I’ve been up and down Vail Pass enough to know I didn’t ever want to do it again but then on a perfect July day I changed my mind… Like most things, there are good parts and not so good parts, and this ride has an equal share of each.
The Good Parts:
It’s close to town, just 5 miles outside of Vail.
You can take the bike path through town and past the golf course or ride the Frontage Road to get to the pass.
The first half of the path is the old Highway 6 which is closed to cars. It’s nice and wide, was recently repaved, and has a consistent 3-4% grade which makes for hero riding conditions.
The scenery is outstanding as you ride through Vail’s Bavarian village, past Vail’s fantasy houses, the east Vail cliffs, the Vail golf course, along Gore Creek, and up Vail Pass.
The view from the top is worth it.
You can continue down the east side, (a much friendlier and safer approach and descent), into Summit County and stop at Copper Mountain, Frisco, Dillon, Silverthorne, Breckenridge, or Keystone.
The Not So Good Parts:
When the old, 2-lane highway ends, the 10 foot wide bike path begins. The path in and of itself would be fine but put riders of varying abilities on this path and it gets narrow pretty quickly.
The path has a brief downhill through a meadow, then into grandmother’s woods we go, across a picturesque wooden bridge, under the I-70 bridge, and then… WHAM a blind, sharp left turn and an impressive 10% grade! I’ve seen countless, unsuspecting riders get flummoxed by this set up. The resulting traffic jam of breathless cyclists desperately trying to downshift and find some air to inhale cause problems in both directions.
But you’re not done yet, another mile or so up the pass you’ll come to another lung busting climb into the woods and around another blind curve. This one has a little more room to maneuver but you still need to keep your wits about you as careening downhill riders blow past you.
Have I mentioned this bike path runs along I-70? I’m a road cyclist and deal with traffic on a daily basis but this path puts cyclists mere feet from semi trucks and cars tearing up the pass at 70mph. The most unnerving part is riding down the pass, on the right hand side of the path, and looking oncoming drivers head on in the eye as they sail past. It all seems way too close for comfort.
Unsuspecting Tourists. Someone got the great idea to haul bikes and tourists to the top of the pass, drop them off, and tell them to have fun on the way down. It seems semi-criminal to send families with little or no riding experience down a mountain pass with very little room for error. The descent is so steep you’ll be jamming on the breaks the entire way, the car/truck traffic is so close you’re basically riding on the freeway, and you’ll be descending with other riders of varying abilities. (I once heard an unprepared woman screaming ‘how do I shift’ as she ground to a halt on an uphill and caused the entire chain of riders behind her to also come to a stop.) NOTE: Plan to ride early and summit before the witching hour of 10:00am when the first tour vans arrive and you can avoid most of these issues.
High mountain passes have notorious weather so don’t be surprised if it starts raining, hailing, or snowing even if you’re riding in mid-summer and it was sunny in the valley when you started out.
The Best Part:
You will definitely have a feeling of accomplishment when you return to town!