02 September 2010

Apples and Oranges

This is one of several videos shot during the first ever Pikes Peak hill climb by a rider who goes by the moniker of 99SevenTi. He pointed out on YouTube that this video is NOT in slow motion, and I can attest to that! The grade was steep, and that's a muted voice of the wind you hear pounding on the camera.

I thought riding Mount Evans would be the best training to prepare for my ride up Pikes Peak. In retrospect, it would have been better if I had gone up Mount Evans four or five times the week before Pikes Peak, but working stiffs don't always get as much time to play — I mean train — as they need. Fresh off my Pikes Peak ride, I've begun to contemplate some significant differences between Colorado's two 14ers with paved roads. Because Pikes Peak isn’t familiar cycling territory for more than about 300 (legal) cyclists, I'll share my thoughts. First, allow me to clarify "legal" cyclists. The paved road on Pikes Peak has been closed to cyclists for next to forever. The 2000 Pikes Peak Mountain Bike Challenge was a sanctioned race — not a ride open to the general public — on only the top 12 miles of the mountain, not the 24.5-mile climb undertaken by a few brave souls last weekend.

Orange you glad I'm giving you all this info?

However, word has it a few even braver souls have climbed the mountain on the road on road bikes and even — choke, choke — fixed gear bikes. At night. With headlights. After the gates have closed. Extreme poaching. So there are people out there who know what the Pikes Peak highway is like, but they certainly aren’t publishing any details in public places. The biggest difference between Mount Evans and Pikes Peak, having done both now, is Pikes Peak feels much more difficult. Starting from Manitou Springs, you gain 7,800 vertical feet in 24.5 miles to the top of Pikes Peak. Starting from Idaho Springs, you gain 6,575 vertical feet in 27.4 miles to the top of Mount Evans.

To me, Pikes Peak truly was more difficult. It seemed much steeper than Mount Evans. The second-biggest difference, of course, is road condition. Mount Evans is literally littered with treacherous freeze cracks, sink holes and pavement buckles from the Mount Goliath Nature Center to the top. If you're lucky, you might see a marmot popping his head out of one of the many holes in the pavement as you make your way up the mountain. Just don't hit the hole with your front wheel.

Pikes Peak, on the other hand, is paved and beautifully maintained. There is a 2.5-mile dirt section, but only a short part of that, approximately 30 feet, right before Glen Cove, compares to the bumpy ride you get on Mount Evans.

On a windless day, descending Pikes Peak on a road bike would be a total hoot for roadies. 24.5 miles of screaming downhill. One mile of the dirt section is scheduled to be paved in 2011, and the rest is to be completed in 2012.

Riding down Mount Evans will rattle your brains and your bike, and if you're not careful, you’re going to need new rims before the day is done.

Road cyclists can train on Mount Evans. That's not allowed on Pikes Peak.

A commercial shuttle service will take you and a rental mountain bike to the summit of Pikes Peak, and you can ride down the Barr Trail. Or you can take your own bike up on the cog train and bike down the Barr Trail. But you cannot ride a road bike on Pikes Peak. Unless you sign up for the Assault on the Peak. (August 28, 2011 for those interested.) It's $10 for a three-day vehicle pass on Mount Evans; $3 for a bike. Pikes Peak is $25 per car.

Personally, I buy an Eagle Pass to the tune of $75 every year because I'm a National Park buff, and that gets me (and a guest if we’re cycling) up Mount Evans all year long. (Also works for the Maroon Bells road, in case you need to know.)

You can take a commercial mountain bike tour down Pikes Peak, but not on Evans, which is a wilderness area. No mountain bikes allowed.

You are the apple of my eye!

Aesthetically, Mount Evans kicks butt and takes prisoners. It has wildflowers, waterfalls, marmots, picas, ptarmigans, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, deer, elk, coyotes, foxes, rabbits... and cyclists. Pikes Peak has pink rock. Lots of pink rock. And then more pink rock. There are tufts of grass here and there during summer, and the summit views may rival Evans just because it feels like you can see further. Basically, though, above treeline on Pikes Peak looks like the moon. Or maybe Mars. It's a harsh environment.

Pikes Peak wins hands down in the insect category. Thirty-mile-per-hour winds last weekend kept the biting flies at bay. Typically, though, the summit is a haven for the annoying critters. Mount Evans proudly has no such infestation.

