America's Best Descents

#10: Grand Mesa North, Colorado

RATING: MX
TOTAL ELEVATION LOSS: 5,622 feet
LENGTH: 21.4 mile
AVERAGE GRADE: 5.0%
MAXIMUM: 8%

You're at nearly 11,000 feet above sea level on top of Grand Mesa, in western Colorado, so it's a long ride down out of alpine terrain into the high desert. The grade is shallow up top, but soon the route starts to switchback, which produces long views of the western Rockies as you lose altitude. The road then straightens out a bit through huge stands of aspen trees before a final left-hand turn leads out to the flank of the mountain, where the road tilts steeper. The result is a long, fast and exhilarating final stretch.

DIRECTIONS: From Grand Junction, head east on I-70 to Route 65 (exit 49). Head south to the top of Grand Mesa.

Five Tips for Making the Most of the Descent

GET POSITIONED: Maintain a slight bend in your arms and slide back on the saddle, keeping your hands in the drops of your bar. And look ahead: Especially during a faster descent, scan far enough down the road to match the pace at which you are descending.

TURN THE CORNER: Set up well in advance of a curve and do whatever braking needs to be done before entering the turn. If you are riding in a group, move away from the others. This will allow you to take your preferred line through the corners, which is critical because you may not have time to adjust once you commit. It also allows a greater margin for slowing.

BRAKE IT DOWN: For long descents, use both brakes equally. Remember that once you're in a turn, any traction used for shaving speed significantly reduces the traction available for cornering. In wet conditions, it will take you longer to stop. Lightly apply the brakes periodically on a wet descent to remove excess water from the rims.

BE READY: Don't compete on descents with anyone other than yourself. That's because on any unfamiliar road, caution is paramount: You should always be prepared for road debris or traffic around every blind corner.

EASE UP: The most important aspect of descending is relaxation. Anxiety can narrow your concentration, which could cause you to miss a hazard in the road ahead. And the best way to be relaxed is by practicing descending as often as possible.


John Summerson is the author of The Complete Guide to Climbing by Bike.

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