These hill climbs won't let down bicycling mountain goats

When most people start bicycling, they'll do anything to avoid hills. Sometimes they'll ride miles out of their way to miss a climb, or drive their car to a flat area to ride.

As they get stronger and learn how to use their gears more efficiently, hills are a challenge to be conquered.

But for some, hills seem to be the sole motivation for riding a bike. These mountain goats don't just measure their rides in miles, but in total elevation gain.

They gather in places like Pittsburgh for the Dirty Dozen, Portland for De Ronde van Oeste Portlandia, or Los Angeles for the Fargo Street climb to find the conquer the highest urban mountaintops. Or they head to Mount Washington in New Hampshire to race to the top of that fabled climb.

Dirty Dozen

That's “Ruthie” in the video above, racing to the top of Pittsburgh's Canton Avenue. With a maximum gradient of 37%, it's been ruled the steepest climb in the US.

Atlas Obscura reports that the street is only 1/10th of a mile long, but rises 37 feet for every 100 feet. What's more amazing is that many cyclists ride up the hill as just one of the climbs in the Dirty Dozen bike ride in Pittsburgh.

The ride was conceived by Danny and Tom Chew back in 1983. If the name Danny Chew is familiar to you, it might be as a two-time Race Aross America (RAAM) champion or a long-distance bike traveler who just finished a bike tour to Alaska with his nephew.

The ride tackles 13 of the steepest climbs in the hilly city. It's about 50 miles and takes about 5 hours, as the cyclists don't race between the climbs. In 2008, a record 142 cyclists showed up, slightly more than half of them for the first time.

The next Dirty Dozen is coming up next weekend, Nov. 28, 2009. It will be filmed by Global Ride Productions, with proceeds going to the Lance Armstrong Foundation.

Los Angeles

Los Angeles is home to its own incredibly steep street — Fargo Street — that draws a pilgrimage of hill worshippers every year.

The Los Angeles Wheelmen's bike club hosts an event there every spring. This year, 60 riders signed up and 46 completed the climb. The oldest finisher was 64, the youngest was 12.

That's Steve Gilmore at left, making one of his 101 ascents in 2008 to set a record number of climbs in a single day. Note how he lengthens the slope by riding serpentine.


It's no surprise that bike friendly Portland, Oregon, is home to another extremely hilly ride, the De Ronde van Oeste Portlandia. Patterned after the Tour of Flanders, this ride is usually held in the spring.

This ride drew more than 500 bike riders in 2009, who challenged the course's 5,000 to 8,000 feet of elevation gain. Bike Portland has an article about the 2009 ride, and the Oregon Field Guide website has posted an amazing 6-minute video showing some of the spectacular scenery of the gut-wrenching climbs.

New Hampshire

One of the most awesome climbs is the Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb, scheduled for Aug. 21, 2010.

The 7.6-mile ride up to the New Hampshire peak averages a 12% elevation gain, with the summit averaging 22%. While those statistics alone would make it harder than any climb in the Tour de France, they don't take into account the extreme weather conditions.  

Gusting winds, or fog, or freezing temperatures — or all three — are common during the race. It costs $350 to compete, with the funds going to the Tin Mountain Conservation Center. The race allows 600 riders, and registration usually closes the first day, Feb. 1.

The record holder for Mount Washington is pro cyclist Tom Danielson, a member of the Garmin-Slipstream team.


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