One of the benefits of road tripping in North America was being able to spend time in the mountains. The huge dominant peaks with their own weather systems that are covered in snow all year round make you gasp in awe and not just because of the altitude. I think it is somewhat of a right of passage for a motorcyclist to ride up one particular mountain – Pike’s Peak in Colorado. The setting for one of the craziest hill climbs in the world, there is a winding two lane highway that makes its way all the way up to the summit at 14,000 feet. Riding up this iconic mountain on our own bikes was right up there on our list, and it is definitely one of my stand out memories of the whole ten week road trip.
Standing at the summit of Pike’s Peak. What a view!
The road up Pike’s Peak is simply wonderful. Below the tree line you have lovely sweeping bends, some sharper turns and some long straights. Then as you come out of the trees and onto what feels like the mountain proper you are given sharp bends, switchbacks (hairpin bends), kinks in the road and generally a superbly winding road. The views the whole way up are just brilliant, especially when you reach the snow covered sections in the last 12 miles, and when you reach the top – wow – quite simply stunning. And the views were not interrupted much either; I liked the statement on the website that says there are guard rails “where needed”, which in reality meant there were hardly any!
Who needs guard rails?! I can’t imagine racing up here in the hill climb.
Pike’s Peak is nearly the highest paved road in the United States, at 14,115 feet above sea level it is just a little bit lower than Mount Evans nearby at 15 feet higher. Riding and driving up it is a pilgrimage for thousands of people every year, and I can definitely see why. It made it onto our “absolutely must do” list and for good reason – you don’t get views like this in Lincolnshire or in fact anywhere else I’ve been in my life.
From the summit of Pike’s Peak. Can this be beaten? I’m not sure it can.
Once above the tree line the snow on the side of the road was deep and there was still a ski run open when we were there in June. From the toll booths at the bottom ($12 per bike) to the top is 19 miles, which takes you from normal Colorado summer temperatures (around 28 Celsius for us that day) down to a rather chilly and quite windy 6 Celsius at the summit. The air up there is a lot thinner than we are used to; sleeping at 10,000 feet the night before was definitely a good move as that will have helped us adjust a bit, but we still felt symptoms such as tingly fingers, being super thirsty, and starting to get a headache.
We stayed at the summit long enough to take in the view, have a mini photo shoot with a crazy (in a good way) man from Belarus, and munch on some of the “famous” doughnuts in the café before deciding we’d had enough. The doughnuts, which everyone mentions in reviews of Pike’s Peak, were the kind we’d get at the seaside back home, but without any sugar on – no sugar?! It’s okay, we found some sachets with the coffee station!
From the summit of Pike’s Peak.
There is a fairly low speed limit but to be honest most drivers on the road were not reaching that, and many were still unable to stay on their side of the road – very worrying when you’re coming the other way on a motorcycle and would quite like to use all the tarmac you’re given rather than having to change your line around the bends because drivers seem unable to turn their steering wheel any more. I witnessed one driver doing less than 10 miles an hour on the straight bits on the way down, and unsurprisingly was overtaken by a cyclist, by us and by several other cars. There’s a mandatory brake temperature check after the steepest section on the way back down and we witnessed several drivers being sent to the parking lot to allow their brakes to cool down as they’d had their foot on the brake all the way down. Yes, most drivers will have been in automatic transmission cars, but instructions are given when you go through the toll booth at the bottom of the mountain and there were signs all the way up and down reminding drivers to lock the transmission down to a low gear. I guess what I’m saying is this is not an easy road to drive or ride, take care of yourself and other road users – stay on your side of the central line, use a low gear, don’t drag your brakes, and concentrate. It’s worth making the effort to do it properly, you’ll enjoy it more and so will everyone else around you. Or take the train 🙂
Standing at the summit of Pike’s Peak, 14,000 feet above sea level. Photo taken by our new Belarus friend.
Having said all that, I absolutely thoroughly enjoyed my ride up and down Pike’s Peak. It was such a great experience to ride my motorbike up onto a mountain, and spend some time taking in what was a simply glorious view from the top. I still see those views when I close my eyes and hope I will never forget the feeling of what it was like to stand on top of the world. Apparently some people hike it. I don’t think so! If you’re in the area, seriously, take a day to head up to the summit of Pike’s Peak.