Special gravel coverage

A few words of advice for folks working to conquer hills

Posted by on October 15th, 2015 at 10:52 am

It’s a long way up, but you can do it if you want.
(Photo M.Andersen/BikePortland)

For a lot of us, Tilikum Crossing is a hill.

Portland’s newest bridge is 77 feet above the water at the peak, and that means there’s a steady grade of just under 5 percent for hundreds of feet. That’s different than Portland’s other bridges, most of which rest a bit lower and focus their grade into shorter climbs on either end.

Does that make Tilikum easier or harder to cross than the others? It’s mostly just a matter of preference. But the one-month anniversary of the new bridge’s opening this week seemed like a good time to revisit some useful advice from Portlander Paul Souders, who mentioned on Twitter that he often sees people walking their bikes up Tilikum.

If that’s your preference, that’s fine. But Souders makes a solid case for why and how to stay in the saddle the whole way up.

Here’s my recipe for mastering hills:

1. Ride your bike up the hill, until you are absolutely unable to turn the pedals over again, or you are moving so slowly that you’re in danger of falling over. At that point:

2. Stop. Get off your bike. Take a drink of water and relax for a short period while you cool off and catch your breath. Don’t wait less than 15 seconds or more than five minutes, or you’ll get stiff and it’ll be hard to ride again.

3. Once you’ve got your wind back, remount and repeat.

4. If you’re on a portion of the hill so steep you don’t think you can start again, try turning your bike across the road. The fall line (i.e. slope) is less dramatic that way, and you can gain enough momentum to climb again.

(This all assumes you have a bike with low gears and you’re using those gears correctly.)

Remember: if you can drive a car up a hill, you can ride a bike up it.

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Advantages of this method:

1. As long as you have enough momentum to stay upright, the bike is more efficient than walking. Meaning: it’ll require less energy over the length of the climb if you climb it on your bike.

2. For the same reason, it’ll be faster, too.

3. Resting with your bike looks cooler than walking. Walking your bike looks and feels like “person defeated by a bicycle.” Leaning on your bike looks and feels like “person chilling out near a bicycle.” It sounds vain, but that feeling matters: it will affect your perception of the hill, and of climbing generally. And climbing is more a mental exercise than a physical one.

4. This method will build the muscles and cardiovascular capacity necessary to climb hills. Walking your bike won’t.

5. Riding your bike up a hill makes you feel like a goddamned HERO.

Biking is fun, and if leisurely walking your bike once in a while helps you skip the non-fun parts, there is zero shame in that. But if there’s a hill in your life that you want to be able to climb without complaining to yourself about it, give Paul’s advice a try.

This is the first of an occasional series of posts over the next month evaluating Tilikum Crossing and the network surrounding it.

— Michael Andersen

Update 8:51 pm: This headline has been changed to reflect the fact that the tips above aren’t really Tilikum-specific.

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  • J_R October 15, 2015 at 11:18 am

    Step 2 should be: Stop. Get off your bike. Move to the railing or someplace out of the way.

    Re-number the remaining steps.

    It shouldn’t be necessary to specify “get out of the way,” but, sadly, it is based on what happens every year on Bridge Petal and other mass rides. I’ve seen numerous collisions due to this failure.

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    • lop October 15, 2015 at 12:45 pm

      Yes, and make sure it’s actually out of the way, not just out of the way of cyclists.

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  • lahar October 15, 2015 at 11:20 am

    I tried finding the Tillicum Bridge but got lost in the maze of green paint, side walks, wire fences, train crossings and complex crossings.

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    • oliver October 15, 2015 at 12:34 pm

      Not to mention the alligator traps and the tar pits.

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      • Paul Atkinson October 15, 2015 at 2:54 pm

        Also I was on fire.

        And being chased by wolves.

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        • q`Tzal October 15, 2015 at 5:42 pm

          I used to cross this bridge but then I took an arrow in my knee.

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          • Erik October 15, 2015 at 10:19 pm

            I hate that when it happens!

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  • Heather October 15, 2015 at 11:21 am

    If you have a bike with gears, it’s totally doable! Huff and puff a little, it’s good for you. And just think of how strong you’re getting! I can’t wait until I can ride it without breaking a sweat 🙂

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    • 9watts October 15, 2015 at 11:57 am

      I think there is a widespread misunderstanding about hills, cadence, and gears. If your bike has more than three gears there should be zero huffing and puffing. There’s a sweet spot for most any hill; you just need to pay attention to your cadence: pedal too fast and you’ll wear your self out; pedal too slowly and your knees will complain.

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      • Spiffy October 15, 2015 at 12:44 pm

        even with 21 speeds new riders cannot take steep hills without a lot of effort… the bridge isn’t steep, but it’s a long ascent… it’s far enough for new riders to lose their breath if they continue trying to ride fast enough not to fall over…

        but if they keep doing it they’ll be great at it after a dozen or so rides…

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        • davemess October 15, 2015 at 1:25 pm

          Are we calling Tillikum “steep”?

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          • Psyfalcon October 15, 2015 at 2:52 pm

            People have been calling it steep since the design phase.

