First Time’s a Charm at the Steamboat Ralleye

First Time’s a Charm at the Steamboat Ralleye
Photos by Ian Hylands and Kyle Kelley words by Kyle Kelley

A few months ago James Scriven from Niner Bikes reached out and asked me to go on a bike ride with him. I agreed as soon as he asked and only afterwards began to understand what I had signed up for. As the details trickled in I found out that I wouldn’t be riding my own bike, but instead would be on a Special Edition Niner RLT. The bike would be auctioned off after the ride to benefit the International Mountain Bike Association. I wouldn’t even be using my own gear. The bike would be equipped with Blackburn bags, Big Agnes was providing the camping gear and Kitsbow even made a special pair of custom jean shorts for me to wear. Side note: my signature model can be expected to appear sometime in the year 2020.

First Time’s a Charm at the Steamboat Ralleye

It wasn’t just the bike and gear that would be new to me, but the terrain and the riding company as well. The route was conceived by Colin Pinney, a long time participant and organizer of the Winter Ralleye series out of Fort Collins, CO. Inspired by some friends of his that ride from Fort Collins to Steamboat every year, Colin pieced together a route on the less traveled gravel roads of the Colorado mountains and the Steamboat Ralleye was born. The dates of the first ride coincided with Niner’s launch of the new RLT and the rest was history. Just kidding, this is still only the beginning.

A good friend of mine got married the night before I left for the Steamboat Ralleye and after a full night of partying I was still tipsy as I boarded my 6am flight. When the plane touched down in Denver I immediately began the second leg of my journey to Niner headquarters in Fort Collins, where I would be united with my bike for the ride. I won’t lie, I was feeling pretty worried about getting on an unfamiliar bike and riding it for a few hundred miles in the Colorado backcountry, but the RLT was designed in Colorado for exactly the kind of riding we’d be doing. I brought my own seat and pedals and just hoped for the best.

First Time’s a Charm at the Steamboat Ralleye

It was at that point that I started to wonder if I should have asked for more details before signing on for this ride. As I looked at the unfamiliar bike and gear the challenges of diving into something unprepared began to emerge. The small front triangle on the size 50 RLT made it difficult to utilize the full potential of the frame bag provided by Blackburn and the bag itself pinned my water bottle to the bike so that it was impossible to access while riding. The bike didn’t have a rear rack or panniers which presented another challenge in packing. I decided to carry only the Big Agnes tent and rainfly, leaving behind the camp chair they provided, and paired down my own gear as well. I brought only the clothes on my back and left my rain jacket behind. A decision that I attribute, at least in part, to the foggy mind I still had from the night of partying beforehand.


Once the bike was finally packed and I was shuttled to join the ride I was only 8 hours late. I was immediately welcomed into the group by Colin, who issued a mandatory safety meeting. We’d never met and he wanted me to know what was in store for the rest of my ride through the backcountry of Colorado. It was a quick ride into Red Feather Lakes where we stopped at Potbelly Restaurant and Lounge. Some of my earlier concerns about the ride began to melt away as whiskey, beers and pot roast filled my belly. It was a false sense of comfort though because I soon found out there was still another 1,000 feet of climbing, at 8,000 feet of elevation, to get to camp for the night.

First Time’s a Charm at the Steamboat Ralleye

The two nights of back to back partying took their toll on me and I missed breakfast the next morning. It was only by the kindness of James sharing a Colorado style empanada that I was able to make it up Deadman Hill at just over 10,000 feet. Most of the second day was spent above 8,000 feet and that was no joke for a guy that lives at sea level. I was riding outside my comfort zone all day and continued to fall back through the ranks. That did provide the opportunity to get to know everyone in the group, but to be honest, my body and mind weren’t working at normal speed and I wasn’t retaining much of anything anyone said.

