What makes a cycling route hard in terms of climbing? This post intends to dive into one of my favorite routes, the Grizzly Peak loop. I used to ride this route about two to three times a week for its beauty and training value.
This route is maybe the most popular in Berkeley, California. In its short version, it climbs over 1500ft in about 6 miles. With only one steeper section of 10%, this climb is the perfect example of not being strenuous but slow and steady when ridden clockwise. However, many route variations offer steeper climbs, thus making it excellent to increase the difficulty training-wise gradually.
The second difficulty level comes from riding it counter-clockwise through the steep Claremont Avenue that offers gradients up to 16%. Finally, you can take it to the third level by taking Wildcat Canyon Road instead of turning on Grizzly Peak Avenue and turning right on South Park Road, where you will climb 900 ft in just 1.4 miles and a max gradient of over 22%.
The road across the ridge offers stunning views, and there are many vista points to stop and enjoy some of the best vistas the East Bay can offer.
Coming back to my initial question, I’d say that in my mind, two things define the difficulty of a route, the total climb and the length of the steepest segments. If we come back to the description, you will eventually get up any hill by taking a slow and steady approach. Slow and steady means that you’re spinning at a comfortable pace where your heart rate doesn’t go close to the upper limit, and your legs deliver power somewhere below your FTP. Now, above a given steepness grade, you will have to pedal beyond your FTP, this means that you will use your energy less efficiently, and depending on how long the effort is, you might even drain your glycogen stores leading to the infamous bonk.
One common mistake is to try to attack a long and steep climb. While going beyond your FTP for short intervals will help you improve, doing so for longer ones will add excessive strain. One good strategy is to ride for intervals of 30 seconds and stop for about a minute. This way will help you get better faster and teach you how to get back on the bike while riding a steep grade.
Finally, I like to gauge the difficulty of the ride by roughly comparing the total distance and the total climb. If it’s less than one hundred feet of climbing per mile, I consider it easy the lower that number is. I would look at a route with one hundred feet for a mile or more with respect.
To close this post, If you live in the Bay Area, I recommend you trying out the route, and I hope this analysis helps you train and become a lover of climbing hills on your bike. Please share which route you use to train in the comments section below.