            I could see a new rider out of breath, although most of the concerns are a bit overdone.

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            • davemess October 15, 2015 at 3:12 pm

              out of breath sure, but falling over?

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            • Chris I October 15, 2015 at 4:46 pm

              The eastbound viaduct east of the Hawthorne bridge is steeper.

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          • barb lin October 15, 2015 at 4:55 pm

            I thought they were talking about my hill up to Alameda Ridge. At 47 I have given myself permission to get off and walk a block at the end of the day if I damn well feel like it. Some days I do, other days I keep pedaling.

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  • TonyJ October 15, 2015 at 11:22 am

    A few additional tips.

    Take the stairs whenever you can.

    Don’t drive up hills, push your car!

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  • Adam Herstein
    Adam Herstein October 15, 2015 at 11:31 am

    The grade isn’t too bad. Honestly, I find the Broadway Bridge and former Lovejoy Viaduct more challenging (pre-construction, that is). Going down is fun, though.

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  • wsbob October 15, 2015 at 11:44 am

    It’s interesting to consider for what type persons, a five percent grade for hundreds of feet, would require a lot of effort. People with some degree of physical disability, and people seriously out of shape, I suppose.

    I feel that for people beginning to get the knack of hill climbing with multi-gear derailleur bikes…generally, much steeper than the mild grade this bridge presents…it’s better to start out in a lower gear than the person riding at their conditioning level, believes they may able to climb the hill.

    That’ll help them to not slow down too much and have to fuss with balance while keeping pressure off the pedals when trying to downshift to a lower gear on the hill.

    If they feel they can climb in a higher gear than they’re in, it’s easy to spin up the revs a bit, pick up the speed a little, ease off the pedals and drop into a higher gear.

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) October 15, 2015 at 8:49 pm

      Wsbob, you’re not the only person in the comments to say something like this but you were the first, so I’ll reply to you and to others here: That is not true at all about people needing to be “seriously out of shape” to feel a 5% grade, and I think it’s disrespectful to the huge number of people whose legs don’t happen to be as muscular as I’m sure yours are.

      My summary of about half of this comment thread:

      – Several women: (useful and productive conversations about climbing hills)

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      • wsbob October 16, 2015 at 12:00 am

        Michael…sorry, the description wasn’t meant to be insulting or disrespectful. Just a simple matter of fact: some people definitely are seriously out of shape. More power to anybody that is, and is inspired by attraction this new span across the Willamette offers, to get some exercise and build conditioning by walking and biking up the hill over the bridge. Do some laps. Can’t beat the views for Portland.

        I also mentioned people with physical disabilities for whom the climb to the high point of the bridge’s deck may be an effort. This being near some of OHSU’s services, maybe the bridge climb would work well for helping physical therapy patients regain strength and movement.

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      • Anne Hawley
        Anne Hawley October 16, 2015 at 4:42 pm

        THANK YOU.

        I’d love to be more articulate about the huge range of situations lying between “physically fit” and “disabled”, but I just can’t muster the words.

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        • wsbob October 16, 2015 at 5:44 pm

          Not sure whom you’re thanking, but I think you’ve raised a good point about physical fitness. It’s been a sort of national dialogue for some time, ongoing really, that many U.S. citizens eat too much junk and are seriously out of shape…so seriously out of shape that walking to the apex of the Tillikum bridge deck may actually have some of them huffing and puffing, and their heart working very hard.

          Many people are out of shape, but still are able bodied. It seems that plenty of people that are able bodied, don’t like physical exercise very much. Me, I more or less despised physical education in school which gave me kind of a bad taste for physical activity in general. Result, was though I was able bodied, I suppose I was rather seriously out of shape, not physically fit. Then I caught on to biking, which for me has been wonderful in many ways.

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  • TonyT
    TonyT October 15, 2015 at 11:48 am

    Hey, my almost-six-year-old son did it on his single speed, you can do it!

    And I agree with Lahar, it is strangely difficult to find the proper bike/ped entrance on the east side, mostly because there are so many other things going on there, and you spend a decent amount of mental energy just making sure you’re not going someplace you’re not supposed to.

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  • Josh Chernoff October 15, 2015 at 12:02 pm

    Best tip I have ever followed for climbing any hill is to stay in your saddle and try and sit upright as much as possible.

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  • Champs October 15, 2015 at 12:13 pm

    Step ZERO: start at a sustainable pace, perhaps with less exertion than you’d like. It’s a bridge for trains, so by necessity the grade is regular and not especially steep. If you’re comfortable at the bottom, you should be fine all the way to the top.

    And as far as steep hills go, one can certainly drive up NW Brynwood or SW College (not quite legally), but I certainly can’t reliably ride them without pushing. There’s no way to switchback and restart your way up a narrow 20% grade, and even if walking to the top isn’t faster than riding, then at least you’ll be fresher. The ride-versus-walking-up debate isn’t just about speed…

    Let’s not even talk about Alex Barr or Palmer Mill.

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  • jeff October 15, 2015 at 12:28 pm

    I typically big ring the entire thing.

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    • NC October 15, 2015 at 1:30 pm

      In the back!

