Posts tagged ‘ibike’
Before I go into the equipment meltdowns I had a couple weeks ago, I want to give a huge shout out to John and the rest of the mechanics at Bob’s Bikes who have kept me up and running even when I put extreme loads on all of my equipment to the breaking point. They get me back up and running again every time!!!
Also, I’m reviewing an iBike sports product below. I believe these guys have put together a product, the iBike Dash plus Power, that gives data junkies like me everything they could ever want to know about their rides and their training! Here is a review of my initial experience with the iBike Dash plus Power after a couple weeks usage and the essential features that I am using day in and day out. First, let me point you to this Velonews article which has much better pictures of the iBike. Here are my pictures: (yes, my bike is filthy, but it is supposed to rain tomorrow and what point would there be in cleaning it up before it rains!!!)
The wheel speed sensor mounted on the front fork.
The cadence sensor mounted on the non-drive side chainstay.
Setup was super easy. You simply slide the iphone into the phone booth, and the iphone automatically connects to the Apple appstore to download the free app which is the display for the power meter. Make sure you either have a phone signal or are connected to a wireless network before inserting the iphone.
You can customize each of the training screens, but I primarily keep mine on the power gauge screen shown above. This has the most important statistics for me: power, average power, speed, slope, max slope, cadence, and heartrate. Note that power and heartrate are both color-coded based on user-configuable Functional Threshold Power and Maximum Heartrate. Also, note that these statistics are completely customizable in very much the same manner as any of the Garmin bike computers.
Downloading and analyzing the data is accomplished via email. Click on Options, click on Send Ride Files, and then click Send next to the ride file you want to send. The iBike stores the email address so you don’t have to type it in each time. Once you receive the data file, save it to your computer, fire up the iBike software, and then click open. Browse for the .ibd file that you just downloaded from your email. iBike automatically reads in the file and saves it to a .csv file compatible with Trainingpeaks. Or you can analyze the ride file from within the iBike software. I personally think that the iBike software has the best graph layout of any software on the market! Here is a screenshot of a typical ride file:
iBike software ride view from top to bottom (power, speed/wind, elevation, slope)
Comparison with iBike Generation III
Prior to switching to the iBike Dash plus Power, I was using the iBike Generation III power meter. The Generation III meter is smaller, less expensive, and lighter than the iBike Dash plus Power. The larger size of the iBike Dash enables it to have more accurate wind sensor readings. Also, it allows the iBike Dash to have a beautiful large easy to read user interface. The older Generation III had an acceptable user interface, but there was no backlight so you couldn’t read it after dark.
NOTE about my iBike Dash plus Power setup: I am using my wife’s old iPhone 3G with no cellphone account activated on it, but it still works great recording all the GPS information and transferring files when connected via wireless network. But one of the big complaints against the old iPhone 3G is its slow processor, and you do notice that when running the iBike app. I would definitely recommend using an iPhone 3GS or iPhone 4, which have much better processors than the old 3G. Having said that, I am using the iPhone 3G and can put up with the slow response time especially when switching between windows.
Summary If you are a data junkie or looking for a more affordable way to measure power, the iBike Dash plus Power is the way to go. You get a sleek user interface, a handy carrying case for your iPhone, and all the data you could ever want. Contact me if you have any questions about the iBike Dash or shoot me an email to setup a ride with me where you can see it in action.
