01 May 2015

So you want to tour Colorado on a bicycle?

The best week-long or multi-day bike tours of Colorado

In an effort to provide residents and visitors to Colorado with a summary of the best options to tour Colorado this summer, I have compiled a fine list of organized event rides, professional bike tour companies, USA Pro Challenge tours, and Do-it-yourself planning tips to encourage you to get out and cycle the great variety of cycling routes we have to offer here in Colorado.

Quintessential Colorado cycling - the view down Independence Pass (west side). Photo by Karen Rakestraw of Pedal Dancer.

I have collected the best ways that I know to tour Colorado on a bike:


If you like having set dates on the calendar to aim for to be in top form and you like the atmosphere of thousands of people in colorful lycra populating the best climbs and roads in Colorado - you will enjoy these cycling events listed below. They also happen to pass through some of the most welcoming cities in the state where you are sure to see a few cowboy hats and find a craft beer or BBQ. These challenging tours are guaranteed fun to register with a pack of old friends or to meet new friends along the way. But word of advice - you need to like people to go on these huge bike tours. Come prepared - in body and gear - for an entire week of riding outside in Colorado and you will have a successful vacation.

Three to seven day cycling tours of Colorado (in date order):

June 6-8, 2015 - Death Ride Tour, Silverton, 225mi (3-days)
This tour begins in Silverton, rides to Telluride on Day 1, to Durango on Day 2, and back to Silverton on Day 3. Description: Fantastic scenery, tough long climbs, mixture of some group meals, you must arrange your own hotels, mandatory fundraising for ALS is required. ROUTE, Registration cost: $125 + Fundraising minimum $250

June 13-20, 2015 - The Denver Post Ride The Rockies (week-long tour)
The biggest name in Colorado week-long tours. RTR is a full week of perfect routes, post-ride entertainment, tons of services and thousands of participants. This year's route starts in Grand Junction and travels to Hotchkiss - Gunnison - Crested Butte - Sailda - Canon City - Westcliff. The route includes the Colorado National Monument, Grand Mesa and Cottonwood Pass. This is NOT a loop route, so allow more travel time. The event is so popular there is a yearly lottery for registration. When I did the event, we arranged hotels and I have to say the costs added up! ROUTE, Registration cost: $495.

June 21-27, 2015 - Bicycle Tour of Colorado (week-long tour)
If you are an experienced hard-core rider - you will be more at-home on this ride (or if you like to start your rides at 6AM!). The top 8% of Ride the Rockies riders will find themselves in the mid 50% of this ride. At least that was my experience after riding both events. This year's route is a beauty: starting AND ending in Breckenridge, you will ride from Breck - Leadville - Carbondale - Hotchkiss - Crested Butte - Salida - Breck. You will climb Fremont Pass, Independence Pass, McClure Pass, Kebler Pass, Cottonwood Pass, and Hoosier Pass. This list is creme of the crop. I enjoyed the full camping services offered: set-up and tear-down of tents and hot coffee in the morning! ROUTE, Registration cost: $450-495.

July 18-20, 2015 - Courage Classic, Summit and Eagle Counties (3-days)
Now this is a great cause! The event benefits the Children's Hospital Colorado Foundation. If you prefer to stay in the same location and cycle out is various directions - you will like this ride. Based in the scenic Copper Mountain Village, this ride has a mandatory fundraising obligation. Meals are included in your registration and camping is available. July is the perfect time to ride in Summit County - one of my favorite areas of Colorado. ROUTE,  Registration cost: $95-120, + Fundraising minimum of $300.

July 18-25, 2015 - 109˚ West Bicycle Tour, SW Colorado (week-long tour)
They call themselves The Best of the West, and if you live in the southwest corner of Colorado, or in California, Arizona, New Mexico or Texas, this event ride is more accessible to you (and you will likely be more used to the hot weather of July). This event offers ride options: single-day, multi-day or full-week. The week-long route begins in Telluride - Montrose - Crested Butte - Buena Vista - Aspen - Hotchkiss - Palisade. This is NOT a loop ride. ROUTE,  Registration cost: $650.

July 24-26, 2015 - Hop, Rock and Roll, bike and music, Northern Front Range  (3-days)
This is something totally new: I am not sure which takes priority on this event ride - the beer, the music or the bikes, but you get all three in an event packed 3-days in the hills outside of Fort Collins, CO. You will ride 35-miles per day and stop at local breweries along the way, followed by food truck nourishment and evening live music. You will camp at Parrish Ranch on Friday and Saturday night, with bag transport included.  ROUTE, Registration cost: $99-150.

August 2-8, 2015 - Colorado Rocky Mountain Bike Tour, Gunnison, 472mi, (week-long tour)
This is a road bike tour, not a mountain bike tour, and it is a LOOP route. The event takes place in central Colorado in August - the ideal month for high-country cycling. You will start and end in Gunnison, riding to Salida - Frisco - Leadville - Glenwood Springs - Hotchkiss - Gunnison. Hotels, camping and catered meals are an option. This is the perfect ride for those wanting to use that terrific form they have worked all summer to attain. ROUTE, Registration cost: $470.

August 9-14, 2015 - Breck Epic, Breckenridge, 6-day 7-stage race, 35-50mi a day (MTB) 
This is a race. Not for the meek, but if you love mountain biking you will love this week of riding around the hills of Breckenridge, Colorado. Again you will get to stay in one place and ride your heart out (it's all at altitude) every day. By the end of the week, you will have ridden (raced) the best mountain bike climbs near Breck. ROUTE, Registration cost: $799.

September 7-10, 2015 - 4-H Clover Ride, Fort Collins (4-days) 222 miles total
As a fundraiser for the 4-H Foundation, this is a ride where you ride out and back from the same location daily but experience different local rides near Fort Collins. Expect to ride 222 miles and climb 10,000 feet in four days of riding, returning to the comfort of the same hotel room nightly. This event selects a post-ride brewery every day plus organized groups meals out at local restaurants every night. This is the closest thing you will find to combining a professional guided tour with an organized cycling event ride. ROUTE, Registration cost: $700-800 ($300 donation to 4-H included in registration).

September 18-20, 2015 - The Denver Post Pedal the Plains, Eastern Plains, (3-days)
I would describe this ride as a collection of friendly people riding their bikes out on the plains (translate that to mean continuous pedaling over rolling hills). Scheduled in the fall, this ride is prime for those wanting to get in those last miles before snowfall. Organized by the same hard-working folks who plan Ride the Rockies (with an easier to operate website this time), they know what riders need on an event ride. They also offer a family-fun ride, a century ride, or the 3-day tour. ROUTE, Registration cost: $280-295.

The kind of scenery we got to ride through daily on Ride the Rockies event ride. Photo not by me because that is me on the right.


If you do not have the time to plan out all the details of route finding, hotel, sag and services - consider joining a professional cycling tour company. They have put in months to years of time into planning the details of one single route. They also receive feedback from clients to continuously improve their services. You are the recipient of all this knowledge. For a price. Sure it costs more, but if you need to condense your vacation time for biggest bang for buck and reduce your time away from family or job - these guided tours are perfect for hard working, hard playing cyclists. They are also ideal for those who enjoy riding in smalls groups of 12-30 cyclists.

Colorado Bike Tour Companies (in alphabetical order)

Road Bike:

Adventure Cycling Association
This national and international company runs fairly priced tours that book up fast to popular areas. Tours start from various cities around Colorado, compare tours to see your options.

Offering self-guides, multi-sport, day trips, custom trips, and brews and cruise tours, this is the company for families or persons wanting to make cycling part of their vacation to Colorado (because there is more to Colorado than just cycling).

Heart Cycle
Very established, very popular, very reasonably priced tours which basically cover your costs and the costs of the guides and support people. Based in Colorado, but volunteers guide tours locally, nationwide and world-wide.

* The Tour Companies listed in the next section (below) also guide general bike tours in Colorado: Lizard Head Cycling, Finish Line Cycling, Colorado and Wilderness Rides and Guides.

