On Walking the Bike

By CJ Rudy

Essay: On Walking the Bike

Apr 8

One week ago the average cyclist grinned a little watching all but three professional men walk their bikes up the greasy Koppenberg in the 2024 edition of the Tour of Flanders. For a few short minutes, the professionals appeared mortal. Meanwhile Matthieu van der Poel rode up the cobbled climb, nearly unfazed but I digress. The women’s race saw a similar script, though nearly ten riders rode over the top as opposed to the men’s three.

The grin was short lived. Seeing the men and women riders pushing their bikes up a spring classic climb suddenly invoked memories of the hills that bucked me off my bike. I’m sure there are at least one or two road climbs that have humbled even the strongest of climbers. As luck would have it, and on that same weekend,I felt nostalgic and went back through old training logs on a whim. There in one of my first events, the Univest Gran Fondo, a note secured one more climb to my list of walked hills. We ride uphill willingly.

Eichele Road – Perkiomenville, PA

Speaking of professionals walking their bikes, Eichele Road was the first time I ever heard about pro riders dismounting and walking/ running their bikes. This was the hill that led to my first dismount during the Univest Gran Fondo. My naivete in kit and experience led me to the singular outcome of having to slip-slide my way up one of the steepest bergs in our area. I was running a sprinter’s cassette with a standard double crank. I had never attempted a hill quite like the road in Green Lane Park where I would feel every bit of the 337 feet of ascent.

Per Strava, the climb is full of challenges. At 0.75 miles in length, the hill feels like it goes forever. The approach is heavily wooded, hiding the steep parts until it’s too late. The lower slopes hover near 6% sloping, but a turn rounding a grove of trees reveals an absolute wall. The road goes right then left into oblivion. This wall stays in the mid-twenty percent range, going all the way to 28.8%. A year later I returned with the same gearing and same event and summited it in the rain. Every once in a while, I return to Eichele to remind myself just how ludicrous this climb is.

Goat Hill Road – Bechtelsville, PA

A gravel climb straight from hell, Goat Hill Road is known far and wide as a dream crusher. It’s the only hill on my list that has scored off me 100% of the time. My attempt in 2022 looked promising, but it was not to be. With a drainage ditch down the middle, participants in the ride Monkey Knife Fight walk up both sides of the climb, leaving little choice but to eventually step off the bike. It is a climb that I must conquer at some point, though each attempt has been on a road bike.

The statistics of the Goat Hill segment are mind boggling: the climb isn’t even a kilometer in length, but its average gradient is 13.9% with an unrelenting slope reaching 29% at one point. It climbs almost 400 feet in its short length. And don’t forget this is a gravel climb! I take solace in knowing I am in a large club of walkers. Monkey Knife Fight is capped at 300 climbers, and the last attempt saw at least two dozen walkers. The ride is also celebrating its tenth running. The club of walkers just got larger.

Berger Road – Ferndale, PA

The climbs preceding Berger Road in Ferndale, PA, are straightforward affairs- start at the bottom and ride uphill. Berger Road is different. It’s technical. The difficult portion is gravel and ever-changing. This segment is the part of Fools Classic I always perseverate over. A successful day out means a successful summit. Though this is the closest of all segments, there is heavy reluctance to try my luck regularly on this 1.21-mile segment.

On paper the climb doesn’t sound so bad. Per Strava it averages 4.4% and gains a scant 285 feet along its stretch. Yet this roller coaster of a road possesses nuggets of surprises. The paved approach feels long and reportedly hits 28% before calming down. A slight right means the end of the pavement and the introduction to technical riding. The road winds downhill and yawns to the right while threading a single lane. Then the gravel pitch hits- a wall that feels too steep to be an unpaved road. Somehow Strava states a portion of this climb hits 40%. Typically the single lane has washed out any momentum up the pitch, or the rush into the segment pushes riders to the larger gravel on the outside of the turn. Either way, the back wheel slips and the bike decides to be walked.

This climb defeated me regularly after the municipality resurfaced the segment with large gravel many years ago. Last year I finally summited Berger Road without putting a foot down, though it was fraught with anxiety. Riding away from the gravel section, I had already concluded the Fools Classic was a success, even if I had 45 miles remaining.

Devil’s Kitchen – West Saugerties, NY

There is one climb that will haunt me forever. My first three attempts of the Catskills climb were walk-a-bikes. The last two attempts were successful summits, but they were dozens of minutes of suffering. What connects West Saugerties to Tannersville, NY, is an ungodly ascent. It’s 2.36 miles long, and it climbs 1,260 feet according to Strava. Devil’s Kitchen, actually called Platte Clove Road, is a category two climb that averages ten percent. The road is only open seasonally, a sure sign that what lies ahead is utter ridiculousness. 

I’ve written about my Tour of the Catskills experiences over the past few years. I’ve even brought buddies to the climb just to show them what I’ve babbled on about. Actually I brought strong climbers to make sure it was possible to summit Devil’s Kitchen. I cannot express how difficult this climb is. The experience hovers in the mid-teens in percentage, ramping up to twenty percent or more regularly. There is a strong right hander that feels like the end of the world that leads into a steep left hander that makes one wish for the end of the world. Meanwhile cars are going up and down the road for whatever reason. Devil’s Kitchen lives up to its name by haunting my dreams and vaulting my nightmares.

How bad could it be you might ask? I’ve stood atop Devil’s Kitchen twice without walking the bike. Even those successful summits leave me doubting whether I could defeat the Kitchen again. Alternatively, there are videos from the Tour du Pont where pros attacked the very same hill and, just like Eichele, decided to run the segment citing it took less time than riding it. Imagine a climb that haunts even the successful attempts.