Just thought I'd share a gravel ride report of Rollins Pass here in Colorado.  This is an old railroad grade which was abandoned once a tunnel through the mountains was completed. Foundations to buildings at the summit still exist.

First tip - do NOT begin the ride in Rollinsville to get in an extra 6 miles of gravel. The East Portal road from Rollinsville has a lot of traffic so riding this road will mean breathing in A LOT of dust.  Instead, start at the beginning of Rollins Pass Road (at the intersection of East Portal Rd.).  There seems to be ample parking nearby.  

Rollins Pass Road is a gradual 2% to 4% 12.6 mile climb to the closed Needle Eye tunnel. Typically railroad grades are 2% or less, but this pass required 4% in sections.  There also are some sections where the road deviates from the railroad bed and the grade will be much steeper for a couple of these.

One will encounter ATV/4WD traffic and most everyone was very kind and polite - slowing or stopping as we neared so we wouldn't be enveloped in dust.  Passing vehicles in some of the narrow single lane sections never made any of the riders in our group uncomfortable. 

The views above tree line near the summit are outstanding - except when Montana is burning down as was the case for this ride. [frown]   So we didn't take any pictures but we did note several side roads and trails to explore in the future.  

One can hike-a-bike around the tunnel taking a well worn path and then continuing the ride another 13.6 miles down into Winter Park, CO on dirt/gravel roads.  This is a nice 2,600 ft. descent with roads that generally are in good condition. FWIW I've made the climb from Winterpark on an old Trek Singletrack mountain bike with drop bars and 2.25" road tires and never felt a need for suspension.

The descent to the East from the tunnel back to the beginning of Rollins Pass Rd is another story. Lots and lots of ATV's, 4WD's and motorcycles use this road so it is very beat up.  For this ride I heeded the advice of a friend and brought my Stumpjumper hardtail 29'er instead of a rigid GG.  About a mile into the descent I was wishing I had rear suspension. I ended up standing for nearly the entire descent (a bit over an hour).  Yes it's that rough!

So technically speaking, yes one certainly "could" make this ride without suspension but shocks will make the ride much more pleasant.

Lessons learned: ATV/4WD vehicles can really-really chew up the road.  The most technical part of the ride was keeping moving in large loose gravel.  I don't believe any of the light and fast gravel tires would be able to handle the descent.  Riding old railroad grade makes for a nice consistent climb and a great place for a social ride. 


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Thanks for the report. I'm envious. Sounds like a monster cross bike would be perfect. I used to visit CO every winter to ski. Family in Boulder, cycling friends in Steam Boat. I always had trouble with altitude and aridity, though. I get sick - very sick - at altitudes over 7000 ft. For short visits of 10 days or so, this was always a big problem. There is a prescription medication called Diamox that helped a bit. You had to start taking it 3 days before your trip. It worked - at least I didn't suffer from severe altitude sickness- but there were some nasty side effects - tingly nerves and finger numbness as well as effects on food taste. Of course no alcohol, and lots of water. I can eventually adapt to altitude - but it takes several weeks. Maybe I'll come out for a long visit next summer. I miss CO.
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