Mountain Bike:

Front Range Ride Guide
Guiding mountain bike rides in Boulder, Denver, Fort Collins and along the front Range of Colorado.  Locally owned and operated.

Hermosa Tours
Offering self-guided tours, Kokopelli Trail and Colorado Trail tours. Based in Durango, CO and Sedona, AZ ,this premium mountain bike tour company has been operating tours throughout western USA since 2007. They have a great informative website.

Womens Quest
These women get to have a good time mountain biking, running, hiking, doing yoga and reconnecting to nature, nutrition, body, mind and spirit. Owned and operated by a local woman named Colleen Cannon who recruits a group of inspiring women guides.

For a larger list of tour companies said to be operating in Colorado, please visit: Page 97 of Bicycle Paper. I just recently discovered this resource. 

Expect this many people to be at the summit of every pass you climb in Colorado to cheer you over the top. Photo by Karen Rakestraw of Pedal Dancer. (Actually they are waiting for the pros to arrive at the top of Independence Pass in 2011 but if you need to imagine this scene to get you to the top, please do).


Why not let others plan your route for you. The organizers of the USA Pro Challenge, study, discuss, and plan the best routes to bring a squadron of pro riders and team cars from town to town every August in Colorado. Follow their lead on where to ride. You might not always want to take the big highway options, and you probably won't want to exceed 80-100 miles a day on a bike (the pros sometimes ride 120 miles or more), but looking over their carefully chosen routes (which change yearly) provides an excellent window into options for outstanding local cycling. There is nothing the pros can do that you cannot, you might just do it a little slower, over a revised route.

I have learned a lot about cycling in France, Belgium and California by watching where the pros ride. By combining your own rides with a half a day of viewing the race is highly recommended. I have learned by chasing the Tour de France that three days of race viewing combined with a rest day and 3-4 good hard days of riding, per week, is just perfect (you'll need the rest day from chasing the race, not from riding hard). Watching a race cover ground you know well because you have ridden the route yourself, is thrilling.

If you have a plenitude of cash and ride a bike quite well, you can join a guided tour that follows this race:

Tour Companies that will guide you to the 2015 USA Pro Challenge (in order of cost)

Finish Line Cycling - August 17-24, 2015 (4 or 8 day packages)
Meeting point is in Denver; you will ride 30-50 miles a day with options for longer rides. Small group size; during the 8-day tour you will see all stage of the pro race. Exact details not yet published. TOUR DETAILS, Cost: *approximately $1400-3000 per person.

Lizard Head Cycling Guide - August 16-22, 2015 (7-days, 7-nights)
Meeting point is in Denver; you will ride 150-550 miles, ranging from 25-123 miles a day. Recommended for Intermediate to Advanced cyclists knowledgeable of long mountain descents and climbs. This is a fully supported tour offering different mileage options for intermediate riders. TOUR DETAILS, Cost: $3,095 per person (double occupancy).

Cognoscenti - August 21-26, 2015 (6 days)
You won't see the whole race (just Stage 6 & Stage 7), but you will hobnob with local celebs and enjoy five-star treatment based out of Boulder, CO. Cognoscenti has formed to show us how to treat guests the Italian way: food, wine, pro guides, pro photographers and the best hotels. TOUR DETAILS, Cost: $5940

Colorado Wilderness Rides and Guides - August 20-29 (7-day trip)
Guided by professional bike coaches, this is to be a four star treatment of riding the best segments and watching the race live. 20-guests only (7 spots remaining). TOUR DETAILS, Cost: $7500.

Train Right - USA Pro Challenge Experience - August 17-23 (7-days)
This is the sponsored tour of the USA Pro Challenge ,guided by Chris Carmichael and his troop of coaches, mechanics and support personnel. A 5-star tour/challenge of cycling, you will ride your hardest and then find yourself inside the VIP tents to watch the pros. Making your way post race to the comfiest hotel rooms in town and diner with the pro riders that night. You will ride the entire length of every stage of the tour before the pro riders. You may even attend a training camp in Colorado for $2799 the month before, to make sure you are in top shape. TOUR DETAILS, Cost: $10,750 per person.

I have no direct experience with any of these tour companies listed above, although I have a friend who rode the route of the Amgen Tour of California with the Carmichael group and his experience catapulted him to ride many more difficult tours world-wide.

You too could ride your bike through this mass of fun before the race on race day after paying $10,750. Photo by Karen Rakestraw of Pedal Dancer at the USA Pro Challenge on Independence Pass 2013, or 2012, I've lost track by now.


For those of us (and I am in this camp) who enjoy planning a ride as much as doing the ride (and talking about the ride after the ride) - you will want the joy (read: control) of researching the resources and planning the route yourself. Destination rides, exploring a new area or chasing a cycling event often spark my interest to plan a cycling vacation or get-away. Here is my tip: google madly for information written on the websites of organized event or tour companies; use their knowledge of routes, distances, and tourist resources to plan your own trips.

I also search for local blogs or local bike clubs, as well as city websites that might list local rides. Bike shops are another great resource. Ride with GPS, Map my Ride or STRAVA can help you narrow down the best local rides, while instantly providing you with a map. Ride with GPS has a new Ambassador program where a local cyclists recommends 4-6 routes in a given area. This is a PERFECT for planning your cycling vacation. All you need on top of that is a good hotel or campsite, the best coffee shop and beer place, where the local bike shop is located and where to find a yummy meal. Chances are the Ride with GPS Ambassador will have all that listed for you.

Planning my own routes and daily agenda gives me the freedom to go when I want, where I want, with whom I want.

Most days riding in Colorado, you will have the entire road and mountain to yourself (and maybe a dozen other cyclists).

Peering down a juicy descent. Just me and the mountain. Photo by Karen Rakestraw of Pedal Dancer.

Where to road bike ride in Colorado

You will notice the same city names being mentioned throughout all of these tours. That is because the best cycling in Colorado centers around these same towns, making them the locations where you should concentrate your cycling vacation: Gunnison, Crested Butte, Buena Vista, Salida, Breckenridge, Frisco, Copper Mountain, Vail, Avon, Steamboat Springs, Glenwood Springs, Aspen, Hotchkiss, Palisade, Delta, Telluride, Durango, Silverton, Golden, Loveland, and Fort Collins. I would add Boulder to the list - a lovely place for a bike ride but a nightmare for road permits for any event ride or race.

At the bottom of this page I give some suggestions for Putting It All Together: how to combine one location with various local climbs.

I created this map below to indicate where some of the most popular climbs are located in Colorado.  However never underestimate the joy of a more horizontal pedal along a river or through a grand glacial valley.

A map of my favorite climbs in Colorado: Map of 26 recommended bike climbs in Colorado: interactive map link

Additional resources by Pedal Dancer® to help you plan your Colorado cycling vacation:
Links to more cycling event rides and races in Colorado can be found on this Pedal Dancer® Guide Page:

I hope this post provides you with more options for your cycling vacation to Colorado.

29 April 2015

Exact route maps of USA Pro Challenge 2015 Announced

Save the date in August for the 5th year of the USA Pro Challenge

It's been five years and the race is going strong. Today the exact route was announced for the seven day stage race in Colorado.

Now we know where the KOMs will be, where the finish lines will be placed, and which cities the race will pass through. No big surprises since the Host Cities for 2015 USA Pro Challenge were announced last December, we could guess where the route would go. Yet seeing the official maps in print is exciting, routes maps sort of make a race official.

Below are the 2015 route maps and profile maps to the men's race. The women route maps have yet to be announced, although the Host Cities are known for both the men's and women's races.

Read more about the race at Pedal Dancer® Guide Page: USA Pro Challenge.

