Thursday, July 31, 2014

Northern Colorado Rockies

My bike at Brainard Lake
    The Rocky Mountains in northern Colorado provide a number of challenging ascents in close proximity to a public willing to take advantage of them. Near Boulder, roads like Flagstaff, Sunshine Canyon and Lefthand Canyon provide quick access to the mountains. Further north, Trail Ridge Pass is the highest paved continuou road in the U.S. To the south, Mt. Evans, Loveland Pass, Vail Pass and others provide as much climbing as your legs can hold.

Boulder Canyon
While there are many roads up into the mountains, the connection between many of these is the Peak to Peak Highway. This scenic drive enables a number of nice loops through the mountains. A number of other climbs continue into rough dirt that may not be conducive to road riding.

To plan a route, look at the Strava Global Heatmap to find popular routes. The best climbs have already been listed above:
Daniel Stauffer in Boulder Canyon

Four Mile Canyon

Lee Hill Drive

  • Flagstaff road: Steep 4.5 mile climb at 8%. Ramps near the top will halve your cadence. Awesome return descent on the switchbacks. 
  • Sunshine Canyon: Nearly 6 miles at 6%, the average grade disguises a number of steep ramps around 10%. The descent easily allows for speeds up to 50 mph.
  • Lefthand Canyon: a much gentler climb at 4%, it climbs up to the P2P Highway for 18 miles. Many dirt sections from flooding in 2013.
  • Trail Ridge Road: 10.5 miles at 5%, enjoy amazing views from the top! $10 entry fee for bikes (part of Rocky Mountain National Park). Elevation extends over 12k ft, bring an oxygen tank or two if you aren't worried about Watts/kg.
  • Loveland Pass: Another high pass, this time with ski resorts. Beautiful two-lane bike path leads to start at Loveland Ski area. Climb can be started as far down the canyon as you please. Both sides of the pass are amazing rides.

Top of Lee Hill Drive

Route 34 leading to Trail Ridge Road

Devil's Gulch Road

Devil's Gulch

Trail Ridge Pass

Loveland Pass bike trail

My rides in the area:
Day 1: Lovely loop into the mountains with a nice detour to see Brainard Lake.
Day 2: Trip up Sunshine Canyon.
Day 3: Flagstaff and Four Mile Canyon. Rest of the loop was uninspiring.
Day 4a: Flagstaff and Sunshine again. The nicest climbs (and descents) in Boulder.
Day 4b: Lovely short loop on Olde Stage, Lee Hill and Lefthand Canyon.
Day 5: Eldarado Canyon. Rough road, would be awesome on a CX bike.
Day 6: Long day, lots of climbing up Trail Ridge. Gulch Rd/County Rd 43 is a must do if you don't mind some dirt: almost zero traffic and great riverside scenery. Beware! No water above park entrance. Bring at least 3 bottles if climbing to the top.
Day 7: Gorgeous! Awesome bike path to get up to start. Do both sides and takes lots of pictures.
Loveland Pass

Loveland Pass

Arapahoe Basin

Friday, July 18, 2014

Bighorn Mountains, WY

Rt. 14 to the west
 The Bighorn Mountains in Northern Wyoming jut abruptly from the rolling plains below. Two highways cut through the range: Rt.s 14 and 16 climb up and drop back down in bicycle-friendly fashion. There are five total climbs, each around 4500 ft. from bottom to top. Each climb shall be described in some detail below.

Route 14 from West: Starting steeply in a scenic canyon, you gradually climb out onto the open hills at higher elevation. A bathroom/parking lot 10 miles in also has a drinking fountain. The top of the climb is somewhat shallower but grades are fairly consistent throughout. Quite a slog at 18 miles in length. As you leave the canyon the surrounding mountains tower above, providing the best views.

Climbing Granite Pass out of the canyon (Rt. 14)
Route 14 from East: Another gradual climb, this road sticks to the side of the mountain. A number of twists and turns make lovely descending towards the bottom of the climb. The red road leads up into the mountains and then along the side of a deep valley. The last few miles include two smaller descents that are sure to discourage if discovered unexpectedly.

Route 14A: The toughest climb I've ever done. A 3.5 mile section at 10% in the middle makes lower gearing a near necessity. Unfortunately, I did not have such a luxury and my knees paid the price. As did my bike - the rear wheel's hub axle sheared apart near the top and required an early descent and new rear wheel. Approach this climb with a lightness of body, not mentality.  The descent is also challenging and I stopped frequently to cool my brakes. The best climb in the Bighorns, the curves and views take 14A to the next level of ascending. But bring low gears!

