A few years ago I rode my bike from Boulder to Denver for a multi-day work conference. It was the farthest I’d ever “commuted” by bike and, in a sense, my first overnight bike trip (I stayed in a hotel). I was not dialed. I borrowed a friend’s bike and borrowed another friend’s panniers. I packed a hair straightener and full-sized bottles of shampoo and conditioner. I packed climbing shoes with hopes of hitting up the Denver climbing gym, extra clothes, a book, a tablet, and all kinds of other “essentials.” It still might be the most loaded bike I’ve ever ridden! But, having started out before dawn, when I arrived in Denver (with enough time to celebrate with a coffee and croissant before my first meeting) I was elated.
That idea—that, given the time and inclination, you can get yourself just about anywhere under your own power—has stuck with me. A few months after this first epiphany about self-powered travel, I bought my own gravel bike and started going on overnight trips, here in Colorado and further afield. I started packing my gear and riding my bike to a local climbing area just outside of town. With traffic, it only takes about 15 more minutes than driving, and this way, I’m able to get a ride in too. I started riding to trailheads for runs that I’d previously driven to. With the aid of a front rack and a large bar bag, I started riding to the farm where I am a CSA member to pick up my weekly haul of fruits and veggies. All of these simple changes came down to a shift in mindset where suddenly my car felt like the inconvenience. Already running late to meet a friend, I’d realize I needed to stop for gas, or upon arrival at the trailhead or coffeeshop, there’d be no parking. I was also broke and maintaining a bike is much cheaper than a car. A bike is nimble—they’re easy to park!—and I always arrive in a better mood for having left the car at home.
As someone with a few competing outdoor interests (arguably, too many to be really proficient at any single one), it only seemed logical to try riding to farther away objectives. The argument that the bike is more convenient for its simplicity doesn’t hold up here, but I found that riding to a few backyard missions added an alternative sense of adventure to the outing, and made for some memorable, long days outside. One autumnal Friday afternoon, my partner and I packed up our climbing and camping gear, hit the burrito place on the way out of town and rode up to Dream Canyon to camp out then climb the next day. The next spring, we strapped running shoes to our handlebars and rode from Boulder up to the Indian Peaks Wilderness. We locked our bikes up at the trailhead and hiked up South Arapaho Peak (13,400’) for a view of the Arapaho Glacier, the main source of water for our home of Boulder far below.* In the summer of 2020, after getting acquainted with the mountain through a few car-assisted recon missions, I took on the personal challenge of the Longs Peak Duathlon—riding my bike the 40mi/ 5k’ up to the Longs trailhead then summiting the peak by foot, and riding back home.
In a culmination of previous experiences, this summer I upped the ante a bit more by taking on a three day ride to Pikes Peak. Like Longs, Pikes is another iconic Front Range 14er, but a much longer commute from my doorstep. I’d circumnavigated Pikes three times before on bike tours but never been up the peak itself. On these trips I’d spent a long time looking at the mountain and I’d always found it’s 8000’ prominence from the surrounding city of Colorado Springs especially striking. I set out solo on a Friday morning and rode 125mi to the Crags Trailhead to camp. The next morning I woke up early and tagged the peak by foot. Back at my bike, I ate lunch and cooled off my legs in a creek while telling myself that it would at least be downhill for the first part of my ride home. I rode part of the way back that afternoon and was able to meet up with some friends who were camping in the South Platte. After what had felt like a long time spent in my own head, meeting up with them was a huge boost to my spirits, but even more rewarding was the incredible feeling of rolling up to their campsite with everything I needed strapped to my bike. After a leisurely morning of coffee and conversations the next day, I rode home.
Of course, we don’t always have the time (or motivation) to go by bike and I absolutely rely on my car for routine transport. But when I am able to carve out the time, these self-powered missions become days that I look back on often as favorite memories and imagining future endeavors gives me a creative way to set goals. Going by bike—wherever you’re going—allows you to experience the fullness of the landscape, thereby appreciating it more, and can infuse any outing with a worthy sense of adventure. This kind of riding—whether for an afternoon, or entire weekend—feels more rogue and purposeful and counterculture. By definition, counterculture means going against the prevailing social norm (in American life, that means cars) but, personally, traveling by bike is a movement that I wouldn’t mind seeing go mainstream.
(*When we arrived back at the trailhead from South Arapaho I realized that one of my bike shoes was missing. After looking around in the bushes, and seeing that my bar tape had also been chewed on, we deduced that a marmot had run off with it! I ended up pedaling home in one bike shoe and one running shoe. One could make an argument for flat pedals for these outings…)