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Measuring hill difficulty

Old 09-16-22, 09:42 AM
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CoogansBluff
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Measuring hill difficulty

Is there a good way of measuring the difficulty of hills? If the hills are similar in grade or distance, then it would seem pretty simple. But can you compare a 1/4 mile hill to a 2-mile hill? And I guess you'd have to start by defining exactly what a hill is.
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Old 09-16-22, 09:49 AM
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Originally Posted by CoogansBluff View Post
Is there a good way of measuring the difficulty of hills? If the hills are similar in grade or distance, then it would seem pretty simple. But can you compare a 1/4 mile hill to a 2-mile hill? And I guess you'd have to start by defining exactly what a hill is.
One other significant difference is terrain -- e.g., a 20% grade on smooth pavement might be easier than a 10% grade on an MTB or gravel route which may include potholes, rocks, tree roots, and mud.

Another difference would be elevation: I've done some big climbing events at elevations as high as >14,000 feet; the thin air takes a toll.
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Old 09-16-22, 10:09 AM
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Originally Posted by Koyote View Post
One other significant difference is terrain -- e.g., a 20% grade on smooth pavement might be easier than a 10% grade on an MTB or gravel route which may include potholes, rocks, tree roots, and mud.

Another difference would be elevation: I've done some big climbing events at elevations as high as >14,000 feet; the thin air takes a toll.

Any grade at 14,000 feet, would all have to be downhill. The only thing that would need factored in at that point is what shape are the brakes in
​​​​​​...
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Old 09-16-22, 10:17 AM
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Originally Posted by 308jerry View Post
Any grade at 14,000 feet, would all have to be downhill. The only thing that would need factored in at that point is what shape are the brakes in
​​​​​​...
Incorrect, even if only for 130 vertical feet.
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Old 09-16-22, 10:24 AM
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Originally Posted by CoogansBluff View Post
Is there a good way of measuring the difficulty of hills? If the hills are similar in grade or distance, then it would seem pretty simple. But can you compare a 1/4 mile hill to a 2-mile hill? And I guess you'd have to start by defining exactly what a hill is.
noun
1. a naturally raised area of land, not as high or craggy as a mountain.

The rest should be easy ...
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Old 09-16-22, 10:27 AM
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What I learned this week on Bike Forums is that we don't talk about distance when climbing hills.
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Old 09-16-22, 10:34 AM
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This link answers the OPs question.


https://epictrain.me/2018/08/22/fiets-what/
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Old 09-16-22, 10:38 AM
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If you have to get off and walk, it's a difficult hill.
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Old 09-16-22, 10:43 AM
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Originally Posted by Paul Barnard View Post
This link answers the OPs question.


https://epictrain.me/2018/08/22/fiets-what/

This ^^^^

See also: https://pjammcycling.com
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Old 09-16-22, 10:44 AM
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Originally Posted by prj71 View Post
What I learned this week on Bike Forums is that we don't talk about distance when climbing hills.
Incorrect, as demonstrated by the website that Paul links, below.

In the formula, H=distance climbed. As the site explains, FIETS is "how much will you climb, in how much distance and what is its height." (The part I italicized is H, the actual climbing.)

Originally Posted by Paul Barnard View Post
This link answers the OPs question.

https://epictrain.me/2018/08/22/fiets-what/
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Old 09-16-22, 11:00 AM
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Originally Posted by CoogansBluff View Post
But can you compare a 1/4 mile hill to a 2-mile hill?
There are many differences between riders, bikes, gearing, etc.

A 1/4 mile hill at a 30% grade may well be more intense than a 2 mile hill at a 2% grade.

But, you can also look at your effort on the two hills. Time, speed, etc.

Many ride trackers, computers, power meters, etc, will give an estimate of average power and calories consumed. A good power meter will give you a pretty decent estimate. Cheap computers can be taken with a grain of salt.
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Old 09-16-22, 11:01 AM
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Originally Posted by Paul Barnard View Post
This link answers the OPs question.


https://epictrain.me/2018/08/22/fiets-what/

Especially when caveated by Koyote 's factors: road/path quality and effects of altitude.

