The following are some tips I wrote up for a bike ride up Lookout Mountain with some friends that haven’t done it before. If you have your own tips, feel free to send them to me.
Of course, a road bike is best suited for climbing Lookout. But don’t let the lack of a road bike stop you. I have seen cruiser bikes, mountain bikes, elliptical bikes and even a unicycle going up Lookout.
Just like with any workout, it is a good idea to warm-up before you hit the hard part of a ride. Before we tackle Lookout, we will get in a few miles to warm up our muscles and joints. This is also a good time to make sure your equipment is all good.
Lookout Mountain averages about 5.6% in grade over about 4.5 miles. It starts off with a steep section before settling into a steady climb. About one quarter of the way up, you will hit the first switch backs. The first switchbacks are relative low in grade and fairly easy to get through. The middle section of the ride before the second set of switchbacks is slightly less steep. You are still climbing but you should find it a bit easier than the first section — if there is no wind. The middle section is pretty notorious for some winds that can slow you down quite a bit.
Just before you hit the second and final set of switchbacks, there is parking lot and overlook at Windy Saddle. If you need a rest break, this is a good spot. After you pass Wind Saddle, be prepared for the switchbacks. These are steeper than the first and you will need a burst of energy to get around them.
After you get past the last switchbacks, you will have some deceptively steep sections. Luckily, this section is more protected from the sun and winds, so it isn’t too bad. Just know that you are getting close to being done.
As you get close to the top, you will actually hit a section that is flat. Here you can shift gears and sprint to the finish. Right at the last turn the grade kicks up again, but if you have some momentum and push, you can get through that with ease.
Coming back down
There are two common options for going back down the mountain. Depending on what the group decides, either is an option for us.
The first is obvious — turn around and go right back down. This can be a lot of fun especially since you just earned it by riding the road up. You can reach speeds of up to 40 mph and you have to carefully navigate the switchbacks and cars. (Note: The speed limit even for cyclist is 25mph and the cops will stop cyclist.)
The other option for getting down Lookout is to continue on past the top until you reach US40. Once you hit US40, you turn left. Before long the road is going parallel to I70 back toward Golden. The advantage to this route is that the speed limit is higher and you don’t have to worry about switchbacks. The road has slight curves, but nothing major. The disadvantage is that you have a couple of rolling hills to overcome before you go back down and there is a stop sign about halfway down.
- Find a level of effort that you can sustain for 30+ minutes. Make sure you have some extra cushion for the steep bits. Keep adjusting your effort while on the bike — you don’t have to stop if you get tired, just back off a bit and recover while moving.
- Staying seated is your most efficient way to climb for long periods.
- Keep your cadence high. Try not to dip below 70 7pm. Somewhere between 80-90 is ideal. Imagine it is like a workout. Just remember to keep your feet moving fast even if it means downshifting. It is more efficient and sustainable.
- Stay relaxed in your upper body. We have a tendency to want to take a death grip on the handle bars and tense up our upper bodies as the effort increases. Don’t. Instead, keep a loose grip and keep your shoulders relaxed. You don’t waste energy.
- Use all of your saddle. By adjust your position forwards and back, you can engage your muscles slightly different. This can give you a slight break while riding.
- If you have clipless pedals, try to make silky smooth strokes. Don’t just mash on the pedals. Engage each leg for the full circle of a stroke — pushing down and pulling up.
- Steep sections and bursts of energy
- Whether you are just trying to get over steep section or passing someone one, the key is to attack it.
- Shift quickly to a slightly harder gear.
- Hammer the pedals – even if your cadence drops.
- If you are comfortable, stand and give yourself leverage. Shift to a harder gear as you rise.
- Be prepared to recover – sit down, downshift, and get your breathing under control.
Extra tip for switchbacks – Most of the time, the inside part of the switchback curve is the steepest. If there are no cars present and it is safe to do so, utilize the whole lane so that you can get around the curve with a bit less effort.
- Trust the bike! As you pick up speed, the bike’s wheels want to spin and stay upright. You just have to guide it down the mountain.
- Keep your eyes scanning for debris, potholes, cars, etc.
- Brake smoothly going into a curve and left off as you come out of the curve. Keep your eyes focused on where you are guiding the bike.
- You still don’t want a death grip on the handlebars. Instead keep a firm grip with your hands ready to brake. Keep your shoulders relaxed and core prepared to react.
- Watch for cyclist coming behind you. They will pass you on the left, but with the wind, you may not hear them coming.