A shotgun blast of worldwide wandering and pure stoke, Michael Aisner is best known for running the Coors Classic bike race and introducing mainstream America to road bicycling—but as a guy who chases solar eclipses, airlifts polar bears, hangs with Jane Goodall and has pet tarantulas, the rep underestimates him. In the bike-mad town of Boulder, though, it’s understandable.
Michael Aisner doesn’t go small. When Governor Bill Ritter, Lance Armstrong and Quizno’s needed to figure out the feasibility of their proposed 2011 Tour of Colorado, they called Michael Aisner. One of Aisner’s claims to fame is running the legendary Coors Classic from 1979 to 1988. The Coors is the greatest bicycle race ever held in the US; it even attracted Euro-stars like five-time Tour de France winner Bernard Hinault. Davis Phinney, Greg LeMond, Connie Carpenter and Andy Hampsten got their careers going in the 16-day race—the fourth longest in the world. The Coors represents a time gone by: a mythic, never-to-be-repeated halcyon era in bicycling. The world’s best came to Colorado and the West, and our crew—Phinney, Hampsten, LeMond—beat them all. It was unthinkable, a race of this duration, let alone a cycling event. Aisner ignored the naysayers and turned the Coors into North America's version of the Tour.
"One of the things I'm proudest of is the legacy of the race," says Aisner. "Our staff feels like family. We even released a successful three-DVD history of a race that's 30 years old."
Michael Aisner doesn't do partial eclipses. "It's really something when your father wakes you up. Usually, your parents are trying to get you to sleep when you're 10, but my dad once woke me up to look through our new telescope at Saturn. One look and the light buld just went on for me."
Aisner saw his first total solar eclipse in Montana in 1972. "The last one in the US," he explains. Since then he's traveled to Baja, Hungary, Siberia, Egypt, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Thailand, and China, all to witness these natural phenomena. "It lets me look clearly at the scope of my tiny life in this endless universe," he says.
“From this, I get it…that it’s all mine to do something with, and it’s utterly brief.”
His next eclipse? Three minutes, 52 seconds in Cairns, Australia, November 13, 2012. “I’ve got 20 more to go before I’m 96. And as a bonus, there’s one up in Wyoming when I’m 103!”
Michael Aisner won’t skimp on your wake. His father passed away in ’92, the same year Aisner moved into his mountain home above Boulder. Think Aisner went conventional on the memorial or funeral? Think again. “He was on the very first ‘burial’ of human cremains in earth orbit,” he says, explaining how a company called Celestis took his father’s ashes into the sky. “Dad orbited for seven years. I’d look up and know my DNA is orbiting the earth. It was mystical.”
Michael Aisner won’t go unnoticed. “I built a radio station in my attic as a kid,” Aisner remembers. By 15, he’d interviewed Cassius Clay, Bill Cosby, Jesse Owens and Louis Armstrong. In the early ’70s, he accompanied French activist and actress Brigitte Bardot to the Canadian arctic to publicize the brutal seal hunts. With National Geographic, he participated in an airlift to save polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba. Over the years, he’s befriended Dr. Jane Goodall, consulted for United Artists, and is currently making a behind-the-scenes documentary of the Tour de France.
Michael Aisner won’t be leaving anytime soon.
“I’ve been all over the world, but I love it here,” he says.
“It’s all about climate—meteorological, political, people’s interest in being healthy and most important for me, it has young energy. And I live in the mountains. Every time I come down that hill and look into the valley, I realize this place has a gravity to it.”
Boulder has always embraced the iconoclast, the do-it-all mad-to-live polymath...and there’s no better example than Michael Aisner. He’s one of the natives that makes Boulder, Boulder.