Finally put away the book of excuses and rolled out my door for one of the most famous trails anywhere: the Barr trail from Manitou Springs to Pikes Peak.

Start: 6,400 ft
End: 14,100 ft

The night before I had connected Williams Canyon to Waldo to Cascade, a three hour ride that ended with hike-a-bike and exploratory hope-for-the-best style riding. I figured it was the perfect warmup.

Beaut of a sunrise heading up the initial switchbacks of Barr Trail. Today promised to be one of the driest of the year.

The Rock Arch. Dab #3 or 4 was here.

Once to the top of the “W’s” (slash Incline) the trail mellows out and is a nice stroll through the forest. The hordes of Pikes Marathon trainees thinned out there too.

One of the first glimpses of the goal. It may as well be in another universe from this perspective. Seems impossible that less than ten miles of trail will attain said goal.

I had ridden to Barr Camp (10,200′) before, but no further. It’s 99% rideable, and indeed I had six dabs and basically no walking today. I had heard the trail gets much more technical after Barr Camp, then even worse so after tree line.

I expected the worst. I expected to spend the majority of the next 2-3 hours walking and struggling. I looked forward to the suffering.

Some sections were very technical (as above), but there was no appreciable hike-a-bike, just dismounts and remounts.

Each dismount was more than countered by either one of 1) a huge grin or 2) outright laughing. Why? I was laughing at ridiculous moves and the kind of technical garbage I was getting away with. I had so many incredible (to me, at the time) saves, lunges, hops, and slides that I lost count.

Yep, it was a good day.

The last half mile before the tree line A-frame shelter was tough, I have to admit. Borderline hiking, but still very frequent riding and overall mellow grade. About 100 feet before the A-frame I was passed by the current Pikes Peak Marathon record holder, Matt Carpenter. He stopped above the A-frame long enough to check his watch and exchange a sarcastic joke with me before turning back down the mountain. The big race is coming up soon.

It’s funny being the trail celebrity. Plenty of folks hiking, backpacking and running up to Pikes, but I was the sole cyclist, sticking out like a sore thumb. Everyone has their funny little comments, ranging from “animal”, “dude, that’s extreme”, to “you, you mean, you rode that bike all the way up here!?” (in thick southern accent).

I didn’t see what the big deal was, but most of the time I’d say something to the effect of “well, so far so good, but we’ll see how the rest goes.”

Indeed, so far so good to tree-line. 3 miles to the summit, and ~2200′ to gain. Now it’s time to hike, right?

The first turns were hiking, but then the trail flattened out, widened and shed its rock.


Several times I thought about shifting down, and the riding was darn near relaxing–at 12,500′, climbing Pikes Peak! This was too good to be true. Often it can be demoralizing to watch the altimeter creep up on a ride like this, but not today.

Dismounts continued, but a few steps later I was riding again. I didn’t care how long it took me to get to the top, but my goal was to ride as much as I possibly could. So I’d pedal, hitting the next burst move until I dabbed. Then I’d collapse in a soporific heap on my handlebars until I could no longer feel my heart pounding in my skull.

It wasn’t the fastest way to the top, but it sure was fun. I got myself into a number of sticky situations, bike wedged between rocks, room to unclip, but nowhere to dismount too. Great fun unless you’re holding up huffing and puffing hikers, or worse — speedy trail runners.

At 13,500 feet something cracked. I was walking extended sections and feeling like I was crawling.

Then there was the “16 Golden Stairs.” I’m not so sure it’s worth hauling the bike up the boulders, only to haul it back down. But by that point you’re very close to the top, so you may as well.

Tourists everywhere at the summit. Not your typical summit experience (the cog railroad and pikes tollway both go to the top). But then, most summits don’t offer cold Gatorade for three dollars fourteen cents either:

Best $3.14 I’ve spent in a while.

Time to descend. Nothing like clipping in at the top of a 14,000 peak for a never-ending descent.

Plenty of dismounts, but also some incredible riding. Quite a few more “laugh out loud” moments, when all indications pointed to dismounting, but I’d come out riding anyway. I’m a big chicken when it comes to exposure (descending), but I was riding and pushing some limits. The trail is wide and constructed well enough that you can get away with it.

The descent wasn’t really tiring, which was surprising. Credit Lenz Leviathan, IMO the perfect bike for this ride. There are so many rock moves and ledges that the trail screams for a full suspension 29er. A bash ring is highly recommended as well — I took some serious metal off mine, both up and down.

After Barr Camp you get some good flow and high speed descending, especially when the trail is empty (rare as that may be). It seemed almost everyone I had seen on the trail was only going up, because the trail was pretty much void of people on the way down.

In short, perhaps one of the best trails I’ve ever ridden. I’m so happy and grateful it’s still open to bikes. I still can’t believe how rideable it is (I would guess I rode 85% of the trail distance, possibly more). I was really expecting worse, and much, much more suffering. It might just be my low expectation, but it just didn’t seem too bad, and the rewards in terms of unbelievable technical climbing and descending made the trip well worth it.

~26 miles, 8200 feet of climbing, 6:33 moving time

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