Ride the Rockies: A bike tour I’d love to repeat.
In February 2016, I won a slot for participation in a multiday bike tour called Ride the Rockies. Now, one year on, I’d love to repeat the tour.
Today I would like to share my experience and recommend taking part in this year’s event.
Registration starts on February 5th and is open until February 26th on www.ridetherockies.com. Do not miss the opportunity!
This bike tour has been held in June for 30 years in the USA’s prettiest state, Colorado. Almost 2000 people take part in this event.
Colorado is so beautiful in the summer! In fact, it is considered to be the “American Switzerland”. The snow-covered tops of the mountains and crystal-clear lakes mesmerize everyone. If you adore cycling, nature, mountains, and fresh air, this place is for you!
There are no medals and no time tracking during Ride the Rockies. If you enjoy overcoming pain — like serious cyclists and triathletes — this is not for you. You can ride at any tempo. Moreover, you can partake in downhill racing or power climbs, or just cycle for your own amusement.
Here you will find a variety of participants: from professional sportsmen to senior citizens, and children on mountain bikes. A great diversity of rivals — or just traveling companions — is ensured.
The event planners make some minor changes to the route every year, but the essential principles remain the same:
- 2000 participants
- 6 days
- No time tracking
- Daily start is from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and finish is before sunset :)
- General route length is 650 km
- The highest peak is almost 4 km
- All potholes, pits, cracks on the road are marked with an orange color!!!
- A gravel road is an obligatory part of the tour
- There are stations with food and water every 20–30 km
- Daily route is 70–150 km
- Almost 2500 m is the maximum daily climb… Phew!
- The maximum downhill is 75 km! Burn the rubber!
Official escort cars constantly follow you on the road. They will pick you up if you are tired or your bike is broken.
Volunteers with flags stand along the route and show you where you have to turn. It is impossible to lose your way! Besides, police mounted on motorbikes provide security and maintain order along the track.
At the start, the city roads are blocked but the highway is always open for traffic. Nevertheless, the drivers are extremely polite, always keep a safe distance and do not impede you.
Food fit for a king is available on the road and it is very cheap. Coke, water and isotonic drinks are available free of charge.
You will find food including pancakes, sandwiches with peanut butter, sushi, noodles, smoothies, sausages, burgers, hot dogs — you will certainly never starve to death! On the first day, I thought I might get hungry so I overate. I could hardly cycle. On the following days I was wiser and stopped only at the main food stations.
About your support team
I do not recommend you involve family members or your “better half”, unless they plan to cycle with you. The event planners allow you to register (for an additional fee) an attendant with his or her own car but it will be very boring for them. Just let your “better half” stay home, or enjoy exploring New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and so on. Believe me, this is the best solution.
About your bike
I took my own bike, but I could have rented on in advance if I had needed to. There are many rental services and they are easy to find. For example, you can rent a bike from Michail Ivanov (a triathlete coach living in Colorado).
Registration and accommodation
It was Petr Didenko, who took part in this event in 2015 and thoroughly enjoyed it, who first told me about it. I researched the event some more and was extremely keen to take part myself.
There was only one problem: it is impossible to purchase a slot for participation in Ride the Rockies. The only option is to participate in the lottery and, if you are lucky, win the right to buy a slot. Theoretically, your chances aren’t too bad. People say that about 30–50% participants win the lottery.
The lottery takes place in the first half of February. It costs $5 to take part. About a month after registration, I learned the results of the lottery. A sum of $495 was immediately written off when I found I’d been successful!
This price only covers your registration. You also have to pay for your tickets, food, accommodation and other additional spending.
Event planners will carry your stuff during the 6 days of the tour. But there are some limitations in weight and size. For example, hard bikecases are not accepted because of their size. You can bring only bags and soft bikecases. Check the rules in advance to avoid any unpleasant situations.
There are a few types of accommodation
Free accommodation is offered on the football field where the finish site is located. You will need your own tent and a sleeping bag. Your bike is placed in the secure area, where it’s kept safe until you need it. You will never get bored in this tent city. On arrival, you can set your tent in any place. Alternatively, a special service is available for a small fee: on your arrival at tent city, trained personnel will set up a rented tent for you. In this case, you do not need to take your own tent.
There is also the option of free accommodation in a school sports hall. This is a very easy option: the only thing you need is a sleeping bag. The first person to arrive can “reserve” any desired place and, accordingly, the last person takes the last place (if it is not occupied yet). I saw the conditions of the accommodation in the school sports hall and they really weren’t bad. If your budget is tight, this option is right for you!
There are many events on the finish site, such as beer degustation, concerts, and training sessions. You will even find a bike doctor, a massage therapist and a washing station for your bicycle. In the morning, a tasty and cheap breakfast is served.
