Taking ride on Rim Rock Drive offers a great escape
The public revelations of doping on a massive scale within the professional cycling peloton have served as a distraction from my favorite activity: Riding my bike!
The weather is starting to cool off, and there are not too many nice days for road riding left, so today I am writing about one of my favorite rides: Colorado National Monument.
The monument estimates more than 16,000 cyclists traverse Rim Rock drive each year, and with nearly 2,000 cyclists for the inaugural Tour of the Moon Ride, I would imagine that figure will climb.
Rim Rock Drive must have been created with the cyclist in mind. It has all of the elements required of world-class rides: unrivaled scenery (it’s called the Tour of the Moon for a reason), switchback climbs, exciting descents, silky smooth roads and very little traffic.
The ride is a loop of roughly 33 miles, and it’s spectacular from either direction. A start from the east side traces the course from the old Coors Classic race.
The climbing begins in earnest right past the gate. There are a dozen switchbacks and about 1,000 vertical feet of climbing in 3 1/2 miles.
The tunnel on the east side can be intimidating. It is about 200 meters long and is dark. The noise from vehicles is magnified from the tunnel walls, and the gutter is usually filled with debris. Make sure your lights are on to give drivers a better view and to enhance your safety.
From the tunnel it’s only about a mile to the top, but it’s also the steepest and hardest part. A glance to your right is worthwhile here because you can see all the way down to the entrance of the monument, and the view offers a stark perspective of how far you have climbed.
The first climb ends at the turnoff to Glade Park, and the traffic dies to a trickle. It’s about three miles of rolling terrain, and then the climb to the high point begins just past the Red Canyon turnout. This climb is not that long or steep, but it is mentally hard, and your legs may groan in pain from the earlier climbing.
The high point is an elevation of 6,640 feet, and from here the road rolls until the descent from the radio towers. The descent is a smooth and gentle decline, so you don’t need to worry too much about your speed. The real fun begins just past the visitor center when you will encounter several fast, sweeping turns.
My favorite direction, however, is to start the climb from the west side just outside of Fruita. The climbs from this side are slightly longer, but not as steep. It’s also where you have a better chance of seeing bighorn sheep, and the views of the valley are breathtaking.
The first climb is four miles long and climbs 1,097 vertical feet. The incline is mostly steady, but it does slightly kick up just before and after the tunnels. This is a great place to focus on climbing skills. You want to keep your cadence high so you are not mashing too big a gear.
Try to keep your hands relaxed and loose on the top of your handlebars and open your torso so you can breathe deeply. From the bottom of the pedal stroke, you will want to pull with your hamstrings. This way both legs are constantly working and you are taking the load off your quads. Finally, check that your knees are not kicking out on the top of your pedal stroke. The best way to check this is to put your hands down on the drops; your knees should be inside your arms and not flaring out.
The road levels out for a few miles at the visitors center, and this is a great time to relax and enjoy the views: Liberty Cap and the Coke Ovens loom majestically below.
The climbing to the radio towers sneaks up on you. You will be easily riding along at 15-20 mph, and then your speed will slow, and the gears get harder to push. It doesn’t look like much of a climb at this point, but your legs tell you otherwise. This stretch is about two miles long at a nice steady pitch.
Once you hit the top of the climb there are two great options. You can continue along Rim Rock Drive toward the High Point and Grand Junction, or if you have an extra 30 minutes or so, take a left at Black Ridge road and climb to Glade Park. This will add about seven miles to the ride and 600 feet of climbing.
The climb is about 1 1/2 miles of washboard dirt and crests at an altitude of about 7,200 feet. From here it’s a few miles to the Glade Park store where you can stop for a break and refill your water bottles.
To get back home, head west toward Grand Junction. The reward for all of this climbing is a straight fast road until you get back into Colorado National Monument. Then, as you plunge down the east side back toward town you will have one of the most enjoyable descents in Colorado.