The top 5 bike routes in Northern Colorado, per local cycling teams

Benjamin S Randall
Sep 18, 2020 · 6 min read
(Cyclists compete in Fort Collins | Photo by Markus Spiske)

Getting outside, spending time with friends, and adventuring around our local area — these traits have been ingrained in all of us since our childhood. It’s inherently rooted in ourselves to want to adventure and thrill-seek, and those urges were brought to the forefront for many by the emergence of bikes. The world opened up drastically, and simple playgrounds became meaningless — anyone and everyone was hopping into a saddle, and riding all around the neighborhood.

In Fort Collins, cyclists of all teams and types travel around the area, embarking on 100+ mile treks, or summiting rigorous canyon trails. Fasten your helmet, grab an energy bar, and prepare to pedal through some of the most trialed-and-tested cycling adventures in your new neighborhood — the magnificent landscape of Fort Collins!

1.) “Dairy Loop”

(Bingham Hill | © Felix Wong of Colorado, https://felixwong.com/2016/02/the-sunday-huffy-adventure/)

Ride Landmarks: Crest Bingham Hill, then coast to Dairy Farm in Bellvue, CO, and loop back through Overland Road

Distance: 21.38 miles

Recommendation: CSU Triathlon

Typically starting from the parking lot of Moby Arena by Elizabeth and Shields, the Colorado State Triathlon team shares one of their favorite traverses across their local landmark favorites. While the roads on this route are flat and heavily-trafficked, riders can catch fast tailwinds and establish speedy drafting zones, flying to the base of Bingham Hill before starting an aggressive climb. If one can muster the energy to top the hill, a ride through the scenic Bellvue canyons, as well as a tasty stop at Morning Fresh Dairy Farm, await tired legs.

“Our Dairy Loop is a simple loop ride that goes north into Laporte and circles around past the Noosa yogurt/Morning Fresh Dairy Farm,” CSU Triathlon President Sophia Risvold said. “It’s an easy and accessible bike route for beginners and returners alike!”

2.) “Rist Canyon Climb”

(East Horsetooth Resevoir | Instagram, @TriathleteBenny)

Ride Landmarks: Eastern shore of Horsetooth Reservoir Overlook, continue west towards Masonville, and approach Rist Canyon Road through Buckhorn Road. Descend through Bellvue and Horsetooth Reservoir

Distance: 53.3 miles

Recommendation: Trek Ride Club

Many teams look to incorporate endurance rides into their training, and one way to build stamina is through a long day in the saddle — with a lot of hills mixed in. At the local Trek Ride Club in Fort Collins, cyclists test their training on some of the steepest hills in Northern Colorado at Rist Canyon. “The average grade over the long climb is three percent but gets steeper at the top,” Trek Bikes said. Scenic views and rapid descents accompany this extreme ride.

Did you know: Lachlan Morton, a professional cyclist for Education First Pro Cycling, utilized the intense grade of Rist Canyon to attempt a record ‘Everesting” attempt earlier this year. Morton traveled up, down, and around again — 47 laps in total — until he climbed a total of 29,029 feet. Even crazier? He did it in seven hours, 29 minutes and 57 seconds.

3.) “Curt Gowdy State Park”

(Shoreline of Curt Gowdy State Park | Wikipedia Commons)

Ride Landmarks: Massive loop that travels along the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains environment, trails that outline peruse the unique Crystal and Granite Ridge locations.

Distance: 25.2 miles

Recommendation: Sugar Beets Cycling

While some teams are more inclined to stick to local roads and hills, the Sugar Beets Cycling squad brings forth a mountain-biking ride of rigor and adventure. Traveling north, about halfway between Laramie and Cheyenne, Curt Gowdy State Park provides mountain cyclists with a day-trip to test their skills. The entire trail system is technically difficult, offering riders a chance to train at altitude and mix and match trails to form even longer rides. Celeste Cannon, Treasurer of Sugar Beets Cycling, touts this ride for its beauty and strain: “It’s an amazing conglomeration of different trails. People either get really, really scared, or end up falling in love with the route.”