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      • jeff October 15, 2015 at 5:09 pm

        leave your preferences out of this.

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      • jeff October 16, 2015 at 11:32 am

        there are no ‘rings’ in the back. that’s called a cassette ‘gear’.

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  • Anne Hawley
    Anne Hawley October 15, 2015 at 12:51 pm

    Okay, confession time. When I read Paul’s original blog post on the hill-climbing, I indulged in a little outrage. It had a…shall we say imperative tone, and was presented as some sort of universal how-to-bike commandment. As such, it was irrelevant to (which I turned into “disrespectful of”) many people riding bikes, notably ME. My thoughts fell into the general trough of “Screw you, man, not everyone needs to conquer hills! Don’t tell me not to walk my bike!” and so forth.

    Oddly, ten seconds later, Michael asked me, also via Twitter, for my thoughts on turning PJ’s post int a BikePortland article. I replied that if you present them as advice for people wanting to improve fitness or hill-climbing, then fine. But definitely strip off the “Never walk your bike” command. Nothing to do with me.

    BUT. But…(here comes the confession part)…I kept on thinking about what Paul’s post said. Especially the part about pedaling till you just can’t pedal no more. And I was coming up the riverbank last night between the Steel Bridge lower deck and Lloyd Center (the only climb I can’t avoid in my life), and damned if it didn’t make the most amazing difference! C’mon, girl, one more pedal…one more…and bam! I was up the slope and into the neighborhood, with when felt like about thirty percent less…IDK, angst? Mental effort? It was easier.

    So, thanks, Paul and Michael (and Tony Jordan, whose (I presume) sarcastic reply on Twitter is reproduced in the comments here and made me laugh). Humble pie duly consumed.

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    • 9watts October 15, 2015 at 1:16 pm

      Great post, Anne!

      I assume your bike has gears, yes? I’m curious what gear you were in when vanquishing the hill last night? Spiffy and I disagreed about this above and I really want to get to the bottom of this: In my experience, the strain biking up a hill comes from having but one gear; once you throw a bunch of gears into the mix (and know to select the right one) the strain all but evaporates.

      I learned long ago (perhaps those who impressed this on me were mistaken?) that in all but the most ridiculously steep cases, where falling of your bike is a distinct possibility, pushing your bike requires more effort than pedaling.

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      • Anne Hawley
        Anne Hawley October 15, 2015 at 1:49 pm

        My bike has the Nuvinci N360 “CVP (Continuously Variable Planetary) drivetrain technology with an infinite number of ratios” which is actually almost as cool as it sounds. So, yes, in effect, gears. The overall range is slightly higher (harder to pedal) than the Shimano 8-speed internal that it replaced a couple of years ago, so I use the lowest (easiest) setting a lot: starting from full stop or climbing much of any slope – definitely including the one up the east bank of the river.

        Further, the bike itself weighs something like 45 pounds, and I’m no lightweight either. I can’t account for the physics, but I can say this: it is actually possible for me to walk my bike up a hill that it’s impossible for me to ride up. The impossibility seems to have more to do with lung and heart capacity than with leg muscles, and this may well be a factor of my age.

        Perhaps if I had a really spinny gear, it would be different, but as configured, the lowest setting or gear available to me isn’t low enough to overcome the combined weight of me and my Omafiets on the wheels.

        Also, there are some slopes (say, up Klickitat between 31st and 34th) that even if I could get partway up, then get off and rest, there’s no way I could start upward again. I would definitely fall trying to get started.

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        • 9watts October 16, 2015 at 7:30 am

          I’d love to test my view of gearing as permitting an end run around the challenge of hills with you. Maybe we could go for a ride sometime. We could even swap bikes, or I could bring along a suitably sized 21-speed bike for you to try, with spinny gears. Pedal a mile in the other’s gear sort of thing.

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          • Anne Hawley
            Anne Hawley October 16, 2015 at 10:39 am

            Sounds like an interesting challenge. My experience with a 21-speed bike was so truly awful that I’ll never voluntarily go back to a derailleurs (or an exposed chain, or lights you have to put batteries in – or the shop that sold it to me), but if you’ve got one handy, let’s give it a go. I always get a kick out of seeing experienced riders of touring and racing bikes trying to get going on my Omafiets. It’s just a completely different kind of bike-riding.

            Email me. annehawley at comcast dot net

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            • soren October 16, 2015 at 11:39 am

              “I always get a kick out of seeing experienced riders of touring and racing bikes trying to get going on my Omafiets”

              People laugh when I try to ride fietsen or cruisers. I don’t think I will ever really master the coaster brake.

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        • Matt October 17, 2015 at 8:56 am


          First, thanks for your honesty. It takes guts to admit that sometimes things are hard.

          Second, you have a really badass bike.

          Finally, small recommendation. Sounds like your bike’s gear range is aiming for a little flatter and faster than is ideal for you. If you got a slightly smaller chainring and/or a slightly bigger rear cog you could effectively lower the gear range by 1 to 2 gear-equivalents. That would give you more of the bail out gear that you want. Only reason not to do this would be if you’re routinely turning your shifter so that the worm indicator is flat. This could be a relatively affordable change that lets you keep the bike you love, the great transmission you have, and make the bike even more useful for the hills you routinely encounter.

