nostalgia to it.”

The Leadville 100 is just one of number of races in which Powlison is competing and then documenting for VeloNews this year.

In fact, he left Boulder on Saturday ahead of the Breck Epic, a six-day race in which competitors ride backcountry loops for a total of more than 220 miles. He’ll ride the six loops outside Breckinridge through this Friday, and the next day he’ll ride another 100 miles outside Leadville on his Stumpjumper.

The Leadville 100 is the only race this year he’s using the Stumpjumper. He snagged the bike last year on eBay for about $300 and came up with the idea to compete in that race on a ride around Boulder. He’s made a few modifications in preparation for the race, including installing clipless pedals, new tires and a new saddle.

He’s also stocking up on gear to use in case of various malfunctions with the bike, though he’s most worried about getting a flat. Most cyclists on the course will be using tubeless tires, but his bike still runs on tires with tubes.

Powlison made a VeloNews video titled “What could go wrong?!” describing the things he’s most worried about going wrong and the tools he’ll use if they do. He put baby powder in the tires to allow the tubes to move more smoothly within them, which he acknowledges might be the stuff of urban legends. During the race, he’ll carry multiple replacement tubes, a mini pump, a patch kit and reinforcements in case he slashes the side wall of his tires.

He’ll also be documenting the race for VeloNews, covering the race from a participant’s perspective and talking to others who show up to ride.

“I’m planning to talk to as many other participants as I can, capture the scene and the people who do the race, and tell that side of the story — it being this very participant-oriented event,” Powlison said. “Hopefully I’ll meet some people who have stories to tell.”

Cassa Niedringhaus: 303-473-1106, cniedringhaus@dailycamera.com

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