First Time’s a Charm at the Steamboat Ralleye

Halfway through that second day a ranch in the middle of nowhere provided some respite. They gave us lunch and the best lemonade I’ve ever had. It was necessary fuel for the big climb into Walden, where we’d be stopping for the night. The first part was tough, but rewarded us with a beautiful ridge road overlooking valleys to the left and right. The second part of the climb was harder, requiring me to walk in places, but the reward was an 18 mile dirt road descent into town. Well, it was supposed to be an 18 mile descent. Instead we hit a dead end and had to reroute. We were motivated to get into town before last call and opted for the pavement to lead us to the bar.

And then the rain came. Lots of it. We tried to wait it out at the bar but they eventually kicked us out and we made our way to the town park where we planned to stay. The rain was coming down even harder at this point and I wasn’t feeling excited about setting up camp in it. In a moment of mixed desperation and ingenuity I found a gazebo. It came equipped with electrical outlets, two picnic tables and shrubs high enough to block the wind. It was heaven. Myself and a couple guys threw on some tunes, setup our beds and proceeded to party from the comfort of our covered shelter. It wasn’t long before the rest of the group caught on and joined us. Our spectacular clubhouse was christened the Walden Yurt. Glamping at it’s finest.

First Time’s a Charm at the Steamboat Ralleye

The next morning was sunny in Walden, but things didn’t look as promising in the mountains that stood between us and Steamboat. The 40 miles to Steamboat began with 20 miles of rolling valley and a ridiculous headwind. As we approached Buffalo Pass the sky looked more and more menacing. It wasn’t long before our headwind became driving rain. Buffalo Pass wasn’t the hardest climb of my life, but with absolutely no muscle recovery for days it might as well could have been. This seems like a good time to remind you, I left my rain jacket in Fort Collins. Luckily I had a packable Ringtail jacket and I think it saved my life. By no means was I dry, or even warm, but I was in way better shape than I would have been without it. The front side of the pass was gradual and smooth, but at the summit everything drastically changed. The rain turned to hail, temperatures dropped even lower and there were rocks everywhere in our path. All I wanted was to be down the mountain. My hands were so numb I could barely work the hydraulic disk brakes and I knew I would be unable to change a flat so I was forced to take it easy. I stopped to put on every single layer I had, took a few pictures and carefully made my way to town.

First Time’s a Charm at the Steamboat Ralleye

Just as we arrived the clouds parted and the sun was shining. We rendezvoused on the main street in Steamboat and headed straight to BBQ, whiskey and beers. We heard another storm was rolling our way so we decided to head towards camp to setup the tents while the weather was still fair. We found a good set of dirt jumps along the way and feeling refreshed by the food and booze decided to huck the loaded bikes over a few of them. Once completely winded we pushed on to camp and were set up just as the rain began to fall again.

A few of us decided to head up the mountain to Strawberry Hot Springs for some hot water recovery. There isn’t anything that feels better to me after a long ride than a nice soak. Sitting there in the giant hot spring with the steam rising up around me and the pitter patter of rain creating the soundtrack of the night, I was beginning to feel like I was dreaming. I began to think about the ride I’d just done and the surrealness surrounding it. I’d flown into Colorado not knowing anything. Nothing of the ride, nothing of the country and nothing of the people I would spend the next three days with. Sitting on the other end of it all those things now feel completely familiar. Something about the ride just clicked for me. No one was cut from the same cloth and everyone had something to contribute. I’ve never done anything like this, with so many different people.

First Time’s a Charm at the Steamboat Ralleye

I could wrap it all up here, on this mellow, reflective moment at the hot springs, but it didn’t end that way. The truth is, I couldn’t resist the draw of the two-step bar in town and I woke up on day 4 with a hangover I’d carried with me all the way from California. Luckily it was nothing that couldn’t be remedied by a cold swim and coffee by the river.

First Time’s a Charm at the Steamboat Ralleye

I still can’t really say if it was Colorado, the people or the gear that made this ride so spectacular, but I am positive the experience changed my life. I’ve been riding bikes in California with my friends for just about 10 years now. That will never feel old or boring to me, but what I want to seek out now are fresh experiences. I want to ride places I’ve never ridden, with people I’ve never met. I want less familiarity. I want every trip to be a trip of firsts, but boy would I love to go back to Colorado!

