Issue: May 2013
Tags: Super James, Super Flag, Steamboat Springs, road cycling, Rist Canyon Loop, Peak to Peak Highway, Maroon Bells, Lake Dillon Loop, Lake Catamount, Estes Park, Copper Triangle, confluence park, Cheyenne Canyon, Cherry Creek State Park, Carter Lake, bikes
With dry roads and sunny days stretching out ahead of us, we’re joining the frenzy—and helping you do the same—by highlighting some of the best road cycling routes (for beginners and experts alike!) along the Front Range and in Colorado’s famed high country. Clip in and enjoy the ride.
The Ride: Peak to Peak Highway
Distance: 60 miles round-trip
Time: 3.5 to 5 hours
Difficulty: Moderate to hard
To begin this classic Boulder ride, you’ll want to meet your riding partners—the more the merrier, we say—at Amante Coffee on Broadway, which is the Grand Central Station for many rides departing B-town. Grab a quick Amantino to enjoy on the sunny patio, and then pop next door to Boulder Cycle Sport if you need an extra tube or an energy bar.
From Amante, roll north on Broadway to reach Highway 36 and take a left. You’ll enjoy the flat to rolling warm-up as you ride north on 36 toward Lyons; this section is a quick 12 miles with sweeping vistas out over the Eastern Plains. At the T-intersection in Lyons, turn left onto CO 7. The road climbs imperceptibly at first, meandering among red sandstone faces before gradually giving way to steeper gradients and soaring granite walls. On midsummer mornings, shady nooks yet to be warmed by the sun provide respite from the heat. Find one, take a long swig from your water bottle, and relish the moment.
As you continue to climb on CO 7, keep an eye out for Riverside Drive (CR 103) on the left, and duck into this quiet, treelined lane for a hidden gem: the Raymond General Store (summer hours: Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.), where a cold Coke and a smile from the proprietors will revive your spirits—and your weary legs. Then keep spinning up this secluded shortcut until you reach CO 72, aka the famous Peak to Peak Highway.
You’ll bear left (south) on CO 72 to find that stunning views of the Indian Peaks Wilderness area help keep your mind off the giant rollers that ascend all the way to Ward. Once you’ve reached Ward, you can pat yourself on your Lycra-covered back: Your climbing is over. Turn left on Nelson Street, refill bottles at the general store, then enjoy the winding descent—all 4,000 vertical feet of it—through Lefthand Canyon, back onto Highway 36, and around that right-hand turn for the gentle spin back to town. —Joe Lindsey
In the era of the $7 cup of coffee, it’s refreshing that at Lyons’ Barking Dog Cafe you can get a cup of joe and a giant chocolate-chip muffin for less than $5. Add clean bathrooms, free Wi-Fi, friendly staff, and a spot to refill your water bottles and it’s the perfect place to prep for the day’s big climb. 431 Main St., Lyons, 303-823-9600
Neva Loop (Easy)
If 5,000 feet of climbing sounds like a bit much, opt for this short, flat ride on farm roads north of Boulder. Again, start at Amante. After hitting Highway 36, you’ll pedal for about 2.5 miles before bearing right onto Neva Road, where you’ll enjoy the recently expanded shoulder. After four miles, turn right on 63rd back to town. Tip: Skip the maddening, freewaylike Diagonal at the last part of your journey. Instead, cross Diagonal on 63rd and head south before turning right on Spine Road; then go right on Jay back to 36, then north back to Amante. It’s slightly longer, but much more enjoyable.
Boulder’s Best Climbs
In 2011, Boulder resident Tejay van Garderen became the first American to don the King of the Mountains jersey in the history of the Tour de France. Then, in the 2012 race, he nabbed the Best Young Rider jersey and placed fifth overall. Who better, then, to decree the best hill climbs in Boulder? Here, van Garderen’s five top quad-burning routes. —Jayme Moye
The Ride: Super James
Distance: 40 miles round-trip
Time: 2.5 hours
After a gradual climb up Lefthand Canyon Drive, Super James gets nasty by mile 14, gaining 1,600 feet of elevation in the following 3.75 miles—two of which are hard-packed dirt. Views of the snow-capped Indian Peaks and a well-earned descent through Ward via the Peak to Peak (CO 72) help ease the pain.
The Ride: Boulder to Estes Park
Distance: 78 miles round-trip
Time: 5.5 to 6 hours
This long, steady climb ascends from Lyons up the South St. Vrain Canyon on CO 7 to the Peak to Peak and finally skirts Rocky Mountain National Park before gently sloping into the town of Estes Park and bombing back down to Lyons on Highway 36. Do this classic sightseeing loop on a weekday to minimize car traffic.
The Ride: Super Flag
Distance: 10 miles round-trip
Time: 45 minutes
The steep switchbacks on this relentless five-mile climb from Chautauqua Park up Flagstaff Road mimic those in Europe—and provide a bird’s-eye view of Boulder. You can say you conquered Flagstaff Mountain if you call it quits at the amphitheater (mile three)—but the true summit is a bit farther up the road, at about 7,000 feet (look for the mailboxes).
The Ride: Magnolia
Distance: 9 miles round-trip
Time: 1 hour
Boulder’s monster climb, up Magnolia Road, starts at the Justice Center on Sixth Street and Canyon Boulevard and gains more than 2,000 feet of elevation in a muscle-killing 4.5 miles. With an average grade of 9 percent (maxing out at 17 percent) and seriously tight turns, the descent is less vomit-inducing than the climb, but it’s challenging in its own right.
The Ride: Carter Lake
Distance: 65 miles round-trip
Time: 4 hours
A favorite of weekend
warriors and pros alike, the Carter Lake loop starts at the Boulder Reservoir and travels up Highway 36 to Hygiene via St. Vrain Road, passing through gently undulating hills, prairies, and farms.
Then it’s a straight shot on North 75th, a right on Woodland Road, and a left on S CR 23E before you turn on W CR 8E, where a short but satisfying climb up to Carter Lake marks the scenic finale, as well as the turnaround point.