And finally — the most boring, but the most comfortable type of accommodation is a hotel. Event planners book a hotel from the partner list.
A great advantage is that a bus transfer will carry you and your stuff right to the hotel. In the morning, your belongings will be picked up from your hotel and then carried to the tour camp.
Do not forget to obtain a special sticker for your bags during the registration at the camp. It tells the event planners which bags should be taken to which hotel.
A disadvantage of this type of accommodation is that the shuttle buses run at half-hour intervals, and you will likely spend some time waiting to be driven to the hotel.
I chose the option of hotel accommodation since I wanted to be able to take a shower and sleep in a big bed each night! By the way, the hotels were all very different: there were both top-notch hotels (as in Aspen) and more simple ones (as on the penultimate day in Estes Park). Anyway, all the hotels were comfortable.
You will need to get to Denver airport and then to the start site, where the registration and the first start are carried out.
I flew from Moscow to New York, where I left my wife to enjoy the city, and then almost immediately flew on to Denver.
I rented a car in Denver to get to Carbondale, where the registration was carried out and the start site was located.
Maybe it was not the most rational way to get there. Event planners organize a shuttle bus from the terminals of Denver airport to the start site. All you need to do is let the event planners know that you need a shuttle bus. But I wanted to take a drive on my own to stop at any place I fancied to take pictures and so on.
Everything is organized accurately and clearly at the start site. There are many volunteers and a special info center. Moreover, a tent city and a school are at your disposal not far from this place. The sports hall is made available to the tour participants, who can shower there and have some food in the school canteen.
You will also find an expo place where you can buy just about anything you need — clothes, food, bottles, pieces of equipment — or even adjust your bike. The expo is nice but pretty small. I would recommend you bring everything you need with you and don’t expect to find all your necessities in the expo.
Some manufacturers offer you the opportunity to take their bikes or wheels for a test-drive. Personally, I decided not to complicate my life as I was absolutely satisfied with my bike.
During registration, a standard kit is given to each participant. It consists of a bottle (by Jersey — the quality is very good), a tag for your bag, a sticker with a number for your bike, a bracelet with your number, and a handbook with instructions. This handbook contains a complete description of each day and a detailed map of the route with all altitudes. As a bonus, you can also get a branded shirt and a bottle.
After registration, I left my bike in the protected area and drove to the hotel.
I met a couple of fellow participants, Mikhail Ivanov and Andrey Toshchakov, and we really forged a friendship.
The first day
My coach Denis Krestin said, “Find a group and follow it during the race”.
On this day, we met the following “checkouts”:
- 80 km of the route
- 1300 m of the climb
We started in Carbondale and had to get to the finish in one of the best ski resorts in Aspen.
In the morning, a shuttle bus picked us up and we left our baggage in the hotel hall. Our baggage was marked with special stickers so that the event planners knew who they belonged to and could deliver them to the next hotel.
We arrived, got our bikes from the transit station, pumped the wheels and rode far away. At that moment, when we rode out, almost half of the participants joined the trip.
Many people wanted to start earlier so that they could reach the finish sooner and have more time to rest and walk. Personally, I tried to start at around 7–8 a.m. Thus, at 6:30 a.m., I was already awake and doing all my preparations, so that I could start immediately at 8 a.m.
All the roads were perfect and we passed beautiful mountain rivers on the wooden bridges. Moreover, there were specially marked bike paths along the majority of highways. A reassuring feeling of safety and comfort followed us everywhere. Locals often came out along the route and greeted us.
In the afternoon, we reached Aspen, changed our clothes and went for a walk around the city.
Andrey, Mikhail and I decided to follow the sport regimen and, thus, we had good workouts, good nutrition and sufficient recovery.
“It is the most difficult day. The second day is always the most difficult during the multiday tours. You have not recovered yet, but now you need to ride again. The route is much longer, than yesterday.” (Denis Krestin, my coach).
My coach was right. The second day was really very difficult:
- 136 km of the route
- 2350 m of the climb
The ride was apparently not very easy. I do not like long climbs and on this day the climb was 35 km! You feel like a donkey on the mountain.
I felt coldness when snow appeared on the way.
And here I reached the peak of this day.
I saw an old lady riding slowly up. A drop of sweat was hanging on her nose and she did her best to reach the goal. And I suddenly thought, “Am I a chicken? No!” If this old lady can ride up, I should not complain.
We finished this day in Copper Mountain. This town turned out to be a ski resort. We had some snacks and decided to rest. There was nothing to do in the hotel, but there seemed to be lots of noisy fun going on at the finish site. Unfortunately, we were too tired to join the fun. On the third day, we had to make a circular trip, where the start and finish was in Copper Mountain.
“You will be very upset in the morning :) Everything will be fine as soon as you get into it”. (Denis Krestin, my coach).
