Updated: Mar 27, 2022
My first solo adventure bike ride in the mountains of Colorado...
Forever trying to link my passion for riding with my working life, I found myself needing to travel to Denver, Colorado for business. This could make for a 3-day weekend and decided to try and rent an Adventure bike with the idea of riding up Pikes Peak.
After a quick google search, I found Colorado Motorcycle Adventures. They rent adventure bikes including the BMW GS1200 and offer guided or self-guided trips with a preprogrammed GPS. A preprogrammed course that I didn’t need to plan seemed perfect for me. I contacted them and we discussed my riding skills and my desire to ride up Pikes Peak. Thankfully the rental guide picked up on my off-road experience and encouraged me to do some single-track trail riding in addition riding up Pikes Peak.
With a lifetime of riding under my belt one thing that I had not yet tried was taking a large adventure bike off-road on single track trails. I had some apprehension, after all a BMW GS1200 full of fuel is 240lbs heavier than my Honda CRF450X. That’s nearly twice what I used to, and I hadn’t added panniers yet. Since my off-road experience includes racing the Baja 1000 I was confident in my skills, but being 5’8” I wondered how well I could reach the ground and manage weight of the bike in tight situations?
The nudge from the rental guide is just what I needed, and I agreed now was the time to try my skills off-road on a full-size adventure bike. The folks at Colorado Motorcycle Adventures mapped out an amazing mix of scenic asphalt, dirt roads and single-track trails. A route I never would have done without a someone knowledgeable of the area preprogramming my GPS.
The route was nearly 600 miles would take me from Denver to Buena Vista day one. Then on to Manitou Springs with a stop for lunch at the Boathouse in Salida. Day three would take me up Pikes Peak with a mix of asphalt, dirt roads and trails leading me back to Denver on my final day.
I’ve ridden the BMW GS in the past just not in serious off-road situations. As I expected the bike was comfortable, powerful and stable on asphalt. Especially when compared to a traditional dual-sport. Turning onto the dirt near Conifer, CO the bike continued to perform quite well, and I was very impressed with the adjustability of the EFI mapping and suspension. Both were user-friendly and offered a wide range of options. The ride to this point had been scenic and not overly technical. About two hours in, the purple line I had been following on my GPS made a hard left and led me through a break in a fence and onto my first single track trail.
I was definitely feeling the weight of the bike but the Enduro setting for the EFI made a huge difference and gave the big bike very good manners off-road. My BMW performed flawlessly. It never got hot, stalled or did anything other than just perform like a work horse carrying me through the mountain trails and stream crossings. However, I was not a huge fan of the front suspension off road. It seemed to bottom easily in rocky areas and over small jumps. A more aggressive knobbie rear tire many have made lifting the front wheel over obstacles a little easier. But the worn 50/50 tire on my bike simply spun when I tried to lighten the front end. As a result, I often would hit rocks much harder than I wanted, forcing the suspension to bottom out.
As for the trails, they were simply amazing and I couldn’t get enough. Lots of smooth single vehicle width riding in the valleys that were hard packed flowed well enough to allow for third and fourth gear riding. Mix in some single-track uphill climbs and rocky descents to test your skills. All while navigating the mountainous and forested scenery that was beautiful beyond words. Riding here is a gift and has just about everything you could want in an adventure ride.
The route was often very remote, especially when compared to my rides on the east coast. You realize when you are this far off the beaten path that if you fall or have a mechanical issue you are no longer at the top of the food chain. Just to be safe, I got into the habit of glancing at my odometer reading each time I passed a campsite or someone fishing. In case I needed help, I knew how far away another person may be.
Day two the epic trail riding continued through forests recovering from wildfires, included a few long stream crossings and navigating groves of white birch trees before dropping down into the town of Salida for a much-needed lunch break at the Boathouse Cantina.
The weather changed dramatically while I was enjoying lunch and I left Salida with ominous black clouds on the western horizon. I opted to stay on the paved road to try and put some distance between me and the storm. The plan was working well while I was traveling east. But as I turned north it became obvious, I was on a collision course with the storm. With the winds picking up and the sky growing dark I sought shelter at a closed general store with some covered picnic tables. Within minutes the heavy rain started and over the next half-hour five other riders had followed my lead.
Bonding over riding and being held captive by the storm seemed to make the whole experience more of an adventure than a disappointment. After a few hours passed, the wind had slowed but the rain continued, and it was now dark. As a group we had a decision to make. Spend the night under this shelter? Or try and ride in the heavy rain 25 miles north to Manitou Springs. We decided that if we rode together, we would be more visible, and riding it was worth trying. The pace was a slow, dark and extremely wet but we all arrived safely. I waved goodbye to my new friends and headed toward my hotel. The bed at the Cliff House was a serious upgrade from the picnic table I was laying on an hour earlier.
