March 28, 2014

Friends Don’t let Friends Ride Boulder Canyon? ~ Craig Randall

BikingBoulder Canyon road

As a Boulder boy there’s two easy ways to lose good standing in town:

1. Drink generic beer.

2. Ride your bike up Boulder Canyon.

Any Boulder boy worth his Fairview High School diploma, will look for ways to go higher, climb differently or combine his passions in ante-upping ways.

Despite the Boulder bubble-bursting notion of pedaling up a road with little-to-no shoulder, the Canyon is and should be as fun a westerly gateway as its cousins Sunshine and Lefthand.

After years of imagining a perfect two sport day, I welcomed March 1st with a ride up the canyon to cross country ski at Eldora.

The ski area, 25 miles from downtown Boulder, is fond of promoting  “friends don’t let friends drive I70,” the bottlenecked gateway from Denver to Summit County. Well, in a pro-Boulder cycling mindset, how about “friends don’t let friends not ride Boulder Canyon?”

On this snowy Saturday morning my longtime winter goal of strapping my skis to my bike, riding to Eldora and skiing the cross country trails finally materialized.

In what could have been a much more prepared journey, like any good one, it struck and I pounced, using only a single bungee cord to fix my 190 skate skis (re: looong) and poles to the right side of my bike’s top tube.

Standing still the set-up looked secure.


On my back was a small running hydration pack, filled with hot water (to keep from freezing) and stuffed with my ski boots and an extra beanie. I wore my cross-country skiing pants and jacket with an Ibex wool long sleeve layer underneath and warm, water-proof covers over my cycling shoes.

I set off from North Boulder towards Canyon and got started. The road was wet and fresh with snow that fell overnight. I’m an advocate for riding safely but I knew the relatively poor road conditions would help cars move slowly around me, so I used a liberal amount of tire tracked pavement.

But of course, Boulder Canyon is not a road that endears most motorists to cyclists.

And so the honking began.

A car horn never sounds pleasant but even less so when you are on the solitary, unprotected receiving end.

Fortunately it didn’t take long for a few people to make sense of my gangly bike/ski set-up to slow, windows rolled down and yell encouraging words.

Boulder Canyon was fairly lucky during the Boulder flooding in fall of 2013, but the road historically is on the rougher side.

Snow packed shoulders with divots missing underneath left me squirrely controlling my bike, with the single-bungeed skis rocking against my right thigh.

The changing weather patterns between Boulder and Nederland is something admired even from a car seat but deeply immersed in it from the open-air cockpit of a road bike is a other feeling.

Downtown gray gave way to blue sky and sun to just miles from Nederland, blowing snow and low visibility. Rolling through Nederland’s roundabout, I was warmly, happily, and nearly to Eldora.

Soon Nederland High School gave way to Eldora’s shelf road which, not surprisingly, was the most challenging section of the ride. The wall-like grades and patented Eldora head and sidewinds again challenged my shoddy set up.

Finally and reluctantly, I started climbing out of the saddle, letting my leg brush but not unhitch the skis, giving my back relief and extra leverage on the steepest sections.

Eldora was bustling on a powder day and by now—free of tail-gunning pickups on the Canyon—I could relax against the easy flow of ski area traffic.

Riding straight through to the Nordic center I stashed the bike at the shed just behind and changed costumes. Off with the cycling shoes, on with the boots and clicked into skis.

I skated around the area for an hour, feeling surprisingly more acclimated to Eldora’s challenging hills than if I’d just driven there and started with an idle motor. The angst of aggressive drivers long gone, I skied freely and satisfactorily, finally checking off a longtime winter project I’d been pining over.

“The Canyon” for cyclists has a crap reputation. One day we will eat too many pastries and drink too much coffee early on a Saturday, so that riding a bike in winter, with skis attached, will seem like a good idea.

I encourage us to make good on it.


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Editorial Assistant: Todd Otten / Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Courtesy of Craig Randall

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