Fires in Fort Collins have played havoc with Bicycling Racing Association of Colorado’s ability to stage a championship race for masters and juniors this year. The Fort Collins Cycling Festival was slotted to host the races this year but the High Park Fire, which destroyed 90,000 acres west of Fort Collins, made that impossible. With little time to organize, BRAC, Lima Beans Cycling, and Team Rocky Mountain Health Plans pulled together both a masters and a juniors state championship. The new location is in Keenesburg, Colorado, just 50 minutes from Denver on I-76. I haven’t ridden the course yet but hope to this weekend. The race will also be a fundraiser to help those affected by the High Park and Waldo Canyon fires, a chance as BRAC puts it, “for the cycling community to come together and show Colorado that we care.” Rocky Mountain Health Plans has kicked off the fundraising with a $500 donation. The racing begins at 8:30 a.m., August 19 with the juniors headed out on a 19K course, followed in short order by everyone else. You can find the race flyer here and sign up here.
Metro Denver has a goodly number of fine roads that run east and west (think Dartmouth Ave, Montview Blvd, 26th Ave, and 46th Ave just to name a few) but not nearly enough that run north and south. I’m not sure why this is so and I speculate about it endlessly as I flog my way north and south, interrupted by stoplights, stop signs, hospitals, and golf courses. I’m being slightly hyperbolic. Tennyson St, Zuni St, and Lowell Blvd are good in stretches. Holly St is OK. Sable Blvd in Aurora works OK if traffic intensity is light. Further west Rooney Rd and Johnson Rd connect to create a really good stretch of climbing heaven. That dearth of good north south routes was the genesis of the Metro Loop de Loops ride. Garrison St on the west runs mostly uninterrupted from US 285 (Hampden Ave) to 26th Ave, much of it with a dedicated bike lane. It totals about 7 miles if you include the stretch of Estes St between Morrison Rd and US 285. The east side of this loop is a little more cobbled together: the “standard” route through Washington Park to Dartmouth Ave and then to Clarkson St. The beauties of this loop are many. You’ll use portions of five of the metro area trail systems (Cherry Creek, Clear Creek, South Platte River, Big Dry Creek, and Bear Creek). You’ll pass through or near multiple parks and golf courses. You’ll ride by at least five big lakes and reservoirs. Add in two KOM segments at Berry Ave and Tennyson St and you’ve got all the makings of a classic metro loop.
The route finding is pretty straightforward with maybe three tricky spots at Bowles Ave, in Wheatridge, and then in sneaking across 38th Ave to return to Confluence Park. These are all places you are likely to return to at some point in your cycling life so you may as well figure them out now. I’m including a couple of detailed maps to help you if this is your first time. If you’ve ridden some of CBM’s other routes, you’ll recognize this as a conglomerate of several other routes. The description below is for a clockwise ride, which I like for the short climbing segments on Berry Ave and Tennyson St. Switch them around in your head if you want to go the other way.
Start in Confluence Park. Head upstream along the Cherry Creek Trail to exit at Downing and make your way through Washington Park. Exit the park at Franklin St and work your way south and slightly west to Clarkson St. Ride Clarkson all the way south to Sunset Lane (3 miles) and watch for the Big Dry Creek signs. Jog over to Washington St and Powers Ave and you’ll soon be flying down the Big Dry Creek Trail to join the S Platte Trail, about 2.5 miles. Go south about 1.5 miles and exit at a roundabout immediately before Bowles Ave. Look for the big white tennis bubble as your landmark. Skirt the bubble to the south to gain the sidewalk of Bowles. Cross Federal Blvd (carefully!) on the sidewalk and ride west (still on the Bowles Ave sidewalk) to a narrow fence opening onto Julian St. Home free. Ride north on Julian St to Berry Ave. Go west. The first KOM segment begins at Lowell Blvd. and climbs 5-6 blocks steeply.
