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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Has anyone done the Adventure Cycling San Jaun Skyway ride, or parts of it? It includes Durango,
Delores, Ouray, Silverton and Telluride. My son and I plan to do a similar self contained trip on our own in May. My son is a very strong mountain biker/road biker from Colorado Springs. I am a fairly strong rider, but I live in an area with few really long hills. I can climb okay for the amount of hills we have in northern Ohio, but am concerned about hitting long steep areas of this ride. Adventure Cycling describes the climbs as 6% average for 5 or 6 miles. I have done that in other areas of the country with no problem. My question is, in that 6% average are there also steep parts of 10% or worse? I'm in good shape, but at age 67, the steep hills get pretty tough. Anyone know this area well?
 

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It would depend in part on which direction you do the loop. If you do it counter-clockwise (in the same direction as the Iron Horse Classic), the toughest parts will be Coal Bank and Molas Passes on the way from Durango to Silverton (profile attached) and up Red Mountain from Silverton to Ouray.

In the other direction, the climb out of Ouray toward Silverton is a tough one. That's about a 13 mile climb with around 3,500 ft of gain all in one shot.
 

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I've done Telluride - Ouray (Day 1) - Silverton - Durango (Day 2) on the '99 Bike Tour of Colorado.

Nothing overly steep as you might find in the east, just long gradients. The first mile heading south out of Ouray is the toughest as it's all short little pissy switchbacks. The switchbacks up to Red Mt. Pass are also tough as you now are at +10,000.

That's really the most difficult aspect - the altitude. There are 4 passes at +10,000 as well as Dallas Divide (from Telluride to Ridgeway on Rt 62 that is a +9,000 ft pissy grinder.

It's all doable, just bring the triple and be prepared to spin away. Bring the full rain gear as well as warm clothing. The BtC ride in '99 had rain on top of Red Mt., @ 36 degrees. Molas and Coal Bank were as bad and it was late July. I was wearing - light polypro top, bike jersey, rain jacket, tights, rain pants, baggies on my feet, polypro glove liners under my fingerless bike gloves and a light polypro skull cap. I was cold on the descents. I was also on a road bike with no load, so moving quick. I would not have wanted to ride that day on a loaded tourer. The weather in this area turns foul and cold quickly and can be a factor.
 

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I've ridden all of the roads to the towns you mention, you say self-contained is that self-supported as well or will you have a SAG vehicle? Depending on direction you have Steve B's very adequate description of the ride from Durango to Telluride. From Telluride you have a short climb up to the plateau where the ski-area is located with a drop down to the base of Lizard Head pass (10mi) then another 3 mi climb to the top of Lizard Head. From there it's a 50mi downhill to Dolores through spectacular river valley scenery, if you go to Cortez its a little climb with about 14 miles of down or flat. If you go over to Mancos it looks to be rolling slightly uphill (don't know that road) then uphill to Hesperus and a nice long downhill into Durango. Be advised though, the San Juans are getting buried in snow this year and May can be cold and snowy down there. If you reverse the direction then of course just look at the routing in reverse. IMHO a SAG vehicle might be a wise choice that time of year, especially if the weather is unsettled. Good Luck and great riding!

p.s. I'm nearly 65 and I'll be riding part of the route this year in June (Durango - Telluride) for the 4th time.
 

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A great mountain bike tour I've done is Silverton - Lake City - Ouray -Telluride -Silverton. You can camp or stay in motels and start at any city. Each day you climb on jeep roads over a pass, so you'll have to wait until the snow is (at least mostly) gone. It's a beautiful and challenging ride with history, mining structures, a ghost town, etc.
 

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Be advised though, the San Juans are getting buried in snow this year and May can be cold and snowy down there.
Ah !. Missed the OP thinking about doing this in May.

I'd re-think that. Even in a year without snow, it's still cold and snowing at these altitudes till mid June typically.

You could struggle up Red Mt from Ouray in steadily worsening conditions, then find your self stranded in Silverton, unable to get up to Molas and Coal Bank. The Iron Horse Classic race (Durango to Silverton) on Memorial Day weekend, has been cancelled more then once and it's not unusual to be raced in miserable conditions, as BTW.

I'd maybe be contacting a few bike stores in Durango and ask for advice on this time of year..

As note: My '99 ride, as well as 10 years in Santa Fe, NM taught me well and gave me a very healthy and respectful attitude about riding in the Rockies. Thus my potentially overly cautious advice.

SB
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Thanks from the O.P. to all for the information. I guess there's a chance that the second week in May at that elevation will be bad for weather. We might change our plans and head for Fruita. I'm thinking the elevation isn't quite as bad, so less chance of snow. Anyone know of good road cycling in that area? My son does a mountainbike tour there every year, so he knows that town well, but we'd like to do a town to town motel trip for 4 or 5 days. Brewpubs are a must!!!
 

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Another option would be to head a bit further south to New Mexico.

Start in Taos (or Santa Fe), do the Enchanted Circle loop - Taos - Questa - Eagle Nest - then south thru Angel Fire to Las Vegas - Santa Fe, then the "High Road" back to Taos, via Chama - Truchas - Penasco, then 518 up to Taos.

50 miles longer then the loop in the OP. Amazing desert and high country scenery. Lot less chance for snow, even though it's all above 7,000 ft with I think 2 passes to 10,000. Lot's of camping, or towns with lodging.

Better food in any event, but you have to like New Mexican cooking with red or green chile, just kidding but is is the BEST Mexican style cooking anywhere on the planet !

Parts of this is the route used by the Pedal the Peaks tour, as BTW, so all good roads.

The only caveat is the climb out of Nambe up to Truchas on Rts 503 and 76 are a bit steeper then what I found in Colorado. As well, the Las Vegas to Pecos and part over to Santa Fe is partly on Interstate 25, the only road in some cases. The local cyclists use it all the time though.
 

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Another option would be to head a bit further south to New Mexico.

Start in Taos (or Santa Fe), do the Enchanted Circle loop - Taos - Questa - Eagle Nest - then south thru Angel Fire to Las Vegas - Santa Fe, then the "High Road" back to Taos, via Chama - Truchas - Penasco, then 518 up to Taos.

50 miles longer then the loop in the OP. Amazing desert and high country scenery. Lot less chance for snow, even though it's all above 7,000 ft with I think 2 passes to 10,000. Lot's of camping, or towns with lodging.
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Great route Steve B. But in place of Chama you want to substitute Chimayo as it sits down below Truchas. And if in Chimayo, appease the Native Gods by eating at Rancho de Chimayo! Cheers
 
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