Lookout Mountain is a classic go-to ride for any Denver-based cyclist that’s made frequent appearances at Colorado stage races.
Words and images by James Startt / Peloton Magazine
“Lookout Mountain is essentially the entry to Denver Mountain Parks,” Pactimo’s senior product designer Ryan White told us. “It’s actually engraved in stone on the two pillars at the foot of the climb. And from there the road just opens up. It’s a great go-to ride for anyone in Denver. It’s only 13 miles to get out there from downtown. If you want, you can just shoot up Lookout, come back down and ride home all within like a 30-odd-mile ride. Or, like the sign says, it is the gateway and you can ride up Lookout, go over the top and continue to Evergreen, Squaw Pass and Mount Evans…. It’s just a great way to get to a lot of really good riding that is past the foothills into the real serious Colorado climbing. And for people doing Mount Evans, Lookout is the perfect tune-up climb.”
With Denver still clearly in view behind us, we rolled though Golden, Colorado, home to the Adolph Coors Company, and made our way to the foot of the climb, which was now clearly in view. Leaving Golden, we immediately passed the two pillars that mark the official entry to the climb, and already the pitches increased significantly.
“It is just an iconic climb in American bicycle racing. Going back to the Red Zinger, the Coors Classic, or the Colorado Classic today or the USA Pro Challenge, every race has a stage that comes to Lookout Mountain,” said Tony Kelsey, Pactimo’s marketing director. “It’s the place where people come and line up on the side of the road and cheer. It’s that place in a race that has that European feel. But, really, you will see all kinds of people here. You will see 70-year-olds who have been riding it their whole life, going up it in jeans with a boom box strapped to their bike. You’ll see people on cruiser bikes. And then you will see hard-core racers. It’s the place on the Front Range where everybody comes. It’s really bike friendly.”
On this February afternoon, there were of course no crowds to greet us as we hit the climb. Instead, there was plenty of snow lining the roads reminding us that we were still in winter. But the road itself was easily rideable. “That is one of the great things about Lookout Mountain; it is really well maintained,” White added. “You can ride here right after a snowstorm. You could come here and do hill repeats, whatever, it is just really rideable all year.”
On this late afternoon David Newcomer, Pactimo’s customer service and operations manager, was eager to get out of the office early and join White as the warm sun offered some of the first hints that springtime was coming. And the two were in no mood to attack so early in the season. Instead, they simply enjoyed the climb on an unseasonably warm day.
“You know, depending how you ride it, it can be easy or demanding,” explained White. “Generally it is a pretty tame climb, but if you are really red-lining it, well, it can be plenty hard. In the beginning there is a steep little kick that reminds you that you are on a real climb. It can be like 12 to 14 percent right up to the pillars. Then it mellows out a bit and then it kicks up again as you hit the switchbacks.”
As the road wrapped around the mountain in and out of the sunlight, temperature drops were common. But they were easily controlled with Pactimo’s versatile line. For much of the climb White combined Pactimo’s classic Summit jersey with the Divide packable wind vest—named for the nearby Continental Divide. For Newcomer the Ascent wind jersey and arm warmers sufficed. One of the most flexible garments in the industry, the Ascent combines wind-cutting front panels that protect you from chilling winds, but the versatile jersey has also been designed to breathe exceptionally well in unison with the mesh back.
“Lookout Mountain is just such a cool climb,” said White. “Like its name states, historically it was a lookout for the Indians, and you can see why. The views up here are amazing. You can look out over the plains and up to the Continental Divide, just unreal views.”
After several miles of climbing, the exposed road entered a welcomed wooded area as our riders neared the summit. On cresting the climb we started to see signs for the Buffalo Bill Cody’s Gravesite, an unlikely but interesting culmination point to this iconic climb. The legendary founder of the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show may have traveled the globe with his touring company, but he was in love with this corner of Colorado and chose it as his final resting place.
Before heading back down the mountain, Newcomer opted for his Flagstaff jacket. With the fading afternoon light, temperatures were dropping quickly and the Flagstaff offered the perfect compromise of wind resistance and warmth. And while White initially attacked the descent with simply his wind vest, he soon stopped to grab his Flagstaff as well, before continuing down on their return to Denver.
“I really love climbing up Lookout Mountain, but the descent is just really fun,” added White. “The road is great and you can really bomb into some of the turns and open it up. Either way it just makes for a great ride!”
The Lookout Mountain ride from the pillars to the top is just under 5 miles with 1,600 feet of climbing on average grades of 5-6%. - Ed.