RBC BLOG POST

Pikes Peak Highway- The Hardest Paved Climb In The United States

Updated: Jul 25


Pikes Peak looms large to the south from CO Hwy 67 near Woodland Park.
Pikes Peak looms large to the south from CO Hwy 67 near Woodland Park.

Welcome to my new blog and website! It has been some years, and as I relaunch, I'd like to warm up with this repost about Pikes Peak. I've cleaned it up and refreshed it for you, if you have ridden PP before I think you will really relate. Unless you're a zombie mutant pro rider of course. If you haven't, then I need to issue a spoiler alert, if that's OK with you then sit back, hit the daydream button, and enjoy one of the hardest climbs you ever do. Or not. -Originally posted in October, 2013.


Steep grades on Pikes Peak.
Steep grades. No doubt...

Hit The Reset Button

I don’t know where to begin with this one. I see Pikes Peak every day, I grew up seeing it every day, looming some 60 miles off in the distance to the south. When I think of this mountain, one of Colorado’s most prominent as it juts out onto the prairie, many memories come to mind. Topping out at 14,115 feet, it rises 8,000 feet above Colorado Springs, Colorado’s highest vertical gain for a single mountain, the road has a bit less vertical but I'll get to that later.

As a child I rode on As a child I rode on the Broadmoor Manitou & Pikes Peak Cog Railway . to the summit, truly an amazing ride if you don’t mind the tourist scene once in a while. The train climbs incredibly steep grades using a cog wheel system to it keep from sliding down the tracks. I once knew a guy who worked in the restaurant at the summit; he lived up there full time for the summer and had sunrise and sunset to himself every day. Oh, and of course there’s the annual Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, an absolutely sick auto time trial to the summit. Yes many memories, but none of cycling to the top, it was a dirt road and cyclists weren't allowed.


I see Mount Evans every day too, it’s only about 35 mile as a crow flies, you can see the road winding up it with your naked eyes. All paved. Ominous. I have many memories of cycling this road, at just under 30 miles, a climb that tops out at 14,150 feet in the parking lot. And for the sake of the comparison to follow, I'll offer that I'm usually pretty good at easily spinning right up it at will. There’s a bike race up Evans every year, the Bob Cook Memorial Mount Evans Hill Climb takes you to your limits on its high altitude slopes. Or so I thought...


Pikes Peak , Crystal Creek Reservoir
You can see the road cut its way up the western flanks (right) from Crystal Creek Reservoir.

A Day To Remember

So back in March I was getting excited about Mount Evans opening for the season and posted a picture on my book's FB page Road Biking Colorado-The Statewide Guide. Jeff Gibbs of Bicycling Colorado in Colorado Springs chimed in and reminded me that Pikes Peak was fully paved now, and for the first time, open to cyclists. When it sank in I became overwhelmed with excitement! I know of a select few other paved roads anywhere in the world that go above 14,000 feet / 4267m, perhaps you can chime in on that subject in the comments, my point being that now Colorado has two of these special places!


Absolutely I must ride this mountain, I said to myself.

Double Cut, The Four Legs, Pikes Peak
Looking down on Double Cut from The First Leg.

I continued to get my winter legs up to summer speed and waited for perfect conditions, I purposely banned myself from researching the climb and saved documentation for a future edition of my book till another day. It would be the first time I've ridden a Colorado road blind since my youth, when friends and I would routinely search for interesting squiggly lines on a Colorado road map and plan to ride whatever roads the lines turned out to be. Yes, that was back in the Stone Age, before GPS, mapping software, and uh, guide books took the mystery out of the terrain that lay ahead. A benefit of publishing my Colorado road cycling guide book "Road Biking Colorado-The Statewide Guide" is that I've documented and photographed some 6,000 miles of Colorado roads, so I know the state well, but there are very few surprises for me to enjoy on a bike, and none of this magnitude. Pikes Peak is a cycling jewel, a windfall if you will. I am honored to be adding it to the next edition of RBC.

There I was, a perfect summer day in Cascade, Colorado, it would be 95˚F in town today, but a pleasant 75 on the top. Cascade is very small, just a couple blocks. As I rode through town my anticipation was sky high, the tone was set almost immediately when I saw a sign overhead across the road reading “Pikes peak Highway”, although it wasn't the sign that got my attention, it was the 10% ramp of a road that surged up ahead out of sight around the corner. The first 6miles would amount to a CAT 1 climb with sustained gradients of 8, 9, and 10%!

