Road Riding in Colorado

Road riding in Colorado is pleasant. The traffic is generally well behaved, though  at times it can be rather buisy. American cities tend to be widely dispersed, without much of a centre, and some hours there can be a lot of traffic. Cars are almost invariably huge. The car of choice in Colorado is a cross-breed, half truck, half American sedan, with a V8 engine. RVs with bad drivers can be a nuisance, particularly when they have a car and a boat and what not trailing after a 40 feet bus.

There is an excellent Colorado Bicycling Map that is published by the Colorado Department of Transportation. It maps most roads with significant variables, shoulder width, traffic volume, distances, altitudes, grades, etc. Virtually all riding in Colorado involves mountains. One either climbs or coasts down hill. Carrying luggage can slow things down quite a bit. Riding up hill can be strenuous, riding down hill the rims can get glowing hot.

There are plenty of campsites. Virtually all of them presumes that one has a car. The USFS sites are often in beautiful spots. They have water and a toilet but never hot showers. All sites consists of a delimited territory that contains a table with benches and a fire place. Americans love camp fires. The USFS sites are attended, but one pays by tucking bills in an envelope that is placed in a box. The USFS sites are splendid, though drawbacks are that they are often far from shops and restaurants and they don't have showers.

We preferred the private campings, largely because they invariably have showers and a small shop. After  a long days ride you need  a shower.

It is quite possible to hitchhike, even with two bikes and two fully loaded BOBs.

We began in Golden, at 1759 meters altitude, severely jet lagged and headed for Estes Park at 2358 meters via Boulder. It was hot and at an elevation we were not acclimatized to. It was a hard day.


When we arrived in Estes Park, situated above 2300 meters, we realized that we risked acute mountain sickness if we would continue the next day. In fact we were so exhausted that we did not even consider to continue. We had a day of rest.

Camping above Estes

We started early for the Ridge Road, one of the highest highways in the US. The ride was very strenuous. It climbs 1600 meters along a ridge with several saddles, as soon as one reaches one there is another in sight, till one reaches the "high point" at 3710 meter. There is a place with vast souvenir shops, and some foods at the Fall River Pass.

Ridge Road

Fall River Pass

Then, it was virtually down hill all the way to Granby. We camped for a night and then continued to Winter Park the next day.

Lake Granby

After some days riding in Winter Park we continued to Frisco via Gremlin. A nice ride down the Colorado River. The road from Gremlin to Frisco was far less pleasant. There was unexpectedly much traffic and some vehicles were enormous, pulling wide boats, sets of ATVs, etc., etc. From Silverthorne to Frisco we enjoyed a separate paved bike path along the shores of the lake.

After the enjoyable singletrack in Frisco we crossed the 3449 metre Freemont Pass. There was a bike path through the Ten Mile Canyon to Copper Mountain. The ascent to Freemont Pass was long, with several false crests. From Freemont Pass it was a pleasant ride to Salida mostly downhill through the upper Arkansas Valley. The views  of the  Collegiate Peaks were excellent.

Mt. Elbert
From Salida we continued to Crested Butte. Tom our friend in Salida caught up with us in the morning and gave us a ride to the crest of Monarch Pass (3477). On the descent to Gunnison I had a disastrous flat tire. It virtually exploded. After a change of tubes it exploded again after less than a kilometre. Fortunately, a friendly motorist stopped, managed to squeeze my bike and Bob into the car, and drove me to Gunnison, while Elisabeth biked after us. He had been in a similar situation once, and said he was paying back for the help he had got then. Tune Up Bikes in Gunnison fixed the wheel, fortunately it was not damaged although I had been braking with the rim right on the asphalt. One of the guys who worked in the shop lived in Crested Butte and invited us to ride with him up there. Of course we did.

Tom and Elisabeth at Monarch Pass

Ready to ride

The ride from Crested Butte to Durango took us four days. The first night we reached a USFS campground by the Blue Mesa reservoir. It was intensively touristed, with a Marina, and a National Park. When we had pitched our tent on some grass, with dog turds and cigarette butts all around, we were told we had to move it as it was on “habitate” unless we wanted to be fined. We  moved but wondered  how one could allow the gorge to be filled with water and run speed boats on it, and then mind when we camped on some grass. Nevertheless, it was a beautiful place.

