Denver to Boulder by Bicycle

Recent studies have shown that not only has bicycle commuting increased in popularity over the course of the 21st Century thus far, but so has bicycle traveling.  Maybe it is the rise in gas prices.  Maybe it is the increased interest in combating obesity.  Or maybe it is just some kind of generational shift.  But, the increased interest in bicycle traveling has even lead to the development of a plan to implement a national bicycle route system similar to the highway system already in place for cars.

Locally in Colorado, one of the most important corridors for medium distance bicycle travel would be connecting Denver to Boulder.  Given the fact that both cities are very health conscious and bicycle friendly, and that enough people travel between the two cities every day to jam up highway 36, I have quite an interest in finding an ideal route between the two towns.  Well, the ideal route for now, until the bike path following U.S. 36 is developed, which may take some time.

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Today marked my second attempt to find the ideal bike route between the two towns.  My first attempt was back in May, a month that tends to have more ideal weather for intense activities at these elevations.

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My journey to Boulder, of course, began in the city of Denver, eventually following a route labelled D1.  The city of Denver actually has a local version of the National bicycle route plan envisioned, with a bunch of bicycle routes through the city labelled D1 through D22.  While Denver has better bicycle facilities and route labeling than most cities, labels such as this one are still somewhat intermittent.  Cyclists in Denver would benefit from signs alerting cyclists to when the route turns.  This particular route made two turns while I was on it, and neither turn was specifically signed.

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Despite the fact that Denver and Boulder both lie East of the Rocky Mountain Range, the ride between the two towns is definitely not flat, and includes some challenging parts.  Periodic hills, followed by descents into river (or creek) valleys occur throughout the ride.  In fact, the ride in Denver begins with a significant climb from downtown through a neighborhood called “The Highlands”, which, as it’s name advertises, actually rises a couple of hundred feet in elevation higher than downtown.  On this ride, I continued to climb until reaching the Denver City Limits, near Wilis Chase Golf Course, where entering Arvada, I encountered a pretty good view of the mountains, followed by one of the steepest downhill parts of the ride, into Clear Creek Valley.

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In Clear Creek Valley, I got to follow two bicycle trails, the Clear Creek Trail, and then the Ralston Creek Trail.  Although the Ralston Creek trail is not the nicest of bike trails (less underpasses, more curves), it has one of the best bicycle bridges I have ever had the privilege of riding over.  Bridges for bicycle trails are rarely as elaborate as this one.

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Arvada is reasonably bike friendly.  There are the aforementioned trails, and there are plenty of roads with bike lanes.  On Pierce St., the main street I followed north through the town of Arvada, there is even an area where the road itself is discontinuous, but a connecting bike path is available for cyclists.  Quite nice!

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Unfortunately, the village of Westminster is not nearly as bike friendly.  To be fair, Westminster does have bike trails, but it does not really have bike trails designed to connect one place to another.  Their bicycle route system definitely indicates that the people of Westminster, at least at the time when they planned their town, viewed cycling primarily as a mode of recreation, and not as a mode of transportation.

My route through Westminster has always been to simply to take the sidewalk along Wadsworth Rd., a very major road with a lot of traffic lights, strip malls, etc.  This is already problematic as it is basically sidewalk bicycling, which involves a lot of bumps in the road, and the necessity of slowing down for every major intersection and being very careful for vehicular traffic.

In addition to this issue, part of the sidewalk was closed, and under repair.  In addition, there was no real alternate option, as most of the roads in that are are parsed out in subdivisions, not connecting neighborhood to neighborhood, and rarely traveling in a straight line.  So, I rode through the shopping centers on the west side of the road.  The roads were smoother than the sidewalk had been even when it was not under repair, but there were a significant number of speed bumps I had to slow down for.  In the grand scheme of things, whenever riding through metro-Denver, the entire village of Westminster can be thought of as a speed bump.  Although it is not as unfriendly to bicycles as some suburbs I have encountered in other metropolitan areas, it is definitely the least friendly in the Denver area, and progress is definitely slowed whenever cycling through Westminster.

Finally, the sidewalk ended abruptly on two occasions.  Once, I took a detour that took me out of my way.  The second time, I actually got onto the shoulder, which is fairly wide north of all of the shopping centers, but the road speeds up to 55 mph, making the experience not as enjoyable.  After cycling this stretch of road, and uphill some more, I finally entered the town of Broomfield, where I knew conditions would improve.

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Broomfield also has a lot of windy roads, but it is significantly more bike friendly, with bike lanes on a lot of them, especially in the office park area, known as “Interlocken”, and the area by the Flatirons Mall, where I cycled through today.  In that way, it reminded me of Colorado Springs, health conscious, bike friendly, with a suburban look and feel to it.

I had always considered Westminster to have closer ties with Denver, and Broomfield to have closer ties with Boulder.  However, I have no real evidence to back that up, only hearsay from those around me.  However, the towns of Superior and Louisville, which I biked through next, definitely are more closely tied with Boulder.  This is where I reached the summit of my trip, if you can call it that, along McCaslin Rd.

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This hill is only about 400 feet higher in elevation than downtown Denver, but with it being the highest point in the area, climbing to this peak actually offers some of the best views of the Flatiorns, and the Rocky Mountains.  The Flatirons are a series of formations in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, right outside of Boulder.  I believe they are called “The Flatiorns”, because the rocks actually form neat looking slanted sheets, as opposed to the smaller rocks, or more rounded terrain features more typically seen in this part of the country.  The Flatirons are a mountain feature that will always be synonymous with the city of Boulder, and the rest of my ride into Boulder was a rapid descent along South Boulder Road, directly facing this mountain feature.

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Four rapid miles, and something like ten minutes later, at an elevation over 300 feet lower than where I was on McCaslin Rd., I reached the Boulder city limits.  Once inside the city of Boulder, several things change abruptly.  First, in Boulder you can get anywhere by bicycle.  However, be prepared to be humbled.  From the time I left my home in Denver (South of downtown), I was passed once, only once.  Over the last three miles of my ride, inside Boulder, I was passed three times.

I was quite pleased with myself today.  I made it to Boulder in two and a half hours despite the slowdown that is Westminster, and was not nearly as tired as I was when I did this ride back in May.  Every single part of this ride, including many of the more challenging uphill segments, seemed easier, some significantly easier.  However, there is no place like Boulder, Colorado to remind you that there are people out there that are way better than you!

3 thoughts on “Denver to Boulder by Bicycle

  1. David

    You can cut a little effort off that route in Superior (around your 25 mile point) by taking Marshall Road and turning right . It’s a little around the Whole Foods/Target, but soon turns into a nice country road with a wide shoulder. After taking a right when the main route turns left (just after Cherryvale), you’ll reach a nice bike route along hwy 93. The length is about the same, but with easier climbing and, unfortunately, less high speed descending.

    Reply
    1. Stephen Jaye Post author

      Thanks for the idea, maybe I’ll try that next time I do this ride, which I will probably try again on a pleasant fall day in September or October. It looks like it may add a little bit of mileage, but reduce some of the impact of the terrain. You wouldn’t happen to have any ideas for the boondoggle that is Westminster?

      Reply
      1. David

        Nope! That gap blocks my own commute. There’s some better routes up north but then you run into worse gaps near the Boulder County boundary. Westminster seems to face east, so to speak.

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