AND NOW ONTO THE EQUIPMENT WOES…
Here is a bulletted list for what didn’t make it into the picture:
- Sunday 4/3 – Broken front derailleur – I was climbing a steep grade and all of a sudden I hear a clunk/ping. I continue the climb but notice that my chain is rubbing on the front derailleur. On closer inspection at the top of the climb, I notice that there is a rivet missing from the front derailleur and so the whole derailleur is essentially split into two halves with the bottom part rubbing on not only the chain but also the front chainrings. I rode home very slowly trying not to ruin the chainrings. I ended up swapping out bikes and riding my old Trek after a little bit of work on it to make it rideable again and ended up just doing tons of climbing near my house – http://app.strava.com/rides/387911
- Monday 4/4 – Double flat – I was enjoying a slow, easy, wandering commute home with a ton of climbing when I started down the descent of Hackberry. I hit a small rock and heard the hissing sound of leaking air. Well, it turns out that it was a pinch flat (probably from not having pumped up the wheel in a week). I patched the tube and pumped it up to as high a pressure as I could with my frame pump (maybe 80psi?). I continued on my way home and then at the steepest part of the descent, which I was doing slowly, the tire went flat again. I was only a couple miles from home so I called Kristine to come pick me up, and she and Josiah came to my “rescue” a few minutes later! http://app.strava.com/rides/390412
- Tuesday 4/5 – Broken spoke – I was riding an old Cane Creek wheel because my Mavic training wheel was in desperate need of an internal hub cleaning to the point that it was no longer safe to descend at above 40mph without pedaling fast enough to keep the freewheel from spinning. The Cane Creek wheel was in pretty bad shape to begin with, but held together well on my Monday ride. Tuesday, though, I broke a spoke at the farthest out point of my ride. The rest of the wheel still had enough tension for me to ride home slowly. http://app.strava.com/rides/393157
- Wednesday and Thursday passed without incident.
- Friday 4/8 – Another flat tire – This was a puncture flat from a 10 week old tire with about 3600 miles on it. This was a rear tire which hadn’t worn through to the threads yet so I was surprised to puncture. I patched the tire up and made it home with no problems. http://app.strava.com/rides/401319
- Tuesday 4/12 – Another broken spoke – I was climbing up a hill in Mountain Brook and as I pulled over to a shady spot to pull out a powerbar from my backpack, I heard the familiar sound of a spoke breaking. I looked down and sure enough, I had another broken spoke. This one really put the wheel out of true, and I had to ride very slowly home to keep the tire from rubbing the frame. Definitely time to say good-bye to the Cane Creek wheel. $5 or best offer. Needs new spoke. Other spokes are frozen in place if you are looking to part out the hub you may need to cut the spokes off. http://app.strava.com/rides/419270
- Wednesday 4/13 – Extra wheel ride – All of this brings us to me riding home with my Mavic training wheel strapped to my back (photo above). And hopefully my run of bad luck / equipment breakdown is over for a while! http://app.strava.com/rides/424389
After hearing about all my equipment woes from the previous week, Roger hooked me up with these sweet Michelin racing tires, which I used for Dothan and Mississippi Gran Prix. Next up for these tires is Barbers this weekend and then USA Crits Speedweek (Athens, Roswell, Spartanburg, Dilworth, Sandy Springs). Also in this pic are the Rudy Project strydon sunglasses that I won from the January KOM climbing competition on Strava.
So that about sums up things, and randomly, here is my 4 year old mountain biking through the woods in our neighborhood. Check out those skills and no training wheels!
I spent a weekend of riding and racing in the North Georgia mountains. The Southern Cross race was on Saturday morning (awesome race – read my recap here), so I drove up on Friday. More specifically, I biked to work Friday morning, taught two classes, biked home, and then drove 4 hours to a cabin at the base of the Woody Gap climb just north of Dahlonega. There was still about a couple hours of daylight, so with the excitement of being in the middle of all the beautiful mountains, I got my bike out of the car as fast as possible, changed clothes right there beside the car, and went for a 2 hour ride climbing Woody Gap twice from the south side and once from the north side (much shorter climb) making it back to the cabin just after sunset. So that made for three bike rides and one four hour drive all in the same day.
Here is the iBike data for the two Category 2 (Strava) climbs –
------WOODY GAP (from Damascus Church Rd) ------ Strava: Cat 2 Dist: 9.00 mi (0:41:38) Climbing: 1816 ft Min Avg Max Power 0 260.1 387 W Gravity -520 163.6 485 W Speed 6.9 13.0 35.2 mi/h Wind 12.6 17.1 34.1 mi/h Elev 1514 2272 3242 ft Slope -5.9 3.67 8.4 % HR 133 145.7 159 bpm NP 264 W; IF 0.951; TSS 62.7 2/25/2011 3:37 PM 56 degF; 1017 mbar
------WOODY GAP (from R & R Ranch) ------ Strava: Cat 2 Dist: 6.71 mi (0:30:43) Climbing: 1651 ft Min Avg Max Power 0 289.9 608 W Gravity -1127 202.6 483 W Speed 0.0 13.1 39.6 mi/h Wind 12.5 15.6 35.2 mi/h Elev 1673 2433 3265 ft Slope -8.4 4.50 16.1 % HR 107 156.2 178 bpm NP 302 W; IF 1.088; TSS 60.6 2/25/2011 4:43 PM 49 degF; 983 mbar
And here is the graph for the entire ride:
iBike data for the entire ride.
