Bike Forums > Let's do the math, how steep can a touring cyclist climb?
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 Touring Have a dream to ride a bike across your state, across the country, or around the world? Self-contained or fully supported? Trade ideas, adventures, and more in our bicycle touring forum.

 02-16-12, 03:51 PM #1 Barrettscv  Have bike, will travel Thread Starter     Join Date: Feb 2006 Location: Edwardsville, Illinois Bikes: De Rosa Professional, Eddy Merckx Corsa Extra, Pinarello Gavia, Schwinn Paramount, Motobecane Grand Record, Peugeot PX10, Serotta Nova X, Simoncini Cyclocross Special, Raleigh Roker, Origin8 monstercross, Pedal Force CG2 and CX2 Posts: 11,240 Mentioned: 19 Post(s) Tagged: 0 Thread(s) Quoted: 359 Post(s) Let's do the math, how steep can a touring cyclist climb? The good news is that most roads are engineered to a 3% grade. Climbing steeper hills is always a possibility, even in places like Ohio and Wisconsin. However, human beings, even exceptional ones, are limited in power output. Most cyclists produce 100 to 150 watts while cycling. Let’s look at a hypothetical cyclist who weights 175 pounds, rides a 28 pound touring bike, and carries 22 pounds of gear and can produce 200 watts of continuous power. These calculations ignore the aerodynamic drag of panniers. How fast can this cyclist travel while producing 200 watts? Flat & windless = 20 mph 3% climb & windless = 10.5 mph 6% climb & windless = 6.5 mph 9% climb & windless = 4.5 mph 12% climb & windless = 3.5 mph 15% climb & windless = 2.75 mph __________________ When I ride my bike I feel free and happy and strong. I'm liberated from the usual nonsense of day to day life. Solid, dependable, silent, my bike is my horse, my fighter jet, my island, my friend. Together we will conquer that hill and thereafter the world. Last edited by Barrettscv; 02-16-12 at 05:16 PM.
 02-16-12, 04:47 PM #2 Thulsadoom Senior Member     Join Date: Dec 2005 Location: Gouverneur NY Bikes: 2003 BIANCHI VIGORELLI, 2002 TREK 520, Schwinn Mesa WINTER BIKE Posts: 1,257 Mentioned: 0 Post(s) Tagged: 0 Thread(s) Quoted: 0 Post(s) Hey, as long as he/she gets over the mountain. Then they get to coast down the other side while singing "Clap for the wolfman".
 02-16-12, 04:59 PM #3 mtnbud Senior Member     Join Date: Jul 2011 Location: Salem Oregon Bikes: 1986 Diamondback Ascent 1996 Klein Pulse Comp, 2006 Specialized Sequoia Elite Posts: 507 Mentioned: 1 Post(s) Tagged: 0 Thread(s) Quoted: 13 Post(s) I once bottomed out at 0.5mph (according to my bicycle computer) while climbing a 6% grade and hitting a killer headwind on a hairpin curve. Luckily, the turn continued around enough to get me out of the direct force of it's blast. Thanks for the calculations Barrettscv. I feel better about my slow speed when climbing loaded. I might even be over that theoretical ave speed on many of my climbs.
 02-16-12, 05:34 PM #4 Booger1 Senior Member   Join Date: Sep 2007 Location: Gaseous Cloud around Uranus Bikes: Posts: 3,733 Mentioned: 0 Post(s) Tagged: 0 Thread(s) Quoted: 26 Post(s) I must be on a 3% climb at all times....
 02-16-12, 06:06 PM #5 Erick L Lentement mais sûrement     Join Date: Jan 2003 Location: Montréal Bikes: Posts: 2,192 Mentioned: 0 Post(s) Tagged: 0 Thread(s) Quoted: 20 Post(s)
02-16-12, 06:42 PM   #6
Barrettscv
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Quote:
 Originally Posted by Erick L
That would provide about 40 mph ;-)
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When I ride my bike I feel free and happy and strong. I'm liberated from the usual nonsense of day to day life. Solid, dependable, silent, my bike is my horse, my fighter jet, my island, my friend. Together we will conquer that hill and thereafter the world.

