A blog for (semi) athletic middle-aged men (and women) holding on to (the last vestiges of) their youth
by training for and competing in running, cycling, swimming and triathlon events!

Monday, December 26, 2016

A Tale of Two Rides: Cycle Oregon and Ride the Rockies

After completing nine of the past 12 Ride the Rockies cycling events I decided to explore new terrain this year and headed west to Go for Gold on Cycle Oregon. As my brother and I researched various rides around the country I often wondered how each ride would compare to Ride the Rockies. If you are looking for a life-changing adventure, both Ride the Rockies and Cycle Oregon are great events, well supported by amazing staff and volunteers who pull off the logistics of moving 2,000 riders  from stop to stop, providing aid stations along the route, Support and Gear (SAG) vehicles, bike maintenance, medical support, and accommodations, but if you are trying to decide between the two there are some key differences to consider.

Looking for epic climbs? Ride the Rockies has them! Hint: so does Cycle Oregon.
One thing both Ride the Rockies and Cycle Oregon offer is beautiful scenery. Over the course of nine RTRs I have witnessed the depth and breadth of the Colorado Rockies from Rocky Mountain National Park up north to the San Juan National Forest in the south. I've ridden over most of Colorado's iconic mountain passes including Wolf Creek, Cottonwood, Monarch, Independence, Loveland, Vail, Trail Ridge Road (in both directions) and Grand Mesa from the north (ranked the 3rd toughest climb in Colorado and 24th in the U.S.!). To say the scenery is stunning is an understatement.
Ride the Rockies features stops in popular Colorado mountain towns like Telluride (Leslie and I at the start of RTR 2013).
The Rocky Mountains make a nice backdrop for the music stage at the overnight stops on RTR.
I have only done Cycle Oregon once but the 2016 ride ride did not disappoint in the scenery department. From the rugged Pacific coast up the Rogue Rover Valley into the remote Klamath Mountains, the views were jaw-dropping at every turn. This video from Cycle Oregon 2016 offers a bird's eye view of the amazing diversity of the landscape along the coast and coastal range of southwestern Oregon.

In talking with other riders who have done Cycle Oregon in the past, I'm certain it delivers in the scenery department whether riding around Mt. Hood, the Willamette Valley or pretty much anywhere along the coast! So, if you are looking for a scenic ride, you can't go wrong with either Ride the Rockies or Cycle Oregon. But there are several key differences between the two rides. In general, Cycle Oregon provides more of an "all-inclusive" model while Ride the Rockies is more of an a la carte experience. As Cycle Oregon Ride Director Steve Schulz said, "All you have to do is show up and ride. We take care of everything else."

For the most part, that is accurate. You also pay for it. The fee for Cycle Oregon 2016 was $985. The fee for Ride the Rockies 2016 was $495, almost half the price. What makes Cycle Oregon so much more expensive?

Food is one of the biggest differences between the two rides and likely accounts for the majority of the difference in the registration fee. Cycle Oregon provides all the meals -- breakfast, lunch and dinner -- as well as snacks and water stops along the route. RTR also provides snacks (fruit, chips/pretzels, etc. along the route but food at the designated lunch stop is provided by vendors who travel along with the ride selling everything from burritos to burgers. While this provides more options there can also be long lines for food during peak times. RTR also works with local charitable organizations to provide a community dinner but there is a charge for that as well (with proceeds going to the charity). I typically go out to eat on RTR, preferring a good steak or burger to the typical pasta and poultry offered at the community dinners.

I was concerned that the meals provided on Cycle Oregon might not measure up to my expectations. After all, the options on the registration form said "Vegetarian" and "Non-vegetarian." :) But the food was actually pretty good and included plenty of animal protein (there was one line for vegetarians that was never full and several lines for "non-vegetarians" that were always full but not long). Let's just say that it provided sufficient sustenance and was convenient. The bottom-line is that eating out is not an option on Cycle Oregon, at least not this year, given the remote location of most of the overnight stops, but I'd prefer more food options if given the choice.

