Road Bike Rules
Floating through powder on Baldy’s bowls. Sailing over roots on the Fox Creek Trail. Hooking a trout on the Big Wood River. These are just a few of the outdoor pursuits that draw tens of thousands of people to the Wood River Valley every year and why many of those decide to make it their home.
While snow and mountain sports receive most visitors’ attention, a quick drive up state Highway 75 on a warm spring day reveals a dedicated corps of an often overlooked group of athletes: cyclists.
Before the snow has melted off the peaks of the Pioneers, Lycra-clad wheelmen roll through the valley, chains freshly oiled in the hope of whipping their bodies and bikes into shape after a winter’s inactivity.
In a community where sports are considered more a religion than a pastime, an attraction to road biking is not surprising. "The Ketchum cycling community is kind of funny," said Nappy Neaman, manager of the Elephant’s Perch sports store on Sun Valley Road. "There are no armchair riders."
While beautiful scenery on a ride is a given, cycling is less about communing with nature and more about a near-masochistic desire to strip away all external stimuli, reducing the endeavor to one simple equation: How hard can you push yourself?
Sure, there may be a peloton—a group of riders working together against the wind—but in the end, only one person can push the pedals.
That doesn’t keep riders from seeking all possible advantage. Toting bicycles that cost more than a new car, a cyclist’s gear is extreme. From aerodynamic helmets and cycle-specific shoes to those skin-tight shorts, wheelmen are nothing if not dedicated.
In Europe, a person in full cycling gear sipping an Orangina at an outdoor café barely merits a second glance. But for America’s fledgling cyclists, the attire is a formidable hurdle, especially in Idaho, where Carhartts are the garment of choice. One 40-mile ride into the wind, however, and the modesty of baggy shorts and a cotton T-shirt quickly loses its appeal.
While the idea of shaving their legs might still prove off-putting to novice riders (at least the male ones), the transition into the sport for valley residents is made easier thanks to the Wood River Valley’s world-class trail system. Approximately 20 miles of asphalt running up the valley, the bike path provides the perfect location for getting used to clipless pedals—which greatly increase efficiency—and riding while in the drops (hands positioned on the lower curved portion of the handlebars).
Because the geography proffered by a narrow valley isn’t exactly on par with the French Alps, most local cycling buzz is focused on the infinite miles of off-road single track. However, road bikers do have plenty of choice of their own. "You can pop out your door and head out on one of the three major routes: the bike path, north on the highway or out Trail Creek Road," said Neaman, a rabid cyclist and climber. "But there are also a lot of side routes, such as Ohio Gulch and the hills off Elkhorn."
With a surprising amount of diversity, those ready to head away from the bike path for more of a challenge have a number of options. A popular group ride departs the Elephant’s Perch every Wednesday evening throughout the summer. "This is a great place to learn how to ride in a group and get comfortable on the road," Neaman said. "We have experienced riders there to help coach and teach everything from etiquette to how to climb and descend better." This weekly ride is broken into three informal groups that tackle various distances so all levels can be accommodated, and no one is dropped—left behind by the rest of the pack.
This is not the case with the Tuesday evening ride that leaves Sun Summit in Ketchum with a contingent of strong competitive cyclists. "You can’t fake that one," said local cyclist Rob Webb.
With sports equipment manufacturers Smith and Scott based in Ketchum, a number of professional road racers and elite-level Nordic skiers in training, there is a steady supply of talented riders looking to make the most of the weekly workout. Around 30 riders set out for the 15-mile trip to Prairie Creek, which features a sprint climb to the top of Phantom Hill that often causes a number of riders to fall off the back—unable to stay on the wheels of the breakaway group.
If that is not enough, head to Galena, the only mountain in the valley that comes close to an Alpe d’Huez (one of the biggest challenges on that mecca of cycling, the Tour De France). The six-mile climb twists up to the 8,701-foot summit. With a consistent grade and hairpin turns, Galena offers a remarkable and hair-raising descent as reward for the hard work on the way up.
For those looking to tick off a cycling milestone, the Sawtooth Century, a 100-mile ride held each August, takes riders from Ketchum north to Alturas Lake and back.
Just be sure to take your turns pulling at the front.
Get Out and Ride
Tuesday Night Ride
Wednesday Night Ride
Summit Hill Climb Ride/Race
Sawtooth Century Ride
Boulder Mountain Tour