Sunday’s ride was even better with me accomplishing what could be considered a dream of mine from over 15 years ago when a friend of mine asked if I would ride 200 miles with him in preparation for a tour across America that he was going to be doing. Well, he ended up having to back out, but I went ahead and completed the 200 mile ride from Clemson, SC to Brasstown Bald (highest point in Georgia) and then back through the Highlands, NC area. The only problem was that Brasstown Bald summit is not accessible by bike during the peak visiting times. You can either hike up to the top or take a shuttle. But they specifically disallow people from biking to the very top of the mountain. You can bike to the parking lot which is about 350 feet below the true summit, but you cannot bike to the top. I tried three years in a row at the end of each racing season, but I would always get chased down by the park workers. Well, guess what? In the middle of winter, the shuttles don’t run to the top, so you can bike up without any problems at all!
So I left our cabin early on Sunday morning, biked over to US 129 and climbed Neels Gap before turning onto GA-180 and climbing Jack’s Gap before turning at the top onto the 180-spur which takes you up three very steep miles to the highest point in Georgia. The ride started out kinda blah because it was really humid and warm when the sun was out, but cold whenever the sun went behind a cloud. So I kept on breaking out into a sweat and then getting cold. Plus, my legs were pretty cooked from the Southern Cross race the day before. But as soon as I made it to the Brasstown Bald parking lot and saw that the shuttles weren’t running, I knew that I might just have a shot at making it to the top – and I did! Strava categorizes the climb as an HC climb. Here is the elevation and gradient graph from Garmin Training Center:
And here is the Strava stats on the climbs (Neels Gap 2x and Brasstown Bald):
And here are two pictures from the summit of the climb:
After having the opportunity to finally make it to the top of Brasstown Bald, I immediately forgot about how bad I had been feeling and thoroughly enjoyed the return trip back to the cabin before driving home to Birmingham. Also, I stopped at Turner’s Corner store on the way back and got to talk to the owner, who is on the Six Gap Century committee. His gas station and convenience store is the first rest stop for the Six Gap Century, and there is a corner of the store that is dedicated to biking with all kinds of biking equipment. What a fun adventure in the beautiful North Georgia mountains.
Here are more pictures from the rides on Friday and Sunday:
Excellent weather yesterday for our first team race of the year. About 20-25 guys lined up for the Category A race with our squad represented by me, Pat Allison, Chris Allison, Stuart Lamp, Mike Lackey, and Timo Stark. Other strong teams included Velocity Pro Cycles led by Ed Whitehorn and Preston Beasley; Bob’s Bikes/Alabama Masters with Will Hibberts, Jim Brock, and Miro Novak; Alabama Cycling with a few riders; and one more team with a kit I didn’t recognize, and then a few strong independents.
Ed Whitehorn and I led out the group and rode at an easy pace up and over the first hill. As soon as you crested the hill, you were hit with a pretty strong crosswind, and several riders started to creep up on our somewhat leisurely pace. I could sense an attack coming, and sure enough on the flat section leading into the hill after the first turn, there was an attack which either Mike or Stuart covered. We were wanting to get a couple riders in the break, so when I saw someone else start to jump across I went with them. But it was too early in the race for the group to let us get away and so we were caught.
For the next lap and a half you can cut and paste the previous paragraph as the same scenario played out multiple times with Mike and Stuart covering every move and then me trying to tag along with someone attempting to bridge. Every move got brought back, though. Then on the start of the third lap, our pace slowed again, and I believe it was Jim Brock who launched out on his own. A little while later Stuart attacked with somebody else. Pretty soon it was Stuart alone with three other guys. We wanted to have somebody else from our team in the break, so my teammate Pat Allison attacked and made it across a quickly widening gap with about 10 pedal strokes and tucking on the downhill. It was impressive to watch!
