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Soigneur Travel: Boulder

Matthew Beaudin Tekst Matthew Beaudin Gepubliceerd 19 November 2021

The North American road cyclist has few places to turn that rival those of his or her European counterparts. We’ve gone our riding careers hearing about Bormio, Annecy, Como, and the other famous havens on The Continent. No, when it comes to road cycling, we’re mostly a country of have-nots when it comes to famous places to ride.

But Boulder. We know it’s special because when we’re talking about cycling places in the U.S., the Europeans light up. Even these riders, who have the history of the sport to choose from, want to come ride in Boulder. 

It is, without question, one of the best places to ride a bike. And not just in the United States.

What makes it so great? Equal parts merit and heritage, probably. It’s the place where Hinault and the dreaded Soviets came to race the Coors Classic. It’s the place numerous professional riders still call home. It’s the place where Davis Phinney, Connie Carpenter, and Andy Hampsten still live. It is American cycling. 

The roads are unlike most in the American West, too—actual narrow lanes up mountains with the kind of switchbacks we all saw growing up watching the Tour de France. There’s four Cat. 2 or tougher climbs shooting up from the downtown area, each offering something a little different. And most climbs turn to dirt at mile five, so there’s plenty here for the gravel crowd to play with as well. Connectors abound for the adventurous. So do roads on the rolling dirt hills east of town. Couple the riding with the vibe in Boulder—good food, laid back, hundreds of sunny days a year—and it is, without question, one of the best places to ride a bike. And not just in the United States. 

Photo: Matthew Beaudin

TIPS AND HOTSPOTS

Ride | The Fearsome Foursome

Boulder has a handful of fantastic climbs to choose from departing from downtown. For the audacious, we suggest sampling four of the best in one ride. The locals call this odyssey the Fearsome Foursome or a variety of that… and it should strike a bit of fear, honestly. There’s no perfect way to do it, other than ascend Flagstaff, Sugarloaf, Magnolia, and Sunshine in one whack. Ride each climb to the top (or where pavement erodes to dirt) and flip it. Sure, it’s an incredible amount of climbing at 2,600 metres or so in just 80 kilometres, but the real pearls of this route are the top-notch descents each climb offers. Watch out for deer and gravel left over from the winter months. 

Ride | Flagstaff, the quiet way 

The paved route of Flagstaff is the traditional way up the climb just above town that sees everyone from Lachlan Morton to some guy on an e-bike in Tevas labouring up its slope. But in the past few years, more people started taking the back door, known as Chapman. Wind up the Canyon bike path until it runs out, and gradually you’ll find yourself on the busy road headed up to Nederland, called Canyon Drive. Ride this for about a mile, and then take a left up Chapman. The dirt climb—which is closed to cars—will eventually run into the main road up the iconic Flagstaff climb. Keep climbing to the top of SuperFlag, as it’s locally known, or knock off and drop back to town on the pavement. 

Photo: Matthew Beaudin

Eat | Pizzeria Locale 

This pizzeria on east Pearl Street is hands down one of the most loved restaurants in town; it’s always busy, always delicious, and always a great value at happy hour (half off select pizzas, and glasses of house red or white for less than the cost of a tube). It’s the less-pricey sibling of Frasca, one of the country’s highest-rated restaurants next door, but gets its magnificent take on hospitality, sublime wine and cocktail offerings, and northern Italian leaning menu. One pizza at Pizzeria Locale will fill up one hungry cyclist, but ordering a few extra isn’t a bad idea, either. Our favourite is the Diavola, with extra chilli oil to lean into the fresh basil. The budino—a re-worked butterscotch pudding—ties it all tighter, wed with a few glasses of amaro. We like Amaro Nonino, but that’s just us.

Photo: Matthew Beaudin

Drink | Cured/Boxcar Coffee Roasters

This storefront, just across the street from Pizzeria Locale, features Boxcar Coffee Roasters—top-shelf third-wave coffees—and Cured, a marvellous spot for meats, cheeses, snacks, and sandwiches that’s run by former pro rider Will Frischkorn and his wife, Coral. Stop in pre ride for coffee, and post for a sandwich. Stuff a bottle of rosé in your jersey and some cured meats for the aprés-shower scene at the hotel or a patch of grass. 

