11 June 2010

Dare to compare

Now that I'm in the mountains of North Carolina, I inevitably find myself engaged in conversations about East vs. West -- the Appalachians/Smokies vs. the Rockies or the Sierra Nevada. Each has its merits, and while I've not had a chance to ride in the Rockies much (yet!), I've had plenty of opportunities to ride here and on the Nevada/California border.

Here's what I've found: From a purely aesthetic standpoint, it's tough to beat Colorado or Nevada. The mountains of Western NC are beautiful in their own way, but you don't get the drama of towering 12k or 14k peaks, snow-capped even in June. Our mountains are "folded" geologically, and so although some of our vertical lift from the valley floor is similar, you just don't get the sheer wall effect that you get standing in, say, Carson City looking west.

As for climbing by bike, the grades out West are certainly longer in mileage, but I'll make the case any day that our climbs are tougher. We make our vert in shorter bursts, which means steeper grades -- and we still have a few long ones if we want to burn for a while. I know there are tougher grades out West than what I've experienced, but having just come in from a lunch ride that included an 850ft. climb in just 4km (average grade: 6.4% for those of you playing along, with stretches above 12%), I'll tell you that steep hurts in a more profound way!

We also don't get the effects of altitude, which means your power output is different, and shorter descents means you're on the gas more. In all, I've found it to be an ideal place to up my game :-)

Here are a couple of MapMyRide charts that show some interesting comparisons: a century ride I did from Hendersonville to Weaverville and back, my Eastern Continental Divide-Caesar's Head route, and two versions of America's Most Beautiful Bike Ride, which I did last weekend in Lake Tahoe. I did the shorter route around the lake with my dad a few years ago, and this year did the full century, which includes a quick jaunt to Truckee and back. Fun rides that many consider very difficult (though beautiful!) ...

Unless you're familiar with WNC, you may not have guessed that the rides here are tougher, in a manner of speaking. In 100 miles to Weaverville, I experienced nearly 4800ft. of climbing, including pitches topping 8%. In 100 miles around Tahoe, though at higher elevation, the climbing was about 3300ft, with one or two short pitches at 4-5%.

The shorter routes were even more dramatic, as you can see from the route profiles: 4500ft. of climbing in 130km in NC/SC vs. less than 2800ft. around Tahoe. Now, I'll give you that the scenery factor can't be understated -- it is "America's Most Beautiful Bike Ride" after all -- but from a let's-go-out-and-hammer-ourselves-into-the-ground perspective, I'd say this area has some pretty awesome opportunities.

Anyone care to join me?


Ben Welnak said...

I'd have to disagree on the climbing. Here on the front range, as well as further in the mountains, the climbing can be sustained or in short bursts. I do an out and back of segment 1 of the Colorado trail from home and it's over 30 miles with over 4,000 feet of climbing. I would say NC may be a little tougher in terms of climbing and descending. Because the climbs are probably generally shorter, you have less recovery on the descents and, therefore, more sustained pedaling at times. This is why Wisconsin riding is different. Although there isn't much climbing, you're constanting pushing. I'd be willing to show you around the front range of Colorado anytime.

Chris said...

Sorry Ben, just re-reading what I wrote vs. what you're saying. These rides are representative samples, so yes -- getting out the door and *up* is probably easier for you. Around here you may have to search it out a bit -- vis. the Ceasar's Head ride, where I muck around in South Carolina on the flats for a long time before climbing back home.

But, if you know where to look, we have some killer sustained climbs that include some incredibly steep pitches. And when you factor in the mountain biking elevation opportunities, it becomes even more dramatic.

The point I was making though, and you seem to agree, is that because it's so dramatic, we're on the gas more here -- I imagine your Colorado Trail descent is super fun -- I can't imagine 30 miles of descending! Around here, you might get 10 or 12 miles at a time, but even that includes some climbs in the middle!

Ben Welnak said...

the 30 miles is not straight up and then back down. There is a lot of up and down as well.

Mountaingoat said...

Dude, you need to ride out west more. There are so many places you don't even know about and they are pretty regular for the locals.