Both RTR and Cycle Oregon provide a designated overnight location with spots for camping, shower trucks, and port-a-potties. On RTR this is usually a school, which is also open for "indoor camping" (in hallways, doorways or packed in the gym like sardines). I tried this one night on my first RTR and hated it. It's noisy, cramped and there is zero privacy. I much prefer to sleep in a tent. The other option is to pay for hotels, which many people do on RTR, where most of the overnight locations are resort towns with lots of hotel options. Hotel options were very limited on Cycle Oregon this year -- two of the nights there were no hotel options anywhere near the overnight location.

Several of the overnight stops on Cycle Oregon were nowhere near hotels or restaurants, like this overnight in Camas Valley.

Our campsite at Bandon-by-the-Sea on Cycle Oregon 2016
My brother and I booked a room overlooking the ocean in Gold Beach (where we spent two nights in the middle of the week) but camped out the other five nights in our own tents. I used to camp every night on these rides but putting up and taking down your own tent every day takes a lot of extra energy so it's nice to take a break from the routine and sleep in a bed with your own bathroom, shower, etc. Another option is the tent and porter service (aka "valet camping") offered on both rides if you want to shell out several hundred dollars ($450 this year on Cycle Oregon) to have a tent ready and waiting with your luggage (both rides carry one bag per rider from stop to stop).

Camping within site of the beer, food and music tents is a bonus. No busses!
One thing I loved about the accommodations on Cycle Oregon is that the beer tent and entertainment were always located at the campsite (and were open from 12 noon to 10 p.m.). On RTR they are often at a separate location requiring riders to either ride on a shuttle bus or walk -- neither of which are ideal, especially late a night after numerous adult beverages! It was really nice to be able to stumble back to our tents when the music stopped and the beer tent shut down.
Shower trucks and Port-a-potties
Cycle Oregon scores a win in this category with superior port-a-potty and shower truck logistics. Whether it was simply having more shower and potty space per rider or the way they were spaced out around the camp, we rarely encountered a line for either.

Port-a-potty logistics on these rides are amazing. I like the way Cycle Oregon spread them around the campsites rather than lining them all up in one or two locations like Ride the Rockies.
Mileage and Elevation Gain
We rode 431 total miles in seven days on Cycle Oregon, an average of 61.5 miles per day. This is pretty similar to the RTRs I have done, which usually average around 65/day. I was on the longest RTR in history in 2013, which totaled 545 miles in seven days (~78 miles per day). Frankly, that's too much time in the saddle for me to be able to fully enjoy the ride. I've also done an RTR that featured more than 30,000 feet of elevation gain, which is too much climbing for me. By contrast, Cycle Oregon 2016 was around 26,000, which is closer to the average for the RTRs I have done and is much more doable.
The thing that caught me off guard on Cycle Oregon was the steepness of the climbs. These two videos offer a glimpse of the steep Forest Service roads we traversed on Day 2 and Day 5.

The climb up Weaver Creek Road featured grades of more than 15% for two miles. It is the toughest stretch of road I have ever ridden (yes, even in the Colorado Rockies).
The descent from Bear Camp on Forest Road 23 made the 15-mile climb to the top worthwhile! Sorry for the shaky video. Blame the Forest Service.

Suffice it to say Cycle Oregon provided every bit as much of a climbing challenge as most of the RTRs I have been on. But the one thing Cycle Oregon can't compete with RTR on is ALTITUDE!
Check out this climb up Loveland Pass (elev. 11,990) on RTR 2014...

And just for fun, here is the descent on Lookout Mountain into Golden, Colorado, later the same day...

As you can see, both Cycle Oregon and Ride the Rockies offer amazing views of some of the most beautiful areas of our country. I definitely enjoyed the views along the coast during Cycle Oregon, which is something the Colorado Rockies don't have to offer.

On the other hand, the Rocky Mountains offer simply stunning views...

The bottom-line is that if you are considering a weeklong cycling adventure this summer, you can't go wrong with either Ride the Rockies or Cycle Oregon. My plan is to check out the RTR 2017 route when it is announced on February 4 and decide whether to register, but I'd love to come back to my home state this year and complete my 10th Ride the Rockies.

Ride on!