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Home Cycling

So, JPR cyclists, what's the highest grade you ever went up?

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11 replies
  • Manny Goldstein (1684 posts)
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    1. Zugspitze

    mountain on the German/Austrian border. It was a long time ago, but IIRC it hit 15% or 18%. We weren’t loaded down with gear.

    • Herman4747 (934 posts)
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      2. You're in better shape than me! (Although in my defense I do ride a recumbent).

      • Manny Goldstein (1684 posts)
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        3. That was in 1984

        things have changed since then!

  • Peacebird (794 posts)
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    4. We made it about a third of the way up Tourmalet….

    • Herman4747 (934 posts)
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      5. That is impressive.

      • Peacebird (794 posts)
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        6. Following TdF 2004, but the mountain air was so cold, & I had summer weight gear

        plus a raincoat. We had to turn around because my teeth were chattering so hard my hubby could HEAR them from the front of our tandem! We pulled in to a coffee shop on the way down and a couple german tourists saw me and immediately threw their coats over me and raced to get me steaming mugs to warm up. I was a frozen pitiful mess…. we have photos of us next to some of the elevation signs on the way up too… it was amazing. So was Alp DHeuz… it was an amazing adventure all told!

  • happyslug (138 posts)
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    7. Riding or walking?

    I have a tendency to push my bike up long hills.  I found that walking gear is just the most efficient.

    Now I did go from Rockwood to Big Salvage Tunnel (The Eastern Continental Divide).   That was about a 1 % raise for over 20 miles:


    Locally The side street I live on Google claims has a 6.8% grade, with the block before mine a 18% grade.  I bike up both and I think those numbers are high closer to 4% and 10%. The 10% block is only one short block.

    On my favorite trip, I go up a bridge ramp of about 5% then down and then up a 5% grade then flat then down a hill make a bend and up a 10% grade.  I get off my bike a walk the 15% grade that exists at that point.   That takes me to the bike trail to the Staple Bend Tunnel, the First Railroad Tunnel built in the USA:



    The trail is rough till you get to Incline #1 (Staple Bend Tunnel is at the top of Incline #1).  Incline #1, is open to bike and has a 7.7% grade:


    The Staple Bend Tunnel and Incline #1 were part of the 1834 plan by the State of Pennsylvania to build a canal to compete with the Erie Canal.  The problem was Allegheny Mountain was in the way, so a decision was made to climb over Allegheny Mountain. The problem was the Steam Engines of the 1830s could NOT haul themselves , their fuel and train cars up Allegheny Mountain.  Pennsylvania solved this problem by building 10 Inclines plans where steam engines could haul canal boats over Allegheny Mountain.   With an Incline, the Steam Engine did not have to haul itself or its fuel, it could be stationary AND the cars going down off set the cars going up, so the only energy needed only had to haul the weight of the cargo up the Incline.   Between Each incline was a flat plane.  This system lasted till 1854, when it was replaced by Steam Engines on a regular railroad bed, Steam engines grew in size and power after 1834 so by 1854 steam locomotives could haul trains up and over Allegheny Mountain. Thus the incline and planes were abandoned in 1854, but many parts survive to this day and provide short steep climbs.

    Anyway back to my favorite trip. Once pass the Tunnel, you are on the old “Plane” of the Pennsylvania Main Line it is flat less then 1% grade with gradual curves.  You take this for about two miles then take a road underneath the old Pennsylvania Main Line (Now Norfolk and Southern) to the remains of the Southern Cambria Railway.  The Southern Cambria was an electric interurban started in 1908 and abandoned in 1928 (when it could not pay the bonds issued to pay off the victims of the worse streetcar accident in US History that had occurred on its line in 1916).

    News report on that Accident:


    Anyway, the rail bed of the Southern Cambria is now part of the “Path of the Flood” Bike trail.   Unlike the very flat and slow curves on the “Plane” of the Old Portage Railway, the Southern Cambria is much more interesting.   Since it was built for electric drive, it did not need the gradual curves of the Old Portage Railway, nor incline or planes.   The Southern Cambria Rail bed is on a steady increase in grade from Mineral Point to South Fork with several curves including two s curves, which you will NEVER see on any other Rail to Trail path.


