Now that cycling season has arrived, consider shaking things up with leisurely rides that take you on cultural and historical tours practically in your backyard.
Whether you’re new to the Front Range, or a lifelong resident, how familiar are you with the colorful history and culture of your surroundings?
Take for example, that on April 16, 1974, Queen made its United States debut performing at what was then Regis College. It was at this same location, where six years before, Jimi Hendrix had also played.
Or, the fact that the first building in Denver was a saloon, or that the Tower of Memories in Crown Hill Cemetery houses over 6,000 bodies. These anecdotes and more are what participants learn on Loren Hansen’s assorted cultural and historical bicycle tours that have taken Denver by storm.
The creative mastermind behind the Cultural Institutions and Haunted Denver death rides, Hansen is both a cyclist and an avid history buff. “I love to visit History Colorado and learn about the area I live in, so I really chose to do this to educate myself along with others, while keeping the barriers of entry low enough for people to be involved,” said Hansen.
Hansen’s other tours include the Urban Blight Loop Tour, City of Golden History Ride, female-owned breweries, black-owned breweries, and the newly-added University History Rides.
The intersection of Hansen’s love of cycling and history, bicycle tours offer a unique way to explore the city on two wheels, while allowing bicyclists to experience the culture of a city they may not otherwise encounter while in a car.
What makes exploring the Greater Denver Metropolitan area by bicycle particularly enjoyable for Hansen is that he can take bicyclists on tours along bike paths and through the city streets, pointing out homes, sites, and institutions of cultural significance.
One weekend, Hansen might take bicyclists on a tour of Denver’s academic institutions, while the next weekend he is regaling cyclists with tales of CU Boulder and the iconic Flatirons during a tour of Boulder.
“There are always a few anecdotes that really stick out to me on the rides. This past week, for example, when the Cultural Institutions ride was hosted, the fact that in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s the Denver Art Museum had 7 different ‘homes’ was pretty wild,” he said.
The most popular of his tours are the Haunted Denver Death Rides that he does around Halloween. According to Hansen, there are over 20 different cemeteries, memorial gardens, and monuments honoring the dead in the City of Denver proper. He said that some rides will take bicyclists through cemeteries, while others take them past mansions with a scandalous past, or through former burial grounds-turned-city-parks. Capitol Hill, Cheesman Park, Littleton Cemetery, Riverside Cemetery, and Fairmount Cemetery are among the places that bicyclists can expect to visit on his Death Rides series.
“In Denver Metro particularly, the haunted stories of Capitol Hill and Cheesman Park’s creation, and the tale of Alfred Packer got me into some of the creepier aspects of Colorado history, and the destinations reflect that,” said Hansen. “These destinations are based on the simple fact that they have stories of death attached to them. While I do have an interest in Colorado history, death and the circumstances around it fascinate me,” he explained.
In order to prepare for the tours, Hansen uses sources from the universities being toured, archives from the Denver Public Library, and the books of local historian, Phil Goodstein. Hansen goes out of his way to keep his history tours fun, and shares unexpected anecdotes, like the fact that Colorado School of Mines Students celebrate Engineering Days by dragging a whole ore car down West Colfax from the campus every year.
The feedback that he has received on his rides has been mostly positive. Cyclists love his enthusiasm and storytelling. “The biggest piece of constructive criticism I have gotten is that I should have more images to share on rides to contextualize things a little bit more. Because of that, I generally have my tablet stocked with a few accompanying photos to really set the scene,” he said.
What should participants expect?
According to Hansen, the bicycle tours are no drop rides with a casual pace of 12 to 14 mph, with several stops in between. Ride routes and estimated lengths are posted on Instagram.
“I try to keep mostly to trails for safety reasons, with veering into traffic as a last resort. In regards to stops, there are usually about 4-5 short stops at points of interest, with a lunch stop if the ride is longer,” said Hansen.
Sometimes, participants are encouraged to dress up according to the theme rides (i.e. costumes during the Halloween Death Rides tour; alumni attire on university rides).
Hansen is always coming up with new ideas, including a music venue (past and present) history tour, Denver-area trade schools, a history of the City of Arvada, and a ride to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal to discuss the history of the facility and its cleanup.
He expects to do a special neighborhood one for the upcoming June 4 Viva Streets! Denver, when 3.5 miles of Broadway and Welton street (between Alameda and Five Points) will be closed to cars.
While all the cultural and history rides Hansen hosts are currently free of charge, he is looking into “possibly soliciting voluntary donations to get more resources to ‘professionalize’ the rides a bit.”
For cycling clubs who want to plan some fun rides for their groups this summer, Hansen is open to arranging private tours. “I would definitely be interested in working with clubs to give tours! If anyone is interested, they can send a message to our instagram @coloradohistoryrides and I’ll work with you to get something worked out,” he remarked.
Want to join one of Hansen’s cultural and historical rides? Get updates on the next ride tour via social media:
ColoradoCycling Connections events (Facebook)
and r/cobike on subreddit.
This season, take yourself on a cultural and historical bicycling staycation on two wheels with Hansen. You might just be surprised at what you find.
By Kate Agathon, Writer and Contributor-Colorado Avid Cyclist
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