Monday, September 15, 2008

Defeated by a Hill
"How Steep is Too Steep?

As with yesterday, I made a ride up a series of steep hills this evening, too. And as I did the previous evening, I employed a higher gear than usual with my road bike. Working against gravity, I wanted to see how strong I could be on my bike. I knew I could become weary, but I have definitely become stronger over the course of the last quarter of a year riding up lots of steep hills.

Never did I think, though, that a hill would best me.

Initially I made my way through the lowest reaches of nearby Griffith Park, through the fern grove and sequoias that line the streets, and and then I turned left, to climb up onto the avenues that are part of a series of hilly "Oak" streets: Live Oak, Park Oak, Wild Oak, Ridge Oak, Hill Oak, Red Oak, etc. Lined with expensive homes, offering expansive views of the city and the Santa Monica Mountains, these streets are like giant strands of spaghetti that have been splattered in random fashion over the hills.

The steepest climb is up curving Green Oak Avenue, and although it is only a few hundred yards long, the upper reaches of the street boast a 20% slope. Putting my bike's gearing into 39/24 mode, high for me on that kind of slope, I pedaled slowly up Green Oak Ave. I pedaled slowly on purpose. I thought trying to go faster in such a relatively high gear would make me burn out before reaching the end of the road.

Somehow, within yards, though I tried to maintain a steady pace. I seemed to be going slower. On reflection, I was probably down to spinning about 8 rpms, which was barely giving me 1 mph of forward momentum. It was becoming more and more difficult to turn the cranks, and I suddenly realized there was nothing I could do about it - I couldn't add power! Then I wasn't moving forward at all. Well, I was moving, but sideways, to my left. My right foot, poised at the top of a pedal stroke, was useless.

My handlebars were turning left, too, as if they had a mind of their so. Even if I could have pushed down on the right pedal, it would only have served to drive me faster into the pavement. As I tipped precipitously, I barely had time to disengage my left foot from the pedal and step awkwardly down, to keep myself from falling completely off the bike and onto the asphalt.

This had never happened before. I have never been stopped by a hill. Until tonight. Inertia had let me down. My forward speed had not been enough to keep me upright. I was practically unmounted. "A bike! a bike! my kingdom for a bike!" Yes, I felt a bit like Richard III, without the back problem. And my bike was still ready, willing and able to serve me.

Disgusted with myself, and not the bike, I coasted back down to the beginning of the steep portion of the hill, put the bike into 39/27, and pedaled - faster this time - back up the hill, easily enough reaching the zenith of the climb.

Perhaps I prevailed in the end, but a hill finally taken my measure. And I learned that a 43+ inch gear, ridden up a 15% or so slope at 8 rpms, is my personal tipping point.

1 comment:

merider (M.E.-rider) said...

Excuse me for being a Peeping Tom, but I happened upon your blog and I ride Griffith Park all the time. Where exactly is Green Oak Avenue? Oh, and gorgeous shot of the Observatory!