Ride through the Bow Mar area skirting Bowles and Marston Reservoirs on roads of your choice (there are several options, all good) or just stay on Bow Mar Drive to connect to Sheridan Blvd. Take note of but ignore the signs at the entrance to Bow Mar that say there’s no exit. They are liars. Ride out of Bow Mar on Sheridan to Quincy and turn east. Both Sheridan and Quincy are fine for riding a bike. At the Lowell Blvd traffic light go south (left) through a narrow opening in the chain link fence. If it is your first time, use caution: cars are not really expecting you to make a left turn here. Ride south on Lowell Blvd past Fort Logan, CMHI, and Mullen School. Just past Mullen, look for the Bear Creek Trail at grade on your left. Get on it and go. This used to be a nasty section of trail but has been considerably improved in the last year (2011) and now makes for some OK riding. (If you want more climbing, stay on Lowell north to Dartmouth Ave and ride it west until it joins the Bear Creek Trail at Webster St.) Ride the trail west to Estes Park, about 3.8 miles. Exit the trail to the north, across Bear Creek on a bridge. There’s no signage, so if it is your first time, watch your odometer: about one mile from Webster St where the trail crosses Bear Creek. Estes Park makes a fine snack/refuel/pit stop. There are restrooms located in the middle of the parking lot.
Ride north on Estes St and Garrison St. As you cross Morrison Rd look for the sidewalk+path on your right. Take it and ride up the hill to Baltic Ave. I don’t usually strongly recommend a sidewalk, but I make an exception here. The short stretch between Morrison Rd and Baltic is scary-narrow with little room for recovery from another’s inattention. Southbound riders have a good bike lane. Ride north until you reach 26th Ave. The bike lane disappears in a couple of places but heads up riding is all it takes to stay safe along this fine stretch of urban riding. Between Colfax Ave and 20th Ave follow the path of least resistance through a series of Scottish themed streets. At 26th Ave ride west. Cross Kipling St. Go north on Paramount, Twilight and Hillside to reach 32nd Ave. Alternatively, you can easily ride one of the many trails through Crown Hill Park to reach 32nd Ave. At 32nd Ave access Holland St, 37th Ave, and Independence St to make your way north to the Clear Creek Trail.
Ride northeast on Clear Creek Trail. This is probably the nicest stretch of Trail, good shade cover from the many large cottonwood trees, proximity to the creek itself, and little of the urban industrial blight that plagues the stretch between Tennyson St and and the confluence with the S. Platte River. It is about 4.3 miles to the at grade intersection with Tennyson St. with all of it on the trail except for a two block stretch between 51st and 52nd Aves at Gray St. Follow the signs northerly (or southerly if you’re coming the other direction) and you’ll be fine.
Ride south on Tennyson St, jogging west and south at 52nd Ave to gain the high ground next to Willis Case Golf Course. This is the other short KOM segment. Ride south to 46th Ave. Turn east and ride to Lipan St. Go south to 37th Ave, east to Inca St and south to a short spur of trail that disappears under the bulk of the I-25 overpass looming in front of you. Follow the spur to Rockmont Dr and Platte St (the one turns into the other at Cuernavaca Park). Platte Street returns you to 15th St and Confluence Park. If you’re smart, though, you’ll stop at the Denver Beer Company for a pint to celebrate.
Guanella Pass runs from I-70 at Georgetown to US 285 just west of Bailey. For the full version of the pass, check out this post. The pass was paved in 2012 (but not quite all the way to US 285), thus adding yet another classic climb to a state that already has an embarrassment of riches in long, steep climbs. Start in Georgetown or better yet start in Idaho Springs. If you start in Idaho Springs , it is 24 miles one way with 4,300 feet of climbing. All but 1,000 feet happen in the 10.5 miles from Georgetown. There are steep sections at the beginning and end that flirt with double digits and a few small breaks as you work your way past a series of artificial reservoirs used to generate electricity through a pump-back process. By the time you reach the top (11,670 feet), you’re above treeline and the views of Mt Evans and Bierstadt are extraordinary. The climb will certainly become one of the classic Colorado climbs, as hard or harder than Squaw Pass from Idaho Springs, Vail Pass (from the west), Lefthand Canyon, and Golden Gate Canyon. As I understand the Rocky Mountain Cycling Club’s formula for difficulty, Guanella Pass rates as the fifth or sixth hardest climb in the state, right up there with Trail Ridge from the east and Molas Pass from the south.
