Neighborhood Hills

“You know what would be cool?” asked my friend David a few months back. “If we worked out a route that hit all the hills in this area, say in a five-mile radius.”

We might live on the edge of the Texas Hill Country (The main drag through our neighborhood is called Escarpment), but the legendary  hills of Austin don’t materialize until you’re about eight miles west of us, or even farther north. We’ve got hills, but they’re not biggies.

However, when I did a hills training session with Austin Cycle Camp back in November, they drilled us on what I considered to be pretty wimpy hills, right in my backyard. So I thought it would be fun to try David’s idea.

Leaving my house, I rode two miles north to Convict Hill. I often ride the residential streets that cover the hill, and today I took the road that runs right up the hillside. Convict Hill Road isn’t tough, but sets the table for the climbing that will come.

Convict Hill Road. Convict labor was used here in the 1880s to quarry limestone for the then-new Texas state capitol building.

Once atop Convict Hill, a number of options await. I like to work my way over to Wolf Creek Pass. It’s a short, curving stretch, and I can stand on the pedals to see how high a gear I can push to the top.

Wolf Creek Pass. Short, but steep. Well, kinda.

After a two-block rest, I can take Hill Oaks down, then turn around and come back up. I don’t like Hill Oaks. At the bottom, there’s almost no runout before it hits U.S. 290 – a busy highway. If I do a white-knuckle brake before the bottom, Hill Oaks is a tester of a climb coming back. Our club president does repeats on Hill Oaks.

You can get an idea of the steepness of Hill Oaks by the way it drops off. At right, the short runout at the bottom into U.S. 290.

I prefer the next street over. The aforementioned Wolf Creek Pass also heads down the hillside to U.S. 290, but it’s a somewhat more civilized descent. The climb back up isn’t quite as steep as Hill Oaks, but it’ll do.

Wolf Creek Pass again, this time looking up from U.S. 290.

One more detour before we leave Convict Hill. Poncha Pass is another short hill, but also steep. It starts easy, but gets worse the closer to the top you get.

Poncha Pass is your basic suburban-style residential street.

For every climb, there’s a descent. It’s easy to approach 35 mph going down Convict Hill Road in the marked bike lane. That’s my reward for the hill work. Now, we head south. Just blocks from my house, Allerton Avenue rises to the top of another hill. This one is a longish grade, not all that steep, but it makes you work.

Allerton curves left up to the house to the upper left of the car.

Now, we’ll head into the Circle C Ranch section of southwest Austin. And then head out immediately, as we pick up the Mopac loop. Mopac turns west and becomes State Highway 45, and features “Escarpment Hill,” which ends at Escarpment Blvd.

Mopac/SH 45 is one of the more popular cycling routes in Austin. This is “Escarpment Hill.”

Escarpment Hill is another long, not particularly steep climb. It used to kick my butt, and still kicks my wife’s. Now, I like to see how high a cadence I can maintain as I climb it in one of my big ring gears.

At Escarpment Blvd., we can turn right and head down an easy hill past the fire station. The uphill side is where I did hill repeats with Austin Cycle Camp. Not tough, until you do it time after time — each time in a higher gear.

Escarpment Blvd., looking up toward SH 45.

One of the first neighborhood climbs David showed me when I was truly a noob biker was Savin Hill Lane. Any street with the name “Hill” in it has to have something going for it, right? This is another residential street that starts with a short, steepish climb, then levels out, then climbs again.

Savin Hill Lane.

An acquaintance of mine from northeast Austin rides all the way down here just to do Savin Hill repeats. He’ll do it five times, and then considers himself ready for most anything.

Whew! I’m a bit knackered after all that. Time to head home. But there’s one more hill before I get there — H-E-B Hill. H-E-B, for non-Texans, is a big supermarket chain. Escarpment Blvd. going north from Circle C Ranch climbs past the supermarket entrance. This is where the “old guy” smoked me many moons ago. Now, I like to attack the hill — see if I can maintain a 100 rpm cadence all the way to the top. I usually run out of gas just before I get there.

H-E-B Hill.

If you’ve had the patience to sit through all these rather dull photos of rather middling hills, I understand that you’ve got way better hills where you live. Now, I don’t own a GPS device, so my elevation readings come from Map My Ride, which I think is notoriously inaccurate. But, it shows grades of 20 percent for short sections of Wolf Creek and Hill Oaks. Convict Hill hits 17 percent at one point. Escarpment Hill is 11 percent at its steepest point, but mostly 3-5 percent. HEB Hill is 6 percent.

And yes, I know how to find the “real” Austin hills. But Lost Creek, Courtyard, Ladera Norte and Jester are not in my neighborhood. Most are farther away than I care to ride to tackle hills. My point here is that you can make a rigorous hill workout almost anywhere. You can ride this whole route (about 17 miles) or do what I more typically do — pick a hill and ride it several times. Start at a low cadence — say, 70 rpm — and see if you can do it at a higher rate each time. Or start in an easy gear, and go up one for each repeat.

Believe me, even with easy grades, if you do these kinds of repeats, you’ll get better on hills.

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9 thoughts on “Neighborhood Hills

  1. I don’t have to travel far to find hills either. I live on the east edge of town, and to get anywhere, I’ve got to ride through creek and river valleys. Once I get past those, things flatten out a little, but getting there is a workout in itself!

  2. Great post NOOB. I saw you Sat on the Convict Hill ascent. Hill Oaks is the baddest of them all for me. You got all the good ones but I would consider adding LaCrosse west of Escarpment up to Clayton Elem. And after Savin Hill I like to loop back down Back Bay and tackle the South Bay hill up to Escarpment. There is another good one in Convict Hill but I can’t remember the street names.

    • David, I ride that LaCrosse route often – it’s my wife’s favorite in the neighborhood. But I’ve never considered it tough. I like to go down South Bay — 35 mph is a realistic speed target there — but I don’t climb it much. Breezy Pass is another Convict Hill hill I do occasionally.

  3. My son in Austin is thinking about maybe getting his bike ready to possibly go for a ride someday. He is flying back east to do the NYC five boroughs ride in a little over three weeks. Training time is getting short.

    Maybe if he reads this he’ll might think about getting a little motivated. \

    I liked the report. It gives a picture of your part of Austin. Nice.

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