In the middle of January, I went on a trip. The destination was Colorado Springs, and I was going to be there for two full weeks. Colorado, as you may know, is quite well known for good bicycling opportunities. So, I was quite excited.
The only problem was, that I was flying. I needed to sort out how I was going to provide myself with a bicycle for those two weeks. I looked into shipping my bike and calculated that it would end up costing around $150 for a round trip for my bicycle. But that seemed like a lot of work. Packing and unpacking and perhaps damaging one of my prized possessions. So I looked for other options.
Renting a bike would have been a poor choice since I wanted to have the bicycle for the whole trip. I would be commuting about 2 miles per day. I certainly didn’t want to drive a car. I also did not want to spend $50-$75 per day on a bicycle. That would be fine for a single day excursion but my plans were on a more grand scale.
So I went to craigslist. I found three suitable options, all late 80s to early 90’s, steel, mountain bikes, and hoped one would be available by the time I got there. That was more my style anyway. Problem solved.
I then set to packing. I packed a comfy, swept-back, set of handlebars (Surly Open Bar), my favorite mountain bike saddle (WTB Pure), some nice folding tires (Continental X-Kings), comfy grips (Ergon GC-1) and other normal business trip items (ie. bottle cages, mini pump, bicycle bags, tools, bibs, tights, cycling shoes, helmet, etc. Etc.). By the time I was done, I had room for roughly three sets of clothing. No problem, I would do laundry.
I arrived in Colorado Springs and the weather was exactly as advertised, 50 degrees and the forecast was favorable for continued mild temperatures with lots of sunshine. Just what I wanted.
On the second day of my trip, I arranged for the pickup of a 1988 Panasonic Mountain Cat 4500. It was mid-level 1980’s Japanese production mountain bike gold! All Deore components, 3×6 (friction), Biopace chainrings, it was the whole package. Everything was in great shape, except for a small gash in the back plate of the rear derailleur but it was Deore and it was friction so, no worries. Well worth $75.
That night, back in my hotel room, I began the transformation from Mountain bike that no one had cared about for years to “Comfortable Shredmobile, and dirt tourer”. I swapped the handlebars, tires, and saddle and removed the kickstand. It was nearly ready. There were at least twenty pounds of slime in each tube (hyperbole) and the Seatpost was only five inches long (not hyperbole). So, I would need to find a bike shop for a new post and hopefully some lightweight tubes (suppleness is very important to me). I also needed some cable and housing to make room for my large handlebar bag.
On the third day, I rode. Lunchtime came around and I rode my new machine to the Colorado Springs Bike Shop. I was concerned that I would have trouble finding good 26″ tubes or a 26.6 Seatpost at a “modern” bicycle shop filled with carbon fiber and Garmins etc. etc. (not that there is anything wrong with that). However I was pleasantly surprised to find that, not only did the shop have two shop dogs, they also had loads of old MTB parts and frames hanging around. The shop was awesome and everyone was incredibly helpful. I got some Continental Lightweight Tubes and a brand new Seatpost of normal length. They also pointed me to Gold Camp Road for some tasty gravel.
Riding my Bicycle
After finishing with my daily obligations and some leisurely rolling around town, I returned to my room to fiddle with my bike. I got it all set up, just the way I wanted it. Now I was ready for adventure.
My days were pretty full during the trip. I had one day off, on a Sunday. The rest of the days, I would finish up around four or five o’clock and head up into the mountains on whatever kind of road I could find.
Colorado Springs is a great place to ride. I found no shortage of fantastic gravel roads heading up. What they say about the air in Colorado is true. It seems like there isn’t any. There certainly isn’t enough oxygen for my needs. Climbing though? There is plenty of that.
My rides were slow. Most of the gravel roads I found were at a minimum of 5% grade for as long as I could ride them. Without fail, I found that snow and ice would completely cover the road before I got to the top. As a novice mountain descender, I would opt to avoid icy descents in the dark and head home at that point. That was usually more than an hour into my ride. That was fine with me, I was hungry anyway.
Everything was beautiful. There were mountains everywhere. Mountains always surprise me. I come from trees (in Michigan) and plains (in Nebraska) and when a mountain is where I can see it, it astounds me.