          I did a similar thing to my bike by accepting that my bike for hauling kids needed a 11-36 instead of a ‘cooler’ 11-28. And we also did similarly for my mom’s Nexus 8-equipped bike after seeing that she was rarely spinning out on the fast gears, but often needing an easier setting for the hills. Made the switch and it just makes the riding easier and more enjoyable. Plus if you change you mind later on and want to switch back you have the parts to do it.

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          • Anne Hawley
            Anne Hawley October 20, 2015 at 6:25 pm

            Appreciate the reply. A couple of things: the Nuvinci drivetrain comes with a “Wide 360% ratio range (0.5 underdrive  to 1.8 overdrive)” and I don’t know how a larger chainring would work or if it’s possible. Yes, it’s a Dutch bike, designed for Dutch riding in a relatively flat landscape, and since my life takes place pretty much on the east side of the Willamette River, it serves me fine the way it is.

            I have no hill-climbing or athletic or even fitness ambitions. One of my main points in this whole thread has been to stake out yet again the territory of bike riders – many of us women, or older, or just strictly small-time transport riders – who ride without goals, just destinations.

            Finally, it took no guts to admit that things (most of them) get harder as I get older. It’s a peculiarity of youth (a form of privilege, if you think about it) that any physical weakness or failing comes with shame. It did for me, in the decade from age 45 to 55. Since then, it’s been “Chillax, ditch the hair dye, and enjoy what’s left of life.”

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            • Eric Leifsdad October 21, 2015 at 12:46 am

              A smaller chainring (front) and/or bigger cog (rear) would increase the number of turns of your pedals relative to your current setup — shifting both ends of the range toward easier spinning. The chain would have to be extended or shortened to match the cog or chainring change.

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            • April November 8, 2015 at 1:01 am

              I know this is an old post, but: my first around-town bike was a 1961 lady’s British 3-speed. Not as heavy as an omafiets but hardly light compared to modern bicycles.

              And I did exactly what is recommended here–I got a cog on the back with just a few more teeth on it. Which made all my gears a little lower. It was a cheap switch and it made my life on that bicycle 100% better.

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        • Jeff Snavely October 22, 2015 at 12:27 am

          Yes, not everyone arrives at the “hill” with equal equipment. The wrong combination of bike, rider and gearing simply isn’t going to get up a given hill.

          My wife falls into the same category as you. The comfortable, to her, seating position and ride is worth the trade off in speed and lightness.

          That said, I did change the rear gear on her Retrovelo (nexus 8, not nuvinci, but similar style bike) and she greatly appreciated it. I’m sure you’re not here for gear advice, but it is an option and might make your experience better.

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    • axoplasm October 15, 2015 at 1:31 pm

      Thanks Anne! I wrote that post years ago and I don’t like the tone now either. But it’s my good fortune that Michael is a skillful editor. How skillful? When I was rewriting it in my head (start with the bridge height, average grade, if you like to walk do that…etc.) HE WROTE THOSE WORDS BEFORE I TOLD THEM TO HIM.

      I think he might be a sorcerer.

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      • Anne Hawley
        Anne Hawley October 15, 2015 at 1:52 pm

        Pretty sure he is.

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    • Janet Lafleur October 15, 2015 at 1:35 pm

      Frankly, I’m still annoyed and I have no problem riding a 5% grade even on my heavy city bike. What bothers me is the framing that there’s something inherently wrong with walking your bike and worse “you can ride up any hill that a car can.”

      Bicycling has a big ugly problem with machismo, and this is just the latest example. We wonder why people who aren’t as strong or stubborn as dudes like Paul get turned off from cycling? It ain’t the bikes or even the hills, it’s the “experts” who are quick to tell you what you’re doing wrong.

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      • Anne Hawley
        Anne Hawley October 15, 2015 at 2:04 pm

        Many thoughts like yours went through my mind as I read Bike Activists! I Have Seen the Future! You’re Going To Hate It! posted by Dan Savage the other day. He describes slow, safe, helmet-less biking in Munich. I’m not a huge Savage fan, and I sort of hate the way he decides to frame slow bike traffic as the “woman in pink” who’s ahead of you, but his point is good: that if American cities ever get the world-class bike infra we way we want, there’s a whole class of cyclists who are going to hate it. It will do to bike-riding what traffic congestion has done to driving–take much of the pleasure out of it for the machismo group.

        A few of the commenters sound exactly like car drivers, insisting that if we get good bike infra here, it must include slow lanes and fast lanes so that fast people (whose special privilege is never, ever questioned) need not be slowed down by the woman in pink.

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        • Janet Lafleur October 15, 2015 at 3:21 pm

          I hate the “faster is better” and “get out of my way” culture on our roads, whether it’s in a car or on a bike. The same riders who defend their right to take the lane at 18mph when car traffic would be going 30mph are the first to grumble if they have to let up on the pedals and wait to pass someone riding 10mph.

