A few words of advice for folks working to conquer hills

how to climb
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.


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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