There’s good parking in Idaho Springs at the lot behind Beau Jo’s and also next to the EMS station on Chicago Creek Rd, with free Forest Service bathrooms at the NFS Ranger Station. Don’t actually park in the Forest Service lot–it is for short term information and bathrooms only. The ride up to Georgetown along the frontage road you probably know from shortcuts in the winter when I-70 is backed up. When there’s no traffic, the ride is a sweet one, next to Clear Creek and with little traffic. Leave Idaho Springs on Colorado Blvd. Cross immediately to the south side as you reach the western outskirts of Idaho Springs. Ride upstream. Near Dumont cross back to the north side. This will be obvious because you just need to follow the paved road. Ride through Downieville (there’s a Starbucks there and a convenience store) and cross under I-70. Ride 1/2 mile to a fork. Go left to cross Clear Creek one more time and follow what’s known as Alvaredo Rd and CR 306 all the way into Georgetown. The road is in good shape.
Ride into Georgetown on what is now Argentine St. At the Y with Loop Rd, bear left on Brownell St. Turn left on 6th St, right on Rose St and you’ll be climbing for real in a few short blocks. The climb begins steeply with switchbacks, levels out for a few short moments near the hydropower reservoirs, and gets steep again at the top. You can read a detailed description in Russell Harding’s Blog, The Road to Cat 1, if you like to know in advance how much you are going to suffer. I know I adapt badly to altitude so reading a detailed description does not help me much. Anytime above 9,000 feet hurts. But here’s the profile if you’re a visual learner.
At the top, there’s a large lot to the west with a Forest Service outhouse if you need it. The views are great and the descent is fast and smooth, a treat if you’ve ever suffered coming down from Mount Evans, which you can see from the top to the east.
The Sunnyside neighborhood is one of the four neighborhoods that collectively make up the area that most refer to generically as “The Highlands.” The others are Highland, West Highland, and Berkeley. Bounded by Federal Blvd, 38th Ave, I-25 and I-70, Sunnyside has yet to be overrun by hipsters, espresso shops, and micro-breweries. It took me a while to figure out how to get easily to 46th Ave, which ranks in my personal top ten as one of the best east-west streets in Denver, right up there with Dartmouth Ave, Montview Blvd, and 26th Ave. (Aside: have you ever noticed that there are far more great east-west streets in metro Denver than north-south?) Then I discovered a short piece of trail near an abandoned factory out past Cuernavaca Park that provided the missing link and avoided a scary underpass on 38th Ave and multiple twists and turns along Central Ave. The Sunnyside Loop takes in a good chunk of 46th Ave, the Cottonwoods section of Clear Creek Trail, a short stretch of residential climbing hear the Rolling Rock Golf Course, and returns along 20th Ave. You can ride it in either direction. I like going west on 26th Ave and east on 20th Ave, but everyone has a different idea on which is better.The description below starts at Confluence Park and goes counter-clockwise.
Start at Confluence Park. Get out to Platte St by leaving the Platte Trail at 15th, 16th, or 19th Streets. Ride north on Platte St to where it dead ends in a circle at Cuernavaca Park. This last stretch of road is called Rockmont Drive and honors the now defunct Rockmont Envelope Company that still graces the site, awaiting the right developer and a recovering economy for further direction. Ride north on the trail spur to connect to 37th Ave and Inca St. Some good graffiti and an interesting view of Denver will greet you.
Snake your way along Inca St and 37th ave to reach Lipan St and cross 38th Ave to reach 46th Ave. Ride west on 46th Ave to Tennyson St then go north (right) past Willis Case Golf Course to 52nd Ave, the northern boundary of Denver proper. Jog right and left to stay on Tennyson and descend a fast hill to intersect the Clear Creek Trail. It is not well marked but look for the pedestrian crossing sign and stop if you see the water in the creek.
