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My next big cycling challenge: it’s time to climb!

Monday, July 7, 2014 by  
Filed under Daily Blog


In yesterday’s blog I briefly made mention that I have been mulling over the possibility of doing a very challenging upcoming ride. The ride that caught my eye is out of state, and is in late September. Unfortunately the Black Bear Rampage mountain bike race, which I did last year, is also in September. I simply can’t do both events, and so I had to make a choice.

It wasn’t an easy decision. The Black Bear Rampage was an incredible experience. If you missed my write-ups, photos and videos (or just want to take a trip down memory lane), here they are (NOTE: There is some strong language and adult content in the below blogs, may not be safe for work):


Because I’ve already done the Rampage and I crave new experiences and challenges, I’ve decided to skip it this year in favor of the other ride I’ve been considering. This ride I’ve decided to do is a road ride, and it will test my fitness and strength on a bike like nothing I’ve done before. I’m going to do the 6 Gap Century in northern Georgia.

Here’s what I’m looking at:

The Six Gap Century’s ultra challenging route takes you up and down six of the steepest climbs in the North Georgia Mountains. Test your stamina with more than 11,200 feet of vertical climbing over the 104 mile course. Elevations for the six gaps in this ride range from 1,400 feet to 3,460 feet. The toughest climb, Hogpen Gap, will test even the strongest riders, averaging a 7% grade for seven miles, with sections as steep as 15%.

Here’s a photo from last year’s mass start, about 3,000 cyclists (click to enlarge):

The start of last year's 6 Gap ride. 3,000 cyclists, 104 miles, 11,200 feet of vertical climbing.

The start of last year’s 6 Gap ride. 3,000 cyclists, 104 miles, 11,200 feet of vertical climbing.


Check out the elevation profile (click to enlarge):

6 Gap Century elevation profile.

6 Gap Century elevation profile.


Hogpen Gap comes a little past the halfway point and, as mentioned above, the average grade is 7% for seven miles, with sections as steep as 15%. I believe Hogpen Gap is a Category 2 rated climb, and about 3,500 feet.

I did a couple Category 3 climbs on my mountain bike at last year’s Black Bear Rampage, the longest of which was 847 feet over 3.7 miles–somewhere around a 4% average grade. That 847 foot climb is about half the vertical distance of the SMALLEST 6-Gap climb, so this will be quite a bit more difficult than anything I’ve done before from a climbing standpoint.

Of course Hogpen Gap, the toughest climb of the bunch, comes after three rated climbs, and there are two more rated climbs to look forward to after Hogpen.

I’ve heard the Hogpen descent is extremely fast and hazardous. Here’s a little advice from someone who’s done the ride:

The descent from Hogpen is dangerous. It is very steep. There are sharp blind curves at the end of steep straight sections. The pavement is bad: old chip-seal, broken in places, and loose gravel possible anywhere. The road is narrow, and the camber of the turns is not adequate. The grade is such that speeds in excess of 50 mph are possible just using gravity.

Someone said that if you don’t brake, you won’t flat: well, tell that to all the people who have flatted on, say, our St Marks Trail. You can also come up on wildlife, potholes, stopped leaf peepers, wet roadway, loose gravel, pavement cracks, hickory nuts, crashed motorcycles, motorcycles ascending in your lane, and any number of other hazards that require a very rapid change of plans. Bad stuff CAN happen. I have personally seen everything in my list above on the 6-gap course. It is unwise to descend at a speed that allows for no margin of correction.

It is also unwise to brake too much, especially to ride the brakes. You want to avoid heat buildup in your rims – eventually, this will cause a blowout by melting your tube. (If you have plastic rim strips, failure will occur at a much lower temperature. Change to cloth rim tape before 6-gap.) And keep in mind: the heavier you are, the faster gravity will accelerate you and the more heat you will put into your rims when you slow down.

There’s no simple recipe here, just make sure you control your speed to something that gives you some wiggle room in case of unexpected events.

So, control your speed, but stay off the brakes. Got it. 😉

I’m approaching 200,000 feet of vertical for the year, but riding Florida’s hills is not the same as long, sustained climbs. Put another way, Hogpen Gap will be like riding our Sugarloaf “mountain” for 7 straight miles. This will be an extremely challenging day in the saddle for this flatlander, but I can’t wait.

Who’s else is in? Let’s ride!

John Stone Fitness Comments

13 Responses to “My next big cycling challenge: it’s time to climb!”
  1. That event sounds like a fun challenge!

    edit: Drat, it’s the same day as the Alpine Loop Gran Fondo 🙁 I guess we’ll both be suffering in the climbs that day, albeit in different locations 🙂

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    • While there’s no true substitute for putting in training miles in the mountains, we’ve got some local routes with a lot of elevation packed in there. There’s one training route I’ll be doing at least a couple times that will get me over 10,000 vertical feet in about 100 miles. Not bad for Florida. Hill repeats are another good training option. Those sorts of training rides combined with a liberal dose of Rule #5 will deliver me to this event ready to rock.

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      • Maybe you could ‘zig zag’ up hills to make more total hill out of it (at the expense of making it functionally a less steep hill.)

        It sucks to train hills where there are no hills.

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  2. Lennard Zinn covered the benefits of long-term braking vs. short, hard braking in a few articles. To reduce heat, the consensus seems to be that braking harder intermittently is better for heat dispersal than being “on your brakes” consistently, even at reduced power.


    The comment about rim strips is interesting. Never thought about that.

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    • That was an extremely valuable and helpful article. The responses from the manufactures were like gold to me, as my biggest concern is not the climbs–it’s the numerous technical, high-speed descents on poor roads. Obviously a blowout or a mistake coming down a mountain at 80-90 kmh on a bicycle could be deadly. In fact, I know of at least two cyclist deaths on the Six Gap descents: one woman died on the Hogpen Gap descent, and a guy died doing the Wolfpen Gap descent.

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