 02-16-12, 06:45 PM #7 fietsbob Banned.   Join Date: Jun 2010 Location: NW,Oregon Coast Bikes: 8 Posts: 25,912 Mentioned: 42 Post(s) Tagged: 0 Thread(s) Quoted: 2261 Post(s) Made it up a steep hill on the south side if Loch Ness, it was a get off and push hill , so that is what I did. Did not calculate more than feeling my heart-rate top out, hold the brake , wait, push some more, was on a multi month cyclo-camping trip. operators of concession trailer at the top, gave me a nice Cuppa. and a tenting spot that night. nice View from up there. Last edited by fietsbob; 02-16-12 at 07:38 PM.
02-16-12, 07:04 PM   #8
Tourist in MSN
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You got me beat, the steepest I have seen a sign is 14 percent. Part way up this hill, I decided that I did not see any cars so I created some of my own switchbacks back and forth using the full width of the road to get a breather for a short segment.

I calculated 3.0 mph at 15 percent and assumed no aerodynamic drag and no friction, all effort went into elevation gain. (I had already set up a spreadsheet to estimate how long it will take to climb a specific hill that has hour restrictions this summer when I cross the continental divide, thus I only had to plug in the numbers.) Where did you get a formula for aerodynamic drag?
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02-16-12, 07:25 PM   #9
Barrettscv
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Quote:
 Originally Posted by Tourist in MSN Where did you get a formula for aerodynamic drag?
There isn't much aero drag at these speeds, anyway.
__________________
When I ride my bike I feel free and happy and strong. I'm liberated from the usual nonsense of day to day life. Solid, dependable, silent, my bike is my horse, my fighter jet, my island, my friend. Together we will conquer that hill and thereafter the world.

Last edited by Barrettscv; 02-16-12 at 07:30 PM.

 02-16-12, 10:42 PM #10 raybo Bike touring webrarian   Join Date: Sep 2005 Location: San Francisco, CA Bikes: I tour on a Waterford Adventurecycle. It is a fabulous touring bike. Posts: 1,790 Mentioned: 0 Post(s) Tagged: 0 Thread(s) Quoted: 13 Post(s) How does this one factor in?
02-16-12, 11:51 PM   #11
Doug64
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Barrettscv,

Good job crunching the numbers. How hard would it be to run it with 150 watt output? It would give some of us another point of reference. I think that is more my output, because I'm about .5 to 1 m ph slower on the easier climbs.

The steepest sustained climb that I've knowingly rode up is 12%. Much steeper than that and my "watt meter" blows a fuse.

Not knowing what 200 watts meant to me as a cyclist, I found this article while looking for information. While still finding it hard to figure out my output, I can relate it to the ability I had when I was a Cat 4 rider, and what I hope is a "fit guy" today. Also this is the peak power for 2 hours. Some of the longer climbs on a tour could be quite a bit longer than 2 hours. From our home to the first major pass into the Cascade Mountains is 35 miles, climbing about 4000 feet. A portion of the distance averages 6%. It takes us about 4 hours to cover that distance on loaded bikes.

Quote:
 Category 4 Rider, 182-209 watts, peak power for 2 hours. Fit guy is only 147-170 watts for 2 hours. From:http://www.saris.com/aboutus/PTS/How...ithWorkout.pdf

Last edited by Doug64; 02-17-12 at 12:03 AM.

02-17-12, 12:28 AM   #12
sstorkel
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Quote:
 Originally Posted by Barrettscv Most cyclists produce 100 to 150 watts while cycling.
Sounds like they need to do some more training! I can average 170-180 watts over a 4-5 hour ride and that average includes time spent coasting. My functional threshold power is 240-250 watts and I can easily generate another 100-150 watts just by standing to pedal...