Sleep | Hotel Boulderado

The old-school Boulder way would have been to sleep in a friend’s van out in Eldorado Canyon. Since that’s probably not happening these days, the Hotel Boulderado serves as a historic, tasteful alternative. The hulking brick building is located within walking distance to the establishments mentioned in this guide, and hotel staff won’t look at you sideways for showing up with a bike. Room rates vary depending on the season. 

Wrench | Vecchio’s 

This is the bike shop of your dreams… if your dreams include old jerseys from the Giro, pristine Merckx steel frames hanging from the walls, and a collection of old Campy bits in a glass case. The shop is old-school in the right ways, and offers a selection of thoughtful accoutrements, brilliant service, and handmade frames from several builders. Even if you don’t need mechanical help, it’s worth stopping in to Vecchio’s to take in the beauty of a truly wonderful shop.  

Drink | Pearl Street

Boulder is a bustling college town, so there’s going to be a fair number of university students running around town most of the year. Just dive in. Pearl Street is a walking-mall that runs east-west through town and has any kind of bar you could want. From the upscale tonics at OAK at Fourteenth to the bleach-smelling Sundown Saloon (subterranean, pool tables, pitchers of PBR), Pearl takes all kinds. Our suggestion is to head to the Pizzeria (p.29 above) for dinner, then to the Bohemian Biergarten for a boot of German ale, and then to wash it all down with a few at the Sundown Saloon (or, if you’re a university student or local, just The Downer). Just remember, you probably aren’t 21 anymore, so go easy. 

Photo: Matthew Beaudin

Local Heroes

Take your pick. For our money, there are three: Davis Phinney, Connie Carpenter, and Andy Hampsten. Their names need no footnotes of results or reasons why, do they? Chances are you’ll run into one of them, and, if you’re lucky, maybe you’ll spot Hampsten’s old Moots mountain bike (painted yellow) that he uses as a townie. 

Breakfast | Lucile’s Creole Cafe

A must-do. The pale-yellow house on 14th street has been serving café au laits and beignets since 1980. It’s a creole-inspirited joint with spice and sweet in a brilliant dance. There is no wrong thing to order at Lucile’s Creole Cafe, but plan to stay a while and leave the chamois and bike at home—you’ll want to lie down after this one. Our pick: Eggs Pontchartrain. Pan fried trout, poached eggs, and béarnaise sauce, plated with grits and a buttermilk biscuit. 

Hike | Mt. Sanitas

Yeah, we said it. We know hike is a four-letter word to a lot of riders, but sometimes it’s just nice to take a walk. Boulder has an array of hiking trails, from gentle meanders to legitimate scrambles up rockfaces. Check out Mt. Sanitas for a quick, in-town jaunt. To the south, Bear Peak offers a more challenging afternoon out. 

Ride | Rampart Range Road, Colorado Springs

About an hour and 40 minutes south of Boulder lies Colorado Springs. It’s home to the Olympic Training Center, various military bases, and a huge number of cyclists of all stripes. In the late fall and winter months, a long, empty climb above town beckons cyclists on all kinds of bikes, runners, and  the odd dirt biker. Rampart Range Road climbs a gradual (but taxing) 19 kilometres and gains 900 metres. What’s striking is the aloneness up high on the road, above a sprawling city below. When the road is closed to cars, you can ride for two hours without encountering a soul. Pure magic.  

Gravel | Further afield

If you’re already over here, then you may have time to leave the Boulder Bubble, as it’s known. While the pure road riding takes a dive outside the People’s Republic in most cases, there’s interesting gravel and mountain bike opportunities aplenty. 

Photo: Matthew Beaudin

RIDES

Matt Beaudin’s favourite rides

Easy | Boulder Creek Path  

This nine-kilometre path is perfect for a townie bike cruise.

Medium | Flagstaff  

Take it easy and enjoy the view or race to the mailboxes. In any case you won’t come close to the records set by local pros.

Hard | The Fearsome 

Foursome Climb: Flagstaff, Sugarloaf, Magnolia, and Sunshine in one whack.