By KAREN SMOKE

Arcadian Biking Editor

Denver is known for its bicycle friendly trails and signed bicycle routes. Ranked as one of the nation’s healthiest communities to live in, I have a cousin living in the Mile High City for more than 30 years. When he offered a roundtrip plane ticket and no-cost room and board in exchange for some help in sorting and packing his lifetime accumulation for an eventual move, how could I say no? I knew he had several fun things planned too — but I added a few of my own, including at least a full day of bicycle riding.

I began planning for my ride several months before my visit. I downloaded a Denver area bicycle map showing all the multi-use trails, signed bike routes and protected bike lanes (the latter are found in the downtown area and are separated from traffic lanes by a concrete barrier). Then I located my cousin’s neighborhood on Google Maps and began to pick out possible ride routes.

Next I started a search for rental bicycles, and discovered a wonderful online resource — www.spinlister.com. It was way easier than making a plane reservation ... lots easier. Simply enter the location and date range for your rental and a photo gallery of bicycles comes up. You’ll see cycles from bike shops, as well as rides offered by private owners. There is every type of cycle, from cruisers, mountain bikes, city bikes, hybrid/touring bikes to road racers and fixies — single-gear racing bikes. There are some trikes and electric options as well. The listings also include the height range the bike can accommodate. Once your search is narrowed, messaging is done via the website. I contacted two owners of the same model Trek I was interested in, one didn’t respond. After asking a few questions, I booked my ride through the secure website.

Another option for rental cycles is Bcycle (denver.bcycle.com), a great bike-sharing rental company with an abundance of locations throughout the city. It’s simple. You ride the bike when you need it, you check back into a station when you don’t. You can buy an access pass that fits your needs, by the day, trip, month or year. Rentals start at $9 per half hour/$35 per day.

Once in Denver I continued my ride preparation by observing local riders: their speed, lane position, intersection crossing techniques, when sidewalks are used, etc. I saw very few riders without helmets, showing Denverites have good sense too.

There are so many trails to choose from. If I’d been able to ride every day of my two-week visit, I don’t think I would have run out of trails. I settled on riding two days on the Cherry Creek Trail, or CCT, which runs southeast through the city from the South Platte River Trail. The CCT is a total of nearly 40 miles. It runs through Cherry Creek State Park, then to Castlewood Canyon State Park and ends in nearby Franktown. There are several trails that intersect with the CCT, and in the state parks there are additional trails and lightly traveled roads.

The CCT is a perfect option for walkers, runners and bikers alike. The most popular section is the five-mile stretch in the downtown area. When I rode through at noontime, I saw plenty of business people enjoying a stroll on their lunch hour, as well as shoppers, families and visitors.

I charted a route through the neighborhood to the CCT. Reviewing my route by zooming in on Google Earth helped me visualize where to pick up neighborhood trails and where to enter the CCT. Fellow bikers were eager to help out when I was unsure of which turn to take. I carried my paper GPS (maps) clipped to the handlebars, which drew lots of comments. My weekday ride was punctuated by casual riders to race level cyclists. I caught up with one gal who was riding my speed and enjoyed a lively chat with a transplant from Houston. Her husband is a bicycle commuter, and she escapes to the trail as often as she can. We rode together for about five miles on the High Line Canal Trail and, then I backtracked to the CCT.

For the most part, the trail is well signed. There are mileage markers along the trail, but I couldn’t find any map that included corresponding notations. Road crossings are few and well signed. The trail passes under major roads, and some of the ramps are quite steep. The gently undulating terrain along the river corridor was just enough to challenge this flatlander. The bike had a super low “granny gear” — but I never needed it.

The sky was mostly clear and the air dry and clean for my mile-high ride. Temperatures climbed into the high 80s, but with the low humidity it never felt hot. Denver receives an average of 12 inches of rainfall per year, but an accumulation of clouds in a concentrated area can unleash torrential rainfall that results in flash flooding. Signage at underpasses along the creek bed alert to the possibility of flooding, and a high water alternate route is provided.

Colorado is a great state to visit. My cousin took me to Rocky Mountain National Park and we drove on the Old Fall River Road, a narrow dirt track completed in 1920 that switchbacks over the mountains for nine miles and through three life zones or ecosystems. The elevation at the pass is 11,796 feet. When we reached the visitor center, it was a chilly 58 degrees. When the wider, straighter Trail Ridge Road was completed in 1932, the old road was designated one way and left in its original state. We visited several small towns that were once centers of mining activity that still retain their charm with quaint shops, restaurants, small museums and historic steam engine train rides. Along the way we spotted small groups of cyclists enjoying the challenge of the mountainous routes.

But I’d already turned in my rental bike. It was definitely the best $50 vacation trip!

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