    The old Southern Cambria is about 5 miles long and about a 3% grade.  It has some great views, for you are going up the same valley the Flood Waters that destroyed Johnstown in 1889 came down :

    Photo of one of the most important bridges in the US.  This one replaced one destroyed in the 1889 Johnstown Flood.  The original bridge had been built by the Old Portage Railway in 1834 and sold to the Pennsylvania Railway in 1859.  The Pennsylvania railway had paid for the use of the Bridge from 1852, when the railroad was first finished, for it was the only way down that valley.  The railroad bed before and after this Bridge, was built in 1834 for the old Portage Railway.  Given the narrowness of the Valley, the Southern Cambria had to build its right of way on the hill side over looking the valley, thus the great view of the valley:



    Here is a photo of Incline #1:


    Video of Going up Incline #1 and through the Staple Bend Tunnel:


    Going up the Southern Cambria Right of way:


    The next 10 minutes going up the Southern Cambria Right of way:


    last 5 minutes on the the trail


    Transition from  Southern Cambria Trail to Staple Bend Tunnel, this is a downhill video:


    If you prefer fall colors:


    The path to Incline #1:


    I have taken Boustead Avenue in Pittsburgh, but I walked my bike up that hill. Boustead is the third steepest street in the City of Pittsburgh. Boustead is a 29% grade overall but in its city it exceeds Canton Avenue:



    I know where Canton Street is in the City of Pittsburgh, it is the steepest street at 37% grade, not only in Pittsburgh, but in the world by some calculations:


    Pittsburgh steepest Streets:


    Both are on the “Dirty Dozen” bicycle race, No I do not do the race, but many people do:


    This Gentleman biked up Sycamore Avenue and then down McArdle Roadway in Pittsburgh.  I have pushed my bike up both.  As to Sycamore this is the “New Way” for Sycamore.  I have done both the new way and the “Old Route” (via the Streetcar underpass before the Streetcar tunnel, closed since the 1980s).  I have also used the Vine cliff Avenue as an off shoot to Sycamore (Vine cliff is a set of stairs that are in poor shape):

    • Herman4747 (934 posts)
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      8. Thanks for sharing all your thoughts. What kind of bike do you use to…

      get you up those steep hills? (How many chainrings, and the size of each ring?).

      I had heard of Canton Avenue (indeed, I even used to live in Pittsburgh).  It seems like a wall to me.

      • happyslug (138 posts)
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        9. I WALKED up Boustead and Scyamore

        I refused to peddle up them.  I did peddle up Warrington Avenue, but walked my bike up Arlington or Brosville on the return trip.  Warrington is a long climb uphill, but a gradual grade except in two short spots.  Brosville (NOT Brownsville/ 18th street) runs parallel to the old Knoxville incline and meets Warrington and Arlington on the top of Mt Washington (where the old Knoxville incline top station was).  I mention the incline to give you an idea of how steep and long Brosville road is.  Please note Brosville starts at St Michael’s Church about a third of the way up Mt Washington, thus Brosville is not as long as the old Knoxville incline was, but at times steeper.

        When I was biking on them I had a 1980 era 10-speed Schwinn.  Nothing fancy, very cheap gears typical on cheap bikes of that era (I.e. You found the gear that worked the best for you and left it in that gear, the time it took the system to shift gears you had to reshift again, thus I left it in that gear and when it became to hard to peddle, I walked).

        When I purchased a Cannodale in the early 1990s and installed Shmano XT gears I was shocked at how fast the gears changed, I was not use to such fast shifting, gears changed when you needed it to change not minutes later.   I am now actually biking up grades that years ago I WALKED up.

        Now, that old Schwinn was a good bike.  A road bike that I ended up bending the frame.  I should have traded it in for a new frame but given its gears I just junked it.

        Now in the early 1970s, when I was in high school, I rode a Raleigh three speed “English Racer” that my father picked up.  Those gears worked well, I actually shifted the gears, but given the hills of Pittsburgh not much of a help.

        Sorry I can not help you more, but the XT gears works great on the hills I climb now, but I still walk up a lot of grades. I live in Johnstown now in the middle if the Appalachian Mountains so the hills climbs are longer, but most of the time less steep then the hills of Pittsburgh and that is especially true of any road up Mt Washington.

        One more comment, in the early 1970s I went on several bike trips with my brothers.  They were interesting trips.  My older brother, ten years older then me, had a Schwinn Sport Tourer with a Chrome-moly frame and a ten speed gear system.  I had my three speed Raleigh, and my younger brother, two years younger then I, had a single speed high tension steel bike of the era.  We ended up going one, two, three, more do to the nature of our bikes then our ages.  That shows you how important the frame is when biking.  In many ways more important then the gears.