          I really couldn’t give a hoot whether they like separated lanes or not. Believe me, I will be there at every public meeting to call them on their bullshit double standards. The good news for those kind of riders where I live is that California considers separated bike lanes to be side paths, not bike lanes. That means people are not obligated to ride in them (unlike bike lanes). So they really don’t have much of a case to whine about.

          Have fun swimming with the sharks, I’ll stay here in the quiet stream.

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          • soren October 15, 2015 at 6:43 pm

            I very much enjoy fast transportation cycling but also love slower riders. The more the better! Waiting for a big crowd of slow cyclists is the best kind of cycling “problem”.

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            • Andy K October 15, 2015 at 8:07 pm

              My thoughts exactly. You get safety in numbers by adding a bikeshare program (without requiring helmets), cracking down on bike theft, and improving the overall bike network, piece by piece.

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        • e October 15, 2015 at 3:57 pm

          “It will do to bike-riding what traffic congestion has done to driving–take much of the pleasure out of it for the machismo group.”

          As a rider from the feminity group, I feel left out by this notion! 🙂
          While I can appreciate the bike infrastructure and its importance and will ride patiently behind anyone one in pink for a little bit, ultimately I will want to pass and ride at a pace more comfortable for me. I don’t like the idea of being boxed in and riding only as fast as the slowest rider. The pace I like to ride shouldn’t matter to others just as it shouldn’t matter if someone else needs or wants to walk a hill.

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          • tee October 15, 2015 at 9:04 pm

            Thank you. As someone in the femininity group as well, I agree.

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            • rachel b October 16, 2015 at 3:17 pm

              “Femininity group” is making me laugh every time I read it (along with “women in pink”). 🙂

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        • Glenn October 19, 2015 at 11:56 am

          I hated the headline. But as I read it I suspected that Savage might have been engaging in irony and directing his barbed javelins at the speed demons amongst us.

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      • Ben B October 15, 2015 at 2:26 pm

        I agree. When my non-biking friends find out that I ride almost everywhere, we sometimes have that “I would love to do that but…” conversation. The number one objection they have is that they don’t feel like they can handle the hills, and they feel like people will judge them if they get off and walk. The scary hills in most of Portland are short, and the flat parts are long, and it frustrates me to no end, knowing that there are people who don’t get on their bike because they don’t feel like they are allowed to walk up a few blocks of hill every now and then.

        I walk my bike whenever I feel like it.

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      • Alan 1.0 October 15, 2015 at 2:53 pm

        I guess there’s some hyperbole in that “…any hill that a car can.” I’ve driven a car up a 45°(100%) slope and it is damn steep. Even standing on it in rubber-soled shoes is freaky. Slide on your butt and your undies will show through before you stop. I suppose a trials rider on the right bike can do it, but on a casual bike I think tire slip, wheelie or my brain would be stoppers.

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      • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
        Michael Andersen (News Editor) October 15, 2015 at 9:03 pm

        Thanks for the strong critique, Janet. Always welcome.

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      • wsbob October 16, 2015 at 12:41 am

        Sorry you’re annoyed about what to me seemed to be intended as simply helpful advice about climbing hills, a part of riding that some people seem to be very intimidated by. Common, seems to be people that feel they can’t ride, at all, because they just don’t have the strength. Somehow get across to them that a few tricks are involved, and that a lot of the ability to ride is related to conditioning…and the doors to riding can open right up…Freedom!

        When I’ve been truly tired, and not in shape for a particularly steep hill, I’ve walked for a spell…no loss of honor respect in doing that. But truth to tell, not for long, because I found it’s actually easier to ride in the right gear.

        Whatever the sport, some people are cut out be in a manner of speaking, animals. Forget leisurely riding along, getting a nice little workout. For them it’s got to be full out, all the time, showing off, trying to beat each other. Fine. They want to do that, they can do that. One of the beauties of biking, is that it’s an individual form of recreation. You can go at your own pace as you choose.

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      • axoplasm October 16, 2015 at 10:37 am

        I’m glad you said this Janet. I considered rewriting that blog post (it is 5 years old & I wrote it about Council Crest) because Paul 2010 is too much dudebro for Paul 2015. I’m glad I didn’t because a) those are my words, I own them and b) you said it better.

        For the record:

        Impatient people are their own problem, not anyone else’s. (In the imperative: go the speed YOU want to go, and nuts to the impatient ppl behind)

        There’s more than one way to climb a hill, and no successful method needs anyone else’s affirmation.

        The world we be better if we all chillaxed a little bit, especially on our !@#$ commutes.

        And for my fellow dudebros (thats me sometimes, I can own it) who totally do the RondePDX every year (ohh hells YEAH!) and reckon someone must be some kind of superwimp to find a mere bridge challenging (oh come ON my FIVE YEAR OLD does this on ONE GEAR), I will throw this down. I climb half a million vertical feet a year, on grades up to 30%, often at race pace. Tilikum still winds me. Let’s chillax, fellas.

