Call & Response

An Epic Ride with Charlie Tarver

Talking Aspen cycling’s past and present, and the color pink.

Edited by Michael Miracle May 1, 2015 Published in the Summer 2015 issue of Aspen Sojourner

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Image: Karl Wolfgang

No one has pedaled more local miles than Charlie Tarver. 

Aspen Sojourner: Everyone knows you as the owner of the Hub of Aspen, that guy who always wears pink. What’s your Aspen origin story?  
Charlie Tarver: I moved here in 1984 because of a girl—and we’re still friends. I was really into climbing and worked for Bob Wade at Ute Mountaineer. In ’89, Bob was thinking about buying the Hub and wanted me to run it. I was like, “Bob, my life is too good: a four-day workweek nine months a year is hard to give up.” Three months later I was running the Hub; two years later I owned it.  

A.S.: What were those first days like? 
C.T.: People would ask where we rode. We didn’t know where, when, how far, or how long—they were rides to nowhere. We rode places that had never been ridden: old mining roads, cow trails. It was adventure riding. We’d go for a two-hour ride; six hours later we’d get back in the dark—muddy, bloody, and happy.  

A.S.: Fair to call you part of mountain biking’s beginnings?  
C.T.: If you look at the first-ever mountain bike world championships, all of the officials were wearing Hub jackets. The first grip shifts on a mountain bike were made in the Hub. Grip shifts were built to go on road bikes, so you could shift while you were sprinting. A Hub mechanic named Dave Livingston took them into the back; two days later mountain bike shifting had changed forever.  

A.S.: Impressive.  
C.T.: Thumb shifters used to be above the bar. Dave looks at them and says, “Your thumbs are underneath the bar when you hang onto it. It’s easier and faster to shift underneath—and safer.” So he turned them over and reversed sides. It was the first time the shifter was underneath the handlebar. Twenty years later, electric road shifting arrived. Three months later, the Hub had it on my mountain bike. Five years later, and Shimano still hasn’t caught up.  

A.S.: That’s a lot of innovation. Is the Hub’s racing history equally rich? 
C.T.: The original Hub team in the ’80s had Bobby Julich and Alexi Grewal. They both have these things from the Olympics called medals. We have Annie Gonzales. Last year she was the world mountain bike champion and the XTerra world champion. Local racing is also very dear to my heart. Hub riders started the Aspen Cycling Club in ’89, I had the Aspen Cycling School in the ’90s, and just last year we gave Aspen High School its first mountain bike team.  

A.S.: We’ve heard you used to race, too. 
C.T.: For me, the ’90s were bike racing. In 2001, in the National 24 Hour Solo Mountain Bike Championship, I was third. A week later, I was fourth in the Leadville 100. A week after that, I was third in the Vail 100. The same year, I was second in the nation in cyclecross—that’s road bikes on dirt with hurdles. That’s also the year I won the Aspen Cycling Club’s road series, mountain series, and overall. It had never been done. I was thirty-nine.  

A.S.: Why did it end?    
C.T.: I tried to break a world speed record for a bike on a speed-skiing course at Snowmass. Word of advice: don’t fall off your bike at 98.65 miles per hour. A week in a coma, a month in a hospital. 
I retired.  

A.S.: How do you see Aspen as a bike town today?     
C.T.: Cycling is better in Aspen than in anyplace in the world. We’ve got the shops. We have the riders, from skinny shaved-legged boys going faster uphill than you can ride downhill to seventy-year-old grandmas who are proud to ride their bike and not drive their car. We also have the infrastructure. Pitkin County begs you to come ride. Great mountain biking trails, beautiful roads—every one of them you can access from your front door. 

A.S.: Did you have a hand in any of that? 
C.T.: My first board position in Aspen was on a bikeway committee. Most of the bike paths people ride today were dreamt up and drawn on napkins in those meetings. It started as a dream in 1990, and that dream has been realized. New dreams welcome. 

A.S.: You ignored the pink comment earlier.   
C.T.: As a two-year-old, my favorite word was “opposite.” Charlie is a contrarian. I like it. She noticed it. I love it. 

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