I also would like to extend a special thank you to the Niner crew for inviting me on the ride, Colin Pinney for organizing the Ralleye, Dillon Maxwell for putting up with my shit and all the other companies like Kitsbow, Giro, Blackburn, Big Agnes, Edgevale USA, WTB and Ortlieb who got on board and helped the folks out on the ride.


Follow Kyle on Instagram and Ian on Instagram.


  • Area45

    This is a good one Kyle. Thanks for sharing it.

  • Ian Hylands

    So stoked to finally read this and relive the adventure! Thanks Kyle!

  • Talabardio

    Love this one.

  • Thanks Kyle and all the brands that pitched in on this story. Next time, I’m coming!

  • Bradley Tompkins

    That saddlebag/ass-saver is ridiculously huge….how did the bike ride?

    • Saddle packs like that are usually loaded with light items at the ends, like jackets, etc. In all the times I’ve used them, I never felt annoyed by them.

      • they don’t rock, or sway like you’d think, and are hardly noticeable at any point. great bit of kit.

  • I love this! A good read accompanied by great shots. I have a history of going delirious almost every time I hit altitude on the east slopes of the divide. Such an odd, yet now familiar feeling.

  • Logan N. Everly

    John (or Kyle), what undershorts is Kyle wearing under those wonderful jean shorts? Kitsbow?

  • Can’t wait to get into your jorts, Kyle!

    • White Mike

      That’s naughty!

  • I feel like 50% of the pictures Kyle is in, he’s in midair. Love it.

  • D0rk

    Stoked to see Rodeo Labs make an appearance on the Radavist!

  • AdamBike99

    Spreading the stoke! Man, now I have to figure out how to get my mind back on work… ;-)

  • Racer Ecks

    Epic ride report, I’m not sure how I can recover from this set of photos.

  • barry mcwilliams

    So good. Thanks y’all.

  • Jeffrey Sincich

    Does anyone who makes those canvas shorts in the first and third photos?

    • Colin Pinney

      They are made by Edgevale (, who also made the great red and black flannel shirt

  • Colin Pinney

    Awesome write-up! It makes me want to do it all over again.

  • Dillon Maxwell

    I highly recommend staying in a gazebo while on a tour.

  • Brett Cronje

    Great article – thanks!

  • evilgordon

    Nice one. The Radavist is going from strength to strength.

  • Lewy

    I like that Surly that is running the 3in Knard on the front matched to the Ardent in the back. I just wish someone would make a tanwall 29plus tyre.

    • JScriv

      That beast weighed over 72lb’s – AM/FM radio for the win!

      • And it was single speed!

        • tb

          And Flat Pedals! Too bad about the flat Knard though.

  • Chris Chou

    That pic of Kyle boostin it gives me all of the feels

  • João Pedro

    How can Kyle eat? ;)

  • JScriv

    Anyone on the Front Range who wants to continue this stoke and ride with an awesome group of people needs to check out the Ralleye series in Fort Collins!

  • Jason

    Whats “cone” product holding the coffee sock in the coffee photo? And where can one find it? Its a great setup.

  • Reggie

    I would love to see the route that was taken, doesn’t look like to many road miles.

    • Colin Pinney

      Here is a link to the route . We had 20 miles of road to get to dirt, then 3 more small sections road before we Steamboat. The section from Hohnholz Lakes to Walden is confusing with many roads have different names on different maps, navigate at your own risk.

      Reggie, if the link does not work, shoot me an email at [email protected]

      • Reggie

        The link worked fine, thank you Colin.

  • jpvine

    akk! looks so good. Hey john I’m sure you’ve posted about it before, but what camera do you take on rides like this?

