Low-Key Hillclimbs #2: Old La Honda

With the slew of work this week, I haven’t had time to put down my thoughts on the second Low-Key Hillclimb ride up Old La Honda until now. I’ve been riding up this benchmark climb to Skyline Road off and on ever since I got my road bike in 1997. It’s my test to see how fit… or fat I’ve become over the years. On November 29, 1997, I did my fastest ascent up OLH as part of a 40+ mile ride:

But still, I am proud of my perfomance up Old La Honda. 3.3. miles with 1330 feet of climbing at 21 minutes 40 seconds. That puts me in the E class of riders. It was such a beautiful ride; if I had known about cycling while at Stanford, I would have had a much nicer time my four years. Well… here’s where I get to make it all up, Journal.

It’s 19:41. I am reading up on cycling websites and the like; emailing this one guy who works at Lockheed Martin, Tracy Colwell… this guy is an animal. Did Old La Honda in 16 minutes flat. Wow. A machine or an animal… I can’t figure out which!

Ah yes, this is the same Tracy Colwell that killed everybody up Montebello Road the previous week with a time of 26:42. It was clear to me that he has taken far better care of his body than I have over the past 9 years!

Other times up OLH for me included:

  • 1997-11-29: 21:40
  • 1998-08-16: 22:01
  • 2002-09-17: 22:46
  • 2003-09-03: 23:08
  • 2006-10-21: 26:04

That’s right, my latest speed up OLH is 4:24 slower than my previous fastest time. What happened? It’s got to be more than just my blubbery weight gain, right?


Okay, I switched from an 11-21 cassette in the back to a 12-25 back on August, 2003. I bought a compact crank in August, 2005, turning my 12-25, changing my easiest gear from a 39-21 to a 34-25. Using Sheldon Brown’s gear calculator, my gear ratio changed from 3.4 to 2.7, or 49 inches to 35.7 inches travelled per revolution, or 20% easier/slow/less distance per revolution.

My fastest time had me averaging 9.14 mph up OLH, whereas last week, my speed dropped to 7.6 mph. That’s a difference of 17%, which is pretty close to the gear ratio change of 20%. Could my quest to spin more be holding me back? Nevermind the the extra 15 pounds of blubber I’m hauling up the hill, it’s all about the bike!


Maybe after the low-key series is over, I’ll return to OLH and try climbing in my 34-19, which is the best approximation of my 39-21 gearing on the original bike.

Looking at the fastest times up OLH last week — 16:33, 16:59, 17:01, etc. — I think I’ll need a little more to ride with the big boys. Yes, you know what I’m calling for, drug tests for all the top finishers! These people are averaging 12 mph up OLH; they must be on something more than crackers and water! Forget that a world-class rider can make it up in 14 minutes and change. Dan, Judy, Kevin… you’ve got to set up blood and urine testing at every climb summit!

All kidding aside, the ride was great. It was nice to have the Blubber Busters team expanded to include Jorge and Derek. We went in the last group and had a grand old time suffering up the hill. I was very impressed by the unicyclist, Steve Nash, who made it up in 27:52! Keith Devlin of Stanford’s CSLI was at the start gate; he made it up in a quick time of 22:58.

This weekend, we’re heading across the Bay to ascend Mount Diablo. Assuming the gates are not closed due to fire hazards, it will be a long day in the saddle with 12.3 miles, 3670 ft, 5.7% of climbing. I still don’t know if I like hard, short climbs or long sustained climbs better. I think I just like to get the suffering done with as soon as possible.

2 thoughts on “Low-Key Hillclimbs #2: Old La Honda

  1. Hey Adam! Good job to you and the other Blubber Busters. Ok, I like your team name too much. :) Anyhow, I agree that too low gearing can be counterproductive… I remember how in ’99 that between the Devil Mountain Double and the Terrible Two I swapped out the rear cassette so I’d have a low gear of 32×23 instead of 32×21 (about a 10% difference). After doing the Terrible Two, though, I suspected that the 32×23 didn’t really help since I ended up spinning at the exact same cadence as I did in the DMD, but just went slower! Anyhow, I suppose an experiment would be in order… e.g., the next times you go up OLH, try to force yourself not to use some of the lowest gears no matter what, and see what your time is…

    In any case, good luck on Mt. Diablo! It is not a very steep climb at all except the last 100 feet or so. Except for the last 100 feet you should be able to climb it in higher gears than OLH.

  2. Hey Adam. I didn’t know you were a cyclist. That’s cool that you are doing the Low-Key Hillclimbs. The 1996 series was my introduction to bicycle racing. I’m not doing it this year because I’m out of shape. When I was in shape, I always maintained the same cadence climbing, no matter what gear I was using. In fact, my time up old OLH in minutes was the same as the rear cog that I used (with a 39 chainring). That is, I would do it in 26 minutes using a 39×26, 25 minutes in 39×25, 23 minutes in a 39×23, and a little more than 21 minutes in a 39×21.

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