02-17-12, 07:53 AM   #13
Barrettscv
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Quote:
 Originally Posted by Doug64 Barrettscv, Good job crunching the numbers. How hard would it be to run it with 150 watt output? It would give some of us another point of reference. I think that is more my output, because I'm about .5 to 1 m ph slower on the easier climbs. The steepest sustained climb that I've knowingly rode up is 12%. Much steeper than that and my "watt meter" blows a fuse. Not knowing what 200 watts meant to me as a cyclist, I found this article while looking for information. While still finding it hard to figure out my output, I can relate it to the ability I had when I was a Cat 4 rider, and what I hope is a "fit guy" today. Also this is the peak power for 2 hours. Some of the longer climbs on a tour could be quite a bit longer than 2 hours. From our home to the first major pass into the Cascade Mountains is 35 miles, climbing about 4000 feet. A portion of the distance averages 6%. It takes us about 4 hours to cover that distance on loaded bikes.
Quote:
 Originally Posted by sstorkel Sounds like they need to do some more training! I can average 170-180 watts over a 4-5 hour ride and that average includes time spent coasting. My functional threshold power is 240-250 watts and I can easily generate another 100-150 watts just by standing to pedal...
Deciding on a practical power level is not easy. Not only does power output vary on an individual basis, the rider’s weight is also a key factor. Climbing ability comes down to power to weight ratio. Secondly, the duration of the power output needs to match the duration of the climb.

My personal numbers, based on supervised Computrainer data after a one hour sustained 180 watt effort is as follows: 600 watts for 2 minutes and 225 watts for 20 minutes. I can also average 200 watts for one hour after a 15 minute warm-up. The issue for me is that at 200 pounds, I'm never going to be a great climber.

Here is the data for a 150 watt power output (rounded to the nearest 0.5 mph);

Flat & windless = 17 mph
3% climb & windless = 8.5 mph
6% climb & windless = 5.0 mph
9% climb & windless = 3.5 mph
12% climb & windless = 2.5 mph
15% climb & windless = 2.0 mph
__________________
When I ride my bike I feel free and happy and strong. I'm liberated from the usual nonsense of day to day life. Solid, dependable, silent, my bike is my horse, my fighter jet, my island, my friend. Together we will conquer that hill and thereafter the world.

 02-17-12, 10:22 AM #14 pdlamb Senior Member   Join Date: Dec 2010 Location: northern Deep South Bikes: Fuji Touring, Novara Randonee Posts: 3,441 Mentioned: 5 Post(s) Tagged: 0 Thread(s) Quoted: 331 Post(s) If you leave the flat heartlands, you'll find many mountainous roads are now being engineered with a target grade of 6% or less. Older roads, from the Appalchians and Ozarks to the Sierras (the ones that developed from a game trail, to an Indian path, to a frontier road, to a paved road), often exceed that, often by a wide margin. I usually found it easier to walk when the grade exceeded 15%. Don't know how slow I was going, as my speedometer decided I'd stopped.
 02-17-12, 11:04 AM #15 DogBoy No one carries the DogBoy   Join Date: Feb 2004 Bikes: Posts: 2,309 Mentioned: 0 Post(s) Tagged: 0 Thread(s) Quoted: 0 Post(s) I have hit 20% grade a/t my garmin, but only with a small bag. Gearing was 26/32 and I was going 3.5 mph. I also weigh in at 230 and have a 30 lb bike.
02-17-12, 11:11 AM   #16
contango
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Quote:
 Originally Posted by Barrettscv How fast can this cyclist travel while producing 200 watts? Flat & windless = 20 mph 3% climb & windless = 10.5 mph 6% climb & windless = 6.5 mph 9% climb & windless = 4.5 mph 12% climb & windless = 3.5 mph 15% climb & windless = 2.75 mph
Just out of curiosity, a while back I was on a section of road that I measured as being somewhere between 18-23% incline (it was a tiny little back road so didn't have a handy sign to tell me). I made it to the top although my speed dropped to somewhere between 4-5mph through the steepest parts.