The final morning of my adventure started by arriving at the entrance of Pikes Peak at 7:30am to be one of the first vehicles up the mountain. The storm from the prior evening had passed and I had clear blue skys to begin my climb. Having never been up Pikes Peak, I can’t image doing it any other way than on a motorcycle. Taking in the expansive views of the landscape constantly changing as you climb the nineteen miles of hairpin turns to the summit is quite an experience. Riding past the tree line you feel the temperature continuing to fall. The view up here seems endless with nothing but mountain tops in the distance and snow-covered rocks helping to mark the shaded switchback corners.
I can certainly understand the appeal of racing the Pikes Peak hill climb race, but this ride isn’t about speed or even carving corners, it’s about the simple fact that a place like this exists and you are lucky enough to ride a motorcycle to the 14,000 foot summit.
Once at the top I took in the view and the clean, thin air until the 28 degree temp suggested it was time to start back down and get on with the trail ride leading me back to Denver.
It was 72 degrees when I got to the bottom, an ideal day for riding. After about an hour of navigating through suburban Colorado Springs I was back on dirt. It was here that one of the funnier things happened on my ride. I met a guy riding a Suzuki DR650. I stopped and asked where he was headed. He replied, “…I left Tampa, Florida for a two-week ride six months ago.” He was on his third trip crossing the United States. You don’t encounter a lot of people this deep in the woods, but the ones you do are often characters.
After two and half solid days of riding the biggest challenge of my ride presented itself. I had been riding dirt roads and a winding ATV trail for several miles when I crested a ridge to find a steep, narrow, 200ft decent, heavily eroded by rain and ATV traffic. …It’s decision time. Turning back would probably take me three hours out of my way. But riding this trail was not really a great option either. The trail had steep tree-lined berms on either side that prevented blazing another way down. Two ATV tracks created deep ruts with a narrow ridge in the center. The eroded tracks had exposed several large rocks that would prevent me from riding in these tracks to the bottom. If I were to risk riding in these tracks and get stuck on one of these rocks the bike is simply too large for me to muscle it back on the trail. To further complicate this, about 20 feet from the top, rainwater had cut a ditch between the two ATV tire tracks that I would somehow have to cross.
After studying the trail for a few minutes, I settled on my plan. I would slowly inch the bike down the crest of the hill to the spot where the rain had created a connecting ditch with the ATV tracks. If I can get the bike through this ditch I could try and ride the narrow 18-inch-wide ridge between the ATV tracks to the bottom of the hill. After a few nerve-racking minutes, phase one of my plan worked and I had the front wheel of the bike through the ditch. With the rear wheel now sitting lower I could firmly plant both feet on the ground as I eyed my line to the bottom. The loose dirt and steep slope of hill would prevent me from stopping once I committed to riding down. I put the bike in second gear to provide some degree of engine braking while trying to avoid sliding the rear wheel into the ditches on either side. I pushed off, stood up on the pegs, lightly covered the clutch and both brakes, ready to react to all that could go wrong and focused my eyes on the bottom of the hill where I wanted to end up.
There is a moment in every epic adventure that tests you and creates a euphoric feeling when you complete it successfully. This downhill was that moment for me. My plan worked and I managed to keep the big GS on top of the center ridge where I rode it the whole way to the bottom. After that I rode back to Denver with a smile that lasted through my meeting on Tuesday.
Trail riding in Colorado is something I highly recommend and will definitely do again. See below for some info on the logistics of what it took to make this ride happen.
The Bike – Rented a BMW GS1200 from Colorado Motorcycle Adventures.
The Gear – I took my own gear. Shoei Hornet Helmet, Tourmaster Dual Sport Jacket, Uglybros Riding Pants, Alpine Stars vented leather gloves and Gaerne Boots. My favorite gear for this ride were the boots. Protective but comfortable and easy to walk in.
Skill Level – On a scale of 1 – 10 this is probably 9. The ride was quite technical for a bike of this size. I’m sure with more time on the bike this route could be navigated a bit easier. When compared to my experience on small dual sports or motocross bikes this was a lot of bike to muscle through the woods. However, the power and comfort were great on the open road and the wind protection was huge help when caught in the storm.
Travel logistics – I flew into Denver. Then took an Uber to Colorado Motorcycle Adventures. I was able to leave my luggage at the rental shop which allowed me to ride with only a backpack strapped to the rear rack.
Greatest challenge – The concern of dropping the bike in a place where I could not pick it up. There are lots of videos offering advice for how to pickup a dropped bike. But they most often are doing this in a field or parking lot, rather than a place where a crash is more likely to occur. Such as in the mud, on a steep hill, or a stream crossing. Picking up your bike in one of these scenarios without someone else to help you can be very difficult. I’m not suggesting to shy away from these obstacles, just be aware of what you are getting yourself into and assess the risk based on your own skills.
Time required – This trip was three days of riding. Arriving Friday evening in Denver. I began riding Saturday morning. I rode for about seven hours Saturday. My day was much longer Sunday due to the storm. Monday’s ride up Pikes Peak and back to Denver was about 5 hours.
How physically demanding is this ride – On a scale from 1 – 10 this is probably an 8 due to the rather long days, technical route and energy required to ride a bike of this size off-road.