Steamboat Springs Building custom bikes is a small-scale world Kent Eriksen demonstrated again Friday afternoon. He casually but carefully interviewed Justin Cohen, a Denver rider hoping to replace an old but lovingly tailored road bike.
Eriksen asked about Cohen’s preferred handlebars and seat height, the size of the pedals and the paint job. He took careful measurements, moments later adjusting the bike design he’d drawn up on his computer by mere millimeters, all to get the fit and the feel of Cohen’s sweet new ride, his first Kent Eriksen Cycles custom bike, just right.
When the 55-year-old Eriksen talks to someone other than a customer, however, the millimeters take a back seat and his dreams are big, his stories wild. It’s that big-picture vision that has the man who is perhaps Steamboat Springs’ best bike ambassador so excited.
For 35 years, he’s waged war for bicycles in Steamboat. Now, things just might be happening, and he’s awfully excited.
A lifetime of achievement
Eriksen’s efforts to grow cycling in Steamboat were recognized Thursday night during the first events of the three-day Steamboat Bike Summit that highlighted the plans others with similar big dreams have envisioned.
Eriksen spoke before a crowd of more than 100 for 45 minutes, telling of his early days in Steamboat and the creation of his first Yampa Valley bike company, Moots Cycles. Then, Routt County Riders President Robin Craigen surprised Eriksen with a lifetime achievement award, a sleek-looking sculpture of bike and rider on a large wooden block.
“It just means I’m old,” Eriksen humbly said later. But to many, it was an honor perfectly suited to a man who helped usher mountain biking not only into Routt County, but into the United States.
Some of what the Steamboat Springs Bike Town USA task force and a resurgent Routt County Riders has accomplished and labeled as necessary in the near future, Eriksen ticked off a list long ago. He printed out a map of area bike trails when he owned and operated Sore Saddle Cyclery in the 1970s. Popular road-biking routes were on one side and a burgeoning mountain-bike trail system was drawn out on the other.
Eriksen brought the Tour de Steamboat into existence. At first, he said, it was a motley collection of 80 riders flying through a Steamboat Springs nearly entirely void of the developments and condo complexes that now clutter the city’s southeastern side. They pedaled 50 miles, Oak Creek marking the far end of the loop.
“I don’t think we got any permits or anything,” Eriksen recalled Thursday night, eliciting laughter from the crowd. “We didn’t know you had to do that stuff back then.”
They still ride the Tour de Steamboat, of course. It’s now a much larger event, even considering the respectable 80 riders it started with. The noncompetitive ride this year, organized in part by Eriksen’s wife of 10 years, Katie Lindquist, attracted 500 cyclists for rides of three distances.
He said the growth of the ski area through the years, and in particular the real estate rush midway through the decade, helped keep biking on the back burner.
“Steamboat maybe lost a little focus because it was booming so fast,” Eriksen said. “Now, maybe this recession has proven to be a bit of a good thing in some ways because we’ve looked back into the quality of life a bit more.”
A round of enthusiasm
Eriksen thinks big and constantly. He mentioned Thursday during his less-than-scripted speech that another of his talks before a large group, the one he gave in 1996 when he was elected to the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame, had drifted into his ideas for a transportation system based on bicycle-like devices that traveled on cables strung high above the ground around a city.
Asked about his opinion on Bike Town USA later, he drifted into ideas about in-town cross-country ski lanes to match the miles of bike trails that could be built thanks to the Bike Town initiative.
“He’s an amazing guy,” Lindquist said. “He gets a big idea a second. None of us can keep up. He’s an excellent listener, but he can be on to the third topic in his head as he’s constantly thinking of creating and modifying things.”
He may have played a central role in getting Steamboat cycling on the map, thanks to Moots, which he founded, then left in 2005, and his current bike-building effort. He hasn’t played a huge role in the planning that’s gone into this latest Bike Town USA effort, however. Still, he said he’s far from surprised it’s been greeted with so much enthusiasm.
“The road biking, you’d have to go to Italy to match it,” he said. “This is already a special place to live, and maybe we’re going to make it even more special.”
Even at just 55, Eriksen has lived a life that will go down in Steamboat legend.
He lived in a tree house in the forest year-round for five years, skiing to town many days before road shoulders became dominated by scoria.
He flew more than 70 miles per hour on a bike.
He’s been an endless tinkerer, modifying nearly everything he owns, according to his wife. He still assaults Steamboat’s many miles of singletrack trails but recently has taken to doing so on a custom-built (of course) 9-foot tandem mountain bike with Lindquist.
Eriksen said he’s loved Steamboat Springs from the day he rolled into town, “and I’m thrilled this is happening,” he said.
“And it’s going to happen this time.”