Biking blues

Frequent visitors to Yampa Valley unaffected, but area cyclists disappointed by new limits on bike tours

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New Colorado State Patrol restrictions on the size of organized bicycle tours won't affect two major rides that have contributed to Steamboat's tourism economy during the past decade. However, area road cycling enthusiasts are disappointed by the new limitation and because they weren't consulted.

Colorado State Patrol Chief Col. Mark V. Trossel issued a directive in November to limit tours on state highways to 2,500 riders. That's less than half the 6,800 people the Elephant Rock Bicycle Festival through Douglas and El Paso counties attracted in June. A State Patrol spokesman said this week that the decision was irreversible.

"This is a concern to the cycling community here," Robin Craigen, vice president of the Routt County Riders said. "Cycling has a huge impact in Colorado, and we would be opposed to restrictions like this."

Craigen's organization advocates for road cycling in the area. It has been working with Routt County officials to encourage the use of smaller rock chips used to chip and seal county roads to make them friendlier to cyclists.

Steamboat has played host more than once to the Denver Post Ride the Rockies tour and the Bicycle Tour of Colorado. However, Ride the Rockies self-limits at 2,000 rides, and the Bicycle Tour of Colorado also typically fits under the 2,500 rider threshold. Both tours visited Steamboat in June 2004, and history suggests they'll return.

In addition to the Elephant Rock event, the Triple Bypass tour from Evergreen to Avon would be limited by the new State Patrol rules.

Scott Schlapkohl, secretary treasurer of the Routt County Riders, has pedaled the Triple bypass six times. He said that unlike Ride the Rockies, which pulls participants' names from a lottery, the Bypass welcomes all comers; that added up to about 3,500 riders last year.

"I'm just passionate about cycling," Schlapkohl said. "This will mean less opportunities for people to participate."

Schlapkohl said limiting participation also would reduce the fundraising opportunities for nonprofits in towns along the route of the Triple Bypass, which traverses the Juniper, Loveland and Vail passes.

Last year, the event raised $90,000, he said. Schlapkohl said his perception is that tour operators and the State Patrol have collaborated well on the bicycling tour.

"The State Patrol does a fantastic job on the bypass," Schlapkohl said.

Cycling organizations say the limit was set arbitrarily, but Trossel issued a statement saying bigger tours tax his ability to assign state troopers to the events and therefore are unsafe.

Trossel has said bicycle tours can't be conducted safely on state highways unless there is one motorcycle-riding state trooper for every 300 riders. Because he can only spare eight troopers at a time, he capped the maximum number of riders at 2,500.

Scot Harris, organizer of the Elephant Rock event, said his tour hired 16 state troopers and 30 more officers from El Paso and Douglas counties and the cities of Castle Rock and Palmer Lake to ensure safety last year. He said moving his event's course off state highways isn't feasible.

Schlapkohl noted that the Bypass route uses state highways that are relatively uncrowded because they roughly parallel Interstate 70.

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