7 Stages    865 Miles   32 Hours of Racing   16 Cities 

Map of 2015 USA Pro Challenge Colorado
Map of 2015 USA Pro Challenge Colorado

  • Stage 1: Friday, August 21 - Breckenridge (Individual Time Trial)
  • Stage 2: Saturday, August 22 - Fort Collins 
  • Stage 3: Sunday, August 23 - Golden (finishes prior to the start of the men's race)
It's a big year for women's racing! This will be the first inaugural 3-day USA Cycling sanctioned invitation-only USA Pro Challenge women's stage race. The race will take place on the final weekend in the same cities as the men's race and will share parts of the men's course. The women's race will conclude prior to the men's finish, making an excellent opportunity for fans to see both the men and women race for equal prize money. Sean Petty will serve as the Race Director for the Women’s USA Pro Challenge. (full announcement)

Remember - head to Steamboat Springs early so you can see and ride next to the teams training in the days before the race start!  Photo by Karen Rakestraw of Pedal Dancer of team BMC Racing in Aspen 2014.


Where will you see the race?

I highly recommend going to Steamboat Springs the weekend before the race starts to be part of the pre race excitement, see the team presentation (usually on Saturday) and ride on the roads with the pros as they train on Saturday and Sunday (August 15th and 16th). If you stay for a long weekend, you will get to see the entirety of Stage 1 and the start of Stage 2 in Steamboat Springs on Monday, August 17th and Tuesday, August 18th.

As you might know, I have chased pro races for 15-years on this continent and in Europe and without a doubt my favorite part is showing up three days prior to the start of a big stage race. It is the time when I can freely talk to the mechanics, check out the bikes, see the team presentation, meet other fans, enjoy a lazy meal with a lazier beer and people watch galore. I see old friends and meet new ones who are as excited as I am to be at the race. The best part is pumping up the tires and riding on the same roads with the pros; giving a wave to my favorite pro riders while we are all on bikes. Don't miss this experience, it is truly priceless. 

If you are able to sneak away from work for half a day on Tuesday, August 18th - go to Arapahoe Basin for a new experience, the USA Pro Challenge has never before visited this area of Summit County, Colorado. The next day the race starts in Copper Mountain - another first - and sure to attract the locals.The Village of Copper Mountain knows how to host a special event.

This year the peloton climbs Independence Pass twice (August 19th and 20th). By the second pass, we should know who holds the GC. If you like wearing costumes and having fun at 12,095 feet - this will be the place for you. Of course, you need to ride your bike to the top (a highly recommended bike ride) or if you must - use a car to carry up your numerous banners and flags. Aspen always has great event atmosphere combined with natural beauty and is a fun place to visit (although they host the race mid-week this year).

I also recommend staying over in Breckenridge if possible to see the finish of Stage 4 on Thursday, August 20th, and the women's and men's Stage 5 Individual Time Trial on Friday, August 21st.

Both Loveland and Fort Collins always organize plenty of street activities with overflowing restaurants full of fans out to enjoy the day and watch a little bike racing. This year the start of Stage 6 is in Loveland and the finish in Fort Collins. I was thrilled to hear these cities were awarded Stage 6.

For the final day - Stage 7 - ride up Lookout Mountain, or go anywhere on the course between Golden and Denver to enjoy the time with friends or family at a restaurant patio or standing on a curb downtown; the final day will be about atmosphere and celebrating the overall race leader. On the other hand, Denver does traditionally have the best VIP tents!

Fans at the race in Golden, Colorado  in 2012.  ©Photo by Karen Rakestraw of PedalDancer®


STAGE 1 - Steamboat Spring maps
Monday, August 17, 2015
97 Miles / 156 Kilometers
Circuit Race

Sprint: Steamboat Springs downtown
KOM: Midpoint on Hwy 27 (Lap 1 & 2)

Stage 1 Map pdf
Stage 2 Profle pdf

USA Pro Challenge Stage 1 route map 2015
USA Pro Challenge Stage 1 route map 2015 - Steamboat Springs Circuit
Steamboat Springs circuit profile map USa Pro Challenge 2015
Steamboat Springs circuit profile map USa Pro Challenge 2015

STAGE 2 - Steamboat Springs to Arapahoe Basin maps
Tuesday, August 18, 2015
103 Miles / 165 Kilometers

Sprint: Kremling and Dillon
KOM: Rabbit Ears Pass and final climb of Arapahoe Basin

Stage 2 Map pdf
Stage 2 Profile pdf

USA Pro Challenge Stage 2 route map 2015
USA Pro Challenge Stage 2 route map 2015 - Steamboat Springs to Arapahoe Basin Ski Resort

Profile map Stage 2 USA Pro Challenge 2015
Profile map Stage 2 USA Pro Challenge 2015

STAGE 3 - Copper Mountain to Aspen maps
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
Copper Mountain to Aspen
101 Mile / 163 Kolimeters
Max Elevation: 12,095ft

Sprint: Leadville
KOM: Fremont Pass, Independence Pass

Stage 3 Map pdf
Stage 3 Profile pdf

USA Pro Challenge Stage 3 route map 2015
USA Pro Challenge Stage 3 route map 2015 - Copper Mountain to Aspen
Stage 3 profile map USA Pro Challenge 2015 Colorado
Stage 3 profile map USA Pro Challenge 2015 Colorado

STAGE 4 - Aspen to Breckenridge maps
Thursday, August 20, 2015
Aspen to Breckenridge
126 Miles / 203 Kilometers
Max Elevation: 12,095ft

Sprint: Buena Vista, Fairplay
KOM: Independence Pass, Hoosier Pass, Moonstone

Stage 4 Map pdf
Stage 4 Profile pdf

USA Pro Challenge Stage 4 route map 2015
USA Pro Challenge Stage 4 route map 2015 - Aspen to Breckenridge
Profile map 2015 USA Pro Challenge Stage 4
Profile map 2015 USA Pro Challenge Stage 4

STAGE 5 - Breckenridge ITT maps
Friday, August 21, 2015
Breckenridge Individual Time Trial
8.5 Miles / 14 Kilometers
Max Elevation: 10,088ft

No Sprint or KOM points

Stage 5 Map pdf
Stage 5 Profile pdf

USA Pro Challenge Stage 5 Breckenridge Time Trial 2015
USA Pro Challenge Stage 5 Breckenridge Time Trial 2015
Breckenridge time trial Stage 5 USA Pro Challenge 2015
Breckenridge time trial Stage 5 USA Pro Challenge 2015

STAGE 6 - Loveland to Fort Collins maps
Saturday, August 22, 2015
Loveland to Fort Collins
102 Miles/ 165 Kilometers

Sprint: Windsor, Loveland downtown
KOM: Rist Canyon

Stage 6 Map pdf
Stage 6 Profile pdf

USA Pro Challenge Stage 6 route map 2015
USA Pro Challenge Stage 6 route map 2015 - Loveland to Fort Collins
Profile map Stage 6 Loveland USA Pro Challenge 2015
Profile map Stage 6 Loveland USA Pro Challenge 2015

STAGE 7 - Golden to Denver maps
Sunday, August 23, 2015
Golden to dowtown Denver
68 Miles ? 110 Kilometers

Sprint: Finish Line
KOM: Lookout Mountain

Stage 7 Map pdf
Stage 7 Profile pdf

USA Pro Challenge Stage 7 route maps 2015
USA Pro Challenge Stage 7 route maps 2015 - Golden to Denver
Profile map Stage 7 Golden USA Pro Challenge 2015
Profile map Stage 7 Golden USA Pro Challenge 2015
Map of final circuit in downtown Denver on Stage 7 USA Pro Challenge 2015
Map of final circuit in downtown Denver on Stage 7 USA Pro Challenge 2015

Please read more about the race at the Pedal Dancer® Guide Page: USA PRO CHALLENGE

Related Posts:


Pedal Dancer® Guide Pages help you have a better vacation in Colorado:
On the path of the 2014 USA Pro Challenge - a bike travel series by Pedal Dancer® from 2014:

Pack your bags - there is a big bike race in Colorado this August!

