This had been a long time coming, ever since I started coming to Colorado, and slowly but surely began to move myself here, me and my brother Joe have been planning a time to ride bikes. And that time was now, April of 2018.
Bikes had always been a huge part of mine, and my families, life. We grew up in the countryside, able to easily explore, and having a bicycle made this even easier. We were also lucky enough to have parents that allowed us to do this, and bought us bikes so we could go out a get covered in mud, race down huge hills and fall off and get cuts and bruises. Looking back now I’m truly grateful for this, not everyone gets to do that, or has the parents like I had who will not only let them, but encourage them to go out and ride. There aren’t many times I remember in my childhood where I didn’t have a bicycle.
Bikes have followed me and my brothers through childhood into adulthood. My Brother, Joe applying himself to road cycling to the point of amateur and pro-am racing. Myself sticking firmly to the category of weekend warrior. Just enjoying the suffering that comes with routing yourself to a saddle for half a day. Recently we both fit rather nicely into the category of weekend warrior together, or enthusiastic amateur, but both with delusions of grandeur.
So why does that lead us to Colorado? Well because I live here. Permanently now for 8 months and counting, but in spirit a lot longer. And ever since my transition from weedy Brit to stereotypical Coloradoan began we’ve both been filling each others heads with plans and ideas of riding bikes throughout Colorado. After all, there aren’t many places better to ride. You may argue, but you’d highly likely be wrong. Or not, I guess it is down to personal preference. But if like me you like mountains, miles of grinding and climbing followed by white knuckle descents, I think you’d like it here too.
The date we settled on, April 13th, for our first ride might seem ominous, not only because of the date but if you know Colorado you’ll know spring can be truly unpredictable, even by Colorado standards. As the day grew ever closer we watched the weather with hawk eyes. It started with rain, then changed to strong winds, then fatefully just to overcast and cold. At least it wouldn’t be raining.
Our routes would have to be Spring routes. There are of course hundreds of classic routes in the Rockies; Trail Ridge Road, Independence Pass, Fall River Road, Pikes Peak, Mt Evans, and the countless dirt roads and high mountain passes across the state. Luckily you don’t have to go far from the front range to get high, and get your lungs and legs burning. Rapha Boulder would be our first and most vital stop, collecting the bike that Joe would ride for these 3 days. Boulder is a city synonymous with the Bicycle, and countless Front Range classic rides leave from here. Rapha fits perfectly in with the countless other bike shops, catering for any style of riding you could want. Rapha may sometimes get a bad rep, but there is a reason for their popularity. Their apparel is the best, and these clubhouses make them even better.
Boulder > Eldorado Canyon > Lookout Mountain > Denver
Our first ride would be under grey skies, clad in full Winter gear, Spring had reverted back to Winter for the day. This first ride would set the standard. We rolled out from Boulder around 11am and headed south toward Golden on Highway 93, a route that flanks the Front Range and the Foothills to the West. A few miles outside of Boulder is Eldorado Springs, a small town at the foot of Eldorado Canyon. We of course bypassed to here for the sake of sightseeing and milage. Returning back to Hwy 93 we pushed to Golden, before heading west for our first challenge and first classic climb in the foothills. Lookout Mountain stands at 7,739ft (2,249m) 2,000ft above Golden and it’s a popular introduction to the mountain climbs and roads in Colorado because it’s an easy flat ride from Denver. We had just come from Boulder however, which isn’t such a flat route. I love this climb, not because it’s incredibly steep, or because it’s a huge challenge, the views are why I love this climb so much. Slogging up the initial climb around Mt. Zion gives you amazing views back down into Golden and further East into Denver, and as you turn onto the north and west side of the mountain, up the many switchbacks, legs beginning to burn, you are given a sneak peak of the real mountains, of what you can get into if you wanted to. And what we would be getting into, because we wanted to.
The cold descent followed, and by the bottom I was close to shivering, but on the way down I barely noticed it. The upper part of the descent is tight and technical, with multiple hairpins linked together with short fast straights, but after this initial first part the road opens up and allows you to flow on sweeping turns that are easily linked together, the only real hazard is catching a motorist unawares, but most of the time they will pull out of the way, rather than have a cyclist meters from their tailgate. After this it was a easy roll back to Denver. Coffee and Calories were waiting.
Day 1 - 87.7km 1,215m (54.5mi 3,986ft)
Total - 87.7km 1,215m (54.5mi 3,986ft)
Chatfield State Park > Deer Creek Canyon & High Grade Road
Legs feeling a little heavy from the previous day we started out East, on a nice flat to get the legs moving, and to get Joes power meter working, or try to at least, something that was becoming a recurring theme. With this area you do have the option of adding some significant distance and some significant views by looping around Chatfield and Roxborough State Parks, both easy rolls from Deer Creek Canyon. We however didn’t do this and after a few miles leg loosening we headed off into the Canyon. As it starts the Canyon doesn’t seem particularly tough or steep, that is until you get to the first fork in the road, and the ominous sign “HIGH GRADE ROAD 2 MILES AHEAD” gives you some vague warning of what you’re about to get yourself into. We hooked a left and went in search of the High Grades.
