Every July, a small group of bikepackers lines up for the backcountry race of a lifetime. This is a film about the Colorado Trail and the people who choose to race it non-stop and self-supported on mountain bikes.
The Colorado Trail Race is a 530-mile ultra-endurance bikepacking race along the Colorado Trail, which stretches from the outskirts of Denver to the small town of Durango. The route is primarily singletrack, with several Wilderness detours that add some dirt roads and pavement. With about 75,000 feet of cumulative elevation gain, much of which is above 10,000 feet, the trail is demanding, taking anywhere from 4 days to 2 weeks for racers to complete.
The Race HERE
The Colorado Trail is popular with mountain bikers, from beginners to experts. Families enjoy biking from the Denver trailhead at Waterton Canyon, which features six miles of gentle gravel road along the serene creek that is closed to most motor vehicles. Expert riders enjoy the challenge of the steeper terrain, such as the 75 miles in the San Juan Mountains from Molas Pass to Durango.
Most cyclists on the CT are day riders and the most popular sections to ride are near Denver and Durango, the Kenosha Pass area, outside Buena Vista, and the section shared with the Monarch Crest route outside Salida near Marshall Pass.
Most of The Colorado Trail is open to mountain bikes. They are prohibited, however, in the six wilderness areas through which the CT passes. Thru-cyclists are required to detour around each wilderness area. The Official Colorado Trail Guidebook and Colorado Trail Databook include maps and descriptions of those detours.
It is possible to thru-bike the Trail without support by resupplying at nearby towns, including such as Frisco, Breckenridge, Leadville, Buena Vista, Salida and Silverton. Thru-bikers should allow 15-20 days for the trip. Supported trips can be done in even shorter time.
Riding a mountain bike is a great way to travel the Trail, but riders are likely to have to push or carry their bikes through snow earlier in the season and on some of the steeper, rockier pitches.
As equipment gets lighter and improves, bike packing is becoming more popular. To view a PowerPoint presentation on gear choices, techniques, planning, etc., by experienced bike packers Greg and Bridger Vallin, Christopher Wieland and John Admire, see this pdf: Vallin BikePacking Presentation
At this point, cyclists appear to be maintaining a good relationship with other Trail users, although some minor conflicts have been reported in high-use areas. The key to avoiding these can be summed up in one word: Courtesy.
- Make your presence known to other Trail users well in advance to avoid startling them.
- Etiquette requires cyclists to yield to all other non-motorized Trail users, including hikers and horses.
- Downhill cyclists should yield when encountering uphill riders.
- When encountering horses, move to the downhill side of the Trail where you’ll appear less threatening and speak gently to the riders to avoid spooking the animals.
- To protect the Trail from eroding, avoid skidding your tires, especially when descending or approaching switchbacks.
- Another way to preserve the Trail is to dismount and walk through muddy areas.
In addition to the Official Guidebook, Databook, and highly detailed Colorado Trail Map Books, several other guides are available at bookstores, bike shops and outdoor retailers describing day and multi-day rides on the CT.