I weigh about 240, riding a bike that I guess is about 25 (specialized tricross sport). Just out of curiosity, what sort of power output would that equate to? I know we're talking a climb that was pretty short, I'm just curious.
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 02-17-12, 12:12 PM #17 jeffpoulin Senior Member   Join Date: Jul 2008 Bikes: Posts: 2,224 Mentioned: 0 Post(s) Tagged: 0 Thread(s) Quoted: 26 Post(s) I live in the Alps, and there is a pass nearby which is 18km long and averages over 8% (i.e. elevation gain is about 1500m or 5000 ft over 11 miles). On this climb, there are several sections which average 11% over 1 km. That's about as much as I can do on a loaded touring bike in my lowest gear. There are lots of 20% or steeper climbs around here, but as most are under 1km long, I can do them without getting completely exhausted. The long climbs can be grueling, though.
 02-17-12, 12:19 PM #18 Dan The Man Senior Member   Join Date: May 2008 Bikes: Posts: 1,215 Mentioned: 0 Post(s) Tagged: 0 Thread(s) Quoted: 0 Post(s) Assuming that you can balance at 0 mph (track stand), then the only limit would be the slipping angle of the rubber/pavement interface which is about 100% grade or 45 degrees. Actually at that angle, the limiting factor would be your centre of gravity tipping the bicycle over backwards.
 02-17-12, 12:46 PM #19 fietsbob Banned.   Join Date: Jun 2010 Location: NW,Oregon Coast Bikes: 8 Posts: 25,912 Mentioned: 42 Post(s) Tagged: 0 Thread(s) Quoted: 2261 Post(s) Run/Rise, like stairs, You can make your own switch-backs, using the whole road width, more run for the same rise.
02-17-12, 12:59 PM   #20
jeffpoulin
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Quote:
 Originally Posted by fietsbob Run/Rise, like stairs, You can make your own switch-backs, using the whole road width, more run for the same rise.
Doesn't work so well if there are cars on the road.

02-17-12, 01:28 PM   #21
Barrettscv
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Quote:
 Originally Posted by contango Just out of curiosity, a while back I was on a section of road that I measured as being somewhere between 18-23% incline (it was a tiny little back road so didn't have a handy sign to tell me). I made it to the top although my speed dropped to somewhere between 4-5mph through the steepest parts. I weigh about 240, riding a bike that I guess is about 25 (specialized tricross sport). Just out of curiosity, what sort of power output would that equate to? I know we're talking a climb that was pretty short, I'm just curious.
513 watts @ 20% & 4.5 mph
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When I ride my bike I feel free and happy and strong. I'm liberated from the usual nonsense of day to day life. Solid, dependable, silent, my bike is my horse, my fighter jet, my island, my friend. Together we will conquer that hill and thereafter the world.

02-17-12, 02:35 PM   #22
contango
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Quote:
 Originally Posted by Barrettscv 513 watts @ 20% & 4.5 mph
500+ watts? Wow, I didn't know I could put that kind of power down. If only I could sustain it
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02-17-12, 02:44 PM   #23
Bekologist
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Quote:
 Originally Posted by Thulsadoom Hey, as long as he/she gets over the mountain. Then they get to coast down the other side while singing "Clap for the wolfman".
Yep, you ride it or you push. There's hills out there.

The pretty roads are often steeper. Has anyone else noticed that?

02-17-12, 03:42 PM   #24
contango
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 Originally Posted by Bekologist Yep, you ride it or you push. There's hills out there. The pretty roads are often steeper. Has anyone else noticed that?
I've always found the declines look prettiest to me.
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02-17-12, 05:32 PM   #25
Barrettscv
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Quote:
 Originally Posted by contango 500+ watts? Wow, I didn't know I could put that kind of power down. If only I could sustain it
not many can sustain 500 for more than a dozen minutes.
__________________
When I ride my bike I feel free and happy and strong. I'm liberated from the usual nonsense of day to day life. Solid, dependable, silent, my bike is my horse, my fighter jet, my island, my friend. Together we will conquer that hill and thereafter the world.

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