29 September 2010

Cycling The Peak to Peak Highway

Recommended Ride in Colorado: Boulder - Lyons - Ward Bike Loop
I did a classic climb in the Boulder area this past weekend, the first time I had ridden in Boulder County all year. In the foothills between Boulder and Rocky Mountain National Park stretches a 48.5 mile ride along the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway. The loop ride is popular with Pro cyclists training in the area, groups of motorcyclists, and various Cycling Events. It is also known for catching people off-guard in cold weather or winds. On this day the Aspen trees were changing color, and it was very warm at 9500 feet.

The ride begins on Hwy 36 on the outskirts of Boulder, Colorado, and heads north to the town of Lyons. Lyons has a visitors center in a small park (with a water fountain), a brewery, and a nice coffee shop on the back street (The Stone Cup, 442 High St). The real climb begins in Lyons and continues up S. St Vrain Canyon (Hwy 7), through a beautiful winding rock canyon, with a river. There is car traffic on this road, but the shoulder is wide enough. 

Take a left turn off of Hwy 7 to the town of Raymond and be sure to buy water, there isn't much more until you reach the town of Ward. After the discovery of Gold nearby, Ward was one of richest towns in the State of Colorado in 1860. Today Ward is a small shabby town, well-known for it's General Store (and picnic table outside) and the tickets given to cyclists who don't stop at the town's 2 stops signs. 
I didn't see too many people out today, it was super hot. Six cyclists total heading up the canyon, one was in a full-out lime green and navy Liquigas kit (without a helmet). He really stood out as he passed me by in no man's land on Hwy 72. I had stopped in the shade to take a photo (that was an excuse) and a goo, he asked if I was "going up" (as if I had a choice), I said "sometime soon," and we both laughed. It was a hot, and quiet ride. In fact so quiet, that not one car passed me during the entire descent down from Ward. I saw 2 other riders as I reached the intersection of Left Hand Canyon Rd. That was it.
The climb up was challenging and filled with good views. The ride down was boring! 
I am riding new Maxxis road tires on my Mavic Cosmic Carbonne wheels and the combination together is so fantastic that my Scott bike corners and rolls like a dream. All I had to do was rest on the handlebars and change my foot position. I kept reminding myself to look at the pretty trees, look at the pretty river, but about half way through the descent down Left Hand Canyon, I sighed and thought, maybe I should have brought a magazine. It was a long (way too long) 16.5 mile steady (avg 4% grade) descent. 
When the wild-flowers are in bloom or you are with a pack of riders, this is a nice coast downhill. Otherwise there are so many other fantastic descents in Colorado with fun technical turns and rapid speeds that are much better (every person in Boulder is going to argue with me - but they need to get out more). The Boulder-Lyons-Ward loop is all about the ascent, the funky towns, and the majestic scenery at the top - that is plenty to make it a recommended ride in Colorado. 

Some photos of the ride: this is the area around Boulder, Colorado (the mountains are behind me, Nebraska is in front of me)
Interesting views up St Vrain Canyon

The road to Raymond, Colorado. To say that the Raymond General Store is "funky" inside, is being kind. It's kind of scary in there, but a good place for water or Gatorade.
There is an inordinate amount of purple paint used for house trim in Boulder County, and weird art:
Very beautiful scenery
The next stop is the Millsite Inn, a popular stop for friendly motorcyclists (road cyclists tend to regroup here, the town of Ward is just up the road, as is Brainard Lake - another option to add some miles and scenery). 
More weird Art and the General Store in Ward. From here - it is all down hill.
Map of the Boulder-Lyons-Ward Loop bike ride:
*If you cycle in Boulder County, avoid Hwy 66/36 from Lyons to Estes Park (heavy tourist traffic) and Hwy 119/Boulder Canyon (high speed heavy traffic from Nederland with local drivers who don't like cyclists on their road). The road to Jamestown is a nice ride. 
SuperJames is another steep ride above Jamestown; more info at map and photos on Bicycling.
Peak to Peak Hwy – north from Nederland to Allenspark. Four miles north of Nederland sustains an average grade of 7.7%for two miles. The return trip from Allenspark has 7.5% for one mile (three miles south of Colo. 7)

* the recent tragic fires in Boulder CO were located west of town between Gold Hill and the mountains south.
* the recent tragic floods in Boulder County greatly damaged Lyons, St Vrain River Valley, and Jamestown.