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        • Anne Hawley
          Anne Hawley October 16, 2015 at 10:54 am

          When (at age 54) I started riding a bike again, and took up a daily 8-mile round trip commute from Sabin to the Portland Building, I had a conversation with a coworker who bike-commuted from his house well up in the West Hills. I expressed awe, and he said, “It’s not like it ever gets easy. You just get used to it.”

          I’ve borne that in mind ever since. Climbs (however modest they may look to some) were impossible at first, and got easier, but the biggest ones never got actually easy. I was, and am, still winded at the top. On low-energy days, I sometimes need to pause. Or, yes, walk my bike.

          Not only are we not machines, calibrated to do the same thing the same way every time no matter what, but we change with time and age. The people who scoff at the idea that the Tilikum could possibly pose any challenge may someday find that it will challenge them, too.

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          • Nick October 20, 2015 at 10:12 am

            I ride over the west hills every day and have for 10+ years. I’m fat, 43, slow as dirt and I find this article really funny.

            My advice, if you don’t make it up the hill this time, keep coming back and try to get higher next time. Eventually you’ll make it. That is my advice to those on the west-side of town who want to try and make the trip over the west hills to work.


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            • Anne Hawley
              Anne Hawley October 20, 2015 at 5:59 pm

              I think you may find (though I hope it may not be true for anyone else, ever, besides me!) that there is a vast difference between 43 and 60.

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        • rachel b October 16, 2015 at 6:28 pm

          “…because Paul 2010 is too much dudebro for Paul 2015.” 🙂 Heh.

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      • jeff October 16, 2015 at 11:33 am

        this seems a little oversensitive. its a bike. its a bridge. its not a personal indictment.

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    • Pat Lowell October 15, 2015 at 2:04 pm

      I’m so glad you stuck with it! It’s easy to not bother trying because you *think* you might fail. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you commit to trying until you *actually* fail.

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    • wsbob October 16, 2015 at 12:11 am

      Atta girl… . It’s different muscles for climbing hills, but I think a big part of the secret to climbing them happily, is mental/psychological. With multiple gears, people can find a gear they’re comfortable with, and just crank away. It’s nice. Quiet compared to charging downhill, no wind noise. But I like all of it. Variety is the spice y’know.

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  • Angel October 15, 2015 at 12:56 pm

    I was surprised there weren’t benches on the bridge. It could be such a great place to stop (and for those who need it to catch their breath) and enjoy the view!

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    • davemess October 15, 2015 at 1:28 pm

      I wonder if that has anything to do with some kind of anti-terrorism issue (esp. since it’s a train bridge). Like they don’t want people congregating on the bridge, or giving them a place to kind of hide something.
      That would be my guess.

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    • eli bishop October 15, 2015 at 5:47 pm

      I would totally love this.

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  • Stephen Keller October 15, 2015 at 1:11 pm

    Um…, the Tillikum crossing is a hill? I guess I spend too much time schlepping my commuter bike over the west hills. The Tillikum felt more or less flat to me, just another roller to keep things interesting.

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  • Elisabeth October 15, 2015 at 1:22 pm

    I found the Tilikum a surprisingly easy ride, given that I’m mostly terrible at hills. It helps that there’s lots of room at the top to pull over and enjoy the view.

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  • Peter W October 15, 2015 at 1:27 pm

    They should install one of those flat moving escalators that you might see at an airport. 😉

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  • Andrea October 15, 2015 at 2:05 pm

    I find it rewarding to go from struggling to reflecting on how daunting the same hills use to seem months before. You can do it! Though it was slow going, I did it while pregnant towing my 3.5 year old in the bike trailer. We also stopped at the top to take in the view.

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    • Rebecca October 15, 2015 at 3:00 pm

      Like a boss.

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  • Private October 15, 2015 at 2:20 pm

    This is a “hill?” We call this a speed bump where I live…. What do you call the ride over the West Hills into Portland from Beaverton? Mt. Everest?

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    • jeff October 15, 2015 at 5:10 pm

      pretty much. this is no hill. its a contour at best.

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  • rachel b October 15, 2015 at 2:39 pm

    I love Anne’s story. My sister used to HATE hills and sports and P.E. in general. We got her a bike for her birthday many many years ago and at some point she decided to try to get over her hate by riding some pretty good hills (Riverview Cemetery, Council Crest) with the objective of just keeping going, never pushing, just staying on the bike and pedaling, no matter how slow. She was surprised to quickly find she has serious endurance and is a really strong rider.

    I’m impressed that she pushed herself to find that out. When you grow up doing sports, you’re pushed by others to test your limits–coaches, your teammates, competitors. To come into a sport or activity without that history and push yourself w/o any experience or guidance or idea of your capabilities is praiseworthy. My sister was shocked to realize how good she is at biking. For what it’s worth, neither of us look the part, but we are capable of speed and have the leg strength of our forebears, the potato farmers. 🙂 Judge the women in pink at your peril!

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  • Alan 1.0 October 15, 2015 at 2:46 pm

    pregnant towing my 3.5 year old

    Someone matching that description showed awesome hillclimb form at the last Sunday Parkways, powering up Mall St to Milwaukie. Impressive!