Shortly after the sign the road begins to climb and doesn’t stop for the next 20km. A winding, twisting ribbon of tarmac makes it way up the canyon, switchbacking and weaving its way up this beautiful landscape, many switchback pushing the gradient into double digits. When you’re done with this section you face a different kind of challenge, a long climb where the summit is always in view, but always getting further away. The gradients at the start weren’t as steep, it just seemed never ending, every crest yielded only more tarmac slowly rising into the distance, until the final and only sharp bend on this section, where the gradient again kicked up into double digits, a torturous end to the long hard climb we had just pushed through.
After eventually cresting the summit we headed North across the valley, we were fooled into thinking because we had reached the highest point there would be no more climbing but we were wrong. In looping back and crossing the valley, you run into brutal short sharp kicks, most rearing up above 10 and 15 percent. Speed almost impossible to carry off of the downhills around the sharp turns into the climbs, it would be all legs. But the pain always subsides, and the views were always spectacular. Views miles North of the Front range and Denver, views West of Mount Evans and its Massif, in that moment I wa glad that the road to Mount Evans was still closed. Eventually we did reach the final descent, and once again passed the HIGH GRADE sign, thankfully this time we were heading down and away from it, back to the rolling flats, and back to the car. We rolled back to where we had started, and did a few lazy tailwind-assisted laps along the road between Chatfield and the Canyon, before stopping where Joe had first tried to fix his Power Meter, awaiting our ride from our support driver, my wife Tara. I was in need of sugar, coffee, carbs, and fried food.
64.1km 1,367m (39.9mi 4,485ft)
Totals: 151.8km 2,582m (94.4mi 8,471ft)
St. Vrain, Peak to Peak Highway - Boulder > Lyons > Ward > Boulder
Saving the toughest until last, this would be the challenge. The most miles, the most climbing, the highest elevation of the trip, and a true epic of a ride.
Waking up with my legs feeling heavy I can’t say I was over-stoked about heading out on the 3rd ride in a row and the longest and highest of the 3, and I’m not a 100%, but I’m sure Joe was feeling the same too. We slowly waddled around the house, brewing and drinking coffee, eating Peanut Butter toast, boiled eggs, and other breakfast things until we could delay time no longer and loaded up the bikes up and went to face this ride down.
The original route starts from central Boulder, almost right downtown, from the Rapha store itself, but, due to parking limitations we found a small trailhead a few miles North of town to store the car, the added benefit being that it would knock a few miles off the ride, not that I was thinking of that when I suggested the trailhead. It was the parking, nothing more.
Today was, on the very plus side, going to be the best weather day by far, the sun was out and the wind was low, no headwinds or cold gusts to deal with. The first part of the ride into Lyons was mercifully easy, a gracious tail wind pushed us towards Lyons at a speed that couldn’t be considered slow, and allowed us to get our legs loosened up to the point they no longer felt like two sacks filled with lead. Turning into St. Vrain Canyon on Hwy 7 I was quietly optimistic, and again, the views only bolstered my confidence, there was only one thing circling in the back of my mind, we were climbing, but not quite fast enough. That could only mean one thing, at some point the road would kick up, and kick up steeply. We both knew it, but didn’t really mention it directly, “This is a pretty nice steady climb…”, “Yeah, easier than I thought”.
And well, it did kick, a few miles before Hwy 7 meets Hwy 72 and the Peak to Peak, the gradient rises sharply, along with my heart rate and breathing, my legs burned and my lungs pulled in the air. Turning onto the P2P gave some brief respite but the climbing wasn’t over, the 10 miles between here and Ward our highest point on the ride, was a cruel combination of long sweeping descents followed by short brutal climbs, but we finally made it to Ward and 9,253ft, after hours of almost non-stop climbing. We pulled into the local market and got a Gatorade, Snickers, and a Brownie to share. From here it really was downhill all the way. Left Hand Canyon starts going down and doesn't stop until you’re back on US36. It was blissful, if a little cold. I’m glad I kept my arm and leg warmers on. Before heading to the car, we turned around and headed back into Left Hand Canyon, Joe wanted to break a 100km for the day, Me? I was just glad to mosey back up, content that I had just completed the 3 longest, hardest, and highest ride I have ever done, in a row, in 3 days.
We went Far, but not necessarily fast.
Day 3; Final Day
99.2km 1,746m (61.6mi 5,728ft)
Final Total; 251km 4,328m (156.1mi 14,119ft)