Every night I would head into the hills and wind around, up and up. It was incredible. Compared to back home it seemed I was traversing great distances. I would look back and see downtown, Colorado Springs. As I rode on it would get smaller and smaller and farther down. In the other direction, I would start my ride by looking up, straight into the side of a giant rock. After an hour, I was on top of that rock. It was phenomenal.
Riding in the mountains alone was fantastic. It was always just me. I felt incredibly isolated. The distance wasn’t extreme but even when I was only seven miles up the road I would feel cut off from the world. I am not accustomed to a land where bears and big cats hang out. I was always excited. I saw tracks but never the creatures themselves. Even other humans were scarce. Most of the roads I chose were closed to vehicles during the winter and I had the whole place to myself.
The Mountain Cat was a dream. They say steel is real. I say, obviously. Aside from being real, steel is a good ride (even the cheap stuff). This particular bike was grand. It was an 18″ frame and it fit exactly the way I like. It was a good climber, responding to my input in a timely fashion yet stable when I was out of the saddle. As it is the only bike I have ridden in the mountains and thus the only bike I have done any real descending on, I can’t really compare its qualities in this area. However, I was quite pleased with it. I had no trouble holding a smooth line through switchback curves, I never felt as though I required a quicker response on tight singletrack, and over the rough stuff, it offered enough compliance to take the edge off. I did notice a significant difference between this frame and my MB-2, with it’s Ritchey Logic Tubing. The ride felt dull in comparison. Still, in my opinion, the MC- 4500 from 1988 is a lovely bicycle.
On my day off, I took the mechanics advice and rode up Gold Camp Road. I rode for almost six hours and only thirty miles. It was spectacular. The views were astounding and the road itself was great. Winding gravel and old tunnels with plenty of great spots to stop for snacks.
As I continued on, the road became less of a road and more of a trail. It narrowed and cars were no longer allowed. The more I climbed the more snow appeared. On the shaded side of the mountain, I was riding through (or on) 3-5 inches of snow. It was hard-packed with plenty of footprints from hikers. It was a rough ride but once I got around the corner to the sunshine the road was beautiful once more. As I traveled further, each curve in the road brought something more astonishing. Great trees surrounded me and there were often steep drops at the side of the road. I stumbled onto frozen streams and pushed my bike up winding paths for detours up and over collapsed tunnels.
Eventually, I came to a knoll at the base of a steep incline that was completely covered in snow. The road wound off to the left into a cut with steep banks crowded with pine trees. After all the climbing and the rough road, I was exhausted and getting hungry. I wanted to keep going but I knew it was time to go home. Finally, I decided to turn back and rationalized my decision by telling myself that there was probably a mountain lion waiting to eat me just around the corner anyway.
The ride down took only a quarter of the time it had taken me to climb up. I got back to town just as the sun was setting behind the mountains. I was cold, hungry, tired, and happy.
For the rest of my trip, I continued to go on evening excursions into the hills and I rode mountain bike trails on my lunch hour. I rode through the Garden of the Gods and stopped to look at the kissing camels. I explored the city’s trail system and rode to the Black Bear Diner for pancakes. It was a fantastic experience in a beautiful place.
On the last day, I removed my personal bits from the bicycle (Bags, pump, lights, computer) and returned the sensible commuter tires (Kenda Kross) that had been newly installed before I purchased the bicycle. I had been pointed towards a real cool community non-profit bike shop by a friend. They sell donated bikes and other outdoor equipment to raise money for bicycle-related programs for kids that they facilitate and various other worthy causes. So, I decided to leave it with them.
I took the Mountain Cat to the Pedal Station. It was an awesome establishment. The people were friendly and the shop was full of great old bikes. It was a place that I would love to spend more time in. There were MBs and Stump Jumpers and many other things that made me want to buy bikes instead of give a bike. I controlled myself and said my goodbyes to my machine. I do hope that someone will continue to appreciate it as much as I did. It was indeed a fine bicycle.
That was the end. I packed up my belongings and returned home. Colorado Springs is a wonderful place to ride a bicycle. I intend to return.