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Tracks In Winter

Stalwart Cyclists Unite To Clear The Mind, Get Some Exercise, Keep Warm And Stay Upright

Story and Photos by Reid Neureiter

Special to the GPHN

Neoprene booties are used to cover cycling shoes for warmth and water resistance during winter rides.

When the temperature drops and snow appears on Mount Evans, many Park Hillians trade their bicycle helmets and padded bike shorts for ski bibs and goggles, putting away their bicycles until springtime. But not all do.

A number of stalwart cyclists, many of them current or former bike racers, feel the need to keep riding outdoors. And unless the roads are covered with ice, they will do so all winter long. Notably, this winter so far, with incredibly mild temperatures and virtually no precipitation, has meant no ice on the roads and safer riding.

Riding through the winter does require extra clothing and some specialized gear. But properly equipped, winter cycling clears the mind and provides great exercise.

Tara Dunn, who lives on Holly Street, is an attorney with her own corporate practice. When in college, Dunn rode on several University of Colorado National Championship race teams, including the Women’s Team Time Trial. Today, she rides year-round, putting in between 50-150 miles per week.

“In the winter, this means more riding in the dark, but I have some Lezyne lights and only ride on quiet streets and often to Wash Park,” Dunn says. “If I ride in the dark, especially in winter, I often ride my cyclocross bike with knobby tires.”

Dunn will ride in freezing temperatures but, she says, “below 20 degrees starts to get challenging – it is just hard to keep fingers and toes functioning.” She’ll ride on packed snow or wet roads, but when the roads are ice covered, she stays home.

“I have hardly ever been successful staying upright on a fully icy surface.”

A 20-degree morning mandates neck and face protection, shoe covers, thick gloves and long cycling pants for members of the Park Hill Peloton

Two fast-paced group rides originating near Park Hill continue all winter long. Every Tuesday and Friday morning, the Park Hill Peloton (“PHP”) group leaves before dawn. Riders converge at the intersection of Holly and Cherry Creek and circumnavigates Cherry Creek State Park for a 30-mile loop. In the summer the PHP will have close to 50 riders. In the winter, the group dwindles to maybe 10.

And on Saturday mornings, the FDR or “Frustrated Dad’s Ride” departs from Stapleton Town Center for a 40-mile loop south of Denver International Airport, returning on Smith Road. The FDR may have 40 to 50 riders in the summer and on a nice winter day, perhaps 25.

The Park Hill Peloton group rides through Cherry Creek State Park during a pre-dawn group ride, March, 2016

The rides usually include a number of accomplished cyclists from the Cycleton, Primal-Audi, Palmeres, Rodeo, and other local race teams. Tom Miller, a Lincoln Park resident, is a legendary participant in both the PHP and FDR rides He logs between 11,000 and 13,000 bicycle miles a year – 200 to 250 miles every week and will ride in temperatures down into the single digits.

“My cold weather gear is a combination of specifically engineered, wind and cold repellent base layers, long sleeved jerseys, bibs with leg warmers or tights, a light jacket or vest, toe or shoe covers, good gloves and a hoodie or balaclava,” Miller says.  He’ll occasionally use hand warmers and has experimented with battery-operated electric gloves. “Cold hands and feet are the worst!”

Miller, a sales manager with the oil and gas field services provider Schlumberger, bike commutes every day to work downtown. When there is snow on the ground he uses his mountain bike with wider tires. But even Miller waves the white flag of surrender to ice-covered roads, recalling one cold and icy PHP ride when every rider in the small group crashed at some point. “Some, multiple times.”

Dan Recht, who lives on Ivy Street, has been an avid cyclist for more than a decade. Recht usually logs more than 100 miles a week. In the winter on weekdays, he will ride on his basement trainer. But on sunny winter weekend days you will usually find him heading east out Smith Road. Although Recht does have electric gloves for colder days, he advises the use of hand warmers seen on ski slopes.

With the right equipment, Recht says, you should be able to ride your bike in the same conditions that people snow shoe or cross-country ski.

Miller recommends Cherry Creek or Chatfield Reservoirs, or heading east from Park Hill out Smith Road for flat rides during the winter. He likes Lookout Mountain or Deer Creek Road for climbing, which he says are usually clear of snow and ice. But Miller cautions against Denver’s ubiquitous bicycle paths.

“When they’re shaded or pass under overpasses, [they] often ice up and can be particularly dangerous,” he says. “Plus, on a path, ice often covers the entire path, so there’s no way to avoid it.”


Not For The Faint-footed

Anyone can join Park Hill Peloton and Frustrated Dad’s Ride. You just need to show up. And, you need to be seriously fit.

These two rides are not for the faint of heart. To keep up you need to be able to hold 20-22 mph on your own, with surges up to 28 mph. You must also be comfortable riding in very close quarters, getting the benefit of the “draft” created by the fast moving group of cyclists. These are close to race-pace rides.

If you are looking to learn, by all means, come out and try. Introduce yourself and explain that you are new. But don’t get discouraged if you get left behind. Many a rider finishes alone.

PHP cyclists meet at Holly and Cherry Creek at 6 a.m. every Tuesday and Friday (leaving from Park Hill at 5:40). And the FDR leaves at 8 a.m. from the Cycleton bike shop in Stapleton during the winter months.

You don’t have to be a dad, or male, to join Frustrated Dad’s Ride. The name stuck when a number of male riders first started the ride. They needed to get back home for early Saturday morning kid duty and were only given leave to ride for a couple of hours.

— Reid Neureiter

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