Quiet, cozy Breckenridge, Colo., has long been known for its great skiing and friendly community. Now boasting easy access to more than 200 miles of paved bike paths, it's gaining a reputation as a supreme cycling destination as well. Tune up your machine and pack lots of film: The photo opportunities are as endless as the trails.
Regardless of age or ability, when you ride at altitude, you start out tired. And you know you're in for a good day's work when the ride begins at a lung-searing 9,600 feet. Not to worry: Give yourself a couple of days to acclimate with some leisurely rides in and around Breck. The continent's busiest ski resort is much quieter in summer, but hardly dull. The Blue River, which runs through town, was dredged to virtual extinction by gold mining companies, but has been reclaimed and now runs freely through the heart of the lively Victorian village. Shops and restaurants line its shores (or, in the case of the The Dredge Restaurant, a dredge-boat replica, sit squarely between them). The ski resort is a summer attraction in its own right, with lift-served riding for mountain bikers, and for families, a Summer Fun Park offering alpine slides, miniature golf and a giant maze.
When you're ready to head out, start with a good night's sleep. This circuit, a 26-mile "out-and-back," is a favorite among locals in training, and it doesn't take long to figure out why: The 2,000-foot gain in elevation sounds tame enough, but then you realize that two-thirds of it comes in the last six miles.
Pedaling one block east on Park Avenue brings you to the Summit County bike trail system. Well-maintained and continually expanding, this is one of the finest networks in Colorado. Follow its smooth asphalt north for 6.5 miles to Swan Mountain Road and the first hill-climb of the day.
Turning east on Swan, you'll climb gradually uphill for seven miles to the summit, Sapphire Point, with its magnificent view of Lake Dillon, Breckenridge and the nearby town of Frisco. Spectacular scenery and clean mountain air more than make up for the taxing effects of altitude during the arduous climbs. Tall pine forests stretch forever, set against red and gold rock sculpted by eons of wind and weather. The beauty of the spot warrants a moment's rest and a photo. And on the descent, the sweet rush of speed cures all ills and cools overheated bodies. Rolling down toward Lake Dillon, you spill out at the Summit Cove Area and Route 6.
Travel east on Route 6, and after a quick two miles you'll reach Keystone's city limits. Jump on the Keystone bike trail and ride it through the golf course, making sure to stay on-trail through the residential sections by the river. When you return to Route 6, the real climb lies ahead. Dramatic 14,000-foot peaks loom on the horizon, and at these elevations you need all the inspiration you can get as the air grows thinner. The trees give way to thick, sturdy brush and occasional patches of wildflower. Press on through a series of steep and relentless switchbacks, and the rewards are great.
Reaching Loveland Pass is a serious undertaking. The Pass tops out just eight feet shy of 12,000, and you'll feel every foot of that. When bragging to friends later, it's perfectly acceptable to round elevations up.
Descending after such a tough climb is magic, and the ride down from Loveland Pass is especially so. Spectacular views and extremely high speeds make it an unforgettable roller-coaster ride home. The road is in good condition, but the turns are sharp, and there's a fair amount of truck traffic, so be vigilant. Backtrack to Breckenridge, and enjoy the ride.
With 200 miles of bike trail to work with, it's easy to tailor a ride to fit any schedule or fitness level. That's just what the folks at Great Adventure Sports (400 N. Park Ave.; 970-453-0333; firstname.lastname@example.org) will do for you or your group. Co-owner Mark Taylor settled in Breckenridge after seven years of hammeringg away in the European peleton, and he'll help you enjoy Summit County's incredible riding. Late spring and early summer are the best bets for good weather, but call ahead to check conditions. And before knocking out that half-century, knock back a delicious breakfast at Clint's Bakery (131 South Main St.). The pistachio biscotti are world class.