Going into another anticipated record-breaking summer of traffic on the Pikes Peak Highway, at least Jack Glavan doesn’t have to stress about bikes.
He admits he had some reservations in 2013, when Pikes Peak–America’s Mountain, the management arm he oversees, decided it was time to give unguided cyclists the chance to climb. Demand was high since 2011, when paving finished to the summit at 14,115 feet.
“In the beginning, we just didn’t know who would ride, who would take on the challenge,” Glavan says. “We were afraid it would be bicyclists who weren’t prepared or ready.”
That’s been part of what he considers his “pleasant surprise.” The riders generally have been strong and conscientious, “prepared for different conditions and weather,” he says. “And also, we’ve noticed that vehicles have been very courteous with them.”
He didn’t have numbers but says, “We’ve had very few accidents.” He can recall “minor injuries” over the years — mostly due to people zooming down the highway’s 150 turns — but nothing significant.
Exactly 950 unescorted riders were counted in 2018, data show. That was up from 808 in 2017 and slightly up from 2014 and ’15, though ’16 saw 1,146 unescorted cyclists.
Outfitters, only taking clients down the peak, contribute to the bulk of bike traffic. And those numbers are declining. Data show 2,515 were escorted last year, the fewest since 2013, when bikers were allowed on their own.
One popular outfitter, Pikes Peak Bike Tours, says that rule change has done nothing to hamper business. The people churning up the 19-mile road gaining nearly 5,000 feet of elevation would never consider a guide, just as tourists would never consider attempting the lung-busting journey up, says Scott Graham. “There’s no crossover,” says the manager of the company, which has seen growth on less hair-raising Gold Camp Road tours.
Altogether, the 3,465 cyclists counted on the highway in 2018 were the fewest in five years, down from the annual average of 4,429. And considering the ever increasing number of vehicles sharing space, that might be for the best.
“The mountain’s getting busier and busier, and as that occurs, there are more issues. I wouldn’t say accidents, but impatience,” Graham says. “It does create conflicts here and there, but not that much.”
Pikes Peak–America’s Mountain tallied more than 500,000 vehicles on the highway for the first time last year — almost double from five years prior. The 2018 surge coincided with visitors’ other mode of transportation, the Cog Railway, being closed.
Trains are expected to run again in 2021. In the meantime, while construction also continues on the Summit House, consuming parking space, managers in busy months again plan to shuttle drivers to the top from Devil’s Playground, the parking area near 13,000 feet.
Glavan’s advice to cyclists: Come early on less-trafficked Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.