Then another rider started to bridge, and I believe it was Timo who saw it and went with it. The two of them made it across and by this point, the “break” had about 10 riders in it, which meant there was only about 10 riders left in the field as we had dropped about 5 or 6 guys towards the end of lap 1 with all the attacking that had been going on. I liked that we had 3 guys in the break, but I didn’t like that the break was essentially half the field. So I waited until somebody came off of a strong pull on the long gradual downhill after the hill after Turn 1 and drilled it super hard. Somebody who was on my wheel saw it and jumped with me, but that was it. The field started to chase, but our gap was good enough right from the start that we were able to make it across to the break bringing our total to maybe 12 riders?
We finished the bridge at the start of the long hill on the backside of the course. We knew that the break was too big to stay away, so I pulled through hard to keep the pace high, but ended up pulling away from the field. The break organized itself to chase which kept its pace high, and then when they caught back up to me, we got a good rotation going which meant that the field wasn’t going to come back together.
Even though we had a good rotation with 4 out of the 12 riders in the break on our team, I knew that we were better off with a smaller break so that it wasn’t left to a 12 man sprint at the end and so that there would be fewer people chasing any attacks that we might launch. So I kept the pace high and then on the hill leading to the start/finish, we pulled hard enough to cause a separation. I think it came back together though right before the start/finish when there was another move with Will and Pat off the front with a couple other guys. This looked good because everybody was tired. Jim Brock knew it and attacked to bridge. I was right there with him and together the two of us were able to finish the bridge, but Jim popped right at the top of the hill settling the final break of six at that point.
There were six riders in the break – Stuart, Pat, and me from Tria. Will represented Alabama Masters, and then there was Joe from the black/white jersey team and Alex from Alabama Cycling. This was pretty much the perfect scenario for our team with all three of the Cat 1s in the break. We still had the rest of the third lap to finish and then two more laps, so I wanted a nice smooth rotation for us to get a good lead on the field, while giving us enough wiggle room at the end of the race should it come down to any cat/mouse games. That’s exactly what happened with everybody working together extremely well (average speed 25.4mph for the next 2 laps).
Then right before the start of the last lap, I think everybody must have known that since we had numbers we were going to start attacking to try to get somebody away. The pace slowed down quite a bit. When we made it past the start/finish area I was looking for the right time to attack, found it, and only my teammate Pat was able to respond. We had a great gap and pushed it all the way to the finish. Behind us, Will and Stuart were by themselves with Joe and the Alabama rider dropped. Joe ended up bridging to Will and Stuart, and the two of them chased with Stuart able to take it easy and save energy for the finish.
Pat and I decided as fun as it would be to try to practice the tactics of a two-up finish, that it would be better and more enjoyable to simply cross the line together, which we did! (See the attached photo). Behind us Stuart got the jump on Will in the sprint and coming into the last meters it looked like he had it, but Will with a very late burst of speed was able to pass him literally on the line with a bike throw.
The remnants of our original break came back together with the field, and Chris Allison had a great sprint to finish sixth or seventh in the race. All-in-all, it was an AWESOME start to the season with our team placing five riders in the top ten and three riders in the top five.
Pictures, videos, and heartrate data below …
Dist: 48.02 mi (1:55:56) Climbing: 1754 ft Energy: 1662.1 kJ Cals Burn: 1589.0 kcal Braking: 0.0 kJ (0.0%) Min Avg Max Power 0 238.9 820 W Gravity -637 1.5 486 W Speed 10.9 24.9 36.9 mi/h Wind 7.6 19.7 38.3 mi/h Elev 574 662 740 ft Slope -6.2 0.02 6.4 % Caden 4 85.7 121 rpm HR 119 158.6 187 bpm NP 277 W; IF 0.999; TSS 192.8
10000 feet of climbing in one ride – the garmin edge 800 cannot display 10,000 feet because it only can display 4 digits in any one column as shown in the red circle! As a side note, the yellow circle indicates what in my opinion is one of the best new features of the Garmin 800 – the ability to display your climbing rate (instantaneous and 30second average).
So how does one climb 10,000 feet in Birmingham? Here’s the maps and data! 10,000 feet of climbing in one ride – annotated with climb names and a line indicating all the descents approaching 50mph.
It’s Birmingham, so what would a ride be without a few greater than 20% gradients per the red iBike slope data above – 21% on Renfroe and Double Oak Way, 24.7% on the climb to Greystone Crest off of Hugh Daniel
10,000 feet of climbing in one mega-climbing loop! Click the map for the medium version. Or download the huge version to see all the residential road names.