Route 16 from West: Another long, gradual climb. Starting out in a large valley, there are only a couple switchbacks before the ascent straightens out. Water can be found in campgrounds along the way but not directly by the road. Rollers near the top mean the average gradient betrays the steepness of some sections. Not a particularly difficult climb but takes time. I didn't do this ride (broken bike) but my brother did and reported back.
Rt. 16: Powder River Pass
Route 14 from East: Neither my brother nor I rode this but we drove down and took notes. Some very steep sections and several major descents hide a quite challenging climb. Hard to establish a rhythm with the changing grades. Very steep extended beginning. Steep again at the top. Make sure to recover a bit on the descents when you can.
Granite Pass
Trail to Mistymoon Lake

Rt. 14 from the East

Rt. 14A: the mountains that lay ahead

Switchbacks on Rt. 14A

Camping by Mistymoon Lake

View from Cloud Peak
Strava Files:
Bighorns Day 1: Granite Pass (Rt. 14) from both sides. Stopped early from the East because of a hornet in my jersey whose stings made breathing difficult.
Bighorns Day 2a: Rt. 14A - hard climb but you just keep pushing. Careful on the descent!
Bighorns Day 2b: Hike in to Mistymoon Lake - nice 6 mile hike. Bring bug repellent in summer: clouds of mosquitoes.
Bighorns Day 3: Climbing Cloud Peak from Mistymoon Lake and hike back out. Lots of climbing large boulders, no discernible trail most of the time.
Bighorns Day 3 Daniel: Powder River Pass from West. Scenic start, steepest through the middle. Rolling at top.
Author atop Cloud Peak

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Minneapolis, MN

Minnehaha Falls
Typical bicycle path
    Serious cycling in Minneapolis is, in a word, frustrating. A great system of trails connects much of the city but doing a long ride into the country is not so simple. Harsh winters result in poor road quality, most roads outside the city are busy and not bicycle friendly and there is a dearth of hills. As a result, this review will cover roller skiing in the Minneapolis area. These routes will also cover casual cycling interests.
    The best route takes you on a tour of four lakes to the southwest. The entire route runs along bike trails (though some sections get flooded in a summer as rainy as this). Flat, of course. Look for water fountains all along the way and stop at Minnehaha falls (first image). 

Hilly Afton 

Afton country road
    The next route simply follows the Mississippi River down one side, across a bridge and back up. There a number of bridges along the way to cut across and shorten the ski. A couple water fountains on the west bank.
    Theodore Wirth park also has some smooth trails in a somewhat less urban environment. Just expect an out-and-back.

    The nicest route I found was 20 minutes away in Afton. Covering a number of country roads and actually including hills, it makes for an extended workout. Make sure to go early on hot days; the oil-gravel road surface softens in summer heat and it feels like roller skiing through plato. The road also grabs yours wheels and pulls you to a stop - high crash danger. The Afton area kills Minneapolis in terms of roller skiing and biking.
An Afton house ensconced in nature 
 Roller Ski Routes:
Tour of Lakes - Roller ski marathon. Nice views and asphalt.
Along the Mississippi - Nice paths along Mississippi. Instead of dropping down to river, stay along Hiawatha Ave. for smoother trails and to avoid a "challenging" descent.
Theodore Wirth Park - Very lovely trails in the park but somewhat short and only out-and-back.
To Roseville - The University Transitway is well-paved with little traffic. The way out is bad but the return trip was nice bike paths. Continue just a bit further to go around some lakes.
Afton Roller Ski - Lovely, quiet country roads. Avoid skiing here during summer midday - road surface softens and makes roller skiing impossible.
Bike path in Theodore Wirth Park
If you do want to ride seriously in Minneapolis, go with a group that can lead you on the nicest roads and provide protection on major roads. Here are some rides I did with the Twin City Bike Club:
Apple Valley - 80 miles, nice finish along the Mississippi near St. Paul.
Northwest - 112 miles. Beware prevalent southern winds will give strong headwind on return. Avoid E. Viking Blvd. which is block by Polaris compound.
Orchard/Crystal Lake - 70 miles. Nice lake views, variety of quiet residential roads.
Minnetonka Lake - 66 miles - dirt paths both ways. Carver Park is highlight with some very isolated bike trails. Shoreline Dr. along Minnetonka is also nice but very trafficked.