I have been playing video games which feature Pikes Peak since I can remember. When I found out there was the possibility of coming to Colorado Springs for work my mind immediately went to my hours and hours spent racing up Pikes Peak in rally cars in video games. However, I had less than zero interest in driving a car up Pikes Peak. I had to go up on a bicycle.
I immediately set about researching everything there was to know about climbing Pikes Peak on a bike. It wasn't even an option five years ago but it was finally opened to cyclists in 2013. You have to leave early in the morning to avoid storms on the way down. Most importantly you need to give yourself time to acclimate to the elevation or you will suffer from altitude sickness. So, like any sane person would do after reading that information, I left my hotel on the opposite side of Colorado Springs on my bike at 9:30am less than 24 hours after arriving in Colorado Springs. Because I'm an impatient idiot.
I arrived at the Pikes Peak gate at around 11:15am and found a massive line of cars waiting to get in. The obvious option was to impress the drivers behind me with my ability to apply spray sunscreen while trackstanding. I payed the idiotic $15 to get through the gate ($15 per person in a car is fine. $15 on a bicycle is moronic because I do basically zero damage to the roads, give off zero emissions, and I payed for food at every overpriced shop on the mountain, and I may have inspired a person or two to not drive their fucking car into pristine wilderness in the future…) and began the climb (which in all honesty began back in Colorado Springs).
The climb is divided into about three sections. The first segment I was cruising. I began thinking to myself that all of the chatter on the internet was bullshit and this wasn't one of the hardest climbs in the entire world but was actually quite simple. The grades were mellow, extremely straightforward, and I was able to maintain a decent speed without feeling winded at all.
Once I got past the first gift shop the difficulty cranked up. The elevation increased, the incline increased, the air thinned. It was as if every single rotation of the cranks was more difficult than the last. And this pattern did not cease until I reached the summit. By the time I reached the brake check station I was spent. I was forced to stop seemingly every switchback at this point (and if you've been up Pikes Peak you'll know there's more than a few switchbacks). My lungs were spent and I was straining to merely process information. I was still 2,500 feet below the summit.
The third segment of the ride was above the tree line. I found several Marmots to keep me momentary company but mostly I was alone with my thoughts and increasingly labored breathing. The 20 mile signs kept going up but they weren't much of a relief. My biggest relief was when I would recognize turns from racing video games… The 50 foot dip into a valley (the picture at the top) which I've played in video games literally hundreds of times left me star struck and gave me a momentary respite to the relentlessness of the climb. I just didn't realize how steep the climb after the dip was. I heard several cars cheer me on (a theme of the day actually) at this point and realized I was close to reaching the summit.
My breathing began to normalize, I felt surprisingly wonderful, and felt a sense of euphoria come over me when I saw the first sign to say 14,000 feet. There was one more turn and I was waiting for my mind to turn into mush but it didn't happen. I felt slightly woozy but nothing intolerable. I arrived at the summit, took some pictures, walked to the back and stared over the ridiculous view which awaited me. I've been up a lot of mountains but I'm almost certain I've never been over 14k feet before. It was a sight. I then heard a megaphone calling everyone indoors. Lightning had struck and we weren't safe to go outside. I was on a steel road bike. Great…
I spent some time wandering about the gift shop and bought a patch and a pin, got a hot dog and a donut (at the behest of the bike shop employee I spoke with earlier in the day), and waited out my time. I hung out with a Pakistani family for a bit and fielded questions from just about everyone I passed. I began to realize I was a local celebrity. The idea that someone would ride a bicycle up Pikes Peak seemed to most of the people utterly insane. Some kids thought it was the coolest thing ever (I'm in their camp). Wearing a cycling kit on top of a 14,000 foot mountain is an easy way to get people to talk to you…
The lightning storm wasn't stopping. It actually began to hail and I was extremely concerned with how I was going to make it down the mountain. The idea that I would cycle up a glorious 8,000 foot climb covered in switchbacks and not ride down made me sick to my stomach. And I was actually worried about how I was going to get down the mountain!
Some dudes began to question me about my bike and were in the seemingly universal state of shock. It turned out they were Air Force pilots and through their mutual love of endurance sports and the fact that I am ex-Army made us quick friends. They offered me a spot in their rented Kia Minivan (which is a fabulous place to store a bicycle for future reference) and we promptly ran through the hail and began the drive down. There was snow, lightning, hail, rain, and basically everything you wouldn't want to be in while riding a bicycle. We got down about 1,000 feet however and everything cleared up. The road was damp but I was quite excited. We got to a pullout and my new friends were taking panoramic photos of the crazy road and I decided I couldn't physically allow myself to ride down Pikes Peak in a minivan.
I pulled my bicycle out of their trunk, sorted my gear, and then began flying down the mountain switchback after switchback. My brakes began to squeal. Fairly normal on a set of carbon fiber rims but I was concerned. I got down to the upper gift shop where there was a brake check zone and a nice ranger I had spoken with earlier was there and checked my brakes with a laser heat sensor. 80-95 on every track but my right front brake. 180 degrees. I was extremely concerned.
I decided to wait around a bit and let the brake track cool off. The Kia passed me and we began to play a bit of cat and mouse since bicycles travel much faster than cars downhill. I would pass their van and stop to let my brake cool off. They would pass me and then I'd get back on and pass them. Ad naseum. It was quite fun(ny).
I got down to about 9,000 feet and my brake began to shudder. I knew exactly what that meant. I had just replaced my front brake pads last week for exactly that reason. The front brake pads had melted through completely and were useless in a matter of days. I managed to limp my bicycle down 3,000 feet through Manitou Springs in the rain with only the rear brake by passing cars instead of braking and giving myself an excessive amount of time to brake when needed. I was scared shitless the entire time and probably could have died.
I got down to Colorado City and walked into a bar to get a much needed beer. A couple grabbed me. "Whoa! Were you the guy climbing Pikes Peak on a bike today? That was so awesome!!" I spoke with them for a good 15 minutes and they were genuinely excited to talk to me about cycling. They rode motorcycles so they understand why I do this stuff.
I would rather put myself into precarious situations and live to tell about it than the other option.