The third day was very interesting:
- 127 km of the route
- 2000 m of the climb
We had to make a circle.
Having finished this circle, we came back to Copper Mountain and to our fairly good hotel.
This hotel is located just a 2-minute walk from the finish site and bike transit station.
Misha and I had some food in one excellent restaurant and had some rest. The third day turned out to be rather simple. My body had by now adapted to the conditions and it was much easier.
In general, everything was exactly as my coach predicted.
One more thing, concerning the “laundry” issues: we used laundries in all the hotels. We took special coins from the reception and put our dirty clothes in the washing machine and then into the dryer. In an hour, we had fresh and dry uniforms.
By the way — that morning I took this incredible picture! I still cannot believe that I took it myself. :)
“By the fourth day, you will not care about the length of the route :)” (Denis Krestin, my coach).
Finally, we left Copper Mountain and rode to Grand Lake.
- 138 km of the route
- 1200 m of the climb
Wait! It was not as easy as it appears. We were going to start at 6 a.m. My fellow bikers told me it was very cold outside. I checked the weather and it turned out to be 3 C. In other words, it was dreadfully cold.
When I planned my trip to Colorado, I understood that I was going into the mountains. But I could hardly imagine that I could freeze there. Well, at least I had a windbreaker.
So, I said I would wait until it became a little bit warmer. At 9 a.m. when the temperature rose to 7 degrees, I rode.
The second surprise was 45 km of the route through the wood. This downhill of 45 km was in shadow. Being absolutely stiff with cold, I flew down. There was no chance to warm up. I froze until I met a rather big guy on the road. I sat on the rear wheel, took maximum aerodynamic position and rode behind, hiding from the headwind.
The route was partly gravel and I understood I hated gravel paths. When it finally ended, I was incredibly happy.
Grand Lake turned out to be a very average town. We stayed in a hotel, located not far from the town. A shuttle bus took us to the hotel. We walked around, saw a statue of the elk and got some rest.
“You will do everything on autopilot” (Denis Krestin, my coach).
“On autopilot” I had to ride:
- 75 km
- 1400 m of the climb
It seemed to be an easy task. Seemed!!! EASY!!! Just seemed…
The first 40 km I rode up the climb. It was just a simple climb. I rode, but I was wondering why the chain clanged all day long. At first, I thought there was a problem with the speed switch. I stopped and calibrated it. The chain now not only clanged again and again, but began to slide out. By now very angry, I reached the food station and turned to a bike doctor. The doctor solved the problem very quickly and let me ride further.
I sat down on the bike and began riding up the climb, and here the chain clanged again! Bang! It was broken! Good thing I had only ridden 200 meters from the master. I returned to the bike doctor and changed the chain. Everything was fine after this.
That is not all. The higher we climbed, the colder it became. We were at an altitude of approximately 4 km, so the snow layer became thicker and thicker. The road was absolutely clean but I felt cold from the snow walls and my hands became numb.
In general, when I reached the top of the mountain, I was glad that I could rest on the downhill. Downhill? Rest? Aha! It was so windy on the first 20 km of the downhill, I could hardly ride as I tried to stay out of the oncoming traffic lane. My bike was in this position: -/- Not this one -|- but exactly this one -/-. I could keep my balance and move forward only in this position. I rode easily only at the very end. I reached Estes Park, absolutely rested and full of energy.
I liked Estes Park. It is really a very nice and clean town. The hotel was very simple.
Well, as expected, we walked around the town, had some food, and celebrated the completion of the fifth day. Then we decided to have some rest.
“Friendship stage. A little patience” (Denis Krestin, my coach).
This phase was comparatively easy:
- 82 km of the route
- 700 m of the climb
Yeah, it was easy. But if you check the map very attentively, you will find four hardly visible hills between 50 and 65 km. They are really very small, but there is a “but”… the gradients on these hills felt like hell. I rode as if I was trying to climb up a wall on my bike. Surely I exaggerate, but it was really sweaty work.
I reached the finish in Fort Collins. The finish was unremarkable. Arch. Volunteers. As you remember, there are no medals in this multiday tour. Anyway, I was awarded a small badge for completing the tour. The badge was verrry small. The size of a sim-card for iPhones. Microscopic badge.
At the finishing site, we got our baggage and other stuff. The event planners organized huge vans with showers so that we could take a shower and change our clothes.
I rented a big car in advance. The office of the rental company was located just 10 minutes from the finish site. I used this car to get to the airport.
I went home from Denver airport via New York. I wanted to spend at least one day there and walk around Manhattan.
I spent one day in New York, boarded a plane, and flew to Moscow.
It really was an incredible week. I would gladly repeat this bike tour and recommend you take part in this event if you get the opportunity.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Dmitry Ufaev (email@example.com).