Midway through a recent ride on Centennial Cone, my friend Emily and I clambered to the apex of the ride. We perched above the most technical section—a jumbled collection of boulders, sheered off rocks, and loose dirt single track—and guzzled some water from our packs. Beneath us, the trail declined through a series of switchbacks. When our heart rate returned to baseline, we jumped back in the saddle and carefully navigated the technical descent.
Eventually the trail leveled out. And when it did, I found myself in that mountain biking equilibrium where gravity pulls you along, but pedaling is still requisite. I love this zone. The more I pedal, the faster I go, until my speed syncs me with the bike. Here I’m no longer a person and my bike is not an inanimate object. Together we’re a singular machine. Everything works together: eyes, brain, balance, legs. If it weren’t for the dirt underneath my knobby tires, I’d swear I was airborne.
CROSS COUNTRY RIDING IN A TECHNICAL LAND
I cut my teeth on trails like Centennial Cone, which sits squarely on Colorado’s Front Range, west of the town of Golden and accessible via Highway 6 (up Clear Creek Canyon) or from Golden Gate State Park. Actually, I cut my entire body. I picked up my first mountain bike at age 14 and rode and rode and rode. I rode anywhere I could in North America, and I fell in love with long, thin, winding dirt single track. I adored the slog fest climbs and the ribbon descents.
And then I moved to Boulder, where local trails are riddled with the kind of technical spots I prefer to avoid. Because I love mountain biking, I adapted. I sessioned the rock garden at Hall Ranch, let the loose rocks at Heil chatter my teeth. But I fell out of love with my favorite sport and mourned the days of endless exploration, of climbing for an hour to earn a Jedi-like drop whose appeal lay not in its fear factor but in its sublime flow.
And then I discovered Centennial Cone.
I always ride this from the Mayhem Gulch trailhead in Clear Creek Canyon because the 1.5-mile climb up to the main trail is a friendly one. From the top, I bang a left and am off. Much of the climbing in this direction takes place on a double track dirt road, which is fine with me. Climbing on a road generally means descending on a trail.
What makes Centennial my favorite?
The views. To the west are the Indian Peaks, snow-shrouded mountains that entice from afar. In my direct line of view, there are acres and acres of undeveloped land. The landscape undulates in gentle hills, drops into several steep canyons, and is covered in waist-high grass, aspen groves, and pine forests. From many vantage points on the trail, a person forgets they are in Colorado’s densely populated Front Range, a sprawling metropolis that spans the foothills from Fort Collins south to Pueblo.
The riding. The trail flows. It intersperses aerobic climbs with wicked fast descents. The technical spots that exist can be challenging, but they’re not intimidating in a there-goes-your-clavicle way. The terrain is varied and interesting.
The length. According to my GPS watch, the ride was 18.5 miles. This is legion for Front Range riding, where “long” loops clock in at 12 miles. Granted, Centennial’s almost-20 miles are fast—this shouldn’t be an all day sufferfest unless it’s your first ride of the season (or ever)—but they’re enough to give the ride substance.
I’ve got two minor complaints about Centennial Cone. The first is that the ride would be more enjoyable if there was a designated direction riders had to go. This would significantly cut down on the having to interrupt descents to give uphill riders the right of way. My second is that it can be crowded. The trail is governed by an alternating schedule—Equestrian use is allowed every day; On weekdays, trails are multi-use; On weekends, trail use alternates between hikers and bikers, with bikers allowed on even days.
Riding Centennial Cone is a treat. That I got to ride it recently with one of my best friends was an even better treat. If you like fast, cross-country riding and can’t get to the high country, this is a trail not to miss.