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Bike-friendly roads, dedicated paths, and a wide variety of terrain make Boulder one of the best places in the country to be a roadie. Head west for a long, challenging climb into the mountains or cruise east to hit some rolling, open country roads.
After the flooding last September, many of our popular routes were closed or under construction. But a year later, most are back in the game, albeit with some minor restrictions. Here are five classic Boulder road rides to explore this fall. (Please note: All mileage and elevation statistics listed are based upon the start and end points described and will vary depending on where you start your ride.)
Eldorado Canyon and NCAR
20 miles to do both, NCAR climb is 700 feet
This mellow South Boulder tour is perfect for a shorter Sunday morning cruise, or a longer weekday ride. If you only have an hour after class or work, pick either Eldorado or NCAR (the National Center for Atmospheric Research), rather than tackling both.
Route: From the intersection of Table Mesa Drive and Broadway, head west on Table Mesa. Climb gradually to the base of NCAR Road, which rises 700 feet over 1.6 miles from the gate to the parking lot at the top. After turning around for the descent, make a right at Broadway, heading south on the bike path. Go under Colo. 93 through the tunnel, putting you on the east side of Colo. 93/Broadway. Catch the bike path again, which spits you onto Marshall Road. Make a right at the stop sign and follow the road to the traffic light. Cross Colo. 93 and descend into Eldorado Canyon. When the road turns to dirt, return the way you came.
28 miles, flat to rolling terrain
You don't need to eat mountains for breakfast every day. Here's a fast and (relatively) flat tour of the eastern plains.
Route: From the intersection of Broadway and Lee Hill Drive, head north on Broadway and hang a left, heading west on U.S. 36. Make a right onto Hygiene Road. Make a right onto 75th Street and go through the tiny town of Hygiene. Refuel if needed at Mary's Market and Deli. (They make insanely good meat pies, if you're able to scarf one down and still ride on.) Continue south on 75th, which turns into 73rd. Make a right onto Niwot Road, which turns into Neva. Make a left onto U.S. 36 to go back to Boulder.
20 miles with 1,700 feet of climbing
Lefthand Canyon was heavily impacted by the flooding last year, and there are now several sections of gravel and dirt to pedal through as you head up the canyon. However, these are totally rideable on a road bike with well-inflated tires. Still, it's best to climb Lefthand and descend Lee Hill when you ride this classic North Boulder loop.
Route: From the cycling hotbed that is Amante Coffee in North Boulder, head north on Broadway and make a left heading west on U.S. 36. Turn left (naturally) onto Lefthand Canyon and enjoy the gradual, steady climb. About five miles up, fork left towards Ward. A mile later, turn left to climb Lee Hill Drive — there are a few sections where you'll probably have to stand to keep the wheels turning. Practice your best cornering on the descent down Lee Hill, as there are a few blind turns for oncoming traffic. And don't come in too hot at the bottom — you have a stop sign before you can turn right to continue down Lee Hill, whereas the traffic coming from Olde Stage Road does not.
3.5 miles, 1050 feet of climbing
Breathtaking views of the Flatirons mark this iconic Boulder climb, where the pros battled it out for a stage win in the 2013 USA Pro Cycling Challenge. Through November, Flagstaff Road is closed to cars and cyclists from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, so save this ride for evenings and weekends.
Route: From the intersection of Broadway and Baseline Road, head west on Baseline towards the foothills. The 1.3-mile false flat up Baseline is a grind, but the real climb starts at the intersection with Gregory Canyon Road. You'll get a break at the traffic light controlling a short section of road that's one-way. Then, keep an eye out for the Flagstaff House — the climb gets easier after that. Pedal, pedal, pedal until you reach the amphitheater road. Now you get some dessert after eating all your vegetables — tuck in for one of the best descents in Boulder.
For the hardcore, the "Super Flag" version of this ride goes past the amphitheater up to the set of mailboxes at the top, at around 8,000 feet. It's "only" another two miles, but the majority of it averages a more-than 10 percent gradient.
Sunshine Canyon to Gold Hill
20 miles with 3,200 feet of climbing
Don't be fooled by the mileage — this challenging, varied climb into the mountains is something to work toward. But once you've got some climbing fitness and handling skills, you'll find it to be one of the best rides — and views — in town.
Route: From Broadway and Mapleton Avenue, head west on Mapleton. The start of the Sunshine Canyon climb is mellow and pleasant, then gets steeper a couple of miles in. The climb to the end of the pavement is about six miles from Broadway. To ride all the way to the Gold Hill Inn, which sits at 8,200 feet, it's another 3.5 miles on dirt. (I don't know what it is about riding dirt on skinny tires. It's just plain fun). Return the way you came.
Follow Gloria Liu's freewheeling adventures on Twitter: twitter.com/thats_my_line.