BMC Racing heading to the start line on the final day of the 2014 USA Pro Challenge in Boulder, Colorado. I am betting they will be back in 2015!  Photo by Karen Rakestraw of Pedal Dancer®
What is next:

We the fans are still waiting for news on the teams for 2105. Also the time schedule for each stage and news about road closures. But that shouldn't stop you from scheduling your vacation time, arranging the pet sitter and deciding which bike to bring to Colorado (hint: the one with the tiny cog in the back), and making your transportation and hotel arrangements.

Tips for Accommodations

Here is my tip of the day: if you plan to book a hotel in Steamboat for the long-weekend, use this link to arrange your accommodations - you will find much better deals through this USA Pro Challenge hotel deal in Steamboat Springs 2015, offered through the official Steamboat booking services. 

See you there. August 2015.

20 April 2015

Pedal Dancer® Guide to Summit County Cycling

I recommend Summit County for where to ride a bike in Colorado

Summit County is a wonderful place to ride a bike. If you haven't yet ridden a bike in Breckenridge, Frisco, Copper Mountain or Keystone - you need to give it a try this summer. Centrally located in the high mountains of Colorado, Summit County, contains the climbs of Vail Pass, Loveland Pass, Boreas Pass, Hoosier Pass, Fremont Pass and Ute Pass. That is a lot of passes.

Summit County also has miles of bike paths and roads connecting mountains, valleys, lakes and small towns over diverse terrain with spectacular views; perfect for the intermediate to advanced cyclists, with sections suitable for beginner cyclists.

I recently completely a huge project, I wrote a Cycling Guide to Summit County.

Inspired by my recent selection as an Ambassador with Ride with GPS, I wrote a cycling and travel guide to one of my favorite areas to ride a bike in Colorado - Summit County. I had previously written posts to recommend bike rides near Aspen and Vail, so when Ride with GPS gave me first choice of selecting any area in Colorado, I wanted a new challenge - I wanted to map out rides in a county where I previously lived and often play. Summit County was my first choice.

Links you might like:
Descending the road between Loveland Pass and Keystone. Photo by Karen Rakestraw

On the new guide to cycling in Summit County you will find 6 recommended routes. For each route, ride FAQs are given for distance, altitude, max grade, etc. I also offer where to find water and restrooms on route, cautions to look out for and points of interest along your ride, with plenty of photographs added in for fun.

On the Guide Page to biking in Summit County, there is a list of bike shops (with bike rentals noted), area history, and where to find my favorite local eats and drinks along your bike ride. 

Are you ready to visit Summit County to ride a bike?

Location of Summit County, Colorado in U.S.A.
Summit County is located inside the red circle west of Denver, Colorado
Lost to do on this map of Summit County by Colorado-Directory.com


I have chosen to highlight 6 ride routes for you (and Ride with GPS). Within the description of each route, I mention route options and local tips and recommendations. I suspect you love maps as much as I do; I know you will love riding in Colorado as much as I do.

Although two routes begin from Frisco Marina, one from Dillon Marina, one from Breckenridge, one from Copper Mountain and one from Keystone - you may begin any of these rides from the towns within Summit County. Copy these routes to your own Ride with GPS account and make custom changes.

In 2015, the USA Pro Challenge will feature 2 stage finishes, 1 stage start, and 1 full day of individual time trial racing in Summit County, Colorado. That is four out of seven stages hosted in Summit County. Why - because Summit County has magnificent cycling. Come discover the RIDE!


Please follow the ROUTE MAP links for more information about each recommended ride.
All photos on this page and on the Ride with GPS Ambassador pages ©by Karen Rakestraw and Laurie Decoteau.

1. Vail Pass from Frisco through Copper Mountain (Route Maps)

Frisco to Vail Pass bicycling map
Frisco to Vail Pass bicycling map (route link)
Bike path on Vail Pass. Photo by Laurie Decoteau
Bike path on Vail Pass. Photo by Laurie Decoteau
Frisco to Vail Pass - A popular Colorado bike ride

RIDE: Frisco - Copper Mountain - Vail Pass - Copper Mountain - Frisco
(Go to Ride with GPS Route Map and Description Page)

Be ready for high altitude riding in the midst of tundra and rocky mountain peaks. You will enjoy a low-stress accessible scenic bike ride from the quaint mountain town of Frisco, Colorado, to the top of Vail Pass.

Vail Pass is a highly recommended road ride in Summit County, Colorado, perfect for solo, group or family rides (with older children). You will join a steady stream of cyclists three seasons of the year on this popular route; not accessible in winter. Round trip distance is 25.8 miles (half of it is downhill!).

Some local bike shops (see the list here) offer a tourist shuttle service (with bike rental) to the rest stop at the top (located off of I-70, exit #190). The shuttle vans conveniently unload you and your bike on Vail Pass and set you free to quickly descend all the way back through Copper Mountain Village to Frisco.

For much of the way, you will follow a nice paved two-way bike path - free from traffic - with open mountain vistas. Although the route parallels I-70, the large highway is audibly noticeable only at times during the ride. Beautiful in summer and fall, occasional flooding may occur over the bike path (usually passable) in early spring. Watch for late afternoon rain showers (be sure to bring a jacket). Look for mountain goats peering down from rock outcroppings along the path.

I like the relaxed vibe at the Frisco Marina, be sure to bike out to the point. The Island Grill (next to the Marina store) has outdoor seating, there is also a lawn for post-ride picnics.

Your ride:
  • Start: Frisco, CO, US
  • Distance: 25.6 mi
  • Elevation: + 1664 / - 1664 ft
  • Max Grade of climb: 6.9 %
  • Avg. Grade of climb: 2.8%
  • Finish: Frisco Marina
  • Difficulty: Moderate steady climb at altitude. Easy for children if you shuttle to the top and ride down.

2. Loveland Pass from Dillon Marina through Keystone (Route Maps)

Bike Ride Dillon to Loveland Pass
Bike Ride Dillon to Loveland Pass (route link)
South side of Loveland Pass. Photo by Karen Rakestraw
South side of Loveland Pass. Photo by Karen Rakestraw

The climb to Loveland Pass - south side - Big mountain climbing over the Great Divide

RIDE: Dillon - Keystone - Loveland Pass - Keystone - Dillon
(Go to Ride with GPS Route Map and Description Page)

Your ride starts at the high mountain lake of Lake Dillon in Summit County and ends atop a glorious 11,990ft mountain pass on the Continental Divide. One of my favorite climbs in Colorado, I enjoy the relatively flat warm-up with a gradual climb through pines trees, opening to big mountain vistas and dramatic switchbacks to the summit.

You will start at Dillon Marina, cycle the bike path along Lake Dillon and through neighborhoods into Keystone Ski Resort. This is where the real climb begins and sweeping mountain views surround you as you climb to the top. There are sections of on and off 8% as you ascend the final switchbacks.

The top of the pass is without facilities but a great place to people watch, take photos and enjoy the view. Pause at the summit to celebrate your achievement with other cyclists who have reached the top from both sides. Join the tourists marveling at the engineering of this road built over the Great Divide in Colorado.

Your ride:
  • Start: Lake Dillon Marina, CO, US
  • Distance: 30.8 mi
  • Elevation: + 3163 / - 3162ft
  • Steepest grade on climb: 9%
  • Average grade: 3.7% (from Dillon), 5.9% (from Keystone)
  • Max altitude at summit: 11,990ft
  • Finish: Lake Dillon Marina (out and back)
  • Difficulty: Intermediate ride for cyclists who enjoy a steep climb. Due to long descent on road, this is not a ride for children.