    • These aren’t my photos… ;-) – they’re Ian’s and Kyle’s

      • jpvine

        ah- missed that, sorry @kyle, great stuff

    • I shot on Fuji XPro and a Yashica T4 Zoom(there is 1 iPhone photo in there too). Ian shot on one of the new Sony’s, not sure of the exact model but I’ll try and get that info for you.

  • Teamdarb

    No idea who you are, but I like what you have going on with this web space. I came here from WTB website while searching for a review of a tire. Hooked

  • boomforeal

    great trip report and pictures. kyle, you are bad man

    prediction: one day, the “offroad” “bikepacking” set is going to grow up, buy a proper set of racks and panniers, and look back in embarrassment at pictures of their bikes covered in silly little bags with stuff hanging off of them (see: above #’s 19-26)

    • Racks are horrible on off-road tours. They rattle loose and cause more hassle then they’re worth. Plus panniers hardware can break. Bikepacking bags encourage “hobo packing” and I like the aesthetic.

      • boomforeal

        you know what’s horrible and causes hassles? having to unpack 6 tiny bags because you can’t remember where you packed something, or not having enough room to bring, oh i don’t know, a rain jacket. all hardware CAN rattle loose or break if you’re a hack, are unlucky or run cheap gear. on the other hand, straps can break or rub paint off, bags can delaminate or tear, stitching can fail, things you had to strap on your bike can get wet or covered in dirt, etc. i don’t know what “hobo packing” is but if it’s anything like packing like a hobo, why not just run plastic shopping bags on your handlebars? the only one of your assertions i’ll buy is the aesthetic one, and as for that – see my earlier prediction

        • Scott Felter


          • Thank you for making solid products, Scott.

        • You clearly have done very little touring with bikepacking bags. Part of touring is being organized and I’ve never had a problem with organization or not having enough room. I also carry a lot of camera equipment.

          • boomforeal


            but i’ve done a lot of touring :-)

          • Why don’t you try it out before claiming that everyone is just uninformed? And that second point is irrelevant / bragging. ;-)

          • boomforeal

            when did i claim anyone was uninformed?

            and why would i buy a bunch of new gear to try out a way of doing something i’ve done many times without any trouble?

          • You implied it for sure: “prediction: one day, the “offroad” “bikepacking” set is going to grow up, buy a proper set of racks and panniers, and look back in embarrassment at pictures of their bikes covered in silly little bags with stuff hanging off of them” Implying your view is informed and they’re novice / uninformed.

            No one is telling you to buy new gear, and clearly there are benefits to both methods, but you gotta admit you’re speaking from an ignorant point of view. I’ve toured (not as much as you apparently) with racks / bags and bikepacking bags. I’ll say I would chose bikepacking bags over racks for off-road anyday.

          • boomforeal

            a prediction is not a claim. just like an assumption is not an allegation ;-) if i predict something, i’m not claiming it will happen, just asserting that i think it likely

            my prediction as meant to imply that i believed that “they” were making gear choices based on fashion, trends and a desire to individuate through aesthetic representation and consumer behaviour – i.e. they’re young, ergo one day they’ll grow up

            i will fully cop to speaking from a position of ignorance. the view from up here is great; i can see where everything is inside my 40L pannier

    • JScriv

      I think some of the beauty here are the variety of approaches people take to loading their bikes. . . it starts with grandiose ideas of bags, racks, weight, and accessories, but reality sets in pretty quickly when you’re A. pricing shit out or B. packing before the trip. The only way you know what you’re doing is to do it. I personally don’t think I could have loaded my bike any better than with the Tubus front rack and frame bags. To each their own!


    • charlesojones

      I might agree with you if I hadn’t my “bomber” racks break on me while traveling off-road.

  • charlesojones

    Ah, the combined fog of altitude and hangover. I can feel it. It hurts.

  • Ben Derico

    Beautiful job @disqus_AHlSe4J4jg:disqus and @ianhylands:disqus.

  • Scott Kasick

    Who is the guy making coffee?