Boulder’s bike-friendly reputation, as well as its history of hosting world-renowned professional cycling events, has helped give rise to the town’s status as one of the premier cycling destinations in the country. Training in Boulder has also helped cyclists compete at the highest levels around the globe. Competitive racing aside, the climate, terrain and community also help make Boulder an amazing place to enjoy cycling year-round. Curious about the backstory behind Boulder’s cycling prowess? Read on to learn more — and get inspiration for some rides you can try yourself.
Boulder’s track record of supporting cycling — and outdoor recreation more broadly — dates back to at least the 1950s. Al Bartlett, a late physics professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, worked to form the People’s League for Action Now, or PLAN, in 1959. The organization was instrumental in the creation of Boulder‘s Open Space program and the establishment of the City of Boulder’s Parks and Recreation Department.
Karen Paget picked up where Bartlett left off when she was elected to city council in 1971.
The Boulder Transportation Department released “The Boulder Bikeways Plan” in 1977, which outlined a network of 77 miles of cycling routes. Today, Boulder boasts more than 300 miles of bike paths, bike lanes, and bike routes.
THE RED ZINGER AND COORS CLASSIC
High-profile bike races also helped put Boulder’s cycling scene on the map. Launched in 1975, The Red Zinger Bicycle Classic was aptly named after Celestial Seasonings’ most popular tea flavor, Red Zinger. The race’s initial purpose was to promote alternative transportation in Boulder County, particularly bike lanes and paths.
In 1979, Coors Brewing Company became the race’s new sponsor. Renamed the Coors International Bicycle Classic, the race offered the largest prize money to date in the U.S., attracting not only the best American bike racers, but also European cycling stars.
The race’s international reach and reputation kicked off a chain reaction in Boulder. Both cycling-related businesses and professional athletes from all over the world began moving to Boulder to live and train.
CLIMATE, TERRAIN AND COMMUNITY
The Coors Classic may have been the impetus for Boulder’s cycling boom, but other factors kept cyclists coming — and, perhaps more importantly, staying — to ride and train. They flocked to Boulder for its high altitude, relatively mild year-round weather and varied terrain.
- Climate: Boulder boasts 300 sunny days a year. Perhaps not just an urban myth if you count the days the sun peaks out from behind a cloud for even just a few minutes. The dry climate helps ease the summer heat and, when it does snow in the winter, it melts within a few days.
- Terrain: The mountain climbs west of Boulder are comparable to what you might see in the mountain stages of high-profile European races like the Tour de France or Giro D’Italia. Two-lane roads wind snake-like through the Foothills as they gain elevation, each offering varying scenery and difficulty. Boulder offers challenging terrain and views of the majestic Rocky Mountains to the west; it’s also home to mellower terrain, with many miles of fun, mostly flat options to the east.
- Community: There’s a joke around town that living in Boulder is like being in an Olympic village: You never know who could be riding with you on a road ride, passing you on a mountain bike trail or standing behind you in line for coffee. It helps to stay motivated when there are so many champions in the Boulder bubble.
ICONIC BOULDER RIDES
Whether you’re an entry-level cyclist or a pro, there’s a ride — or, more likely, several — for you in Boulder. Pro tip: If you are a beginner or just not used to the altitude yet, start out on the flats and work on your cardio fitness before hitting the climbs. When you’re ready to start pedaling up into the mountains, remember that no matter your fitness level, the climbs are going to hurt.
Many of these rides can be cut short or made longer. Check them out on your favorite cycling app, like Strava, to get some ideas. The more you’re out there on your bike, the more familiar you’ll become with the various paths and bike lanes around town.
East Boulder Bike Path: Boulder’s bike paths wind all over town and are not only a great way to get around but also offer opportunities for exercise and great views of the mountains to the West. Valmont Road east of 30th Street will take you past Valmont Bike Park to 55th Street, then south past Baseline Road to the East Boulder Rec Center. Go back up north along South Boulder Creek just east of Cherryvale to the Stazio Ballfields before heading back west.