Blue Mesa Reservoir

Had to move the tent

The next day brought us to Ridgway. We spent most of the day climbing the mountains between the Blue Mesa and Montrose. When we left Montrose we had a strong head wind and a cold rain was beginning to fall. In desperation we tried to hitchhike. We had not more than made a sign that we wanted a ride before a couple stopped and our bikes and BOBs were loaded on their pickup truck. They were going to Ridgway. They were really nice people. Invited us to go out with their friends. We took into a hotel, went to their house for a drink and then went out for Mexican food. It was a splendid evening.


The following day we crossed the Red Mountain Pass (3358 m) and descended to Silverton. We camped next to a bunch of other cyclists who were touring Colorado on road bikes with a support van. We talked cycling and drank beer with them.

The next day we crossed two passes, the Molass Pass (3325) and Coal Bank Pass (3243), and then coasted along the San Juan Skyway down to Durango. A drop of 1250 meters on a road with nice wide shoulders.

Silverton from above

Molas Lake 3204
The ride from Durango to Fruita took us two days. By now, we felt that the more time we spent on the road the less we had for singletrack, so we hitchhiked whenever pulling the BOBs uphill felt like pulling a piano after the bike. Outside Durango Ski Resort, where the NORBA finals were held, we got a ride with a brother taking his sister for lunch in Silverton. They were cyclists too, pleasant to meet, and it started to rain heavily, so we felt pretty lucky.

We camped a night in Silverton and ascended Red Mountain Pass on the Million Dollar highway to Oury and then coasted down to Grand Junction with a good tail wind most of the day. We had some difficulty finding a motel first, as Grand Junction is very dispersed and has some really odd street numbers, like 15
3/4 Street, etc. Eventually, we found a good motel and had a good nights sleep before we went to Fruita the next morning.

Returning to Denver Joe and Judith our neighbours at the camping in Fruita gave us a ride to Delta. They were heading for Crested Butte.

The first 20 kilometres beyond Delta took us through a barren dessert like landscape.

When we ascended into the mountains a cold rain began to fall. Then, Bob and Barbara turned up. First when  they passed us coming down hill they stopped and asked the classic questions about who we were and where we were going. A little while later, when the rain was getting bad, they caught up with us from behind and offered us a ride to Silver Meadow, our goal for the day. There was a lovely camping, with hot showers, and a buffet dinner, as much as you could eat, for a reasonable price.

Bob and Barbara

The next morning we climbed the Mac Lure Pass (2688). We thoroughly enjoyed being back in the high mountains, the coolness and the greenness after the heat of Grand Junction. The descent down the lush Crystal River Valley down from Mac Lure Pass was splendid. From Carbondale we rode pleasant bike paths to Aspen.
Mac Lure Pass

From Aspen we climbed the Roaring Fork River Valley to Independence Pass (3686 m) a beautiful ride passing lakes, gorges, and abandoned mines. On the other side was fast descent between some of the highest peaks in the Sawatch Mountains to Leadville.

Independence Pass

Elisabeth on the very crest

Going from Leadville to Frisco was much easier than the other way. We soon gained the 450 altitude meters to the Freemont Pass (3449). Then coasted down to Frisco. The very pass is not a pretty sight as the whole area has been strip mined. Though further on there is a beautiful mountain lake.

Freemont Pass 3449

Leaving Frisco for Loveland Pass and Golden we had the first really heavy weather in Colorado. By the time we reached Dillon a hard cold rain was falling. The weather forecast had predicted that snow might fall. We were cold and wet and stopped for a while in Keystone to get warm and then set off again ascending the Loveland Pass. We were quite uncomfortable as it seemed it might begin to rain again any minute so we tried to hitch. Now, a friendly couple John and Marcelle (hope we remember the names right), stopped their van asking if we needed any help, we explained the situation, and they said fine, we are going to Boulder so you can go with us to Golden. They saved us a hard ascent in evil weather so we very happy and grateful. How much we loved those american pickup trucks.
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