3. Montezuma from Frisco over Swan Mountain and back (Route Maps)

Cycling from Frisco to Montezuma CO
Cycling from Frisco to Montezuma CO (route link)
Swan Mountain bike path. Photo by Karen Rakestraw
Swan Mountain bike path. Photo by Karen Rakestraw

Frisco to Montezuma - From lake to pines and back

RIDE: Frisco - Swan Mountain - Keystone - Montezuma - Keystone - Swan Mountain - Frisco
(Go to Ride with GPS Route Map and Description Page)

A nice bike ride with varied terrain sure to entertain your legs with the challenge of short and long climbs and your eyes with scenes of lakes and pine trees. Swan Mountain will satisfy your quest to climb to a view. The road to Montezuma along the Snake River is relatively quiet; a place to get into a rhythm of climbing. This route mixes bike paths with roads. It does not matter exactly how you get through Keystone, just keep going until you find the road to Montezuma (Rd 5, Montezuma Rd.). This is a day to explore and enjoy being in the mountains on your bike.

I would recommend riding steady, but taking a break on Swan Mountain and in Beaver Run Village in Keystone. Enjoy a drink at the Marina, or picnic on the lawn, near the boats, upon your return to Frisco Marina.

A good ride for all levels of cyclists (allow more time for climbing if needed).

Your ride:
  • Starts in: Frisco, CO, US
  • Distance: 36.9 mi
  • Elevation: + 2703 / - 2704ft
  • Max Grade 8.8 %
  • Finish: Frisco Marina (out and back)
  • Difficulty: Intermediate ride (with one steep climb) over bike paths and road

4. Breckenridge around Lake Dillon to Keystone loop (Route Maps)

Breckenridge to Lake Dillon bike ride map
Breckenridge to Lake Dillon bike ride map (route link)
Breckenridge ski resort, view from Boreas Pass in fall
Breckenridge ski resort, view from Boreas Pass in fall. Photo by Karen Rakestraw

Breckenridge - Lake Dillon Loop - Ride central Summit County

RIDE: Breckenridge - Frisco - Dillon - Swan Mountain - Breckenridge
(Go to Ride with GPS Route Map and Description Page)

Breckenridge is a colorful bustling mountain town known for skiing, mountain biking, and year round special events. This year Breckenridge will host 4 stages of the USA Pro Challenge in August 2015.

Your ride starts near Main Street Breckenridge and heads down valley toward Frisco. The Blue River flows north through the valley toward the lake. The initial part of your ride will be a smooth downhill ride on the bike path from Breckenridge to Frisco.

It is possible to loop either way around the lake, but most locals prefer to ride clockwise through Frisco first, Dillon, and then ride the bike path up Swan Mountain (the east side is not as steep as the west side) before returning to Breckenridge.

The most important things to know about this route is that the bike path back to Breckenridge is a somewhat uninspiring uphill false flat for 10-miles. You will notice on the profile map that most of the climbing is tackled on the way back to Breckenridge. You will certainly be happy to reach the numerous bars and restaurants along Main Street upon your return.

The second thing to be aware of is following the bike path around Lake Dillon takes some attention to route finding, there are a few tricky path connections; keep in mind you will be going clockwise around Lake Dillon, which is due north of Breckenridge. Study the route ahead of time and ask for directions if needed.

Your ride:
  • Starts in: Breckenridge, CO, US
  • Distance: 40.7 mi
  • Elevation: + 2003 / - 2004 ft
  • Max Grade 7.0 %
  • Distance: 30.8 mi
  • Elevation: + 3163 / - 3162ft
  • Finish: Breckenridge (out and back)
  • Difficulty: Intermediate ride for cyclists who enjoy bike paths and great scenery.

5. Summit County East to West - Loveland Pass to Vail Pass (Route Maps)

Loveland Pass to Vail Pass climbs
Loveland Pass to Vail Pass climbs (route link)
View over Lake Dillon
View over Lake Dillon. Photo by Laurie Decoteau

Loveland and Vail Pass - 2 Big Mountain Passes in one day

RIDE: Keystone - Loveland Pass - Keystone - Swan Mountain - Frisco - Vail Pass - Frisco - Swan Mountain - Keystone!
(Go to Ride with GPS Route Map and Description Page

Ride two of the best local passes in Summit County in one day. Climb breathtaking (in beauty and oxygen) Loveland Pass and gentle Vail Pass. After this ride, having ridden border to border from east to west, you will feel as if you know Summit County very well.

This route offers plenty of choices: you may start in Dillon or Frisco, or reverse the route. Simply copy the route to your Ride with GPS account and modify the route if needed.

Loveland pass has a maximum grade of 9% and is my favorite climb in the area. I like the atmosphere at the top of the pass and the descent off the south side seems to never end. The climb up the gentle bike path to Vail Pass is stress free and often populated, but Vail Pass feels like an accomplishment in its own right. Connecting the two routes takes some time as you wend your way through towns, over Swan Mountain and past Lake Dillon.

This is a long morning to mid-day ride, allow enough time and be sure to start early. Enjoy an outside patio after your ride to soak in the high mountain scenery and revel in your accomplishment of two summits in one day.

Your ride:
  • Start: Keystone, CO, US
  • Distance: 66.5 mi
  • Elevation: + 5907ft / - 5911ft
  • Steepest grade on climb: 8.9%
  • Average grade of Loveland Pass: 5.9% (from Keystone)
  • Max altitude at summit of Loveland Pass: 11,990ft
  • Finish: Keystone (or Frisco, Dillon, Breckenridge)
  • Difficulty: Intermediate-Advanced ride for cyclists who enjoy a steep climbs. Due to long descent on road down Loveland Pass, this is not a ride for children.

6. Copper Triangle - Traditional Route, Vail Pass last (Route Maps)

Copper Triangle loop ride
Copper Triangle loop ride (route link)
bike path on Vail Pass
The last part up the small bike path on Vail Pass is the steepest. Photo by Karen Rakestraw

Copper Triangle Traditional - One of the best loop routes in Colorado

RIDE: Copper Mountain - Fremont Pass - Leadville - Tennessee Pass - Battle Mountain - Minturn - Vail - Vail Pass - Copper Mountain
(Go to Ride with GPS Route Map and Description Page)

At a distance of 79-miles, the Copper Triangle is a classic Colorado high mountain loop bike ride. Departing Copper Village and immediately ascending Fremont Pass, you will skirt the city of Leadville, continuing over Tennessee Pass, past Camp Hale, up Battle Mountain through the town of Minturn and enter Vail Village. You only have the steep climb up Vail Pass ahead of you before an easy descent returning into Copper Village to complete the loop.

This route is recommended for advanced-intermediate to advanced cyclists: long climbs, exposure to the mountain elements, cycling at altitude.

The Copper Triangle is a long tradition for Colorado cyclists and a definite bucket-list ride. It is the route used annually for the Colorado Cyclist Copper Triangle event ride to benefit the Davis Phinney Foundation for Parkinson’s disease. Held the first week of August, the ride typically sells out in capacity. The special event is relatively expensive but does donate to charity and provides a great expo, lunch and live music afterwards in Copper Village for all participants. Although beautiful on any quiet weekend, this route is lots of fun with hundreds of other cyclists peppered along the climbs.

Your ride:
  • Start: Copper Mountain Village, Summit County, CO, US
  • Distance: 79.0 mi
  • Elevation: + 5949 / - 5409 ft
  • Max Grade: 9.9 %
  • Avg. Grade: 1.1 % (there is a lot of downhill)
  • Finish: Copper Mountain Village (loop route)
  • Difficulty: Intermediate to Advanced cycling at altitude over semi-isolated mountain passes. Long route, come prepared.

That's it! Six routes, but more are planned in the future
Please visit and scroll down my new guide page to discover local food and bar recommendations, read the history of the area, find tips on riding in our high mountains and of course, see a photo of a moose!

I would like to thank Laurie Decoteau, A.G. Bradley and Sue Stokes for their help in recommending local restaurants and ride details. I would like to thank Laurie Decoteau for her wonderful photography featured on all of the routes.

17 April 2015

What I Know For Sure

What I have learned after 15 years of road biking in Colorado

Sharing my experiences in an honest humorous do's and don'ts way after being involved in many levels of cycling in Colorado.

