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  1. #1
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    Climbing the steepest streets in San Francisco on a folding bike

    I took a trip to San Francisco yesterday in a rental car, so that meant taking my collapsible road bike-a Bike Friday Pocket Companion. It is sold as a touring bike, but I bought it for the low climbing gears. It has a triple, and I replaced the stock 30t small chainring with a 24t, which gives me a 16 inch low gear.

    Thanks to RBR member 55x11, I got a list of the steepest streets in The City. Because of limited daylight, I decided to do only all the steepest climbs in the Nob Hill, Russian Hill, and Pacific Heights areas.

    I started with Filbert between Hyde and Leavenworth, a 31.5% grade. This is where I discovered that my waterbottle needed to be on the frame-mounted bottle cage, not the handlebar-mounted one. It kept poking me in the chest because I had to lean over so much.

    Next was Jones between Filbert and Union, a 29% grade. After that was Jones between Union and Green, a 26% grade. Then a ride down Broadway and up some more lesser hills before the next steep street-Webster between Broadway and Vallejo (26%). Next was Fillmore between Broadway and Vallejo at 24%.

    The next hill is where I met my match. Broderick between Broadway and Vallejo is a 38% grade. It is so steep there is no road, just a sidewalk on the left side of the street (facing uphill).

    I made it halfway up on my first attempt, then ran out of steam. Same thing 4 tries later, each time making less progress than the time before. By then it was dark and I decided to go back to Nob Hill and climb the last steep hill of the day, Jones between Pine and California (24.8%). Typical of the last hard climb of a ride, this one hurt near the top. Good stuff!

    My HR hit 202 on this ride. I saw it hit 200 at the top of the only climb where I remembered to look at the Garmin.

    Bike Ride Profile | Steepest Streets of San Francisco near San Francisco | Times and Records | Strava
    Steepest Streets of San Francisco by freighttraininguphill at Garmin Connect - Details

    As promised in 55x11's thread, I brought my GoPro with me and mounted it on the handlebars. There's no way my helmet-mounted ContourHD would have produced good footage with this ride. I had my head down for most of the climbs, so you would have had a lovely view of the pavement.

    I only had to use my lowest gear on Broderick. I did the second attempt in second gear, but all the rest were in the lowest gear.

    Here's the video. I left out the last climb up Jones because, like the ContourHD, the GoPro sucks at night video. You can see for yourself on the last attempt up Broderick.

    Be forewarned, the intensity of these efforts is very audible at times, so keep this in mind if you have anyone within earshot while watching this.

    Steepest San Francisco climbs on a Bike Friday folding bike (GoPro HD Hero 960) - YouTube


    Here's some pics.

    Bottom of Filbert between Hyde and Leavenworth


    Top of Filbert


    Bottom of Jones between Union and Filbert


    Top of Jones between Union and Filbert


    Fillmore between Vallejo and Broadway


    Webster between Vallejo and Broadway


    Top of Broderick between Broadway and Vallejo


    Bottom of Broderick


    Top of Jones between California and Pine
    Last edited by freighttraininguphill; 01-06-2013 at 04:19 PM. Reason: added Strava data

  2. #2
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    i think you should limit your climbs to 30%

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by framesti View Post
    i think you should limit your climbs to 30%
    OMG - this is so awesome! Thanks for posting! Fantastic photos, even though they are a little painful just to look at them. I especially like the one of Filmore with the view of the Bay and the Broderick ones. The last one when it started getting dark is my favorite.

    I can't believe you just rode straight up, no zig-zagging! Major Kudos!

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    What else can one say other than totally amazing! You have some nice hills there! Lucky!!!

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by framesti View Post
    i think you should limit your climbs to 30%


    Hell no! I shouldn't have saved Broderick for last, though. I need to try that one with fresh legs.
    Quote Originally Posted by 55x11 View Post
    OMG - this is so awesome! Thanks for posting! Fantastic photos, even though they are a little painful just to look at them. I especially like the one of Filmore with the view of the Bay and the Broderick ones. The last one when it started getting dark is my favorite.