Best of all, of course, is Pikes Peak is closed to traffic during the Assault on the Peak. Mount Evans is closed during the annual Bob Cook Memorial Hill Climb, but when you're training on it, you MUST be wary of tourists who may or may not be suffering from varying degrees of altitude sickness. As well as the visitors who’ve never seen a mountain goat and unpredictably stop or turn with no regard to anyone else on the road because they just have to get a photo.

Of course, all of this is compounded if you are having altitude sickness, too.

There are two gift shops on Pikes Peak where you can buy food or drink. You may be able to fill water bottles there, too. During the Assault on the Peak, there are four rest stops where you can fill up.

On Mount Evans, you’re on your own. There is no water unless you bring a purifier. Or unless you trust a kind tourist. Sometimes rangers at the top have water to give anyone who makes it that far, whether by vehicle, by foot or by bike, but you cannot count on that. You MUST carry enough to get you up and down.

Oh, I’ve seen a guy trying to go up Mount Evans on a skateboard. I doubt that’s ever going to happen on Pikes Peak.

Just peachy!

I've compared apples and oranges; let's throw in a peach or two.

Up until last weekend, my most difficult ride ever was Day 4 of the 2010 Ride the Rockies. Ouray to Durango. 75 miles. 7,250 or so feet in elevation gain. Headwinds as bad as what I encountered last weekend on Pikes Peak. And all on a zooming but unfamiliar demo women-specific Trek Madone. Pikes Peak was MUCH more difficult, to me. It felt longer than RtR Day 4, probably in part because you get very few breaks during all that elevation gain, and the total elevation gain is not only more significant, but 2,000 feet higher.

From Ouray to Durango, you cross three mountain passes, which means you get three fun descents. Unless, of course, you're pedaling into a headwind. The road is very narrow, sometimes mortifyingly, and it won't be closed to vehicles while you're riding it. Well, unless you're trying to ski it during a winter avalanche closure, and then you have to contend with all that snow.

I've never done the Triple Bypass, but I'm married to someone who does it every year and will tell you with a glimmer in his eye it's the best Ride That is Not a Race ever. With Swan Mountain now in the mix, you get the equivalent of four mountain passes, none of which tops much more than 12,000 feet, but it takes 120 miles and 10,310 feet in elevation gain to do them all, and you have some really sweet downhills. If you aren’t battling a headwind.

Many will tell you the short portion that rides right along I-70 is the most hair-raising experience they've ever encountered in their life. The route from Evergreen to Avon is in fairly good condition, but the road portions can be extremely vehicle congested. The bike paths near Breckenridge, Frisco and Vail are the saving grace, but watch out for recreational riders and hikers. You also have plenty of places along the way to replenish food and beverage.

Doing the route in reverse, however, will give you a rough landing as you descend into Evergreen. The road from Juniper Pass into Evergreen is another one I don’t like to do on a road bike. I like my rims in their current circular shape; descending via Bergen Park is likely to reshape them if I take my eyes off the road for even a split second.

All this fruity talk of biking mountains and passes has made me hungry. How about you?



  1. Hungry, yeah, we have tasty lasagne for lunch and fresh apples are hanging in the appletree.

  2. Hungry, yes, but not for those brutal elevation gains. Have I told you how proud I am of your hutzpa? I think it's a 7,000 elevation gain driving up to my house from the Salt Lake valley -- and there's a dead car on the side of that road every day. Cheers to you, biker babe! :D

  3. It made me want to bow down to your locomotive prowess. You are an amazing athlete to do this!

  4. "Locomotive Prowess"... Patty, you SO crack me up!!! I'm as slow as a turtle!!! I might have to design something to go along with your poetic phrase. It's about the funniest thing I've heard all week!!! (Probably helps that my dad is a model railroader extraordinaire...) Thanks for making me smile!

  5. Well that last picture sure made me hungry for some fresh fruit :)

  6. Wow! You are one amazing athlete! I, too, bow to you! Patty said it well!
    Hugs to you!

  7. Yes, very hungry! 7,000' is really mind boggling, especially for someone who now only rides a mountain bike. A really big day is 5000' of climbing on a mtb (for me).

    It must put the "Queen Stages" of the Tour de France into perspective for you in a way that few people can understand. Usually, there's one stage with around 20,000' of climbing. Imagine that!


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