Never be intimidated by any mountain climb in Colorado. Even if you go so slow you feel you will fall over, and even if you stop several times, you will make it to the top if you have it in your mind to succeed. The ride to the mountaintop is not about the journey (although it is about the scenery), or how many people pass you or do not, it is about the destination. You must believe deeply to get yourself to the top.

Do try to find 2-3 people to ride with whom encourage you, are dependable, make you laugh and at the end of the ride leave you feeling better in spirit; better in body is not a guarantee and is about as reliable as a consistent game of golf. Some days you will ride better than them, some days they will ride better than you, but together you will be stronger. You will know you have a mate who will be there for you in sickness and health, and in "Ha, I beat you to the city limit sign!"

Never trust or get involved in a conversation (rant) on Twitter with anyone who is antagonistic or eager to beat you down. Also never read the comments on 303Cycling.com, some people are just plain angry or mean. Be discreet and communicate directly with anyone you have an issue with in the cycling community. Tensions sometimes run high. Everyone makes mistakes and this community is too small to make enemies.

Do remember those who brought you to this point. Once you have ridden a bike next to someone, you have made a friend. I might not see all the people I used to ride with, but I always wish them well as years go by. When you experience the pavement rolling by under your wheel and ride side by side with someone whether in conversation or in quiet, or follow their wheel over the hill and dale, there is a bond built forever. I have only ever felt this kind of bond in sport in big wall rock climbing or back country skiing. I have learned so much from so many.

Never take your bike into a bike shop unwashed and ask for a "tune-up." Do ask the mechanic questions about your bike every time they make or plan a repair. You will learn exponentially; there is always more to learn. Maintenance of your bike is a responsibility of ownership. Do learn how to change a tire; the skill will afford you far more freedom.

Do talk to anyone who has a bike in hand. Honestly, all barriers vanish. If you ride a bike, you have something in common. Whether he/she is 12-years old or 75-years old, the most decorated racer or the newbie rider - talk to them. Say hi, give an honest compliment, ask a question, listen to their story, leave with a smile. I am serious - there are some very cool people riding bikes around this state and you never know their story until you break that silence.

Do understand that nutrition matters; weight of the bike less, bike handling is super important, and determination even more so. Try to learn not to be anxious and stressed out while riding, it takes away from your experience and your performance.

Never wear your helmet pushed too far back on your forehead. I will tolerate almost any other clothing style errors but this one. Okay, maybe no long dangling earrings either.

Do volunteer at races or events and please represent cyclists as law-abiding citizens. Enough said.

Never go into a porta-potty (portable toilet) with your cycling gloves on. Enough said.

Do find a bike that you love riding. Not a bike someone else has, or recommends for you, or thinks is top-of-the-line. Find a bike that makes you want to get out and ride. 

Never keep your chamois on for hours after your ride. Even if you do need to download your GPS ride data and Tweet or Facebook about your awesome speed and altitude gained. You have chamois priorities!

Do buy the very best technical clothing you can afford. It will last you for years (if you keep it out of the dryer) and might just save your ride.

Never neglect to return a wave or a hello while riding. Being rude has no place on this earth. Enough said.

Do know that most storms pass, including those pesky afternoon rain showers in Colorado. I say wait it out and remount. This motto applies to most things in life.

Do reach higher than you ever thought possible. It takes an idea, a step-by-step plan, an unwavering belief in yourself, passion and determination - but you can attain anything you put your heart and mind to in this sport. If you have ever said, "I have always wanted to...." or "Someday I want to...", then make it now. Start with the first big daring step and watch how the ball starts rolling. 

Never buy 3 full kits, plus jacket, vest and all the accessories of any team kit (unless they are free) because the team sponsors will change the next year, or somebody won't be happy with the leg elastic, and you are out considerable moolah.

Do at some point, ride both inside, and more importantly outside, the county borders of Boulder, Colorado. 

Do know that you will evolve. You will roll with the times and changes as much as your bike will. You will grow faster and then slower. You will have triumphs and disappointments. But in the end you will have racked up some awesome experiences along the way.

Do save some cool memorabilia from your cycling experiences. Not that we need more stuff, but memories are the right kind of stuff. 

Never build your entire identity around the bike. Everyone should be able to talk about at least 4 topics in depth. My dog counts as #2 of 4.

Do plan weekend trips to ride in other areas of Colorado. Within a two to five hour car drive, a whole new world of riding possibilities open up. Get out and explore by car, by tent, by trailer, by hotel, by bike!

What I do know for sure - and try hard to keep sight of - is that I would be more interested in sitting down to dinner with someone who described to me the view from the mountaintop than I would with someone who described to me the view from the podium. Over time, experiences had and connections made, count more. It is not about where you placed at the finish line but that you made it to the line. Unless, of course, you were first. Or you doped, denied it, won, got caught, said you were sorry, or didn't, and then made tons of money for the rest of your life in the industry you cheated and everyone seemed okay with that.

I'm still not okay with that. I'm hoping those types pay at the golden gates. For the rest of you - you are invited to dinner!

Memories ...

I bought my first road bike in 2001. The next weekend I rode from Boulder to Steamboat Springs, Colorado, over Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. I had no idea what I was doing (but at least my helmet was straight), I simply believed I could do it. This was such a great group I rode with, I think of them fondly but haven't seen them in years. They inspired me and changed my life.

Fall River Pass 11,795 feet of adventure
Our group of five who biked from Boulder to Steamboat in 2001 because Mike Ricci (left) planned the trip and thought it would be fun. I said "sure" probably because I didn't know any better. One thing is for sure - I should have kept that orange and yellow helmet.

16 April 2015

Traveling with a bike - cycling tips

Pedal Dancer tips and tricks for bringing or renting a bike on vacation

Last weekend I was honored to be guest speaker at the Denver Bicycle Touring Club's (DBTC) Spring Kick-off Meeting. DBTC is the original bike club in the Denver Metro area. I wasn't quite sure what to speak about, but I know there was much more I could have said. How could I wrap fifteen years of cycling travel experience into fifteen minutes of speaking? I promised I would write out a condensed version of my travel tips. I will do it in two parts, as this is anything but condensed:
  • PART I: Traveling with a bike
  • PART 2: Travel tips for cyclists
All of these tips are offered from experience, either learning the hard way what not to do, or following the tips of close friends, family, and readers.

PART I: Today I begin with my tips for traveling with your bike.

Making your reservation

Reality in 2015 is the cost of flying with a bike can add greatly to your overall ticket cost. You should expect added costs from $50 to $300 one-way. Please research bike luggage costs before deciding on a flight that is $75 cheaper than a competing airline, only to find out your bike is $150 more, each way. (Learned through Twitter rants).

Start by discovering the airlines that fly to your destination. On their website, read the fine print about luggage allowance for bikes, including weight, loss or damage. Next look at transportation required from the airport to your hotel, tour group or starting city. Make sure all the pieces of the puzzle work, considering day, timing and limitations, and THEN look for the best airfare (calculating in all the extra expected costs).

The steps to booking transportation when traveling with a bike:
  1. Bike shipping cost, weight and size allowances, loss and damage for each airline.
  2. Research all other transportation costs and choices: taxi, shuttle, van, train, bus, airport transfer.
  3. Purchase your airfare after you thoroughly understand Step 1 and 2.
Handy websites:
Try your hardest to use one airline when completing your entire reservation. If you experience problems with connections or lost luggage - you will be dealing with one airline's customer service and baggage claim. Make your reservations directly through that one airline, you will receive better customer service for delays or cancellations than dealing with a second-party ticket agency.

If using miles, call a customer service representative directly to see if she/he can get you a flight to your desired destination using your flight miles. They might find a route you may not have considered on your own or see flights available through their system, which you could not see online. (Learned happily by me).

