Yes You Can: Ride the Rockies

If there’s one bike tour that’s a must-do, it’s this Colorado cruise: snowcapped peaks, open valleys, and winding blacktop through the Rocky Mountains. The best part? You don’t need to be an endurance freak to finish.

Near Grand Junction

Near Grand Junction     Photo: Haji Mahmood

THE MOMENT will arrive in every multi-day bike tour when your backside is so sore and your legs so heavy that you’ll start to wonder where—as in “Where exactly do I abandon this bike and hook up with the sag wagon?” But don’t give up. Trust us on this one: If you let your training kick in, you’ll top the next climb, and suddenly—sore ass be damned—you’ll find yourself craving more. 

That’s the thing about a bike tour: it demands more than your average century—more training, more time, more stamina—but the rewards are also greater. Beyond a simple test of endurance, a bike tour is part outdoor vacation, part road trip, and, if it’s a group event, part rolling party. The mass rides—where a registration fee buys shuttle services, space for camping, tech and sag support, and stocked aid stations—are definitely the best option. You get to enjoy all the high points of touring without the logistical hassles of doing it yourself. And there are more of them than ever. Events like Cycle Oregon (seven days), the Bicycle Ride Across Georgia (eight days), and Iowa’s Ragbrai (six days) are drawing crowds because they offer killer scenery and first-rate riding. And that’s not even mentioning the fundraising rides, which introduce a whole other motivational element.

So there’s your justification. Now, which one should you commit to? If you’re willing to put in some real preparation, the six-day, 446-mile Ride the Rockies—an annual event that draws 2,000 cyclists to move en masse across the most stunning bits of Colorado every June—is the perfect tour. “You can’t beat spending a week in June riding your bike on some of the best roads in Colorado,” says seven-time Tour de France veteran Ron Kiefel, who has notched 12 Ride the Rockies.

This year’s course is especially good, taking in the choicest sections of the state: Colorado 92 along the north rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, the high-altitude Trail Ridge Road through Rocky Mountain National Park, and 12,095-foot Independence Pass. The latter is where Levi Leipheimer struggled and nearly lost the inaugural USA Pro Cycling Challenge—and where you’ll find yourself fighting to survive, too. “This year’s tour will use some of the same roads as the UPCC,” says Ride the Rockies tour director Chandler Smith. “It’s a chance to experience riding like a pro.”

Given that Ride the Rockies is noncompetitive (there are time guidelines but no cutoffs), the goal of finishing is attainable for almost any rider. That is, if you put in the training to prepare for 60-to-80-mile days with serious climbs. “An event like this introduces huge physiological stress,” says Derick Williamson, a sports scientist at Austin’s Durata Training, which coaches endurance athletes. “You have to be able to recover effectively to bounce back the next day.” 

But in the end, Ride the Rockies is not about getting in shape; it’s about the celebration of being in shape. It’s about marveling at the 14,000-foot peaks surrounding you and looking forward to that ribbon of switchbacks leading up the next pass. Because one of the best things about a Colorado climb is knowing that a screaming descent awaits you on the other side.

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