Sunday, January 22, 2012

Climbing Long Bay Road

Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula, southeast of Christchurch on South Island, New Zealand, provides for excellent cycling: probably the best encountered on Cara on our vacation.

First up on the list is Long Bay Road, which goes from the northern boundary of Akaroa up to Summit Road. Summit runs along the rim of a volcano, Akaroa Harbour forming the cone, and Long Bay (among others) on the outer edge of the rim. There's a series of roads which run from the harbor (the cone) over the rim. From east to west the paved ones are Long Bay Road, Okains Bay Road, and Pigeon Bay Road. I rode all three while in Akaroa last week, but Long Bay received most of my attention.

Long Bay is the longest and toughest. Upon arriving in Akaroa, having done a fantastic 10 km trail run at Lake Takape that morning, I went for a "preview" ride of the hill. I'd not planned on doing the whole climb, but with Summit Road dangling in the distance, the hills mostly stripped of sight-blocking trees by ranchers in the 19th century, it was virtually impossible to stop climbing. Actually the climb extends a bit, "unsealed" gravel, beyond summit to a place called Cloud Farm. The name makes sense when you realize it's open space land purchased by the Queen Elizabeth II National Trust to preserve it from development. Here's that preview ride:

The next day I was feeling okay, so I set off to do a stronger effort up Long Bay to begin a longer ride.

There are two primary routes of access to Long Bay Road from central Akaroa. The "obvious" route is Highway 75, the main highway between Akaroa and Christchruch. There can be a relatively large traffic on this road, so it's not my recommended route unless you are gunning for a Strava segment which includes it, like this one, or this one which I created based on my "preview" ride.

A better option is to instead climb Old Coach Road. This road forms a semi-circle, starting and ending at Highway 75, the upper intersection adjacent to the start of Long Bay Road. Along the way Old Coach intersects with the bottom of Morgan Road, which is paved for the short segment to the Top 10 Holiday Park, but afterwards becomes rough gravel until it reaches Long Bay Road part-way up. I wanted to investigate this road but never made time for it: the gravel at the top seemed fairly rough; it was perhaps better at the holiday park entrance.

From the base, Long Bay Road begins climbing moderately steeply: steep by most standards, but not to the typical New Zealand standard. It's a fairly steady 8.2% for 1.0 km. After this the road levels out for another 500 meters. But then the real fun begins. The road heads upwards...

The next 2.6 km is a series of steep pitches and brief reductions in grade. I did a regression on the data from a 2 km segment, yielding a 12.2% grade, but the actual grade fluctuates about this value. My first ride up I tried to hold onto my 34/23 here, but in the second ride I more quickly retreated into my 34/26. Perhaps not surprisingly, the second ride was faster.

Finally the road once again relents. My first time, with a tailwind, I even thought there was a descent here, but on my second ride this perception was gone. The altitude data shows no descent, but compared to what you've just been through, it may as well be. Looking ahead, however, reveals that there's still more to come: the road is clearly etched into the hillside above the present altitude, even if the climbing directly to follow is hidden around the corner. Look for the tower, however: that's the goal, the tower past Skyline.

And once around the corner, up the road goes again. I have this section at 12.9%, but it's basically the same as the upper portion of the previous segment. The altitude difference just mentione is closed quickly: only 400 meters of suffering and the intersection suddenly appears. Long Bay is done.

top of climb

But wait; there's more! Cross Summit Road and an easily ridden gravel road continues to climb, somewhat steeply but without the pressure of timing yourself here, not bad. At the top are the best views of Akaroa below, and the Cloud Farm Open Space.

Cloud Farm

This was the end of my preview ride. The ride the following day, I skipped the gravel and instead headed west on Skyline for more adventure.

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