Justin Simoni hasn’t owned a car since 2016. Tired of the constant break-ins, breakdowns, and costly repairs, Simoni decided to ditch his vehicle altogether. Living in downtown Denver, Colorado at the time, a block from Coors Field and with easy access public transportation both around the city and to go into the mountains, Simoni thought he’d be able to live just fine without a car.
“I found bikes as an adult; it was like falling in love,” said Simoni.
Simoni, a La Sportiva and Ultimate Direction athlete, who now lives in Boulder, describes himself as “specialized in long, self-powered, sufferfest mountain adventures.” Indeed, Simoni’s adventures have taken him not only all throughout Colorado — which he doesn’t feel a strong need to leave, given the bountiful running, hiking, and climbing activities within a bike ride of his doorstep — but also from Vancouver, Canada to Tijuana, Mexico and partially along North America’s Continental Divide.
These days, instead of a car, Simoni sports two bikes. One is a Salsa Journeyman, that transports him along paved and gravel roads to the trailhead, and holds its own for bikepacking and gravel racing. When the trails get a bit more burly, he turns to his Surly ECR – almost a fat bike – to help him climb the more gnarly roads. This year that included Lake Como Road, known to be one of the most dangerous back roads in Colorado, and the jeep roads of the San Juan Mountains between the town of Ouray and Burrows aid station during the Hardrock 100.
“I have so many outdoor passions, but I consider myself a cyclist who has a running problem,” said Simoni. “In Boulder, it’s hard to go west without hitting a trailhead… [I even like] scrambling. Today I’m going to Bear Peak and will just wander around to see what kind of crags are there.”
Simoni came upon trail running while training for the Colorado Trail Race, a self-supported bikepacking race. He fell and sprained his wrist; unable to ride, he switched to trail running. Living with his girlfriend in Denver at the time, Simoni took so many trips to the Colorado Trail that she began to get suspicious. Simoni was in love – not with another person, but with the trail.
For even the fittest and most adventuresome of us, living completely without any sort of motor vehicle can seem daunting. It’s one thing to be car-less in a major city, but what about our far-flung adventures? For Simoni, the biggest determining factor is the fact that pretty much any thing he wants to do is within a maximum 40-mile bike ride — and often less than 10 miles — from a public transportation drop-off point. Colorado has a robust bus system that will drop you at pretty much any mountain town, and you can go from there.
Simoni described how Colorado’s history plays into his ability to bike everywhere for his adventures, “Colorado is just special, the access to trailheads is so good. Colorado has this rich history for mining, and these [old mining] roads are being repurposed for general recreation. It’s a bit different if you go to Montana or Wyoming where [trail] approaches are 20 miles or something…. I’ll generally start out with a bus ride, which is excellent to get to the mountains. I’ll take the bus to Leadville, and then it’s only a 12-mile ride to the trailhead [to run]. Then I’ll go home the next day.”
While it may take him longer to get where he’s going, Simoni loves what he calls his “hybrid approach” to adventure. Having the bike gives him a warmup before a run, offers an easy out to return to town, and frees him of the annoyance of looking for parking. He additionally appreciates the environmental aspects of it, but mostly loves the experiment portion of his bike ventures.
“It’s a grand experiment to not have a car as an adult. If you take the car out of the equation, what do you do?”
Simoni is not just surviving without a vehicle, he is thriving. Stating his proximity to places like the Indian Peaks Wilderness and Rocky Mountain National Park, and his ability to work from home on his own schedule, he is able to bike to trail runs on a daily basis, planning out everything from a short shakeout, to a weeks-long bikepacking adventure to climb all the 14ers in Colorado.
Speaking of 14ers, Simoni is so passionate about Colorado, trail running, and bikepacking that he’s writing not one, but two guidebooks about those endeavors to help others find similar adventure. The first, Bikepacking to the Colorado 14ers, for now lives only on his website, though you can view its development live. The second is for the Colorado Mountain Club and is about exploring the Colorado Centennials — the 100 tallest mountains in the state — in particular, the last 47 of them on the list, the mountains that are below 14,000 feet.
“Guidebooks are lovely. When you’re not doing the trip you can read it and get really psyched. My own guidebook, it’s something that’s going to get people stoked,” said Simoni.
Clearly eager to share his love of trail running, bikepacking, and Colorado, he readily offers advice to those who want to dip their toes into biking to the trailhead, but who are not ready to cut ties with their vehicles altogether.
“Invest in a good set of lights. A lot of people get turned off because they don’t want to ride on the road. So make sure you’re visible. Second, all the gear you really need [to bike and run] is like what you’d need for an ultralight backpacking trip. If you can run with the weight on your back and it’s comfortable, that’s great, then you can start investing in bikepacking bags.”
When just dipping your toes into the bikepacking world, or into exploring the world without using a vehicle, Simoni says it’s not insurmountable, but he does admit that living in a place like Colorado with easy and relatively close access to trailheads has enabled him to dive deep into this lifestyle.
“If I lived in another state like Nebraska or Iowa, I think my passions would just be different. Colorado is just special, the access to the trailheads is just so good. It’s a perfect recipe for the type of stuff I like to do.”
Call for Comments
- How often do you ride your bike to the trailhead? Would you consider giving up your motor vehicle completely?
- Have you done any bikepacking?