The hills are alive…but not necessarily those who ride them

We had just pedaled – very slowly, with agonizing effort – our recumbent tandem up a 650′ section of road with an average slope of 17.2%, and once things finally leveled out a bit, my wife wondered aloud whether we were getting too old for that sort of thing. I wanted to dispute that notion but I lacked the lung capacity to do so, and, in fact, had wondered that very thing.

Of course, we could have stopped, gotten off the bike, and walked the hill. That would have been an admission of defeat that we haven’t experienced in 25 years, and to do so might be the admission that as far as riding over the hill, we’re over the hill.

Horseshoe Bay has some killer hills, in addition to the one described above. If you’re familiar with the area, you know there’s a significant elevation gain between Ranch Road 2147 and the HSB airport. There are several roads to get you there, but they are all basically long and steep. You can take Hi Mesa, which begins with a thousand foot climb that averages 16.4% slope (with one mercifully short section of 41.7%!). Hi Stirrup is an alternative; it also has an initial thousand foot climb but the average slope is only 15.6%. Then, there’s Nolen Drive – the most direct route to the airport and the one most people will drive. It begins with a 1350′ climb that averages 11.3% slope (but the last half is 14%), with a brief leveling out before continuing another 800′ that averages 14.7%. We’ve never ridden that section of road. I ran up it once, and that convinced me that a motorized vehicle is the only sane method of transit.

We’ve ridden many memorable hills over the course of our cycling lives, including:

  • Vail to Vail Pass, Colorado – one 10.4 mile stretch averages 8.5% slope, with one short section of more than 30%
  • Freedom Trail Road, Kerrville, Texas – a 1,250′ section averages 11.3% slope
  • Keystone to Montezuma, Colorado – a 5 mile ride with an average slope of only 5.3%, but it starts at an elevation of more than 9300′ and ends a thousand feet higher than that, and has one section with a 36% slope
  • Road from McDonald Observatory Visitors Center to the summit of Mt Locke – this is perhaps the most infamous of roads for Texas cyclists. The entire distance is just over a mile, but the average slope is 13%, but one 700′ section averages almost 19%, and the maximum slope is a ghastly 38%. Full disclosure: we rode this on our single bikes, not our tandem.
  • Bear Mountain (Fort Davis Loop), Texas – 1.5 miles with an average slope of 8.4%, but one 600′ section averages 18%
  • Road from Fort Davis to McDonald Observatory Visitors Center – 1.5 miles with an average slope of 9.45, and one 200′ section that averages 31% and a 700′ section averaging 15%
  • Bear Creek Road (what is it about steep “bear” roads?) outside of Fredericksburg, Texas – 600′ section averaging 10%, but the last half averages 14%

Out of fairness to ourselves, it’s worth mentioning that on a recumbent, you can’t stand up and pedal…you have to gear down and grind it out. Also, our tandem weighs around 60 pounds with our Camelbaks, loaded rack, and other accessories. Given those challenges, and the fact that we still haven’t had to walk any grades, I feel pretty confident that we’re going to be cycling the hills for a long time to come.

Note: All of these measurements courtesy of Google Earth, and I can’t vouch for their accuracy but my legs and lungs can. 

Categorized as Cycling