Pete conquers Mt. Constitution on Orcas Island


By Pete Hartmaier

The Pacific Northwest offers cyclists two realities: 1) rain; and 2) hills. You can dress for the first, but unless you want to only ride on the Burke-Gilman Trail, there is nothing to do about the second—other than learn to love hills. To love hills is to ride them. 

The bright side? Seattle’s geography is ideal for training. You can find just the right mix of streets and trails to build up to handling every hill in town. A good start is Cascade’s Chilly Hilly ride on Bainbridge Island. The Bainbridge hills can be steep, but they are not long; resulting is a great test of how well you can spin up grades.  

In my experience, it is better to select a gear that allows you to spin the pedal quickly, rather than standing on them to pump them slowly. There is a good theory of physics behind this; basically you can transmit the same power with less torque if you spin faster. And less torque means less strain on the muscles. This takes practice, but the gym cycling class will help, as you can concentrate on the pedal cadence and smooth stroke without worrying about traffic and potholes.  Spinning in smooth strokes is also important to train your muscles to deliver power across all 360 degrees of the pedal stroke. So get those clipless shoes and use them at the gym. An extra tip: you will be using muscles not normally used in biking, so go easy at first!

There are plenty of organized local rides to test your skills, as well as your heart and lung capacity. Check out the Seven Hills of Kirkland ride to see a route of hills on the Eastside, including the climb up Juanita Hill. Cascade’s own Flying Wheels ride through the Snoqualmie Valley has a nice mix of hills including the long grade up the old Issaquah – Fall City Road. Then there is the Zoo Hill Climb challenge—3.5 km, 303 meters of climbing, (2 miles and 1,000 ft.) coming in as a Cat 3 on Strava. When you think you are ready for anything, search Sufferin Summits on Map My Ride. Remember, what goes up must come down, so make sure your brakes are in top shape and you are comfortable doing 35-40 mph on the descents. Finally, the STP is a great endurance ride, and preparing by riding hills will keep you strong for the one or two ride to Portland. 

For graduation, consider doing the Cascade High Pass Challenge, or go international and do the Gran Fondo Whistler, both of which combine great scenery, hills and festivities.

So get out there and tackle those hills! Chilly Hilly is a great way to start this month! 

*This blog was written by a guest contributor. All advice imparted and opinions expressed are those of the author.