Saturday, March 19, 2011

Summerson's Guide to Climbing, Colorado Edition

I just got a copy of John Summerson's new book, the Guide to Climbing (by bike) in Colorado. It's not out yet, but I was very pleased John sent me an early copy.

I really like what he's doing with this series (web site here): small, compact guides to various cycling-friendly regions in the United States. First he did his national book, and that was perfect for learning about regions (among those covered in the book) that I'd not ridden in, or perhaps (like Colorado) had ridden in but had failed to appreciate due to the restricted route options of a large organized tour. But obviously a modest single book cannot come close to doing justice the the climbs in the full United States, and if I am going to be traveling in a specific region, say Colorado, why should I want to carry around a heavy guide which includes climbs in Vermont, North Carolina, Hawaii, and the entire Pacific coast?

These regional guides are perfect for that purpose. They're small, relatively light, and cover more climbs in their specific region than the national guide. And sometimes it's the smaller, off-the-beaten path climbs which are the real gems.

One thing I was pleased to see in this one was that the discrepency from earlier books between the climbing formula used in the text and the one used in ratings has been fixed. Now both agree: rating equals net average grade multiplied by vertical feet divided by 10. So, for example, a climb of 10% gaining 1000 vertical feet gets a rating of 1, or Old La Honda, which averages 7.3% for 1290 vertical feet, rates 0.94. This rating, I feel, does an excellent job of balancing the importance of simplicity and covering a range of possible riders in measuring the "quality" of a climb. Difficulty is another matter: riding 100 miles on the flat is probably harder than riding Old La Honda unless, for example, you're on a fixed gear bike with too large a gear. But 100 miles on the flat has no "quality" as a climb and therefore should by any rational climb rating system receive a zero. So given that, we agree more climbing at the same grade is better, and steeper at the same total climbing is better. While it could be argued a 6% climb is less than twice as hard/good as a 3%, and that a 20% climb is substantially more than twice as hard/good as a 10% climb, that's a gearing-specific judgement: a rider with a triple chainring or mountain bike double gear set might view the 20% climb at the same altitude gain as less than twice as hard as the 10% version. So this rating balances the needs of the diverse range of cyclists and their bicycles.

And the profiles have gotten better since the first book: just the right amount of detail. Instead of giving a highly detailed profile with grades extracted every few meters (what you get from an iBike) or too little detail with profiles averaged over each 500 meters or km (as was done in the Atlas des Cols series in France), John gives a range for each segment of the climb. That's good, since when I'm riding I always have difficulty processing too much data, anyway. Good to know what sort of grades I'll face in the short-term future without too much worry about the exact sequence in which I'll face them: that becomes fairly clear from my eyes, anyway.

Any cyclist who enjoys climbs and climbing should the national book and those for any regions in which he has specific interest. Even if a reader is inspired to climb one of the climbs described in the series, the whole investment is paid off.

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