I haven't done the crazy climbing like some of you guys, but I'd also point out that if planning a ride on really big hills, I definitely want to know the wind forecast for that day.
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Old 09-16-22, 11:03 AM
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Originally Posted by prj71 View Post
What I learned this week on Bike Forums is that we don't talk about distance when climbing hills.
I do... a vertical mile of climbing can be an intense day. Add a few rollers and hit a couple of vertical miles and it can make for a long day.
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Old 09-16-22, 11:04 AM
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Originally Posted by Koyote View Post
Incorrect, as demonstrated by the website that Paul links, below.

In the formula, H=distance climbed. As the site explains, FIETS is "how much will you climb, in how much distance and what is its height." (The part I italicized is H, the actual climbing.)

Also, D = total distance traveled in meters is part of the formula.
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Old 09-16-22, 11:41 AM
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About as universal a measure as I can think of: percentage grade. Along with the length of the grade, that measure works well for informing how a given grade compares to another.

Beyond that, how a given person will take it, and how difficult it'll seem, will vary from person to person. Of course, everybody's different.

For myself, it's easy. If it's over ~5% grade and anything longer than a few hundred yards, it's impossible and I'm walking. If it's just a couple percent grade, almost without respect to distance, then it's something I can do. But then, I've got an old injury to contend with. Slow and steady wins that race, so to speak. These days, I'm just happy I'm still able to cope, using an older MTB with sub-15g.i. gearing. These days, I take one look at photos of the Stelvio Pass (and other similar grades), and my first thought is: "Give me the car keys."

Back in the day, I used to do distance running. Quite often, into the hills. (aka "Trail running.") Over a handful of years, I got much stronger and both strong and fit enough that I could nearly perform as briskly in the hills as on the flats. For whatever reason, the gods blessed me with shorter legs but a strong physique, which for running in such places (hills) worked out well. After a half-dozen years, it didn't much matter what a "hill" presented. I could do it, and it wouldn't hurt much more than any other hill. I had a hill-climbing running "gear" and a way of attacking the hill that worked. Brief respites before the next climb were generally sufficient. Even ~15% climbs up and over ridges became relatively commonplace, for training. And many of those runs approached "race" pace. Go figure. Never could accomplish the same sort of thing on a bike. My friends thought I was nuts. None of my running friends but one could keep up with me, on the hillier parts of climbs, when we were pushing things. We never did figure out why the differences were so great.

Last edited by Clyde1820; 09-17-22 at 06:34 AM.
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Old 09-16-22, 11:46 AM
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This thread is a mediocre place for a nagging question about hills. Is it better to attack the beginning incline of a hill to increase initial momentum or just find a comfortable pace you can ride the entire hill. For instance, I am thinking 5% for a mile.

I usually will take a hard run a the start of a longish hill but to me it seems like a waste of energy without any real gain. Correct?

And back to the thread… time X distance x power (or heart rate) is a nice lame way to calculate.
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Old 09-16-22, 12:06 PM
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Originally Posted by Clyde1820 View Post
About as universal a measure as I can think of: percentage grade. Along with the length of the grade, that measure works well for informing how a given grade compares to another.
Yup. A few years ago, I rode this event, which includes Canton Avenue, which has a 37% grade -- the steepest road in the United States. But it hits that max grade for just a few meters, and the whole hill is only a few hundred feet from base to top. There were several other climbs in the event that were not quite as steep, but much longer and more challenging.

Originally Posted by rsbob View Post
This thread is a mediocre place for a nagging question about hills. Is it better to attack the beginning incline of a hill to increase initial momentum or just find a comfortable pace you can ride the entire hill. For instance, I am thinking 5% for a mile.
If it's a mile long hill witgh 5% grade, that running start is practically useless. Attacking at the base only gives a meaningful advantage if you're on short punchy rollers, which allow you to carry momentum from the descent up onto the next little climb.
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Old 09-16-22, 12:50 PM
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The OP only ask about a 1/4 mile of climbing compared to 2 miles or more of climbing. Not sure how we got to the mountains so fast where 14 to 30 miles of fairly constant climbing might be involved.

As more to the OP's question, I think it mainly just comes down to past experience of what you have ridden before and your best guess. Augmenting your past experience with route profiles to see the grade of the sections of what you did and what you wish to do help in making that comparison. As does knowing what the surface is like. And for most paved road google maps can give you a street view which you can "drive" to see what the pavement is like and the surroundings. However those sometimes are years old may not be exactly the conditions today.

