Motorcycle enthusiasts — local to international — are preparing for the 40th annual Colorado 500 Charity Invitational Dirt Bike Ride this weekend. The event kicks off Saturday with a party and vintage bike show at Wally Dallenbach’s Basalt ranch.
The next day, more than 200 participants embark on the five-day, off-road ride, which starts in Snowmass and travels to Crested Butte and Ouray before returning.
Dallenbach, a former Indianapolis 500 race car driver, is co-founder and longtime president of the Colorado 500. He and his wife, Peppy, lead the organization with its vice president, Janet Lohman.
Dallenbach and motorcycle racer Sherm Cooper planted the seeds for the Colorado 500 in fall 1975, when they enjoyed several days of traveling Rocky Mountain motorcycle trails and visiting mining ghost towns in the state. They invited seven friends to join them when they took the same backcountry ride the following year. That group of nine, which included auto-racing luminaries Al and Bobby Unser, composed the field of the first Colorado 500 Dirt Bike Ride.
Dallenbach, a New Jersey native who moved to Colorado with his wife in 1974, is well known in car racing and motorcycle circles. He built a successful auto-racing career in the 1960s and 1970s. High points of those decades include five Championship Car Racing wins and 13 starts in the Indianapolis 500, where he finished fourth in 1973.
Dallenbach retired from active racing in 1981 and served as Championship Auto Racing Teams’ chief steward through 2005. He received a long list of awards and honors through both phases of his career and beyond, including induction into the American Motorcycle Association Hall of Fame in 2006.
MORE THAN A RIDE
In its 40 years, the Colorado 500 has grown in number of participants and breadth of mission. Treating the trails and towns they visit with respect has always been important to the riders, but the group started a Charity Fund in 1981 to do more for the communities on its route through the San Juan Mountains.
Raising money for a variety of organizations remains a central focus of the Colorado 500. Dallenbach and Lohman are very hands on in deciding how to disperse money raised by the riders. Lynne Jammaron and her husband, Glen Jammaron, president of Alpine Bank — a major sponsor of the Colorado 500 — head the organization’s scholarship committee.
Today, a significant share of Colorado 500 donations benefit Basalt, home of the Dallenbachs and the organization. To date, it has given $650,000 to Basalt schools and graduating seniors, the town’s Police Department and other groups.
Numerous other beneficiaries throughout the Roaring Fork Valley and beyond include Advocate Safehouse, YouthZone, Roaring Fork Conservancy, search-and-rescue organizations and veterans’ groups. The Colorado 500 also has donated $32,000 to both the Silverton and Ouray public schools.
The organization presents many of its donations in towns along the route during the five-day event.
Chartered and sanctioned by the American Motorcycle Association, the Colorado 500 Charity Invitational Dirt Bike Ride wants its participants to be good ambassadors for the sport of motorcycling. Besides following strict Motorcycle Association guidelines, riders seek to avoid potential problems by following their own conduct and safety rules. Dallenbach said that when problems do arise, the organization resolves them immediately.
Being good ambassadors includes responsible stewardship of forests and trails. In 1988, the Colorado 500 Charity fund began making donations to the U.S. Forest Service. The organization emphasizes that these donations support trail maintenance that benefits everyone who uses off-road vehicles in Colorado’s national forests.
Since 1995, the Colorado 500 also has worked to acquire grants that support trail maintenance. In addition, it provides work crews that clear deadfall and perform other trail work each spring and summer.
Noise is another potential area of tension between motorcyclists and townspeople. The Colorado 500 has been a leader in promoting quiet bikes since 2005, and every participant’s bike has to pass a pre-ride tech inspection that includes strict noise regulations. Dallenbach and Lohman said the organization has received positive comments from town residents and forest rangers alike about the care riders take to minimize noise.
The Colorado 500 dirt bike ride started with two friends who invited a group of seven more to join them. True to those roots, it has remained an invitational event.
Wanting to attract new people, the organization added a road bike ride in 1987. It actively encourages all interested street bike enthusiasts to apply to ride in this event, which is staged every June. It also is a five-day ride, but unlike the dirt bike ride, it alternates yearly between northern and southern routes.
WOMEN JOIN THE RIDE
Both men and women have participated in the street ride since it began in 1987, but women did not join the dirt bike ride until 2013. The five women who rode that year raised $3,200, which they donated to a women’s and children’s shelter.
The Colorado 500 expects dedication, fundraising and respect from participants in both rides, but it also treats them very well. Entry fees and sponsorships cover the cost of nice hotels and meals as well as safety procedures, medics and mechanics.
Fun is a part of the fundraising for both rides and includes auctions, fashion shows and musical events. Riders also raise money through individual and team donations and challenges. Dallenbach and Lohman both talked about the street ride’s “fun with fines,” a humorous way of collecting donations from participants. The rides feature a judge who collects fines at the end of each day for everything from crossing the center line to failing to wear a name tag at dinner. The judge’s decisions are not open to appeal.
The Colorado 500 has developed friendships and strengthened family ties. Veteran riders invite others to join the dirt bike ride and some have participated for many years, even decades. The ride has become a multi-generational event for some families.
Leaders and participants emphasize long-lasting friendships that riders from across the United States and many other countries have experienced since the event began. Some have said the feeling of camaraderie “is unequaled anywhere in the world of motorsports.”
The Colorado 500 Charity Invitational Dirt Bike Ride is widely known and draws a diverse group of motorcyclists from around the world. The field boasts many movers and shakers, including some non-local participants who have purchased second homes in the area. But Jammaron stressed that everyone involved is friendly and welcoming. Throughout its 40-year history, the Colorado 500 has been defined by camaraderie and a sense of giving back to the sport of motorcycling and, more importantly, to many Colorado communities.
“It is,” Lohman said, “the most humble ride.”