Neva to Niwot: This ride is a classic for athletes in the post-race off-season. Long and slow is the name of the game on this one. The scenery will consist of grazing animals, scenic ponds and family farms. Take U.S. 36 to Neva Road, then go east. Neva will turn into Niwot Road. When you pass 63rd Street and Highway 119, you’ll enter the town of Niwot, then take a right at 79th Street. At Lookout Road, take a right and head back west along Highway 119, south on Spine and then west on Jay Road back into town. Another alternative route to lengthen the ride is going east on Nelson instead of Neva off U.S. 36.
Hygiene: Pedal north on U.S. 36, then head east on Hygiene Road until you reach the tiny town of Hygiene. While there, stop at Mary’s Market & Deli for fresh sandwiches or gluten-free pastries. Head south on 75th Street, then head west on Niwot Road until it intersects with U.S. 36.
Flagstaff Mountain Road: This well-known climb is relatively short with lots of hairpin turns. If you’re going fast, it should take about 30 minutes. The views are breathtaking, so make sure to pay attention to the road, especially on the downhill. Begin at the base of historic Chautauqua Park, then ride over a stone bridge and past Flagstaff House restaurant to the Sunrise Amphitheater. The “Super Flag” version of this ride continues on to a set of mailboxes at around 8,000 feet above sea level. It’s only a few extra miles, but most of it is steep, at about a 10 percent gradient.
If you want to time yourself, the record is 22:10, set by Tom Danielson, starting from the stone bridge to the mailboxes near Bison Drive.
Fun fact: The first few miles, starting at Chautauqua Park and finishing at Flagstaff House, were once the prologue for the Coors Classic.
Left Hand Canyon to Jamestown or Ward: A long, moderate, sustained mountain climb, Left Hand Canyon winds along Left Hand Creek through Arapahoe and Roosevelt National Forests. Most of the ride is a moderate grade but the last bit before Ward is steep. Be sure to stop at the general store, Utica Street Market, in this charming small town before descending back down. Pedal north on U.S. 36, then head west on Lefthand Canyon Drive. At the fork in the road, veer right onto James Canyon Drive to reach Jamestown, or go left to stay on Lefthand Canyon Drive for a longer jaunt up to Ward.
Sunshine Canyon to Gold Hill: This climb begins at the end of Mapleton Street and starts climbing immediately. Continue past the short-but-steep dirt section to Gold Hill, then loop south back into Boulder via Fourmile Canyon Drive. If you want to bail out early, take a left on Poorman Road (some dirt involved) and head back down to town via Fourmile Canyon.
BOULDER GROUP RIDES
A good way to get to know insider rides and loops around town, as well as make new cycling buddies, is to check out one of the many group rides scheduled every week in Boulder. Be sure to visit each group’s website regularly, as routes and times might change.
How would one find these group rides? What are the names of these groups and how would you find their websites? This feels like it is missing some key info.
Boulder Cycling Club: Boulder’s largest recreational cycling club hosts four rides each week, which all include a social gathering afterward. The club also organizes two trips a year to destinations like Crested Butte and Moab, plus outings to nearby classic rides like Lookout Mountain/Lariat Loop, Trail Ridge, Peak to Peak and Old Fall River Road, to name a few. For more details and info: bouldercyclingclub.org
Full Cycle Bikes & Colorado Multisport: Boulder’s oldest bike shop, Full Cycle, has a slew of group rides for all levels and abilities. The women-only gravel ride on Wednesday nights is one of the most popular and finishes with happy hour pricing and trivia at Full Cycle’s Tune Up Tavern. The store also partners with the Boulder Cycling Club to offer a unisex gravel or road ride on Thursday evenings; it concludes with happy hour and live music at the tavern. Other options at Full Cycle are Flagstaff Fridays, Saturday Road Rides and Sunday Gravel Rides. For more details and info: fullcyclebikes.com
Rapha Boulder Clubhouse: Rapha is part coffee house, part clothing shop, part cycling club and part cycling race viewing spot. It typically hosts five rides per week: Two during the week and three on the weekends. All rides start at Rapha Boulder Clubhouse café on east Pearl Street and typically go out to a bakery before returning home. For more details and info: content.rapha.cc/us/en/clubhouses/boulder?
There are many reasons why world-class cyclists live and train here in Boulder. Odds are, if your favorite professional rider has been to Boulder, they’ve also been on one of these rides around town at least once. So have fun, get outside and enjoy the epic mountain scenery, but don’t forget to keep your eyes on the road!