I am pretty sure I saw a 16% grade reading on my Garmin GPS on the first grade we tackled on our bikes on the infamous Sierra Road in San Jose, CA. Did I just read that grade correctly? Probably, as my lowest gear still did not seem low enough as I rose from my saddle to keep from falling over. Sierra Road is a legendary mountain within Northern California cycling circles. Very steep and very exposed, this climb is around 3.5 miles long and averages around a 9% grade. The best thing is it is always included in the great American bicycle race, the Tour of California. See what Lance Armstrong and Felix Wong have to say about it here:
For the first time, the Tour of California would have a stage finish at the top of Sierra Road and my friend and I had to get to the top to watch. The only way…. was by walking or BICYCLE! Yeee Haww. I had ridden up this beast about 4 years ago and was 35 pounds fatter than I am now. I vividly remember having my IPOD along to help me get motivated and boost me up the hill. Well… dash that plan. I had to shut it off so I could concentrate it was so dang steep and long. This time it would be better and it went well. We got to the top and had an excellent view of Silicon Valley below. We got there early in order to set up shop and get a nice spot a little below the finish line. The racers would, at this point in race, be absolutely thrashed as they cruised by us at relatively slow speeds (for professional riders) and we would be able to get up close and personal! If you have not been to a professional bicycling race, you must! There is so much excitement associated with these events and even non-riders would enjoy them. We watched the race and it was awesome as the best riders were destroying the main field. It had to have been 25 minutes later when the main pack went by us well behind the leaders. Then, in the spirit of cycling tradition, the last rider is followed by the infamous broom wagon. See link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Broom_waggon
As the race wound down, I thought to myself that thousands of people now need to descend on their bikes to the base of the mountain. Ummmm…. that should be interesting to be a part of and maybe even a little bit treacherous. As I mentioned, Sierra Road is a very narrow road and add bikes, cars, vans, and trucks to the mix you have a pretty combustible situation. We sped down the mountain to our cars but not after I wore my breakpads down to nubs and saw a guy on the ground after a crash. Ouch.