        Today Aluminum is the frame material of choice, it even stiffer then Chrone-moly but less expensive then Titanium or Carbon-Fiber (Both stiffer then Aluminum).  Remember the stiffer the frame, the easier it is to peddle for the less stiff the frame, the more energy is lost to the frame.  Thus a stiffer frame transfers more energy to the gears, everything else equal.  In order of stiffness is as follows(least stiff to most stiff):

        1. High tension steel, the wonder material of 1900,-had the Titantic been built of it, it would have survived the iceberg. A very good bike material, much stiffer then the iron, bronze and wood frames that proceeded it.  Very cheap so replaced all other frame material by 1900. It caused the bicyle craze of the 1880s and 1890s.

        2. Chrome-Moly steel, the wonder material of the 1930s, a huge improvement over high tension steel.

        3. Aluminum, the wonder material of the 1980s, Marginally stiffer then Chrome-Moly but a huge improvement over High tension steel.

        4. Titanium,the wonder material of the 1990s, stiffer then Aluminum but ten times the price. China made several frames in the 1990s, mostly using Russian Titanium, which was cheap in the 1990s after the collapse of the USSR. Several makers still make Titanium frames, racers says it interacts with them better than Carbon-Fiber.

        5. Carbon-Fiber, the wonder material of the 21st century, again stiffer then Aluminum but again at a much higher price. Easier to work with then Titanium, but had its own quarks.

        Thus most bikes today are Aluminum, chrome moly is still around, I have not seen any high tension steel or Titanium bikes in years.  Carbon-Fiber is all the rage, but both Carbon-Fiber and Titanium frames are rare for most causal bikers.

        • Herman4747 (934 posts)
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          10. As usual, your answers are very thoughtful & thorough…

          As for me, I have on two of my recumbents a “double chainring” up front, while on the third recumbent, I have a Rohloff (internally-geared) hub.  The Rohloff hub shifts quite well, but not under serious physical stress (that is, one needs to stop pedaling for a second while going uphill to shift).  Rohloff hub also permits multiple shifts a once, that is,  from say, 11th gear to third gear all at once, and also to shift while stopped.  The Rohloff hub is quite heavy, and I do think that weight matters when going uphill (the heavier the bike, the more tiring it is). (I also have a Swissbike folder, which permits studded tires and I sometimes use this one in winter).

          One of my recumbents is mostly carbon, while the other two are aluminum.  The carbon is notably lighter, but not necessarily faster.  The carbon one is also front-wheel ride (cassette & chainrings going to the front wheel only).  This is supposed to help with hills.  I would have been inclined to state that my front-wheel ride is the best hill-climber I have, except that when going uphill for me at least the front wheel is hard to keep straight, and if I can’t keep the front wheel straight enough, I have to get off the bike and walk.

          It is notably harder getting a recumbent up a hill.  The recumbent makes up for that, though, by being faster going downhill (more aerodynamic).

          In case anyone is interested, photos of bikes just like my own recumbents:

          First, Optima High Red Baron (my fastest bike, often use it for commuting):

          Second, Nazca Gaucho Tour (very heavy bike. Mine is green, has Rohloff hub and no fenders, and transports my groceries):

          Met one of the owners of the Cruzbike company at a bike exhibition, and as we talked I felt sorry for the company, so I got this one below too (though I do feel sadly extravagant in owning 3 recumbents):


          • happyslug (138 posts)
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            11. That is what I have heard about recumbents, just terrible going up hill

            The first recumbent in the Tour de France was in the early 1930s (and right afterwards were outlawed for that race).  The recumbent was slower up hills, but quicker down hill and on flats.  One problem for the rider was since no one else had a recumbent, he could NOT follow another rider tailwind.  Between NOT being able to pace himself to the other bikes and going slower up hill, he lost the race but NOT before everyone saw the advantages of the Recumbent.

            The 1934 recumbent then evolved into the Velocar, a four wheel recumbent, very popular in France in the early 1940s (It had a roof, so you could stay a little dryer then on a bike, and did NOT use any Gasoline which was in short supply during that time period in then Occupied France):


            Please note some have windshields and roofs, most that survive had small engines installed, either in the factory or after market, but you could order one just with peddles with a roof and windshield in the 1940s:


            Here is a photo (badly colorized, I have seen this photo in Black and White) of the first, and only recumbent in a French Bicycle Race:


            The rider on the recumbent later made the above Velocars.