The Hilly Hundred Weekend has many steep hills. There is the challenge of the hills and the challenge of 5,000 bicyclists riding together on the hills.
Difficulty of hills depends on two factors – steepness of the hill (sometimes referred to as percent grade) and length.
Hills that are <5% are relatively gentle, but can become challenging if they go on for many miles
Hills that are 5-8% are moderate, but can become challenging if they go on for many miles
Hills that are 8-12% are challenging hills, no matter their length. The longer they maintain a high % grade, the more difficult they are.
Hills that are 13-20+% are very challenging hills, no matter their length. The longer they maintain a high % grade (over 10% for longer than 2/10 mile), the more difficult they are.
(What is Grade%? Height Gained / Distance traveled. A 100 foot gain in elevation while traveling 1,000 feet = a 10% Grade.)
The Hilly Hundred has numerous hills in the 8+% range with several 15% or higher.
I have ridden the Hilly Hundred every year since 1988. I have ridden both days all except the first Morgan Monroe State Forest one year when the rain was so heavy on Sunday that they pulled all the food and entertainment back to the school and only ~400 people rode. I have never walked any hills. I have ridden the Hilly on my single bike and on our tandem. I have low gears on my bike and on the tandem (lowest gear is 24T front, 32T rear – 22″ gear). The low gears make it a bit easier to climb the hills (although the challenging hills are still challenging, but spinning up them at 5 mph is easier and faster than walking up them). I don’t stand when I climb hills – I use the gears to help me maintain momentum and cadence (pedaling speed).
What bike to take to the Hilly? I’ve seen all types of bikes at the Hilly Hundred over the years. 5-person tandems (Quints), high-wheelers, unicycles, tandems, families pulling kids in trailers, road bikes, mountain bikes, hybrid bikes, single speed bikes. (You’ll see all ages at the Hilly Hundred as well. There was a man who won the “most Mature” award at age 94.)
Knowing how your bike shifts and shifting smoothly can be very helpful. If at all possible, you don’t want the Hilly Hundred to be your first journey into hills. It’s best to first ride in hilly terrain, know how your bike shifts in hilly terrain and then add the factor of 5000 other bicyclists.
When deciding on which bike to take to the Hilly, I would recommend you take the bike that has the lowest gears. Having the correct gearing for the terrain is the difference between having very tired and sore legs due to pushing higher gears up steep climbs and having fresh legs, ready to conquer day 2 of the Hilly due to being able to spin up the hills.
For more detailed information about recommended gearing for different types of hills, see this article: http://www.adventurecycling.org/resources/gearing_101.pdf
For some the bike with the lowest gears would mean their mountain bike. While a mountain bike may be a bit heavier and harder to ride on the flats, the gearing on mountain bikes is perfect for the numerous steep hills on the Hilly Hundred (and there are relatively few flat places on the Hilly Hundred). If you have a touring bike, you’d have the best of both worlds: a lighter bike with low gears for hilly terrain. If you take your road bike, be aware that you’ll probably wish your bike had a few lower gears at some point (like in the middle of climbing Mt. Tabor “the Wall”). You’ll also probably want a bike with a bike rack on it and a rack pack or bungee cord to carry the layers of clothing you’ll undoubtedly peel throughout the day. It is not uncommon for the day’s temperatures to start out in the low 40’s and be in the mid-70’s by the afternoon.
To enjoy a ride like the Hilly Hundred, your bike needs to be in good condition.
The challenge of the hills at the Hilly Hundred is one thing. The sheer amount of people surrounding you and varying skills levels/speeds on the hills is another. At the Hilly you may not have the luxury of going a steady speed up the hill due to others around you who may stop and start walking at a moment’s notice.
Getting up the hills at the Hilly Hundred is fairly safe, although challenging. If you do have to make evasive maneuvers to avoid people, it’s at a slow speed and generally not problematic. Downhills are another story. You will enjoy the Hilly Hundred and be a safer participant if you take your time and ride within your abilities on the downhills. Going 35+ mph on curvy downhills with potholes and leaves in the road can be tricky enough. Add many other bicyclists to the mix and you need to be alert and within control of your bike. If you change positions in the roadway, always look first, then move. Announce your presence when you pass people so they don’t veer into your path.
Enjoy the Hilly Hundred – the sheer synergy of being among thousands of bicyclists exploring the scenic country roads lined with colorful fall foliage is really a lot of fun!
For more tips and links, visit the Bicycle Garage Indy Hilly Hundred Resource Page. And if you need bicycle service before the Hilly Hundred, bring your bike in by Friday, October 7, 2011 and mention you need your bike for the Hilly Hundred.