Double Oak Commute
What do a midterm exam, excellent students, and a beautiful day all equate to? Answer: a 55 mile commute with nearly 5000 ft of climbing. In the map above, I have numbered and labeled the six major climbs on the route. Also my ride crossed four different river valleys – Shades Valley, Cahaba Valley (2x), Little Cahaba Valley (2x), and Shoal Creek!
My computer architecture students have done really well this semester and are way ahead of schedule, so when I gave them their second take-home exam yesterday, I also decided to give them the day off from class. This meant I had the opportunity to go for a long ride on the way in to work, how long? My longest “commute” yet at 55 miles and over 5000 ft of climbing. I did one of my favorite climbs in Birmingham (Double Oak Way), and I also discovered a cool addition to the Grants Mill climb from the Cahaba River.
Contents of my jersey pockets for the 55 mile commute: 2 powergels, 1 chocolate milk, 2 powerbars, 1 set of keys, 1 wallet in a grocery bag, 1 saddle bag with holes.
The ride was awesome, and my legs felt good so I attacked the hills pretty hard. I had ridden all these roads before with one exception – the cement path down into the Cahaba River (literally) for the Grants Mill climb. There is a cement path that leads from a parking area on Grants Mill Rd down a 24% gradient to the Cahaba River. Near the river, there is a ramp leading to a canoe/kayak landing with a gradient of at least 35% maybe even 40%.
Annotated Grants Mill / Cahaba River bridge area.
The ramp down to the landing is pretty short as shown in the satellite image above at about 15-20 ft long and leads to a 6′ by 6′ landing. So when you are heading toward a flooding river with your brakes completely engaged and the bike not stopping, you contemplate life a bit right before you roll to a stop at the edge. Then you get to turn your bike around and attempt a standing start climb of a 35+% gradient ramp. It might not work so well, and you might tumble back down the ramp onto the landing again. Or if you are lucky like me, you manage to clip both feet out of the pedals and catch the bike as it starts to wheely over backwards onto you. Then you might reasonably decide to walk the bike back up the ramp and remount to tackle the 24% gradient back up to the road to begin the 2.8 mile climb up Grants Mill onto Old Leeds Rd with 665′ of climbing and a vertical elevation difference of 540′ (a lot for Birmingham).
Lastly, here is a picture of the Double Oak Way ridge and my iBike elevation data for the ride … the climb looks much bigger in person when you are at the bottom of it.
Double Oak ridge with neighborhood off of Co Rd 41 in foreground.
It has been a cold, wet, windy, and fun Thanksgiving up here in Northern Indiana. No mega climbs, but lots of fun roads to explore with small rolling hills nearly constantly if you pick the right roads.
Saturday’s ride to Lake Michigan and the Indiana Dunes (Updated 11/28)
For my last day of riding in northern Indiana, I wanted to get as much climbing/hills as possible so I headed over towards Lake Michigan and along the “morraine” — leftover hills from the ice age. La Porte is quite a popular place for riding, and so the roads were covered with all kinds of markings (LSC – La Porte Spring Century, Hills 100, Apple/Berry markings). My garmin was not working correctly because of the rain from a couple days ago so I had to pick out my route by sight, and I ended up following a lot of these roads and getting in some good climbing on lots of fun hills. The highlight was the beautiful dunes along the Lake Michigan shoreline southwest of Michigan City. The dunes are not like normal east coast sand dunes. These are much older dunes with grass, trees, and even forests taking hold and eventually replacing the sand with dirt.
Forest dunes along the shores of Lake Michigan
Another riding highlight from the long holiday week of training was riding around the Potato Creek State Park near South Bend, IN on Thanksgiving Day. Kristine’s family was celebrating Thanksgiving on Friday instead of Thursday to accommodate everyone’s travel schedule (26 people!) So on Thanksgiving, Kristine and her dad decided to go hiking with Analise and Josiah. I rode the 24 miles out to meet them. It was cold and rainy so we were the only ones out on the trails in the park — which meant that the sign below could be interpreted a little bit differently than if the park was full of people.
