Want to bike a 14er? Don’t be stupid

Democrat hike a bike
Mountain bikers are testing new limits on Colorado’s famous 14,000-foot peaks, like this one, Mt. Democrat. Photo: Ian Fohrman/@iandavidf
There’s a new “trendlet” of bold mountain bikers riding high peaks like Colorado’s famous 14ers. While the state boasts 58 mountains over 14,000 feet, only 14 14ers are legally rideable because the current U.S. Wilderness Act prohibits mechanized travel on most of these wild slopes.
Mt. Elbert is considered Colorado’s most rideable 14er. Photo: Ian Fohrman/@iandavidf
“We find this riding extraordinary and inspirational, but it has to be done in a responsible way so it doesn’t cause issues,” Mark Eller, communications director at the International Mountain Bicycling Association in Boulder, Colorado, told GrindTV. “Bikes are completely compatible with other types of trail use, even in remote and wild places.”
Riding at high altitude means preparing for technical trails, crazy weather as well as plenty of physical and mental challenges. Photo: Riley Seebeck
Photographer Riley Seebeck, who rode his first 14er with friends earlier this month, agrees. “Whether its destruction people are worried about, overpopulation or just the fact that they hate bikes, there should be no such place that you can’t ride your bike,” he says. “There are ways to make this sustainable and to create fun trails for both user groups.”
MTB 14er view
Here’s a ride with a view. One mountain biker takes in some mountaintop inspiration on Mt. Elbert. Photo: Riley Seebeck
For a faction of adventurous mountain bikers, the temptation to ride what’s currently open is just too hard to pass up. For example, one duo — Denver photographer and writer Ian Fohrman and Aspen-based pro skier Whit Boucher — tried to become the first to ride up and down all of the state’s legal steeps, recording their experience at Bike the 14ers.

However, solo rider and Olympic snowboarder Justin Reiter, out of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, as well as Golden, Colorado-based Jessica Martin, recently usurped them.

MTB 14er group
Riley Seebeck, of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and a few riding buddies tried their legs on their first 14er earlier this month. Photo: Riley Seebeck
GrindTV caught up with a few of these peak-bagging mountain bikers to get the lowdown on treading lightly, 14er etiquette and tips for first-timers.

Prepare to hike-a-bike — a lot

Democrat scree field
Hike-a-biking scree fields and other technical terrain just comes with the territory on a 14er ride. Photo: Ian Fohrman/@iandavidf
“For some people, the barrier of entry is walking,” says Fohrman, who is just shy of completing the MTB-friendly 14er set and is hoping to bike another Front Range peak before the snow falls. “It’s about 75 percent carrying up and 90 percent riding down.”

But terrain varies by peak, ranging from steep, technical scree fields requiring long hike-a-bikes and route-finding to boot-smoothed, fast, flowy descents. For example, after biking Mt. Sherman, Fohrman was fresh enough to spend the rest of the afternoon riding bikes in Aspen. After Mt. Shavano, not so much: “It was a 12-hour day with 8,500 vertical feet and I could barely walk.”

Start small — and smart

Preparation for riding on a highly exposed 14er can’t be underestimated. Photo: Ian Fohrman/@iandavidf
Mt. Elbert is widely considered the most bikeable 14er. While not fully rideable on the ascent due to some steep technical trail sections at the top, Elbert’s downhill is well traveled and smooth. It’s the only high peak Fohrman and partner rode summit to trailhead without touching a foot down. It’s worth noting, however, that riding a 14er still requires serious planning, navigating and packing skills.

Core trails disappear into a maze of social paths, attitude sickness kicks to the curb any endurance you thought you had and mountain microclimates are constantly morphing. Seebeck wrote in his blog from Oct. 2, “The weather was changing. Probably not the best time to be heading up a monster mountain, I remember us all saying the night before how cool it would be to have a nice dusting of snow for the climb, mind you the first actual snow we all would have seen this year. Our wish came true.”

Be the nicest person on the trail

Riding up (and down) a 14er like Mt. Sherman will certainly elicit conversation between hikers and bikers. Keep it cordial. Photo: Ian Fohrman/@iandavidf
Fohrman suggests real trail-side conflict between hikers and bikers on 14ers is made up by media. His experience has been the opposite. “We didn’t have one negative interaction over 12 peaks. People were friendly, they waved and started conversation,” he says. “They’d say things like, ‘You are crazy’ or ‘That’s so cool.’ Some people are curious, and that starts the conversation too.”

Seebeck agrees the fate of future mixed use on 14ers is all in the bikers’ hands. “I have been both a courteous, kosher rider and also a rowdy, fast, rude rider, and I’ve noticed there are usually never any problems with hiker/biker interaction when you stop to take the time and say ‘hello’ and ‘thank you.’ Most hikers are more than happy and quick to move for you if you are polite and slow down a bit.”

Democrat lake
A rain shower keeps the scene extra green on a descent down Mt. Democrat. Photo: Ian Fohrman/@iandavidf
It’s simple, he says: “Don’t be a d–k.”

With mutual respect, there’s enough magic to go around according to mountain biker Mason Johnston, who rode his first 14er this fall. “After completing a 14er on your bike, you discover a world that is unknown. You gain knowledge that a classroom cannot teach you. The incredible views show you a different perspective that forever leaves a mark on your life.”

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