Consider using smaller airports, large airports often mean big taxes and fees, and more time navigating through long terminals with overworked employees. I will do anything to avoid Charles de Gaul airport with a bike box. From The USA to France, for example, Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, and Bordeaux are much easier airports. For those within Europe, you might choose Biarritz, Pau, Lourdes, Grenoble, Nice or many others. Collecting and returning a rental car is also easier from these smaller airports (Learned from local friends). The same holds true for flying within the USA. I would select arriving into Burbank (BUR) or Santa Ana/John Wayne Airport (SNA) over Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

Whenever possible, try to fly all the way to your destination. Attempting to make multiple connections with a bike is a hassle and a risk. Picture stairs, turnstiles, no subways, taxi trunks (boots), clearing customs, special luggage deposit and collection locations, loading onto trains, more stairs, larger rental cars, and doing all of this in a hurry. Not to mention the baggage handler who neglected to transfer your bike box to your next flight. Fly as far as you can and hope your bike arrives. At least you will be close to your destination in case you need to change plans (Learned the hard way!)

Allow extra time for transfers to another plane or train. Bike cases arrive in the over-sized baggage area and sometimes take 30-45 minutes to show up; sometimes well after all the other passengers have collected their suitcases off the belt and are busy kissing sweethearts. You'll be breaking out in a cold sweat, certain your bike has been lost forever, but be patient: allow enough time for your connection and believe that door will open and your bike will appear ready for its next adventure.

I always plan to remain near my final arrival point on the first day, just in case my bike was lost or damaged in transit (Learned the hard way!). Typically the airline is able to find your bike and have it at the same airport for you within 24-hours. But if you eagerly booked a departing TGV for a destination 4-6 hours away immediately upon your arrival to meet a tour that starts at 8:00am the next day, things just got a lot more complicated. I learned to use the first day of arrival to buy supplies or perhaps visit a local bike shop, take a city tour and have a good meal, get some exercise - in the form of a long walk - and shake off jet-lag.

Your luggage

Of course, I am going to mention having clearly identifiable luggage (I have a bright green suitcase and a blue bike case), but first I must talk of the three rules of traveling light:
  • Rule #1 - avoid over-weight charges
  • Rule #2 - bring as little as possible
  • Rule #3 - always put things in the same place inside your bags
You will bring three pieces of luggage with you, if one will be a bike. Two pieces if you have no bike.
  1. Carry-on (with small inflight bag)
  2. Suitcase (with clothing, bike tools, sandals/shoes, toiletries)
  3. Bike Case (with your prized possession)
Carry-on luggage: inside this bag, keep a small lightweight strap bag or nap-sack that can be easily removed and kept at your seat during your flight. Inside this bag you should have everything you need during the flight. This bag should be capable of being quickly removed when you get to your seat, the rest of the heavier, bigger carry-on bag goes in the overhead compartment never to be revisited until you land. 

Inside your larger carry-on bag, should be your rental car papers, paper maps, any instructions needed upon arrival, and primary itinerary with reservation details. You should also carry on your camera, cycling shoes, any medications, laptop, GPS, battery charger for phone and all devices. I like to keep all my cords in one bag. I also carry-on my pedals in a pouch (but not a pedal wrench or tools) and I like to keep track of where my helmet has been, so I carry it as well.

Remember to bring an electrical adapter if you will be changing planes in another country and have a long layover, this way you may charge your devices at the airport (although some airports now have for-a-fee charging stations). Do not pack any essentials in your check-in suitcase, if your bag is delayed for 24 to 72-hours, it can be a real inconvenience. Remember to remove air cartridges from your saddlebag before flying; instead bring a pump. I have seen passengers on the floor opening bike cases at the check-in counter to remove cartridges (of course one is always yelling at the other saying, "I thought you took it out").

Safety and your luggage

Remember bike cases are opened at security, and can be unzipped. Don't pack anything of value in your bike case, or anything that could easily fall out of the case. Carry-on all devices and laptop, camera, or external hard drives. A stolen carry-on bag, that you swore you'd keep safe, can be a real bummer, so never ever put your wallet inside your carry on bag. Wear your carry-on over your shoulder at all times and avoid placing anything in external zippers.

Even if you dislike money belts, you are most vulnerable while using transportation of any sort. Use a money belt for your passport and credit cards and a photocopy of your contacts. As a woman, I prefer using a neck wallet - a small bag around my neck, tucked inside my shirt. Example

I keep a small amount of money easily accessible for small purchases, so I do not have to pull out my money belt/pouch in public. I keep a small pouch for euro coins. Always travel with two credit cards in case one is swallowed by a machine and gone forever (Happened to a reader at a tollway!). I leave a detailed itinerary at home with a family member, plus details of my credit card and airline pins, in case of an emergency (Learned by family and me).

Your bike box

First things first, airlines will or will not accept liability for damage of bicycles, sometimes it depends on the type of encasement you use - you can find airline bike packing requirements in the fine print on their websites. The fee you pay is for shipping, it is most likely not for insurance (although your home or renters insurance might pay for damage to your bike). Your best chance for compensation from the airline in case of damage, is to exactly follow that airline rules for packing a bike AND inspect your bike immediately upon arrival and notify baggage claim in case of damage.

I always bring a copy of my personal bike geometry and fit measurements. In case my bike is ruined - my vacation might not be. I can hope to rent a bike.

What type of case should you use: hard case / plastic bag / cardboard box / soft case / wheel bag? For most people reading this blog (not including pros who have their luggage paid for), I am going to cut to the chase and recommend a soft-sided bike bag (unless such a case does not apply in the above paragraph). I realize I have posted in the past about how to pack hard bike cases (and I have one), but times have changed. There are excellent soft-sided bags that will protect your bike well. My brother has had great success with his Pica Packworks soft-sided bike case, or consider an Evoc Bike Travel Bag.

Soft bags are easier to handle, easier to store inside a rental car and in a hotel or B&B room. The soft bags are lighter to carry and run a lower risk of your bike bag being overweight. I used to sweat my 14 pound bike being loaded into my 34 pound hard bike case. By the time all the packing and straps were added, I came in just under 50 pounds every time, with no room for anything else inside the case.

I advise you to think of the security agents when you pack your bike case. Make their job easy and maybe they will show more care when closing your bag and maintaining its alignment inside your case. I label the bike case well on the outside and place a paper inside the bag with my name and address and intended destination and date.

If you are using a hard case to transport your bike - bring a short strap with a large click buckle. Use this buckle strap to attach your rolling bike box to your rolling luggage, and instantly your weight load is far less having created a four wheel wagon of sorts. This is how I pull my luggage behind me through airports.

Here is my final tip about bike boxes: be inconspicuous. Approach the counter with your act together, have your passport and ticket ready. Make it look like your case in easy to handle and lightweight. Don't offer information, but do answer all questions honestly. Smile, be kind, be patient, don't talk too much. You might just find that you won't be charged for your bike case. It has happened to me plenty of times, most often from Europe returning to the USA. Only once in the USA when the airline employee couldn't find the price on their own website, and the manager decided I was holding up the line (Their mistake, my gain).

Oh wait, I do have one more tip: You might save money if you pay for your luggage (including your bike) in advance online. But if you do this, you loose the opportunity not to pay, but risk paying far more at the counter. Whichever way you choose, just don't start tweeting how outraged you are by high airline bike box costs - you should've done your research!

My brother Mike gave up his old hard case for a Pica Packworks soft-side bike case.

Packing your bike box for travel

I will mention such bike packing tips as using plumbing foam tubing, zip ties and tape, rags around derailleurs and cog sets, marking your saddle height and stem/bar positions with tape before removing, absolutely removing your pedals, putting all screws back exactly where you found them, fastening all items in the box to prevent pieces from rattling around and damaging your frame, bringing every tool it took to take apart your bike with you to put it back together ... but I will leave it to these sources to instruct you on how to pack a bike for traveling:
If you have any questions about packing your bike, make a trip to your local bike shop to arrange a time with a mechanic to teach you how to pack your bike and how to put it back together. I am sure you could ask to pay for a personal instruction session.