This bike path was 3.1 miles long one way, so by the time you doubled back and went back to the beginning you had 6.2 miles covered. I went back and forth six times, timing myself a couple of times to see if I could get my average speed up over 20mph, which was pretty hard considering how wet the path was and how you had to slow down to 10mph in some of the corners.
By the time I was ready to head back to La Porte, the rain had picked up from a light mist to a steady rain. Keep in mind the temperature was only in the mid 30s! Eventually it became a veritable downpour, and I was soaked and numb by about mile 70 when I was out of food and out of energy. I was riding along a flat road with a hill coming up in about half a mile when my legs and body decided that they were done. It felt like somebody else was pedaling the bike as I slowed down from 15mph to 10mph to 0mph on the side of the road not sure what to do. I thought about flagging somebody down in a car to see if they had any food, but my feeble attempt didn’t even slow down the first car so I just sucked it up and said I’ve only got 5 miles left, I can make it up the hill and back home.
It didn’t help that this was my first time on that particular road, so I didn’t really know where I was even though my Garmin was telling me I only had 5 miles to go. When I made it to the top of the hill, however, I recognized immediately some of the landmarks just up the road and that motivated me to pick up the pace and just push it as hard as possible all the way back home. That’s what I did and I managed to get it back up to nearly 20mph into the wind and then when the road finally turned for the last mile with a tailwind, I drilled it like it was the end of a race. That has to rank right up there with the worst “bonk” I’ve ever had.
Wednesday (before Thanksgiving)
Wednesday’s ride (the day before Thanksgiving) was colder but not quite as wet. I made it all the way up to the shores of Lake Michigan without any rain, sleet, or snow. Then I did a loop along the lakeshore and then away from the coast before heading south again. It started to sleet as soon as I made it back into Indiana. Hard, stinging, sleet with a stiff wind blowing it even harder into your face. As I made it closer to La Porte, the sleet turned to rain, which was actually better because it didn’t hurt as much — although with the temperature still hovering right at freezing all the rain was freezing onto my bike and clothes.
Today’s ride (Friday)
Today’s ride was the coldest yet with temps hovering in the mid 20s the entire ride. Plus, the wind coming from the west was just amazing (10-15mph wind with higher gusts). So I tried to work the wind to stay warm by starting out heading east with a tailwind while my body warmed up before heading north into Michigan chasing some dark clouds to see if there was any snow in them. Alas, there wasn’t any. So after a while I made it to the road I wanted to take back into town and headed due south all the way back to La Porte just in time for the big family dinner. I took this picture of the cold horses on my way back into town.
iBike heartrate and power data
Wednesday’s Freezing Rain and Sleet ride
Wednesday – Lake Michigan
Two days, 75 miles, one high speed crash, and over 12,000 feet of climbing! Read all about it below…
Day 1 – Cherokee Orchard Climb and Gatlinburg Bypass Loop
I just posted a few days ago about the awesome Double Oak Way 1500ft climb in Birmingham, and it is definitely an awesome climb. But if the Double Oak Way climb is awesome (which it is), then the Cherokee Orchard climb here in Gatlinburg, TN is beyond awesome.
Before I dig into my recap, here is my word stream of thoughts on the climb:
And as the climb reached its crest, and the narrow two-lane road turned into a one-way paved path through the woods and eventually plunging back down the mountain, here are the next words that come to mind:
Those were the word summaries. Here is the recap …
We had a long adventuresome drive from Birmingham to Gatlinburg arriving late at night so we didn’t have the grand majestic view of the mountains as we drove into town. Instead, we arrived after midnight to beautiful Christmas lights, cold temps, and a hotel room that had accidentally been double-booked with another guest. So when the security guard gave us our key, there was somebody already in the room! After a few phone calls, the guard was able to get in touch with the hotel owners and find us another room. By 1:30AM, we were settled into our room and I began working on a few last minute things for the computer conference the next morning.
At 2:30, I set my alarm for 5:45 to get up and go for a short ride before the start of the conference. Even though it was only three hours of sleep, I was wide awake as soon as the alarm went off because I knew what was waiting – a nearly 2000ft climb up Cherokee Orchard Rd and a first-time descent of a one-lane, one-way scenic drive through the woods just outside Gatlinburg! This was a route I had planned out over a month in advance, and it turned out to be a really nice selection of roads around Gatlinburg with the centerpiece being the Cherokee Orchard climb and the one-way descent through the woods all in a loop less than 20 miles long with over 3000 feet of climbing.
