University of Colorado Ph.D student Dan Hickstein rides while doing research for his book, ’The Mountain Biker’s Guide to Colorado.’
University of Colorado Ph.D student Dan Hickstein rides while doing research for his book, 'The Mountain Biker's Guide to Colorado.' (Courtesy photo)
Dan Hickstein moved to Boulder to research lasers and find some sweet trails for mountain biking. But he couldn't find a guidebook that truly described Colorado mountain bike trails, provided accurate maps or
provided a useful difficulty rating system.

One year into his doctoral program at the University of Colorado, Hickstein, 28, decided to take a year off to explore Colorado on his bike and pen, “The Mountain Biker's Guide to Colorado,” which was published
in 2011.

“In the rock climbing world, the guide books have gotten amazing,” said Hickstein, also an avid climber. “It's something you can look at and get really inspired to pack your bags and travel halfway across the world to go
climb somewhere. I started mountain biking and it seems like a sport where the same thing
should exist, but it just didn't.”

What was the writing process like for the guidebook?
It's an interesting writing process when you're writing a guidebook because a big part of it is getting out there and doing the research. A week at a time I'd drive out to some part of Colorado and ride all the trails — and ride them all with a GPS. I wanted to have really good maps in the book. I would ride with digital camera and each time I got to a turn I'd make a point on the GPS and record the instructions as a little movie on my  camera. I spent hours going through the videos and GPS tracks. I really tried to be out there most every day, rain or shine, trying to get the trails ridden and get the research done.

What surprised you while writing the book?

A lot of people think it was mostly going there and riding. That's what I thought it was going to be at first. It turned out to be 85 or 90 percent working at the computer writing and editing.

As a scientist, how did making the guidebook compare to what you do in the lab or in classes?

It actually fits pretty well as far as scientific writing goes. It's non-fiction. It needs to be very detailed and accurate and I tried to keep it short. I tried to make each ride just take up two pages. That requires you to be very concise. It probably reads like a scientist wrote it but to some extent that's probably a good thing. I tried to make it helpful and efficient.

One of the difficulty ratings in the book is “insanely strenuous.” The description reads “if the author did
actually vomit while riding the trail, then it gets this rating.” Did you actually vomit?

I never actually threw up -- very much, very few of them get this rating. There are two aspects of  each trial. There's the riding skills you need, and then I also did a lot of rides with people who were really good at mountain bikes, but weren't in great shape. It was best to de-couple those ratings. Some people are just in great shape — they ride all the time they're not gonna get out of breath. I tried to rate it by how hard I was breathing while I was on the trail. I thought a lot about how to describe the rides in a way that was the most helpful for people. They're rated as far as what riding skills you need to have fun on the trail.

What advice or safety tips did you include in the book for new riders?
There were tons of times where I would head up in my shorts and T-shirt if it didn't look cloudy in the morning, and that works out about 90 percent of the time, but 10 percent of the time you get really, really cold. I learned to bring a jacket. It's good to have a lot of clothes because the weather can change very quickly.

—Follow Sarah Kuta on Twitter: @SarahKuta.