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    • Andrea October 15, 2015 at 3:17 pm

      That’s awesome! I’m hoping I can ride until through to the end of my pregnancy. It’s encouraging to see & hear about other people doing it. I made a solo trek out to Carver from downtown this week, which I haven’t done in years. I felt pretty tough, especially after making a wrong turn onto 92nd which led me up Mt. Scott in order to get to Sunnyside. The ride up was slow but the ride down was exhilarating, minus the terrifying grates, rocks, and debris in the bike lane and the cars zipping by at 40mph.

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      • B. Carfree October 15, 2015 at 8:17 pm

        Hopefully you’ll get your wish to ride through to delivery. When my wife was very pregnant, I got called out of a class I was teaching by her colleague who instructed me to ride home and get the car to pick her up. She was having that pre-labor thing and riding home seemed inadvisable. Fourteen hours later we were parents to a ten pound baby. She rode right up to the day before delivery and was back on the bike a few days later.

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  • chris October 15, 2015 at 2:53 pm

    I have a one step plan on how to effectively climb the Tilikum Bridge:

    Step 1. Quit being a wuss.

    That’s it.

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  • Matt October 15, 2015 at 4:02 pm

    This is kind of ridiculous. Its not a hill.

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  • Charlie October 15, 2015 at 5:06 pm

    The article states the bridge is 77 ft over the river. Since both ends are quite a bit higher on each respective bank it’s not really much of anything. To call it a hill seems silly. It definitely has an incline but it’s really nothing more than a lumpy pancake rather than a flat one.

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  • joebobpdx October 15, 2015 at 9:01 pm

    “Biking is fun”. A true fact (the best kind, for sure) that can get overlooked here. What with all the argle-bargle and complaining about the stupid ____ that other people, mostly non-bikists – do.

    So thanks for the reminder. I needed that.

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  • Carrie October 15, 2015 at 9:56 pm

    Once I read a definition of running versus jogging that said something like running was at a 7-9 min/mile pace and jogging was 10-11 min/mile (and I guess anything less that that was walking). I’ve been what I-consider-to-be-running for 10 years now and even though I keep improving I know I’ll never run much faster than 10 min/mile. But I’m not a jogger — I AM running.

    Some people honest-to-goodness see the Tillicum Bridge as a hill. It doesn’t mean they are wimps or that they are in really bad physical condition. Maybe they have bad form. Maybe they are new riders. Maybe they are just unsure of their own capabilities. That doesn’t it make it less of a hill for them. I can’t see it, but as bad as I am at running, I make it up for it by being a pretty darn steady cycling hill climber. Which means that my perspective is skewed.

    If we belittle the people who think Tilicum is a hill and don’t help them learn how to climb it, we’re never going to get people to think they can ride from SE to NE to go to the BikePortland 25 year birthday party!

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  • Ray Atkinson October 16, 2015 at 12:07 am

    Since I have a fear of heights, I’m actually more concerned about going downhill than uphill. Due to my fear of heights, I apply my brakes when going downhill. Unfortunately, fast cyclists go even faster going downhill so I’m scared I will get hit if I make any sudden movements or the fast cyclists expect me to move faster. Do you have any recommendations on how to communicate with fast cyclists on a downhill so I don’t risk getting hit?

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    • Dan F October 16, 2015 at 8:28 am

      Keep your speed consistent and your movements predictable. Stay to the right so that faster cyclist can pass you safely. Don’t make “sudden movements.” Signal turns and merges.

      Beyond these fundamentals, it’s not your obligation to communicate the fact that you are going to bike slowly downhill. Faster cyclists need to be able to avoid you – that’s their obligation. It’s the same as on a ski slope; people downhill have the right of way.

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  • John Liu
    John Liu October 16, 2015 at 12:37 am

    Do not suddenly change your speed by jamming on your brakes. Do not suddenly change your position by swerving left or right. Just ride smoothly down the bridge, at a fairly constant speed (which can be as slow as you like), sticking close to the right edge of the bike lane if you can. It is the faster cyclist’s responsibility to safely get around you.

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  • John Liu
    John Liu October 16, 2015 at 12:45 am

    Step 4 is terrible advice for the Tilikum Bridge.

    “4. If you’re on a portion of the hill so steep you don’t think you can start again, try turning your bike across the road. The fall line (i.e. slope) is less dramatic that way, and you can gain enough momentum to climb again.”

    This is a bike lane/path of limited width, in which other riders may be streaming by. Turning your bike “across the road” is a good way to block the lane, cause a crash with other riders, and it won’t make any difference anyway because the path is too narrow to gain any momentum before you hit the edge.

    This is bad advice for many roads as well, because turning your bike across the road usually means cutting across traffic lanes. How positive are you that no car is coming up on you from behind?

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  • Trikeguy October 16, 2015 at 7:00 am

    Climbing hills isn’t about machismo, it’s about proper gearing.

    Step 1: Figure out how slow can you go and ride a straight line.
    Step 2: Divide the answer to 1 by .18
    Step 3: If your lowest gear has a higher gear inch than step 2 you’re over geared because you can’t hold your lowest speed at a knee saving 60rpm.