East of here Clear Creek Trail is pretty industrial, but the stretch between Tennyson and McIntyre streets is more natural with good shade on hot days and interesting parks and bridges to hold your interest. Route finding is generally easy–look for the Clear Creek Trail signs and follow them. Sometimes around the many parks along the way there are two possible routes–just follow the trail of least resistance and you’ll be fine. if there’s been a lot of rain, avoid the underpasses along the major roads. Don’t be stupid or careless. If you are caught in a downpour and Clear Creek floods, move to higher ground–don’t seek shelter in one of the underpasses. The trail is interrupted twice, once at 52nd Ave and once again near Kipling St and the Wheatridge Recreation Center. The first interruption takes you briefly along quiet city streets.
The second detours under Kipling and through the Rec Center parking lot. If the Kipling underpass is flooded (it collects water easily) cross (without a light) at 41st Ave or at Kline St (with a light–just south of the Rec Center).
Watch for two sharp sequential humps along the trail, ridges really, that could throw the unwary cyclist. You can also shorten this loop by exiting the trail just before Kipling St at Independence St and riding south to connect to 32nd Ave. Surprisingly, all you need to do is follow the signs.
Exit the trail at McIntyre St by leaving the trail before Mcintyre and ride west on the Frontage Rd to make the turn on McIntyre. How will you know? Look for this building on your left. And if you pass under McIntyre by mistake, don’t worry. Just reverse course on the ramp and enter McIntyre from the west side–it is just an awkward maneuver and the exit from the Frontage Rd makes it simple and seamless.
Ride south on McIntyre to 32nd Ave. Go east (left) a short distance to Kendrick St (look for the sign for the Rolling Hills Golf Course) and escape 32nd Ave by riding south (right) on Kendrick to Fooothills Rd. Turn east (left) on Foothills. Climb through a small residential area and work your way east to Eldridge St. Go south (right) to join 20th Ave.
2oth Avenue is a great route east back into Denver. Watch out for a narrow area through Lena Gulch (where the Maple Grove Reservoir starts). Otherwise, there is a striped bike lane for most of the return. Just before Sheridan Blvd, detour around Sloan’s Lake at Depew St. Ride south t0 17th Ave, then east again to Sports Authority Mile High Stadium. You’re almost home. Circle the sports complex to the north or south and rejoin the Platte Trail just east of the Stadium. Ride the trail north (left) back to Confluence Park.
When it is so hot in Denver that the asphalt starts to get sticky and soft you know there’s only one solution: head to the hills. Let the Colorado Eagle River Ride be your siren’s song and pull you out to the Eagle River Valley for a fabulous, well supported century that benefits SOS Outreach, a local non-profit that builds “character in youth through outdoor adventure.” This year’s ride falls on July 27, 2013 and starts and ends in Beaver Creek. The route is a good one with fine scenery, wonderful climbing from Wolcott up to State Bridge, and a fabulous 20 mile stretch along the Colorado River that’s mostly dirt. But don’t let that stop you. The stretch is remote, beautiful and the road is is decent condition. Total vertical gain is a modest 2,750 feet, so this is a perfect first century if you’ve never tried one before. Sign up here.
Looking for a challenging century ride (or shorter)? Want to keep it close to home? Fabulous views and lots of climbing important to you? Then it is time to check out the Red Rocks Century, a looping swooping, climbing sun-of-a-gun century that will have your thighs burning long before you get to Squaw Pass. Starting in Morrison, the century begins with a jaunt through Red Rocks Park, spins up Highway 74 to Kerr Gulch then loops along US 40 to Idaho Springs where the big climb begins: Squaw Pass from the west side is rated a 4.9 in the Rocky Mountain Cycling Club’s database of climbs and ranks 8th in the state. But who’s bragging? But wait, there’s more. After the 15 miles of pain that Squaw Pass represents you’ll be bombing down to Evergreen from where you’ll start the unheralded but difficult climb up Shadow Mountain Drive (8.5 miles, 5% avg, 15% max). Were that not enough, the climbing finishes out with one of my favorite stretches of steep climbing in the state, up through High Drive, Stanley Park Road and Little Cub (5 miles, 5% avg, 15% max). Now that’s a century. And it is sponsored by Primal Wear so you know the swag is going to be good. Better yet, it is not to late to sign up. The ride happens this year on Sunday, July 8, 2012. Shorter routes are also available. Sign up here. And when you finish and your legs are screaming at you send me a note and let me know how it went. The claimed elevation gain is over 10,000 feet.