Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Climbing Dyers Pass Road

Christchurch was the beginning and end of my just-completed trip to New Zealand. Christchurch consists of a dense central district, a suburban ring, and beyond that, agricultural land dramatic mountains. The central district has been largely destroyed in two days of quakes: 4 Sept 2010, and a highly destructive aftershock on 22 Feb 2011. The damage to the suburbs is less visible but just as real: many houses were condemned due to structural damage.

But the riding outside the city limits remains truly excellent. There's three popular passes just south of the city: Gabbies Pass, Dyers Pass, and Evans Pass. My route book, "Classic New Zealand Road Rides" by Jonathan Kennett and Kieran Turner described a ride over Gabbies Pass and Evans Pass, and shorter ride over Dyer Pass and Evans Pass. Each of these rides went over Evans Pass, but I was told as I staged at Zero's Cafe near Princess Margaret Hospital in Cashmere (part of Christchurch) that Evans was closed. So my alternate plan was to ride Gabbies to Dyer.

But two separate riders independently suggested an alternative: at the top of Gabbies Pass, ride "The Bastard", a climb along the local Summit Road (not to be confused with the one near Akaroa) to the top of Dyers Pass. Then I could descend Dyers back to Christchurch.

This presented a bit of a problem: I didn't want to deny myself some classic local climbing. But as I was riding towards Gabbies, a solution occurred to me: ride The Bastard, but then descend and reclimb Dyers (towards Governors Bay, the good side), then descend to Christchurch.

I asked someone at a cafe along the route if this seemed reasonable... there's a lot of cafes in this cycling-crazy region. "I'd doubt your sanity" he replied. That sealed it.

My derailleur cable slipped when I was riding Gabbies Pass, ruining that effort, and as I climbed the Bastard, the climbing itself took a back seat to admiring the spectacular views. To one side, Lyttelton Harbour, and to the other, the patchwork of extensive agricultural fields surrounding Christchurch. It was great.



But after climbing to the peak of Summit, then riding the rolling descent beyond, I came to the "Sign of the Kiwi", an historic cafe at Dyers Pass. One rider after another ascended from the right, the Governors Bay side. Others at the top cheered on those approaching the summit. It appeared to be some sort of large group ride, if not a formal event. I wanted my turn!

So without further delay, I set off down the descent, recovered a bit at the bottom, and began my climb.


Other than the car traffic, I loved climbing Dyers Pass.

On the down-side, it's a two lane road without much shoulder, blind corners resulting in occasionally uncomfortably short sight lines for drivers to see cyclists. But it has the advantage of popularity: with so many cyclists on the road, drivers seem to be generally aware, and I had no issues during my ride there.

But the climb itself is a straight uphill grind. Gaining close to 300 meters to its 331 meter peak, it's just a put-it-in-a-single-gear-and-go sort of climb, 10.2% average according to Strava. At that distance, you can really go out at a good, hard pace without fear of digging yourself too deeply. Sure, it will start to hurt, but then you just ride through the pain for the few extra minutes it takes to reach the top. The finish is fun: it lets up for a short distance, then makes up the deficit in the final meters. Doing a 50 meter smooth on altitude versus position, however, results in only a 1.2% increase in grade here about the mean, so it's easy to power through this in the same gear. If you have anything left, however, this is a good chance to upshift, build up some speed, and finish hard. In the big picture, though, Dyers is an easy climb to make an effort on, since there's not much thinking involved. If I lived in Christchurch I'd love doing this climb.

Given how unfresh I was from my recent hard rides, and how much extra mass I had on my already relatively heavy Ritchey Breakaway, I felt really good with my effort. It was good enough for the Strava KOM, with what for me is a solid VAM number.

Dyers Pass

I contemplated also climbing the Christchurch side. However, as I descended, it was obvious this was less interesting: the grade was generally shallower (a bit steep only near the bottom) and the influence of the shifting winds would be greater. So I decided enough was enough for the day, and so headed back to Zeroes to meet Cara, who was finishing up her flatter ride.

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