The sheer amount of ground you can cover from Boulder on a road bike is astounding. Boulder’s perfect location at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains gives riders the option of smooth flats or big climbs, all right from town. Heading out north and east, the scenery quickly changes as riders go by farms, fields and lakes. Heading west into the canyons offers incredible rides up into the mountains and ambitious riders can climb over 4,000 vertical feet then loop back home along some of the most scenic paved roads in America.
Many professional riders (and triathletes) come to Boulder specifically to train on the bounty of well-maintained roads. The high altitude helps with the cardio side of things and the 300+ days of sunshine makes rained-out rides a rare occurrence. It’s one of Colorado’s secrets that many of the cities located along the foothills have relatively mild winters, meaning roadies can get rides in year round -- as long as they don’t mind bundling up a bit.
For those visiting Boulder, renting a bike is easy. There are several shops that offer bike rentals for about $40 a day, including Full Cycle, University Bikes and Bicycle Village. And rest assured if you simply want to stay in town and explore Boulder’s many bike paths, the B-Cycle program has several docking stations throughout the city where you can rent and return cruiser bikes.
Here’s a quick look at 5 of Boulder’s best road bike adventures. Maps courtesy of MapMyRide.com. Note that all rides except Flagstaff Road start at Amante Coffee in north Boulder. The Flagstaff ride starts at Chautauqua Park.
1. Nelson Loop - Flats and Rolling Hills
This classic ride starts on US 36, a somewhat busy highway with an extra-wide shoulder that makes it very bike friendly. Traffic will lessen as you head north into farmland and small communities, all in the shadow of the foothills. Turning east onto Nelson Road brings you into the true farming communities of Boulder County. Grazing cattle, scenic ponds and family farms transport you physically and mentally from the city. Close the loop by heading south on North 63rd street, then cruising down Niwot Road and reconnect with US 36. A great half-day ride or a fun retreat when you need a little away from it all.
2. Left Hand Canyon - Long, Sustained Mountain Climb
This out and back ride goes up Left Hand Canyon to the quirky town of Ward, gaining over 3,300 vertical feet over 16 miles. Many riders prefer to start at the Green Briar Inn and avoid US 36 altogether. Though the climb is long, the grade is moderate for the majority of the ride -- only about a 4% grade, up until the last mile to Ward where it jacks up over 10%. You’ll be over 9,000 feet above sea level when you top out! Riders can choose to descend the way they came or go big on Peak-to-Peak Highway and return via the town of Lyons and US 36 (roughly a 75 mile ride).
3. Lee Hill Loop - 2 Hour Ride with Steep Climbs and Blazing Descents
The Lee Hill Loop cruises up into the Boulder Heights community and and hits some fierce climbs along the way. This loop is fun in either direction, but get ready for a few staggeringly steep sections no matter which way you ride. The views east out onto the plains are fantastic; quite a reward for all that tough climbing. After fighting up the steepest section at mile 2 - 3, the hills become more rolly and views open up. After a steep descent back into Left Hand Canyon, turn onto Olde Stage Road for another brief but steep climb, then speed your way back into town.
4. Carter Lake - Epic Touring Ride
Looking for a long day tour? Boulder to Carter Lake should be on your list. This ride starts out the same as the Nelson Loop but then continues north all the way to Carter Lake Reservoir in Larimer County. There’s a beachs and concession stands that are open in the summer, so you can have a picnic and a swim before headed back town. This ride is mostly on easy-going, open country roads. If you’re looking to turn this ride into a full century, carry on past Carter Reservoir and bike all the way up to Horsetooth Reservoir for an honest 100 mile day.
5. Flagstaff Road - Vertical Madness
Our final ride starts at Chautauqua Park and immediately sends you up a narrow, twisting mountain road. Get ready for over 2,000 vertical feet of gain in four miles! Climbers love the pacing, the views and the challenge of this ride. While there is moderate traffic, locals know to look out for riders. The descent through hairpin turns and steep hills may be rougher than the climb -- make sure your brakes are tuned up!