I did a group ride recently that featured a big hill.
“It comes at the turnaround, about 15 miles into the ride,” said a friend, who had done this ride several times before. “It’s a STEEP hill.”
Many people, she said, skip the hill by turning around at the beginning of the road that leads up to it. The hill-loving “freaks” could continue on.
Hm, I thought. This could be interesting. I do a ride in my area that features a tough hill. I often have to jump off the bike halfway up and walk the rest of the way. Several times, I’ve been able to climb it to the top, where I stop and gasp for breath. I wondered how the hill on this new ride would stack up.
In the parking lot, I ran into a guy I’d ridden with a couple of times before, but whom I hadn’t seen in almost a year.
“Hey, you’ve done this ride,” I said. “What’s the deal with the hill? Is it as tough as they say it is?”
“Man, it’s been a long time,” he said. “I think it’ll be all right.”
Not much info there.
The ride started. I fell in behind a couple who, as they neared the turnaround point, started talking about the hill. The guy had apparently done it before.
“It’s cool coming down,” he told his companion. “You do about 42 miles per hour. Of course, going up you do about 7 miles per hour.”
His friend laughed, and said she would skip it.
I made the turn onto the hill road. A typical suburban arterial leading into a subdivision of recently-built homes, it had a grassy median down the middle, curbs at the sides, and smooth asphalt pavement. A few of the faster riders coming back the other way were already hitting the flat at the end of their descent. I started a gentle climb, and wondered how long it would be before the hill got steep.
We reached the built-up part of the subdivision. This was going to be a longish hill, but didn’t seem to be getting much steeper. I still considered it to be a gentle climb.
I swung out to pass some riders, downshifted and spun easily as I rode up the grade. This isn’t steep at all, I thought to myself. And looking ahead, I couldn’t see it getting much steeper.
At a cross street at what appeared to be the summit, several bikers were pulled over, drinking from their water bottles and apparently waiting for friends to catch up.
“Hey, is this it?” I asked.
“Well, if you want to do the whole thing, you keep going down to where the road ends in a cul-de-sac,” said one of them.
I looked ahead. The road did indeed go down, so you’d have to climb to get back to where I was. But that section was no different from what I’d just climbed — just an easy incline. I decided to turn around and head back down.
I pedaled and pedaled, waiting to catch a dip or something that would bring me close to the 42 mph the guy had mentioned earlier. But we had a stiff headwind, and this was not going to be a fast descent. I topped out at 26 mph on the way down.
Back at the restaurant where the ride started, I met up with the acquaintance I’d first asked about the hill at the beginning of the ride.
“How did you get here before me?” I asked. “I know I passed you out there.”
“You did,” he answered. “But we (pointing to another rider) decided to skip the hill and turned around.”
Now, I’m no hillclimber, but come on. This was nothing. The warnings of the people who posted about the ride and who spread tales about the hill were obviously exaggerations. That kind of hyperbole does bikers a disservice, I thought. It scares people away from a hill that they’d probably get some satisfaction climbing. If improving on the bike means being able to do things you weren’t able to do before, people were being robbed of a chance to improve, and to build their confidence to tackle tougher challenges.
I suppose what’s easy for some is tough for others, but given the large number of riders who classified themselves as intermediate (the largest group on the ride), most, if not all of them should have been able to reach the top of this hill with no problem. So if I learned something on this ride, it’s to take dire tales about cycling routes, whether they be hilly, or rough, or heavily trafficked, with a grain of salt.