The duf duf sounds of EDM music come into earshot first. Soon thereafter, a figure rolls up on a well-loved purple hardtail Niner. He’s got his usual trappings: jammy pack, pink sleeveless jersey that looks at least 15 years old, and plan for a ride that, on its face, appears to be stupid-crazy, but somehow turns out to be unforgettably fun.
Max Cooper is a masterful mountain biker, no doubt about that. With crushing legs and intuitive ease, he shreds the trails around Telluride in that playful and skilled manner only certain riders possess: the ones whose bikes appear to be extensions of their limbs. Watching him ride is a thing of beauty—if you can keep up.
But what makes him special goes beyond his skills on two wheels. Cooper is the biking world’s renaissance man: talented mechanic, president of the local IMBA chapter, bike coach to Telluride groms, leader of weekly rides, past champion of the townie crit (he won on an orange BMX), host to cross-country bike tourers and, along with his wife, owner of a colorful quiver of peculiarly hand-decorated bicycles.
And since he moved to town six years ago, he’s single-handedly changed the town’s bike culture into one that is more open and embracing of the two-wheel machines. How? By getting people on bikes more often in more varied ways, and thus getting them to love and support bikes more.
Those converted by Cooper run the gamut. He has propelled the fat tire craze here by organizing winter rides and working with the town to build a fat tire-specific trail system on the Valley Floor. He’s sparked interest in young riders as head coach of the Telluride Mountain Bike Camp. He’s gotten people on road bikes with his annual TeleRoubaix. And he's helped mountain bikers push themselves and explore new terrain with his TueZday Nite No Fear rides, weekly group rides that can get downright legendary.
"I just see who shows up and what they are in for and what they want to do. And then usually we do the opposite," he says. "It’s a pretty good idea to bring a night light."
Along with getting people on two wheels, Cooper wears the hat of San Miguel Bike Alliance president, where he works with organizations like the town of Telluride , Telluride Mountain Club , and the U.S. Forest Service to maintain and improve regional trails. Recently, SMBA has been partnering with the Forest Service on both trail workdays and proposals—a rare thing in a region where singletrack is often built the rogue way.
Cooper grew up on a farm in Vermont, where his father went on weekly Tuesday night rides with his friends.
“I remember one day trying to chase them on my BMX and getting good and dropped,” he says. “The next day I took his bike and slammed the seat down and rode up my neighbor’s long driveway, which was a climb. I remember thinking, 'You can do that on one of these?'"
Cooper attended bike camp soon after and got into riding, but team sports took most of his focus in high school. Then in college, at the Rhode Island School of Design, he started joining road rides with a masters team and got back into mountain biking and racing. An artist residency at the Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass brought him to Colorado after college, and he started working at a bike shop in Carbondale. Cooper landed in Telluride through a random series of events, and he's lived here for six years. He and his wife, Hilary, along with their two daughters, have a stable of bikes that includes everything from Xtracycles to single speeds and fat bikes.
One of Cooper's charms is that he's adamant, but not fervent, when it comes to persuading people to ride. He uses the same tactic when talking to clients at Bootdoctors & Paragon Outdoors, where he works as a mechanic, about getting dropper posts or new frames. The thing is, he’s not doing it to get people to spend money; he’s doing it because he truly thinks it’s the best thing for them. And in most instances, he’s right.
But as skilled and knowledgeable as he is, he’s not an intimidating bike guy. For Cooper, it seems, the most important thing is that everybody’s having fun.
What makes him love bikes enough to build his life around them? “Oh, the usual: efficient. Simple. Transportation. Amusement.”
And, really, what else is there?