    IE at 3.6mph a 20″ allows a comfortable 60rpm spin. That’s around 26/32 on a 26″ x 1.5″ tire, 24/32 on a 700x28c.

    An inexpensive Microshift FD and SRAM x7 long cage RD can easily handle 26/39/52 or 24/39/50 to a 11-32 rear cassette.

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    • 9watts October 16, 2015 at 7:19 am

      Thanks for the math, Trikeguy. Your post is along the lines of what I was trying to say (without the fancy math) upthread. But after thinking about Anne Hawley’s experience I’m wondering if there are bounds to this physics-view-of-hills?
      To me the magic of gears has always been thrilling, and something I’d like others (especially anyone who struggles with or dreads hills) to appreciate as I have. But now I’m finding myself wanting to test this with others in person; figure out if/when what I think makes sense (on paper and on my bike) also works for others.

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  • Trikeguy October 16, 2015 at 7:31 am

    Thanks for the math, Trikeguy. Your post is along the lines of what I was trying to say (without the fancy math) upthread. But after thinking about Anne Hawley’s experience I’m wondering if there are bounds to this physics-view-of-hills? To me the magic of gears has always been thrilling, and something I’d like others (especially anyone who struggles with or dreads hills) to appreciate as I have. But now I’m finding myself wanting to test this with others in person; figure out if/when what I think makes sense (on paper and on my bike) also works for others.Recommended 0

    You have to remember that trikers get a skewed view of things – we can’t fall over!

    During Ronde de PDX I had a 26/34 low to a 20″ wheel – Going up Brynnwood I had a group fall in front of me. I stopped, rested on the brakes until they cleared the lane and just started right back up at about 3mph 🙂

    I know folks who do loaded touring up very steep hills (think the Alps, Pyrenees and the like). Sylvia (who chronicles her adventures online http://sylviahalpern.com/index.html) has ridden up through Vietnam into China, all the way down from Oregon to Mexico, through Spain and into Northern Africa and more I can’t recall.

    With a 20″ rear it’s pretty easy to get down to 10gi and even lower (with a Schlumpf MD) and trundle up very steep hills (even hors catégorie climbs) without killing yourself.

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    • 9watts October 16, 2015 at 7:35 am

      Very good points. Thanks.
      I met Sylvia at Pedalpalooza and Sunday Parkways. What an adventurer!

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  • Bill Walters October 16, 2015 at 10:07 am

    It occurs to me that we’re not going far enough upstream in some of these conversations.

    Often times, when you see a non-sporty-type rider doing the whole-upper-body Ray Charles bob up a relatively mild climb, a glance at their drivetrain reveals that they are still in a flatland gear. Casual conversation can reveal that they don’t understand how their bike’s gears work and don’t want to risk trying to shift in certain situations, if at all.

    I used to work in a bike shop and this sort of scenario cropped up often. I’m not sure if it’s shops or other entities that could best step up, but there continues to be an info/education vacuum for newbies. Some people never, ever progress beyond being newbies, no matter how many years and miles they ride. (And, for instance, they never get good at using their gears to help recapture lost momentum, so they continue to blow stop signs and help feed the ongoing car v. bike distortion.)

    A whole lot of people are tooling around without a basic knowledge of how to most effectively use the controls in front of them (braking and steering too, not just shifting), and no means of learning in an environment that they wouldn’t find intimidating or patronizing. What can be done about that? It would be interesting to hear input from, for example, folks from PBOT, BTA and the bike shops in the area that have a non-sporty/non-racing focus.

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    • 9watts October 16, 2015 at 10:15 am

      And I think, given how some of this conversation has gone, that it is important to differentiate what you/we are saying about an understanding of how to take advantage of gears from machismo. Gears seem to me fundamentally democratic, pluralist, a field-leveling, barrier-overcoming trick.

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    • wsbob October 16, 2015 at 6:03 pm

      “…A whole lot of people are tooling around without a basic knowledge of how to most effectively use the controls in front of them (braking and steering too, not just shifting), …” walters

      There’s truth in that. Maybe though, there’s a lot of people riding that just don’t have, and will never have much of an interest in any of the technical aspects of riding a multi-gear bike well. Some people just want to pedal along on their one gear cruiser bike at ten mph, sitting fully upright, body weight nearly all on the saddle (ouch). They hate any uphill grade. Don’t want any suggestions about how they could ride a little more efficiently and easily.

      ‘Bent over on racing handle bars? How can your back take that! ‘. Even though one of the hand position options with drop bars is on the tops of the bars, something like upright bars on non-racing bikes.

      There’s actually a lot of knowledge and learning involved in riding a bike well, and I think people that have been riding a long while may forget this is the case, because much of the techniques and tricks they use become second nature; much of it they don’t even have to think about doing, they just do it.

      So someone new to it all, can find even a simple mild grade climb up the Tillikum to be kind of a big deal for them.

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  • SE October 16, 2015 at 10:33 am

    I read all this and then reflect on the story of Emily Finch and her heavy cargo bike ( minus the 5 kids, but 350 lbs. total !! ?? ) riding the coast (in heels). And no complaints.


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