I was out the door by 6AM. It was still very dark, and as I turned onto Cherokee Orchard road and headed up the initial slopes of the climb, I kept wondering if I would stumble upon a bear rooting around for food before daybreak. My small headlight that I was carrying didn’t shine very far. But I made it up the 3 mile initial part of the climb without seeing much of anything. It was cold and quiet (except for the creaking of my bottom bracket). By this point, I was 20 minutes into my ride and the pre-dawn sky was brightening a bit. I turned onto the one-way, one lane scenic drive road (speed limit 10mph) and continued climbing for another couple miles before reaching the high point at just under 3200ft (1900 ft of vertical gain from the starting point at 1300ft).
I started down the descent excited, but hesitant because of the steep drop-offs, trees, and sudden twists and turns. I decided that it was bright enough by this point to stuff my headlight into my back pocket since I might need both hands for hard braking and cornering. The descent was so much fun. I couldn’t let it completely out because this was my first time down the descent, and because I couldn’t see very well. In fact there were several times where I thought the road went one way and in fact it went the other way so I kept my speed in the mid to upper 20s. Because of the poor lighting, though, it felt like I was going twice that fast. And with so many twists and turns, it was just amazing. You literally were dipping and diving between trees on a paved path through the woods about the same width as the Lakeshore trail in Homewood.
Here is a picture of the paved path that I took the next day with a bit more daylight. Note that this is looking down a gradient of nearly 15%. You’ve got to be sure to lean the right way – no room for errors!
Paved path, one-way, one-lane descent off the Cherokee Orchard climb. This wasn’t even the narrowest or coolest part of the descent, but rather towards the very top. I wasn’t going to ruin the descent to stop and take pictures!
The rest of the ride was great, either up or down with very little flat sections. I made it back in time to get ready for the conference and help staff the registration table (I was on the organizing committee). The conference went great, and I was very busy all day so I didn’t get a chance to debrief the ride until that evening when I talked Kristine’s ear off about it at the Bubba Gump shrimp factory.
Day 2 – Clingman’s Dome and Cherokee Orchard Remixed in the Daylight
The 22.5 mile Clingman’s Dome climb is as epic as Cherokee Orchard is awesome. The sheer scale of the climb makes it difficult even though the average gradient is only 5%. The climb starts at an elevation of just under 1,300ft in Gatlinburg, TN before climbing up to a final elevation of 6,643ft at the top of Clingman’s Dome. The average gradient of 5% is a bit misleading though because it includes a steep mile long descent and several flat sections. So that means that the “uphill” portions are a bit more than 5%, more like 7%. The descent is also epic because of its length, even though there aren’t very many technical sections. I ended up wiping out on one of the more technical corners at the top because the corner had a sheet of ice on it only on the downhill side! In other words, it was dry on the uphill side of the road so I was caught completely by surprise on the descent when my rear wheel started to skid and down I went at 30mph, sliding across the ice on the road, across the ice on the shoulder of the road, and into a snow bank.
But before we get to that, let me take you through the day’s adventure. I set the alarm for 5:45AM again, because the traffic in the Great Smoky Mountains on a weekend is horrible. I was warned about this ahead of time a few years ago, and so whenever I have done the Clingman’s Dome climb, I have always tried to be out the door by 6AM. This year, I was out by 6:20AM and a little concerned about traffic. My concerns were misdirected though, as I should have been more concerned about ice and keeping my bike upright. There was actually less traffic this year than normal on the 2 hour climb. I’m not sure why, though, because when I came back down the mountain there was tons of traffic coming back up the mountain. I guess everybody must have decided to sleep in this year!
Let me step you through the climb. As soon as you leave Gatlinburg on Hwy 441, you begin climbing — pretty gradually for the first couple miles until you pass the intersection with Little River Rd. At this point, the gradient kicks up to 6-8% which it stays at pretty consistently for much of the climb. There are a couple sections that are flatter in the 2-3% range bringing the overall average gradient down to 5.1% for the first 15 miles of the climb reaching an elevation of just over 5000 ft at the Newfound Gap scenic overlook on the border of TN/NC. After a short flat section, you leave Hwy 441 and head onto the Clingman’s Dome spur and begin the final 7 miles of climbing (22.5 miles total).
