Many adventure cyclists self-identify as loners. A bit of peace and quiet is the hoped-for destination of many tours, so the idea of a cycling event may turn some riders off. But when the event is crafted just right, a perfect blend of solitude and sociability is possible. The New Belgium Ramble Ride is one such event.
At the rider meeting the night before we started, Peter Discoe, the Ramble Ride’s organizer, laid it all out. We had three days of cycling ahead, with most of the 200 miles on dirt and gravel roads. We would climb 19,000 feet in the process, carrying our camping gear, clothing, water, and food for each day’s ride. Perhaps most importantly, Discoe said, while “most of you will start this as strangers, you’ll finish as friends.”
After coffee and breakfast burritos the next morning, we rolled out from Fort Collins in two groups, making our way west and gaining altitude all the while. That’s when the fun started. Some riders took their time, others pushed themselves. Groups merged and disintegrated. At stops we lounged in hammocks, ate popsicles, shared beers, and napped. Some people took advantage of nearby swimming holes.
Camp was high in the Front Range and a fellow journalist/friend and I braved a rain/hailstorm to get there. Thankfully it passed quickly when we were only a few miles from the day’s finish. After the weather cleared, we had a nice evening, jumping in a lake to rinse off the day’s effort. And after a delicious dinner, most of us sacked out early in anticipation of the next day’s rigors.
Waking early, I packed up and rolled out with a couple friends, one I’ve known for years, the other made the day before. There were options on the second day of riding, with a strict cutoff point where the routes diverged. We made good time as we were focused on riding the so-called “OG route” that took in a harder, more technical climb before dropping into the sleepy town of Walden, Colorado (intersected by the TransAmerica Trail). Rolling as a trio we made the cutoff with little time to spare. At the turn-off we teamed up with three other riders, promising to stick together because only two of us had the route on our GPS units. Due to the remote roads, this section of the course wasn’t marked.
Our mix of seasoned bikepackers and newer riders (one in the group was riding a fat bike) headed out with Discoe’s warnings fresh in our minds. But the riding, while difficuly, was doable with only minimal hike-a-bike and the reward was some of the most beautiful mountain roads in Colorado. The descent into the North Park area was spectacular, dropping from high alpine into an arid basin with sandy stretches en route to the Hansen Memorial Park in Walden, where we high-fived our day’s ride and headed for the showers and a walk through town.
The next day our newly formed crew rolled out together. We were all feeling the previous two days of riding, but the scenery nearing Buffalo Pass kept us all eager for more. At the top of the pass, we snarfed down snacks before dropping toward Steamboat Springs. On the way, we stopped to repair a puncture and took our time, savoring our time together and on the route. We laughed our way through several miles of fern-lined singletrack, giggling even harder when the rain came down.
Once in Steamboat, we set up camp and cleaned up before heading to Moots, maker of fine titanium bicycles, for the evening’s dinner and festivities. We partied until the food ran out and then headed into town for a few more rounds. Our crew exchanged social media “friend requests” now that we had, in the real world, established the special rapport that only suffering together can bring.
What You Need to Know if You Decide to Go
The Ramble Ride is extremely challenging, covering 200 miles and climbing over 19,000 feet on rugged roads. Because it is partially supported, it appeals to seasoned bikepackers as well as fit cyclists who are curious about bike camping. The level of support strikes a perfect balance — there when you need it but without feeling programmed or pampered.
The entry fee of $300 is a bargain when you consider that they create the route, organize the campgrounds, cook you breakfast and dinner, offer aid stations throughout the day, provide all the New Belgium beer you care to sample, and supply a shuttle back to Fort Collins after the ride.
In 2017 Discoe and company organized three Ramble Rides: the first in Oregon, the original in Colorado, and an October event in Asheville, North Carolina. If you’re curious about Ramble Rides, be sure to sign up early — each is limited to 100 riders to keep the experience special. Suffice it to say that I highly recommend you consider attending one. The New Belgium Ramble Ride sits firmly in my mind as a highlight of the year’s riding. I saw new roads, drank new beers, and, true to the words that Discoe spoke at the initial riders meeting, complete strangers became close friends in just three days.