Interested more in Sugar Beets Cycling? Based out of Fort Collins, the third-year team consists of professional, elite, and category one female cyclist — intending to empower more women to ride, inspire, and tear down gender barriers in the sport. “Most of us race as professionals, but we all have full-time jobs, and I always think that’s impressive,” Cannon said. “We go out to these races and compete against full-time cyclists, hold our own, and enjoy doing it.”

4.) “Horsetooth Mountain Open Space”

(Harmony Hill, leading up to Horsetooth Mountain Open Space | Instagram, @TriathleteBenny)

Ride Landmarks: Blue Sky & Indian Summer Trail, and varying twists and turns leading to Maxwell Reservoir, Lory State Park, and a highly difficult venture through Bellvue, touring the Sawmill-Nomad Trail loop

Distance: Over 88 miles total

Recommendation: CSU Rams Cycling Team

Some teams look further north for their type 2 fun, but the Colorado State Rams Cycling squad realizes the potential of Fort Collins’ own backyard; the glorious and familiar Horsetooth Reservoir. With dozens of trails offered within Horsetooth’s vividly popular Open Space portion of the park, cyclists are presented with a smorgasbord of paths to ride to their heart's content. Perhaps the only downside, according to some members of the Rams Cycling Team, is that the area is relatively flat, so in order to gain a lot of elevation, you have to ride a lot of mileage. However, that’s just a small price to pay for the pedal-crazed peloton that exists in Northern Colorado.

When asked about the challenges that come with routes and the overall competitive cycling in our area, CSU Rams Cycling President Sidra Aghababian spoke on recent events in juxtaposition with her team. “For those of us that are training, the weather is definitely difficult. You have to coordinate your rides around what the weather, and especially the smoke, will look like,” Aghababian said. “Our team mostly misses the community aspects of racing — we aren’t able to see any of our cycling friends from different schools across Colorado.”

Anyone in particular? “Well, mainly we are sad we can’t take down CU Boulder, because we totally were going to. ‘Sko Rams!,’” Aghababian said, rather emphatically.

5.) “Gravel Graceland”

(One of many trails offered in Gravel Graceland | © BikeSportsCo)

Ride Landmarks: Sand Creek Pass, Cherokee Park, and other hidden paths through the Red Feather lakes area are popular sights to see within Gravel Graceland

Distance: Ranging from a 13-mile flat loop to a 200-kilometer Gran Fondo

Recommendation: FoCo Fondo

While many of the aforementioned routes have stuck to well-known courses and tracks within the road and mountain-bike discipline, FoCo Fondo introduces the new hot and sexy regiment in cycling: gravel riding. Rather than any particular route, Gravel Graceland, founded by Zach & Whitney Allison of the FoCo Fondo Cycling Team, offers a vast array of gravel rides throughout Northern Colorado — with enough routes, adventures, and experiences to last a lifetime. Ranging from shorter sessions of 10–15 miles, all the way to one incredible route, entitled: “The 200K of Awesomeness”, labeled under the “WTF Routes” section of the website — clearly, Gravel Graceland has rides for all skill levels.

“With the pandemic, I’ve spent a lot of extra time exploring the Red Feather area with my husband,” Whitney Allison said. “We ended up starting a route website (Gravel Graceland) to support locals looking for something new to do this year, and for tourists coming into town and looking where to ride.”

(The Quintana Roo SR5 Road Bike, looking onwards to Rist Canyon | Instagram, @TriathleteBenny)

Clearly, each local cycling team has a favorite spot to unwind, let loose, and pedal to the metal. With the pandemic impacting much of the athletic spectrum across the world, let alone Colorado, cyclists are exploring their mountainous backyard now, more than ever before. Hopefully, some of these routes can provide tourists, locals, and professionals alike with a day (or two) of water-guzzlin’, granola munchin’, fast-paced fun.

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