RideWithGPS, Strava, GarminConnect, MapMyRide and other websites can show you route profiles and the grade percent for any segment you select out of that route profile.
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Old 09-16-22, 01:14 PM
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Originally Posted by Iride01 View Post
The OP only ask about a 1/4 mile of climbing compared to 2 miles or more of climbing. Not sure how we got to the mountains so fast where 14 to 30 miles of fairly constant climbing might be involved.
.
In large part because any objective mathematical measure of difficulty would be the same formula for mountains or hills.
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Old 09-16-22, 01:26 PM
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Originally Posted by livedarklions View Post
In large part because any objective mathematical measure of difficulty would be the same formula for mountains or hills.
And where does one get all the data to put into those formulas? Seems simpler to just do it my way and just compare to similar segment of my past experience. Barring no experience, then just ride them to get some experience.

While I agrees math makes all things possible. It does sometimes keep you indoors too long working on the calculations, arguing with others about 2 - 5% variances and missing the opportunities to ride.
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Old 09-16-22, 02:09 PM
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Originally Posted by Iride01 View Post
And where does one get all the data to put into those formulas? Seems simpler to just do it my way and just compare to similar segment of my past experience. Barring no experience, then just ride them to get some experience.

While I agrees math makes all things possible. It does sometimes keep you indoors too long working on the calculations, arguing with others about 2 - 5% variances and missing the opportunities to ride.

I don't think we're disagreeing at all, I just made the same point about gearing where there are definitely "this is 10% more" type comparisons. The point is we can know how the different slopes can compare to each other, but until we try them, we don't know how much or even whether those differences matter to us. If someone can't do 1 mile at 5% grade, the percentage difference of difficulty to 1 mile at 6% may be objectively calculable, but it really doesn't matter to that rider.

TL/DR--those 2-5% differences may be objectively measurable, but how they affect you is not.
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Old 09-16-22, 02:12 PM
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My method is to ride them.
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Old 09-16-22, 02:32 PM
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Originally Posted by livedarklions View Post
I don't think we're disagreeing at all, I just made the same point about gearing where there are definitely "this is 10% more" type comparisons. The point is we can know how the different slopes can compare to each other, but until we try them, we don't know how much or even whether those differences matter to us. If someone can't do 1 mile at 5% grade, the percentage difference of difficulty to 1 mile at 6% may be objectively calculable, but it really doesn't matter to that rider.

TL/DR--those 2-5% differences may be objectively measurable, but how they affect you is not.
I'm not disagreeing with what you or any other is saying either. I just don't see how all the comparisons to riding long mountain climbs or determining FIETS will help the OP make a determination. Even with those numbers the OP still won't know what they are able to do with out prior experience.
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Old 09-16-22, 02:44 PM
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Originally Posted by rsbob View Post
This thread is a mediocre place for a nagging question about hills. Is it better to attack the beginning incline of a hill to increase initial momentum or just find a comfortable pace you can ride the entire hill. For instance, I am thinking 5% for a mile.

I usually will take a hard run a the start of a longish hill but to me it seems like a waste of energy without any real gain. Correct?
Interesting question. As a sometime tourist and randonneur, the answer depends on the length and steepness of the climb. If by attacking I can get to the top, or nearly to the top, before I'm down into my lowest gear, that's the way to go. Hitting some rollers where I can make it over, I'll attack hard, shift down as necessary, and make it over with minimal net effort. 30 seconds of attacking vs. 2 minutes of pulling? No contest, I'll take a few seconds of slogging (or sometimes no slogging at all) to cut the time in low gear down significantly.

If, on the other hand, I'm going to be spending a long time cranking no matter what the beginning was like, no sense burning a match on this hill. Pedal at a sustainable effort at the bottom and shift down as required to maintain that effort.
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Old 09-16-22, 02:46 PM
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Originally Posted by Iride01 View Post
I'm not disagreeing with what you or any other is saying either. I just don't see how all the comparisons to riding long mountain climbs or determining FIETS will help the OP make a determination. Even with those numbers the OP still won't know what they are able to do with out prior experience.

Here's my classification system:
A. Stuff I can do easily
B. Stuff I can do but kind of hard, still fun
C. Stuff I can do but miserable
D. Stuff I can't do.
E. Stuff I really, really can't do.

TBH, I really hate steep descent more than I hate steep climbing. The roads and my eyes are both getting worse.
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