I’ve had my Garmin for almost exactly a year. Yesterday, using the Garmin connect site, I brought up the totals for the previous 365 days.  All of the amounts were as I had expected, including elevation gain…260,000 feet. By my calculations, this is 50 miles straight up! (In a single bound?)  A lot of climbing, huh?  Here’s why.
First, Chico, my hometown, offers cyclists a unique mixture of riding. The Sacramento River Valley borders the town on the west. The rides in that direction are all flattish…quite beautiful through almond orchards or around rice fields. The east side of Chico couldn’t be more the opposite…all roads are in the foothills leading to the Sierra Nevadas.
Since I live on the east side of town, almost all of my rides involve hills. Even if I join a group-ride doing flats, I will gain about 500 feet just getting in and out of my neighborhood. My favorite ride (about 2-3 times a week) results in a gain of 2200+ feet from door to door.
When I chat with other riders, the topic of cycling preference usually comes up. I frequently get one of two responses:
1. Wow! With all those hills, are you a great climber?
2.  Don’t you wish that you lived closer to the flats?

Strange as it may seem, my answer to both questions is “no”. Here’s why:

Just because I ride hills all the time doesn’t make me a great climber. I am simply not the typical body type of a climber. At 6-2 with a medium build, I don’t exactly burn up the roads. The best climbers that I see on the hills are smaller and much lighter…not to mention younger.  The number of cyclist that I pass on a hill is about the same as the number that pass me. So, I guess that makes me a pretty much average hill climber…I can live with that.
Would I prefer to ride more flats? Not a chance!
Don’t get me wrong…when riding with a group or even a couple of friends, flats are a blast. But many of my rides are solo…or with other “hillbillies” that I meet on the road.  I like riding hills because it has a way of keeping my mind active.  So much of good hill climbing is mental. One is constantly engaged in the strategic process involving: gear selection, when to stand up, when to slide back or forth in the saddle, and finally,  when and how to take advantage of  slight “lips” of a climb.
All of this I prefer to the long lonely miles of grinding flats.
Anyway, I’m interested in your opinion.
Are you a Hillbilly or are you a Flatlander? What’s your preference? Why?

  • Brian

    Rapunzel, I love your summation of riding;
    “It’s an exploration, not just of your exterior world but of your interior world, too.”

  • It depends. I will say that after vising the beach, I found myself bored with the mostly flat territory – most b/c there was NOTHING to see but houses and trees. No views of the water, and no long range views (b/c of the flats and trees).

    I missed the hills after being down there for a week. So, I guess count me as a hillbilly.

    Except, I’m like you “Just because I ride hills all the time doesn’t make me a great climber.” Yup. Compared to most other experienced cyclists, I’m a slow climber. (However get me with some of my friends, and I’m faster than they are up the hills.)

    Actually, I prefer the mountains over hills. I like the 7-mile Cat 2, best. As I get better on it, I want to be able to enjoy the awesome view as I pedal up it. The 3.5-mile Cat 2 is a bear (b/c it’s steeper) and nothing to see at the top (too many trees). The road on the way down winds too much (and has lousy pavement) to pay attention to the rare openings. I want to explore more of the gaps to see what else I can do …and surprise myself some more b/c I always think I’m suckier rider than I end up actually being.

    So, yes, I like the hills and mountains, because my mind is kept more active, too.

    • Chico Brian

      Wow! Rapunzel…that was poetry. It sounds like you’re a believer!
      My ride has a 3.5 mile Cat 1 section. I always check my time at the top…funny, the difference between a slow day and a fast one is never more than 90 seconds. I know riders that go up in half the time…but that’s them. I have the ability to descend fast, but I’m not crazy about speeds over 34. Lou hit 46 last week…not form me.
      Anyway, thanks for taking the time to read my blog. Brian

      • For a long, long time, the fastest I ever went was 38. When I finally broke the 40mph barrier earlier this season, I noticed the difference in how it felt. Was I scared? Only a tiny bit. Then earlier this week, I hit 43mph…and never even noticed it until I saw it on the computer and downloaded the info off my HRM later.

        My husband has told me about doing 55mph coming off Hogpen Gap (the highest of the official “6-Gap” ride…and think it is the 2nd highest spot in the state of GA). MMR shows it as a Cat 2 climb, not show why b/c it’s an absolute bear and much harder/steeper than two other Cat 2 climbs (Neel’s Gap & Wolf Pen Gap – both of which I’ve done). I think it should be a Cat 1 climb, but I digress. Anyway, it’s even steeper on the way down. I’ve mentioned previously that I’m scared to do it. Sure, I’ll climb it one day, but I’d rather have someone pick me up and taken me down. I’d rather avoid the experience of someone using a spatula to pick me up and put me on a stretcher.

        But anyway, how would I be if I had to deal with 43+mph for 7 miles?


        Gives me a creepy feeling.

      • Poetry? You’re too kind. Mostly, I think bike riding, itself, is poetry. It’s an exploration, not just of your exterior world but of your interior world, too. Sure sometimes, you hit your head on the stalactites as you meander through the caverns, but every so often, a ruby sparkles in the beams of your flashlight. You realize all that work was worth it.

  • Chris white

    I’m fast up category 4-5 climbs, cat 3 climbs I’m okay, HC, 1 & 2 I grind. I’m good at suffering though, so that helps me on the 10%+ pitches on longer climbs. But not a climber- in hilly races I can hold wheels, but not going to be lighting it up on the climbs. I guess I would style myself after Gilbert, given the poorest person in the world’s version…

    • Chico Brian

      Chris, my favorite ride is listed as a CAT 1 by the local racing group. I don’t race, but I do understand “suffering through” hills. I’ve found it pretty impossible to grab a wheel once the grade reaches about 8 or 10%. By that time, I’m going so slow that wind resistance is not my major concern.

  • I really shouldn’t be better up hill, but in some ways I am. For people who ride my speed, I tend to pass everyone (or hold back) on the up hills. That works out well because I seem to loose ground after we crest a hill. Partly I am a little slow to get in a bigger gear and keep pushing. I guess I am still recovering from the climb and get distracted. Besides as I have mentioned before, it is just too much trouble to shift with the down tube shifters. Seems silly, but also true.

    • Chico Brian

      Jack, you must be a cycling purest. I can’t imagine doing my climbs with down tube shifters. When I hit the steeper parts (10 – 14%) I usually put it in the lowest gear and forget about it. But, it’s the 6 – 8% grades in between that I do most of my shifting. I don’t think I stay in the same gear for more than 30 seconds. When my shifter isn’t functioning perfect…it’s in the shop. Anyway, Cheers and please stay safe during that storm.

      • Looks like the storm will not be much in the Raleigh area. We could use more rain than they are predicting. I have heard numbers as low as 1/10 of an inch. I don’t want a flood, but an inch would be nice. Hurricanes or better yet remnants of hurricanes are traditional drought ending events here.

        I am not so much a purest with the down tube shifters, but it is the bike I have. I am planning (or maybe it is only dreaming) or a custom steel bike with modern components. On two occasions last year I rented modern bikes which both had 10 speed Shimano 105 shifters. They were nice.