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Giant U.S. Climbs Part 2: Pikes Peak

From Issue 93 • Words and Image by John Summerson

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ROAD RIDERS RECEIVED A GIFT when the proprietors of the Pikes Peak Highway finished paving its formidable upper half in 2012. Long a favorite of the (auto) hill-climb racing set, it instantly became one of the most difficult on earth for cyclists. It is also one of two American climbs where the asphalt reaches 14,000 feet of elevation. The start of its full length is a bit unusual as it is on a four-lane highway with some traffic along Route 24. After 5.3 miles on 24, turn left on Pikes Peak Highway and find less-hectic two lanes. Soon the grade increases and then eases up to the tollbooth area. Immediately beyond, the roadway gets steeper again for over a mile then lessens with views to the east. At a right-hand bend the grade eases further then descends to the Crystal Lake Visitors Center. Cross the flat dam and resume climbing. This next section is through stands of pine trees over mostly shallow grade and does eventually include your first views of the very top of the mountain. After another small descent, climbing resumes over gradually increasing slope. When the route begins to switchback up the hill you may realize something has changed.

PELOTON

Pushing the pedals gets more difficult now as you grind higher. After several miles you will pass the Glen Cove Lodge on the left. Just above, a classic section of road bike climbing awaits. The grade is now consistently at or above 10 percent as the route flows through tight turns above tree line. One sharp bend after another greets riders along with exposure and long views in places. At the top of the switchbacks is a saddle between massive rock knobs and the grade eases. Soon you reach the first of two small descents in this upper stretch with a rude bit of uphill in between. After the second descent you encounter the final 2 miles of climbing to the summit.

Most of this last section is over solid grade, with exposure and grand vistas. A final tight, right turn leads to easier pedaling and the climb mercifully comes to its end at the Summit House on top of the mountain. Pikes Peak’s statistics are quite similar to the full length of the giant Pico Veleta in Spain, the highest paved road in Europe. As you might imagine, its descent is monumental as well. Statistics for its two-lane-only section are 18.8 miles (30.25 kilometers) at 6.8-percent average grade.

  • Total elevation gain: 7,882 feet (2,403m)
  • Length: 24.1 miles (38.8km)
  • Average grade: 6.2% (12% max.)
  • Rating: Beyond category
  • Location: Colorado

THE NITTY-GRITTY

CRUX STRETCH: The 3-mile stretch of stacked switchbacks that begins just beyond the Glen Cove Inn is the most difficult section on this very difficult climb.

DIRECTIONS: From Colorado Springs, head west on Route 24 to the town of Manitou and the intersection with Manitou Road. The listed climb begins here by continuing west on Route 24 as it heads uphill.

From issue 93, get your copy here.