Words and Photos: Olivier De Vaulx
The state of Colorado, famous within the ADV community for its Rocky Mountains and high elevation terrain, was the next stop on our Continental Divide test ride. After having had so much fun in New Mexico (see Upshift issue #49), we knew that our Tenere 700s would be up to the challenge. Still, we didn’t expect the number of adventures the colorful state had reserved for us.
It all started peacefully. After Chama’s little town, the winding paved road climbed effortlessly to our first pass, offering magnificent views and encounters with cowboys crossing the highway on proud horses. Fun start! Since the Continental Divide line follows the Rocky Mountain ridge, the first half of our Colorado ride led us through passes, usually over the 12,000 ft mark. The elevation by itself doesn’t tell the whole story, though, and we realized that each pass had its own personality. Starting with Stunner Pass, probably the easiest one on dirt, we rode up to 12,000 ft, taking our time to enjoy some great vista points and admire the area’s stunning red summits. At the top, we had the option of following the large fire road we already knew down to the valley or to explore a rough double track. Using the argument that maybe our future customers might like the more challenging ride, but probably being selfishly drawn to explore this promising new way down, we gave it a try. The trail that started as a fun double track for ATVs, offering breathless views of the Rockies, quickly became pretty technical, to say the least. We had steep walls to descend, small gaps to jump, and rivers to cross, while thousands of rolling rocks were trying to destroy our balance. It was definitely a workout! On the bright side, it was the perfect opportunity to see how good the Tenere was in these tricky conditions. This notwithstanding, we had to remember that we were primarily here to scout a route, not to look for extremes. After a couple of mistakes where the soft bags, crash bars, and the Leatt protections protected both the bikes and the riders, we decided to remove this option from our GPS track. Better safe than sorry! Lesson learned, we skipped the single tracks on the following days and stayed on dirt roads, rough enough to provide plenty of opportunities to prove one’s skills without looking specifically for trouble.
Arriving at the OHV-friendly town of Lake City, we couldn’t resist trying the Alpine loop. It’s not exactly on the Continental Divide. Still, it’s such an iconic place that we really wanted to include it as an option on our tour. Early in the morning, the Jeeps and the tourists were nowhere to be seen and the weather was perfect, with no trace of the thunderstorms, which too often ruin the afternoons. The climb to Cinnamon Pass, at 12,640 ft, was an easy but physical ride, with hard-packed dirt covered with thousands of small rocks. Even with their comfortable suspension, the Tenere 700s bounced non-stop, the vibrations relentlessly hitting the riders. A snack halt at the old ghost town of Animas Fork was welcomed before climbing Engineer Pass. Going up to 13,000 feet, this iconic pass is genuinely something on its own. The climb went straight into the sky, with huge drops on the side and an unobstructed view of the near summits. At the top, the surreal panorama left us speechless while we tried to soak-up this 360° view over the Rockies: it was close to what we could see from a small plane!
We’re pretty sure that Engineer Pass is just one of the very few locations on the planet where you can enjoy such a view, at such a high elevation, with your motorcycle. Other passes like Cottonwood are not as much fun since the dirt road has been paved. Still, Hagerman Pass was another milestone in our exploration of Colorado. The path to the summit was indeed brutal, with giant boulders, sharp rocks, and deep 4WD-dug ruts transforming the dirt road into some sort of extreme enduro stage. The nimble Tenere 700s and their super-linear engine were a big help on this technical ride. At the same time, the Mission tires kept surprising us with their resistance in these abrasive conditions. What could have been a nightmare on bigger bikes was a challenging but fun climb, with the easy-going twins being ridden like small dual-sport bikes. Changing lines on a dime to avoid any loss of traction, we managed to reach the sign indicating the Continental Divide at 11,925 feet with no problem. The descent was not as difficult, even if a large river crossing made us successfully put the unsinkable Tenere to the test.
Luckily, Colorado is not only about rough trails in the Rockies. We enjoyed a ton of fun double tracks from Buena Vista, starting in an OHV area where we could hit berms and jump with our Dakar-like bikes. From there on, and up to Steamboat Springs, our road led us through a succession of picturesque backcountry sceneries. Going through red canyons, following large rivers, and crossing graphically impressive birch forests, we frequently switched from gravel roads to single tracks, never having the same kind of riding for more than one hour straight. River crossings were plenty but never stopped our progression. We kept playing with the bikes, keeping a fast pace through the woods, swallowing roots and avoiding ruts at the last minute. Riding our ADV bikes in these conditions made us feel younger. The smile under our helmet was probably as big as Colorado itself! With this kind of fun riding being quickly tiring, stops at remote villages like Pitkin are appreciated like arrivals in an oasis: Cold drinks, ice cream, authentic and friendly encounters, that’s what backcountry moto travels are made for! The bigger cities were as friendly as these tiny hamlets: We enjoyed talking with firemen about the best trails in the area, borrowed some DOT-4 from a nice ATV store owner, and had dinner in fine restaurants in animated and welcoming downtowns. What more can you ask for? After the emptiness of New-Mexico, this was a much-appreciated change, and we made the most of it.
A Unique Playground
With one of the largest color palettes you can dream of, Colorado is a treat for the eyes, but also a hell of a ride. Tough but rewarding in the mountains, fun but still physical in the forests and plains, the state has everything you need to truly enjoy your adventure bike. Such a playground is the perfect fit for the Tenere 700, which exceeded all our expectations. Confident that the route we recorded on our GPS was a perfect balance of everything that Colorado has to offer, we made ourselves ready to follow the Continental Divide further North.