The Rider and the Wolf

A bloody vest, fresh tracks, a missing .22 pistol, and the disappearance of Mike Rust
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Aug 31, 2014 | By Matthew Ankeny

It’s unlikely that Mike Rust, who moved into the rural Colorado’s San Luis Valley and lived off the grid in a compound built out of reclaimed materials, would want a whole ton of publicity. And if he did, he wouldn’t want it like this. Sadly, Rust doesn’t have much say in it—since March 31, 2009, he’s gone missing, with murder suspected.

But two guys, Sam Bricker and Nathan Ward, both acquaintances of Rust, are out to tell his story. Their new film, The Rider and the Wolf, is, “the story of Mike Rust, the Hall of Fame mountain biker who disappeared without a trace.” We talked with them to get the full story.

It’s been five years since there was a bloody vest, tracks on the road outside Rust’s home, and a missing .22 pistol. Rust lived outside Saguache, CO and his best friend, Jerry Mosier, a veteran private investigator, has been on the case since the disappearance.

There’s clues that lead the case toward homicide, like Mike’s hurried call to a neighbor, saying he’d had a break in and was heading after the thieves, and the Honda motorcycle Rust sped off on in pursuit—found a month after the disappearance, abandoned down an embankment with blood on the bike (the blood was linked by DNA to Rust).

Despite efforts of two military Blackhawk helicopters, a C130, a private helicopter, one smaller fixed-wing craft, and a dog team, no body’s been found. Mosier’s still on the case, as is Mike’s younger brother Marty, and the tragic mystery becomes more bitter considering Rust’s legacy—he was, beyond a Hall of Fame Mountainbiker, one of the father’s of the industry. Rust was a significant loss.

Back in the 80s, there were two groups developing the budding sport of mountainbiking. Out west, in California, there was Gary Fisher and his gang, and in the Rockies there was the “Miner Group,” led in part by Mike.

Rust was an expert bike builder, and he started to change the industry alongside Don McClung by building the first “shorties”—mountain bikes with a shorter wheelbase. The shortie was also the first to feature an elevated-chainstay, and later, Rust and McClung built an “enduro shortie”—likely the first 69er built.

While many builders were concerned with making bikes bigger and heavier, Mike wanted to make things more efficient and elegant. He was a master craftsman, and built frames from classic high-wheelers to hand crafted single speeds.

Eventually, Mike felt cycling moving toward a more industrialized realm—many of his contemporaries, like Fisher, are now big players in the cycling world—and he was uninterested in the mass market. After nine years in business, he and McClung closed the doors on Colorado Cyclery, and Rust moved out of the town of Salida, CO to his remote property in Saguache.

Rust had an ecological bent and was purist at heart, and his life at his solar powered compound fit his interests. But despite the isolation, Rust was also a social creature. The filmmakers, both locals, were influenced by him, as were most teens in the central Colorado area—a place of abandoned mining towns with not much to do.

“He was the guy who had the most fun,” Bricker said. He was often seen cruising around town on his high-wheeler, was always ready to build a bike for a friend. For Bricker and Ward, Rust inspired them to get outside, ride and enjoy the landscape they found themselves in. 

And so his loss is not only a short to the mountain biking world. It’s also a personal loss, for the film makers, central Colorado, and the primary players in the birth of mountain biking. With the unsolved mystery of his disappearance, there’s an unsettled element to the story, and Bricker and Ward are out to make aware that something’s still amiss. 

Mike Rust is missing, likely dead, the mountain biking world has lost a founding father, central Colorado has lost a hero, and right now there is no resolution—only unanswered questions.

Images ©: The Rider and the Wolf