9 places near Denver to learn the sport

Mountain biking is often portrayed as a sport for thrill-seeking adrenaline junkies throwing themselves down hair-raising slopes where danger lurks around every corner. The Front Range has plenty of trails to satisfy those appetites.

But many mountain bikers aren’t driven to test themselves on Lookout Mountain’s Apex Trail, for example, or at White Ranch Park in the foothills west of Arvada, both of which climb hundreds of feet over rocky terrain and where downhill crashes can be punished severely. Some simply prefer pleasant off-road riding, while others may be looking for good places to learn critical skills before testing themselves on more intimidating terrain.

The Front Range has plenty of that, too.

Jay Bolllinger of Golden is a passionate mountain biker who used many of those gentler trails to introduce his 13-year-old son, Isaac, to the sport. Now, Isaac is an avid mountain biker looking forward to competing in high school races, and his 8-year-old brother, Sam, is joining dad on the trails, too. Bollinger helped us compile a list of trails that are comfortable for beginners and those who just want to ride without scaring themselves.

“Mountain biking is my passion and something I have really loved over the past twenty-something years,” Bollinger said. “These trails are ones where I can share that love with my boys. If you can do the things you love with the people you love, it’s the best.”

Natalie Raborn, a mountain-biking coach based in Evergreen, helped us out, too. She is the race director of the Beti Bike Bash, a Team Evergreen race aimed at introducing more women to the sport in a setting that is welcoming, not intimidating. That event is held annually in October at Lakewood’s Bear Creek Lake Park, which Bollinger and Raborn both say is ideal for beginners and folks who prefer not to be frightened on the bike. There are some fun climbs, but nothing too challenging.

“There are no intimidating rock features or drops,” Raborn said. “It’s beautiful, but it’s still challenging enough that you feel like you’re mountain biking, not just riding on a dirt road. You have pretty good visibility there, so you don’t have to stress about coming around a corner and running into another biker or hiker. You can’t really get lost, which is sometimes a fear for a beginner, and there’s cellphone service. There are all these things that you don’t think are a big deal, but they kind of are when you are a beginner.”

Bear Creek Lake Park also is a beautiful natural setting and, after all, that’s one of the main attractions of mountain biking as compared to road cycling. It gets you closer to nature.

“Colorado has so much forest and open space where you can disconnect from society a little more,” Raborn said. “You’re really in nature, so you’re more likely to see animals and ride by streams. You can connect with the outdoors more. It adds more of a challenge, mental and physical, because you’re not just propelling a machine forward. It provides a full-body workout, so you’re conditioning your core and your upper body, more so than you generally would on a road bike.”

Here are some other unintimidating mountain biking destinations, in or near the foothills, to consider:

South Table Mountain Park: There are multiple trailheads to ascend this mesa in Golden. The easiest ways are on the south side of the mesa from Quaker Street, Golden Hills Road or Camp George West Park. All three routes offer moderate climbs of a couple of hundred feet or so to the top of the mesa, where there are miles of relatively flat trails with great views, especially on the east and west edges of the mesa.

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