What to Expect from Terrain in Colorado Springs

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Palmer Park, Stage 1 of The APEX

Sandstone in Palmer Park

Gold Camp, Stage 3 of The APEX

Colorado Springs is one of the hidden gems of U.S. mountain biking, and during the Pikes Peak APEX presented by RockShox, you’re going to get a grand tour of the incredible trail system locals enjoy every day. If you are new to the area, we want to give you the inside scoop on what makes Springs mountain biking different from what you may be accustomed to.

Stage 1: Sandstone in Palmer Park

Palmer Park is located near the heart of downtown Colorado Springs and features large sandstone bluffs and a mix of fast, flowing trails with technical rock features. Traction is generally abundant, particularly on the sandstone, but the soil between rock features can vary from very hard packed to sandy-over-hard pack. If there is rain, beware of clay soils that will stick to your tires and potentially foul your drivetrain.

Stages 2-3: Decomposed Granite

The dominant type of terrain in the Pikes Peak Region is decomposed granite, and it adds some challenges and a whole lot of fun to Colorado Springs mountain biking. If you are accustomed to dark, rich soils of the Midwest or East Coast, that’s not what you’re going to find here. Decomposed granite is more like fine gravel and less like either hard packed or loamy soil. On the positive side, the trail systems for Stages 2-3 drain extremely well and tend to ride best after a rainstorm. On the negative side, the drier decomposed granite trails become, the looser the gravely surface gets.

Riding quickly and safely on Colorado Springs’ decomposed granite trails requires some adjustments to your riding style and strategy. Here are some things to keep in mind so you can tackle the trails like a local.

Be prepared to drift

While we don’t condone power slides through turns or skidding unnecessarily, the fact is, the loose gravely surface doesn’t offer a lot of traction and many riders find themselves sliding a bit under moderate or heavy braking. Even going through turns, expect to feel your wheels drifting more than you would be accustomed to in a similar turn on denser soils.

Give yourself more room for braking

Stage 3, particularly, features prolonged high-speed descents (which are super fun!) on Pikes Peak granite that can get quite deep and loose. The same lack of traction that will cause you to drift in corners will also increase braking distances. To avoid overcooking a turn, give yourself more room to slow down before tight corners and use a lighter touch on your brake levers. Coming in hot and grabbing a handful of brakes is a bad combination because it is easy to lock up your brakes and slide off course.

Aggressive Tires

Tire choice is of the biggest topics of discussion before any mountain bike or gravel race, and the unique features of the Colorado Springs trail system make a big difference for tire selection. Local riders tend to choose larger volume tires with aggressive tread in order to maximize grip and to stay on top of the gravel rather than sink in and get bogged down.

Tire pressure

Along with a more aggressive tread pattern, local mountain bikers tend to run lower tire pressure in pursuit of increased grip. Loose soil is a more dominant feature of the Colorado Springs trail system than rock ledges, sharp edges, embedded rocks, or roots. Combined with a high-volume tire, this means you can often run a lower tire pressure without dramatically increasing your risk of compressing the tire all the way to the rim. If you are coming from an area with rockier terrain or grippier dirt, you’ll know your tire pressure is too high when your rear tire is slipping during high-torque uphill efforts, or both wheels are instantly sliding upon hitting the brakes going downhill.

The best advice for mountain bikers who are new to Colorado Springs and The APEX is to stay as loose and relaxed on the bike as possible. With the unstable surface under your tires you must get comfortable braking and turning in a low traction environment.