It should take about 45-minutes to complete the entire packing process.

Plane travel 

Bring the phone numbers to the baggage claims departments at all airports you will be traveling to. Leave these numbers, along with your itinerary and bike case description with somebody back home. It can be easier to let them deal with local baggage departments then for you to worry about finding a lost bag in a different language in a different time zone (Learned the hard way!). Again do your research ahead of time, be prepared for things to go wrong; when they do not - your vacation is off to a great start.

Bus travel

While in Italy, I find bus travel with a bike case to be easier than train travel: the curbside loading and unloading is much easier. Train stations in Italy often have a lot of stairs (Learned the hard way) and buses often depart from the center of towns. But be aware, not all buses will accept bikes, especially the transport buses between airports. If you are traveling anywhere on a bus with a bike, read the fine details on the bus company website before hand.

Train travel

Bike cases can be hard to load onto trains and also might result in a gruff conductor looking down his nose at your. The cases are sometimes stacked near the doors of the TGVs in France, and might have to be moved as passengers load and unload: requiring diligence and effort. Again read the luggage guide on the train websites prior to all travel. Most trains have both packaging guidelines and placement on the train guidelines that must be followed.

How the pros do it: in a $1200 SciCon hard case bike box:

Chris Froome says goodbye to his prized Pinarello bike... I am a bit concerned about that posted no bikes sign.

Planes, trains, buses and automobiles in the USA

Think car rental - plain and simple. Almost anywhere you will want to ride a bike in the United States will be reached by car, from a trail head or a town. Study car models to make sure your gear will fit. I have gone straight to the auto maker's website to look at the inside, or seat configuration, of a particular car model.

In the USA, some car rental agencies rent racks or top luggage/gear containers. If the car rental agency does not rent a rack, you might find a local rack company (such as Yakima or Thule) that will rent you a rack and help you install it on the car (my brother does this for long road trips and finds it easier than storing one at home). You will want to Google rack rental [city name].

Once again, when you arrive into the United States, I would allow one day to make sure all your gear and supplies are in good condition and ready to go. 

What if you want to ship your bike

Okay, it no longer means you will be placing your bike on a ship, but airfare and ground transportation across an ocean isn't all that much faster than a ship, and it costs a lot. A lot. There are more and more emerging businesses that offer to transport your bike for you in-country. This is especially convenient if you plan to attend an event or race and want to fly unencumbered. These companies offer services from packaging, loading, build and transport. See services listed on the particular event website or Google bike shipping, or transport, [city name or event].

Renting a bike

More advances have been made in 2015: with more bike shops, lodges, and tour companies renting high-end bikes to customers. This is great news. Always check the bike frame and especially the gearing. If you will be climbing, you want at least a 28 rear cog and a compact crank, this is minimum gearing for women or for riders who plan to climb day after day. I am not shy - I'll take a 32! Saddles and stems might be adjustable for a better fit, just ask. To best fit a bike - I always bring a copy of my personal bike geometry and fit measurements (another tip is to bring a string marked with your key measurements).

Bring your own pedals, shoes and helmet (and maybe even saddle). Reserve well in advance and ask about cancellation policies. For a safe back up, I would research two places for bike rental in any given area where you plan to ride, just in case something happens to your first reservation - your vacation is not ruined.

Google the city with the words bike rental to begin your search. Also check the map for nearby cities that might rent bikes. Call a bike shop in your destination city and ask if they know who rents bikes in town. Once you find a bike rental shop, be sure they rent the bike you need for the type of riding you want to do.

Traveling without a bike is much easier if you plan to pass through large cities. Using subways or taxis and walking distances over cobbles is much less of a hassle, not to mention elevators, stairs and already small enough hotel rooms.

This is my 10 euro rental bike resting on the Koppenberg in Belgium. I rode this bike up the Kwaremont as well and had a blast! Rent anything if it means getting to ride a bike on vacation.

Bikes included with your bike tour

I think this is a fine idea and chances are - the type of bike the company offers will be the bike best suited for the terrain you will be riding. Again bring your own shoes and helmet, and ask about saddle and frame size. After advice from a reader, I might suggest asking the Tour Company to send you a photo of the saddle you will be using during the tour. If you have any concerns, measure your saddle height, and pack your saddle and tools. (Learned from a reader who had a very painful, but fun, tour).

Storing your case

I happen to know that renting a Renault Scenic will fit two hard bike cases upright in the back, allowing for luggage and two people. This car model will also hold three (uncased) bikes upright and 3 passengers. Bike cases definitely take up room in your car. Most cases will fit along the back seat of a car (without a passenger). Soft-sided cases are much easier to store than hard cases, and cardboard boxes can be disposable.

I had a friend who asked a hotel to keep their two hard case bike boxes in a storage area while they traveled around France. They of course stayed a night upon arrival and another night before departure. Ask the hotel if they are able to store your box, you never know (Learned from a reader who is now a friend).

If you plan to cycle tour from one location to a far distant location, then using a cardboard box (with plenty of plumbing tubing and bubble wrap and tape) is probably your best bet. Again, make sure your airline accepts cardboard boxes. Some people swear by using them. I met a trio of cyclists who arrived in France with their bikes in boxes, ditched the boxes, rented one car, bought a simple bike rack at a local sporting goods store, drove and rode select routes across the country, ditched the rack, found more boxes, returned the car, and flew home.

How the boys from Ireland made their way across the Pyrenees (packing up outside Pyrenees Cycling Lodge in June) with their bike rack and rental car.
Buying what you need

Unless you are going to a very secluded place (or are seven-feet tall like my nephew and looking for a bike frame), most cities have sporting good stores or bike shops where you will be able to buy anything you have forgotten or lost. A trip to a Decathlon store in France is a tradition. I always buy a couple lightweight blankets (dark gray preferred) to cover my bikes while in the car.

Safety of your bike while traveling

Bring a lock, buy two light weight cheap blankets upon arrival. Although I do not ride my nice road bike to a place where I will need to lock it up and leave it, I have heard of bikes being stolen while resting along a cafe patio fence in a larger city (okay it was Grenoble, France and Boulder, Colorado). Even a lightweight lock will slow them down, or maybe they will take a different bike than yours. I do not leave my bike unattended in a large city. If I ride to a mountain top finish of a bike race, bikes are generally safe resting along the hillside. Be very careful leaving your bike inside the car. I always cover the bikes with blankets, and if I am in a big city, I lock them up (inside and out).

Returning back home

I have learned to find a hotel near the airport for the night before any early morning departure. I arrive the night before and check into my hotel, depositing all my bags inside my room. I then drive my rental/lease car to the car return, leaving the car. I then use the free hotel shuttle service back to the hotel. I arrange the hotel shuttle to the airport for early the next morning, informing them that I will have a suitcase and a bike box. Now I have a sense of timing to get to the airport from the hotel the next morning. That evening I enjoy a glass of wine while repacking all of my bags and bike, leaving anything I no longer need for the maids and then get a good nights sleep. This is one of the rare instances I use big chain hotels during my travels, but I have learned it affords me with great peace of mind after a long trip.

Try to find a friend to drive you to and from the airport. Airport Shuttle companies will charge you more to carry a bike, and taxis might not have room. Another good option is to arrange a local individual who owns a large SUV or van and transports people to and from the airport as a self-owned business. I personally have had great success with this type of service and find they often do not charge additional for bike cases. I am not talking Uber.

Wrap up

I hope this post helps give you some ideas of things to think about and be aware of prior to your cycling vacation or event. Bon Voyage! Have a Great Trip!

Previous posts by Pedal Dancer® that apply to this topic:

This photo has nothing to do with packing a bike, I just came across it while searching for bike box photos and it made me smile - a wonderful memory of cycling up the Col du Soulor in France on a lazy lamb kind of day.

Happy travels!

If anyone has any great bike travel tips - I will happily share them.