Monday, January 23, 2012

Undiscovered country

I've been posting more and riding less due to a slight illness. I hope to change that soon. One of the main reasons I started this blog was to share some of the wonderful Front Range routes I’ve found. Before I can share ‘em I have to find them. This post is about that. In another I’ll discuss following the route.  

Finding routes has really followed two tracks. The first is following others. Well, not literally, but I have been following some of the routes that others have done before me. These include race routes like the Creekside Dirty Century, and the Gold Belt Century. I’ve yet to follow one of these completely, but they become the basis of a route. I’ve also used non-race routes as the basis of a ride. This includes routes others have posted on their blog, and routes I’ve found by searching Strava or Garmin Connect. I know this can be done through Map My Ride and probably other sites as well.

The second major path involves a lot of time staring at maps online. With a combination of the map, satellite, terrain and bicycling view in Google Maps I can usually find the gravel and avoid pavement. IT takes a bit of time, but in the end not too much. I’ve gotten more efficient, but it still takes a while to switch through all those views to determine road surface.

The more problematic drawback is that there’s no map view that I know of which indicates property boundaries. This is huge. Many of the gravel routes get a bit more remote and some of the roads are closed to public travel. I’m not talking just driveways here. Some of these roads appear to be through roads. Many of these are maintained privately by the several residents on those roads and so the road is considered private. This kinda sucks to encounter when you’re 35-40 miles into a loop and have to turn around. This is what I encountered attempting to go over Rabbit Mountain up to Carter Lake. You can get up and over the mountain, but on the way back down (headed North) there is a ½ mile stretch of private property which prevented the connection. It’s the only chunk of private road on the route and it prevents riding through at least without going stealth and risking trespassing issues – something I’m not likely to do. (Call me crazy but I just don’t like the look of the front end of a shotgun nor the jaws of a farm mongrel.)

So, how to deal with this? So far it seems pretty safe to stick to numbered roads. All of the numbered roads (e.g. Co Rd 73) are public - at least to my knowledge. However, this leaves out a lot of other roads which are not numbered, but which are open to the public (e.g. Old Flowers Rd outside Fort Collins). Really it just seems to be part of the game.

Private roads are what I run into most often, but another part of the adventure comes when the road has degraded. Co Rd 61 in the Pawnee National Grasslands is one such road. This road has become something between footpath and double track. While it looks like it can be ridden, it’s not exactly a road anymore.  Something else came up in the PNG. There’s a point where I was heading South on Co Rd 69 and turned East on Co Rd 114 – I hadn’t planned on doing this. When I came up to the intersection I was greeted with a big yellow arrow indicating that the route turned left. Now there is a road that keeps going South, but the road goes from well-maintained gravel to double track, goes through a fence (ungated) and looks for all the world like a driveway. There was no private property or no trespassing sign so perhaps I could have gone straight, but it didn’t look wise.  Not a huge deal, but something that made the route interesting. It’s always helpful to have an alternate plan when following a new route…but that’s a post for another day.

This has been my experience. It’s all part of the adventure. How do you find new backroad routes? 


  1. Some counties have their road GIS data available to the public. Hopefully, it only contains roads that are county rights-of-way, though it could have private roads too if they compiled the data for emergency vehicle routing. The data usually will also have a field for the road surface type, so you can sort out which roads are gravel or dirt.

    To make use of the GIS data, you'll need some basic skills in the software, but at least there's an excellent open source, cross-platform GIS software called QGIS that you can get started with. I used it for the map in the header image on my blog at . The red and orange roads are dirt or gravel.

  2. Thanks for the info Marc! It's nice to hear how others are dealing with this issue, and of course nice to see other gravel aficionados. I've done one longer ride up there a couple months ago. It was a good time and I'll likely come back some day.

  3. Shane, Its Google Maps and Map my Ride for me. I end up toggling back and forth many times from the Standard, Satellite, Hybrid and Terrain views in Google a lot, especially on those remote roads your describing. I can almost always find a way through an area that doesn’t end at someone's front door in the Satellite view. I like Map my Ride for building GPS files for my Garmin, despite all the adds and small work surface... Looking forward to the Dirty Kanza, kind of relieved I'm only doing 1/2! We'll have to keep in touch, we'll have a car out there for back up.

  4. Awesome! Yeah, it's going to be quite a challenge for me! I'm rather excited to get the new bike - especially since I just sold the CX bike. :) Let's stay in touch about DK200.

  5. I just rode Longhorn Rd/Boulder County Open Space (east off of Hwy 36) this weekend - highly recommended. You can hook it up with 49th/55th back behind Boulder Reservoir. Which is to say, I put very little time into planning routes, and just follow my wheel where it looks interesting. *grin*

  6. Funny I just got back from a ride. It was a perfect night for a darkness ride with the light! I'll be going for about a 2-3 hour ride tomorrow if you're up for that.