The Clingman’s Dome section of the climb starts out pretty gradual, and you are totally pumped from having made it up to Newfound Gap. So your average speed kicks up a bit, but pretty soon the road angles up more sharply into the 6-7% range for about 2.5 miles before cresting on the backside of Mt Collins. It is not until this point nearly 20 miles into the climb that you can see your first glimpse of the top! Just as you finally see the top, the “climb” turns into a one mile descent in the 6-7% range. Keep in mind that this entire road is twisty with no straight sections. Very fun!
For the final push, you have to regain the elevation that you just lost on the fun descent. This is a pretty steady 6-7% two mile climb with amazing views to the east, and icicle covered cliff walls above to the right. Coming around a corner, you suddenly enter the massive parking lot for the top. When I did the climb Saturday morning, the parking lot was pretty much deserted which is another reason to start the climb so early. The final 300 vertical feet of climbing is compressed into about 1/2 mile making for an average gradient of 12.5% with stretches in the 17% range. Steep – but not as steep as South Cove Dr in Vestavia (220 feet in 0.2 miles) or stretches of the Double Oak Way climb! Of course those climbs here in Birmingham don’t come at the very end of a 22.5 mile climb!
As I made it to the very cool tower at the top with its circular wheelchair accessible ramp, I noticed that the tower was pretty full of people! I was surprised because I hadn’t seen very many people up until that point. It turns out that it was a boy scout troop starting out on a hike on part of the Appalachian Trail to mark spots that need maintenance. They cheered me on the final stretch as I raced up the ramp. The view is breathtaking, and I have included a few of the pictures below that I took with my cellphone camera and a few pictures that I took when we drove with the kids back up to the top at sunset.
Annotated picture of a portion of the Clingman’s Dome climb
Great Smoky Mountains National Park – Clingman’s Dome route
(Download huge version 6.8MB)
Descending off Clingman’s Dome
The descent begins with the steep paved trail back to the parking lot. I was fortunate because there was only one family on the entire trail. That meant I could go a bit faster than other times of the day when the path is completely overcrowded and overrun with people. You still can’t go that fast though because somebody might dart out. Once you make it back to the road, you get to descend on a twisty, beautifully paved road with slightly banked corners. Very fun. After 7 miles, you make it back to Hwy 441 and continue for another 15 miles down the mountain back into Gatlinburg. Towards the top on one of the shaded north-facing side of the mountain, I ran into my problem with the ice. Besides the immediate pain of falling hard, I was very distraught that I might not get to finish the rest of the ride. After picking myself up and seeing that I wasn’t hurt and my bike appeared to still work, I took off again. I was hoping to catch up to the pick-up truck that I had been drafting at the time I fell.
The truck had gotten too far ahead, but I still enjoyed the rest of the descent slowing down at the only other spot which could have had ice. Once I made it past that point, I pushed my 53×11 the rest of the way down averaging 37mph for 6.5 miles! The descent is fun because of the novelty of its length, but for a speed freak like me it’s disappointing to max out at 43mph.
Cherokee Orchard Remixed
Once I made it back into Gatlinburg, I turned onto Cherokee Orchard Road and immediately began the Cherokee Orchard climb that I had done the day before early in the morning. I wanted to do the descent again in the full daylight. I knew that there would be more traffic. I ended up having to wait behind two cars at the very bottom, but all the other cars I came upon moved out of the way just enough for me to pass. This was sorta tricky because the road was only just wide enough to fit a single car through between the trees. I’ve posted a few pictures below from when I drove Kristine and the kids through after I finally finished the ride and we had breakfast. If you could find a time with enough daylight and few cars, that would be the optimal time.
Ober Gatlinburg and Home
Tired and exhausted I made it back over the final hills to our hotel to pack up, head to the nearby Glenstone Lodge for brunch, and then head up to Ober Gatlinburg to enjoy the day with Kristine and the kids ice skating, mini-golfing, alpine sledding, and chairlift riding before beginning our drive back home to Birmingham with a quick drive up the mountain, quick hike up to the top of Clingman’s Dome from the parking lot, and a beautiful sunset. All the pictures below are from that portion of our trip. Check them out!