I got a short brake at Crystal Creek Reservoir before winding up into an HC summit finish with miles of sustained 8 to 14% grades. I was wishing I had a 26 in the rear, I was riding a 39/23 which serves me just fine pretty much everywhere else in Colorado, I quickly realized that I would spend most of the day out of the saddle, Stomping my way up the mountain. On one occasion I rode around in circles for a moment to take the pressure off my legs and rest, I was thinking how unreal it was, awesome; does it keep going like this? I channeled Alberto Contador’s rhythmic, animated, out-of-saddle climbing style and found a comfort zone that made for an incredible outing. What an amazing road, the descent was one of the fastest and most enjoyable I have ever had the pleasure of riding, 50+mph easily on this one and no room for mistakes!


Crystal Creek Visitor's Center . Pikes Peak.
Expensive supplies at the Crystal Creek Visitor's Center.

My benchmark for Colorado’s difficult climbs had forever changed.


Contenders

I started with a bit of comparison between Pikes Peak and Mount Evans, both have brutal climbs on amazing roads, although Mount Evans always needs new pavement due to glacial remains just under the ground above treeline, they swell in the cold months and buckle the road, creating rather nasty speed bumps and surface cracks. Natural freeze/thaw based erosion at work on our state road crew's creations... Both are the highest paved roads in North America and top out above 14,000 feet. Evans’ parking lot is 40 feet higher and the climb is 11miles longer than PP. I had to double check what I thought to be true so I rode Mount Evans two weeks later and spun right up it. It’s not unusual for me to easily spin a 21, 19, or even a 17 on Evans but that is simply not possible for me on Pikes Peak.


It is very clear to me. Pikes Peak is harder, it’s a lot harder.


Pikes Peak, Cascade, Colorado
10% slopes right from the get-go!

How does PP compare to other climbs around the world?

I did some research, I looked at elevation profiles for many major paved climbs around the world and found that most fell short of Pikes Peak’s combination of distance, grade, and altitude. Mount Evans is eleven miles longer and has the altitude, and even the vertical gain, but not near the steepness because it does that gain in about 30 miles as compared to PP's 19 miles. Having ridden all of the major Colorado passes multiple times over the years, I know there’s nothing in this state that compares, not Trail Ridge Road, not Independence Pass, Red Mountain Pass… Slumgullion? Nada. If you look at some famous climbs around the world you’ll find that Stelvio Pass in Italy, for example, has the steepness and a fair amount of mileage, but at just under 9,000feet at the summit it falls several thousand feet short for maximum altitude. L’Alpe d’Heuz doesn’t even come close. Mont Ventoux is a beast but it lacks distance and altitude. There are a few out there, the road up Mauna Kea Volcano in Hawaii (on Hilo) is a monster, you start on the coast at sea level and climb to 13,796 feet on grades as high as 14+%, the road climbs 7,000feet in just the last 15 miles of the 43 mile ascent!

There are a couple monsters on the Hawaiian Islands for sure, and a few others around the world, there is a website called climb by bike.com where climbs all over the world are compared, it’s a cool site to visit if you’re looking for hills to conquer.


Mountain weather, colorado, pikes peak
Ever-changing weather conditions are a given at 13,000 feet.


If you would like to race up Pikes Peak there is an annual event, the Broadmoor-Pikes Peak Cycling Hill Climb is a USA Cycling sanctioned event in collaboration with The Sports Corp in Colorado Springs, they were instrumental in the relocation of the US Olympic Training Center to Colorado Springs from New York City in 1978, and have been an integral part of the community ever since. It’s a brutal challenge open to all riders and covers the last 12.4 miles of the climb – the same course used for the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb (car race) I mentioned earlier.

Not sure why they don’t start the race at the bottom in Cascade, perhaps it’s tradition from the auto race or logistics in Cascade due to space and noise. Anyhow, I've added this incredible road to my upcoming new edition of RBC and am sharing it with you here as a modified excerpt of sorts from the book.

Be prepared for a cycling jones. If you're stumbling across this post during winter months, I sincerely apologize for doing this to you. Actually, no. No, I'm nnnot sorry!


Devil's Playground, Pikes Peak.
1,500 feet of vertical gain in barely 3 miles to get from Glen Cove to Devil's Playground!

Pikes Peak Highway

Difficulty: Most Difficult / Hors Catégorie (HC)

Distance: 19.4 Miles / 31.22km

Start Elevation: 7,475 ft. / 2278m

Finish Elevation: 14,115 ft. / 4302m

Total Gain: 6,640 ft. / 2024m

Total Descent: 150 ft. / 45.7m