Ride the Rockies
A Legendary Ride
Returns to Colorado
By Margaret Hedderman | Summmer/Fall 2021
When Don Richards first pedaled across the state with Ride the Rockies, he rode a “stump jumper” and wore gym shorts with tennis shoes. To register for the cross-state bicycle tour, he waited in a line that spilled out of the Denver Sports Castle and wrapped around the block. That was in 1987—before high-tech, moisture-wicking materials and online registration—and since then, the annual ride has become a Colorado tradition for cyclists.
“That’s one of the things we do with Ride the Rockies is show people our state,” says Tour Director Deirdre Moynihan.
The annual Ride the Rockies bicycle tour returns to Durango, where nearly 2,000 cyclists will embark on a six-day, 418-mile ride through the San Juan Mountains. Organized by The Denver Post, the fully supported tour attracts riders from across the country.
“Durango has been one of the most welcoming communities,” says Moynihan. “It’s such a big cycling community, and that’s a big draw.”
Last year’s event, which was slated to begin in Durango, was canceled due to COVID-19. Moynihan says this summer’s ride will follow the same route, but new safety protocols will be in place for riders.
The route will take riders on a circuit from Durango through Cortez, Ridgway, and Ouray before dropping back into town via the Million Dollar Highway. For anyone familiar with the San Juan Mountains, it’s clear the route is no joke. Over six days, riders will climb up and down several major mountain passes, equating to 28,484 feet in elevation gain.
Tour directors strive never to repeat the same route twice—quite the accomplishment in a 35-year history; however, it does inevitably visit many of the same hot spots. To keep it fresh, Moynihan looks for creative solutions to introduce riders to new byways and rural communities off the beaten path.
“I looked at [where] we can get some crusher days,” she says, “but also really get those more quiet days, where they get to explore.”
In addition to a new loop through Ignacio and Vallecito, Ride the Rockies will incorporate a selection of dirt roads near Telluride.
“The beauty of dirt roads is that they take you places that are further from traffic and closer to nature,” says Nick Legan of Rambleur, a gravel-bike coaching and consulting firm.
“If you haven’t experienced a well-maintained dirt road in Colorado,” Legan says, “it can be as smooth as pavement.”
While Colorado’s bucket-list destinations are on full display during the event, Ride the Rockies intentionally spreads the wealth to less trafficked rural communities. This year, the tour passes through the small town of Norwood for the first time.
“You go up Norwood Hill, and all of a sudden there’s this amazing mesa,” Moynihan says. “Nobody knows it’s there. They all focus on Telluride.”
Exploring new towns is one of the many draws for riders like Richards. He says that if it weren’t for Ride the Rockies, many cyclists wouldn’t even know about these communities.
“People get exposed to the culture, the history, the beauty,” Richards explains. “I guarantee, I’m going to come back as a better ambassador for some of these small towns.”
Moynihan says 68 percent of riders “learn about these communities and then they go back as tourists.”
When 2,000 cyclists roll through town, the economic impact is tangible. Moynihan estimates that Ride the Rockies contributes $250,000 to each local economy per night. In addition to food and lodging, the tour also collaborates with local vendors, encouraging riders to shop locally.
“I think everybody is anxious to support the communities more right now,” Moynihan says, “because we know so many of these communities have suffered.”
While Moynihan hopes Ride the Rockies will help bring a sense of normalcy to the cycling community, she is serious about health and safety protocols. Early on, Moynihan teamed up with other cycling event organizers to develop a COVID-19 mitigation task force.
“The amount of little logistics that we have to change is phenomenal,” she says. “Every single thing we do, we have to go through and ask, ‘How do we keep it so it’s safe?’”
That said, she’s looking forward to bringing cyclists together again.
“It feels great. It’s really one of the most refreshing things, talking to cyclists about their training, logistics, and non-COVID things.”
For cyclists, Ride the Rockies is more than a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity. The friendships—and more than a few relationships—built during this multiday tour attract riders year after year. Richards has completed 34 out of 35 tours. For him, the big days over high mountain passes and unexpected adventures due to inclement weather fuel him with memories until the following year.
“Things like Ride the Rockies are an aspect of richness upon which you cannot place a value,” Richards says. “It draws me back every year.”