    I can't believe you just rode straight up, no zig-zagging! Major Kudos!

    Quote Originally Posted by Milk-Bone View Post
    What else can one say other than totally amazing! You have some nice hills there! Lucky!!!
    Thank you. On the next trip I'll tackle 22nd Street and a couple high 20s grades on Duboce. Someone on another forum told me about another one on Potrero Hill that is supposedly like Filbert, but steeper and windier. That should be great fun!

    55x11, your Fargo Street video was the inspiration for all this. Please make some more of these raw footage sufferfest videos. Those are the best! I'm sure they are inspiring to many other people too, not just me.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by freighttraininguphill View Post


    Hell no! I shouldn't have saved Broderick for last, though. I need to try that one with fresh legs.




    Thank you. On the next trip I'll tackle 22nd Street and a couple high 20s grades on Duboce. Someone on another forum told me about another one on Potrero Hill that is supposedly like Filbert, but steeper and windier. That should be great fun!

    55x11, your Fargo Street video was the inspiration for all this. Please make some more of these raw footage sufferfest videos. Those are the best! I'm sure they are inspiring to many other people too, not just me.
    I agree - watching your videos on mute shows that it is a steep hill but masks the level of difficulty. With the sound of breathing one gets a full impact of what just how steep those inclines are and the effort required to climb them!

    I forgot to mention that you did it on a freaking folding bike!

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by 55x11 View Post
    I agree - watching your videos on mute shows that it is a steep hill but masks the level of difficulty. With the sound of breathing one gets a full impact of what just how steep those inclines are and the effort required to climb them!

    I forgot to mention that you did it on a freaking folding bike!
    You hit the nail on the head! That is precisely why I leave all my climbing footage raw. My videos document my rides exactly as they happen. If I were to replace the original ride audio with music, the intensity of the effort is missing, which is part of the story. When I watch a cycling video, I like to see and hear what the rider went through, as well as hear when he or she shifts gears, the conversations between riders, and nature sounds in the background.

    I need to try these climbs on my road bike someday. The folding bike just makes so much more sense when in a rental vehicle though. It costs way too much to rent a truck or SUV. Not to mention the gas mileage wouldn't be as good.

  8. #8
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    Check this out! A cyclist on another forum just posted this new, revised list of SF's steepest streets.

    Looks like I have my work cut out for me!

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by freighttraininguphill View Post
    You hit the nail on the head! That is precisely why I leave all my climbing footage raw. My videos document my rides exactly as they happen. If I were to replace the original ride audio with music, the intensity of the effort is missing, which is part of the story. When I watch a cycling video, I like to see and hear what the rider went through, as well as hear when he or she shifts gears, the conversations between riders, and nature sounds in the background.

    I need to try these climbs on my road bike someday. The folding bike just makes so much more sense when in a rental vehicle though. It costs way too much to rent a truck or SUV. Not to mention the gas mileage wouldn't be as good.
    you can easily fit full-frame bike in the back seat of compact cars - just have to take the front wheel off. Transporting it on airplanes is another matter entirely.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by 55x11 View Post
    you can easily fit full-frame bike in the back seat of compact cars - just have to take the front wheel off. Transporting it on airplanes is another matter entirely.
    Cool, good to know that for future trips. On this trip though, I went with a friend who brought his dog along, so the dog was in the back seat.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by 55x11 View Post
    I agree - watching your videos on mute shows that it is a steep hill but masks the level of difficulty. With the sound of breathing one gets a full impact of what just how steep those inclines are and the effort required to climb them!

    I forgot to mention that you did it on a freaking folding bike!
    Awesome videos and I agree! With audio, I can guess the points where your HR jumped to 200 bpm :-). Awesome feat(s)!

    What gearing (in cm or inches) did you use on your Bike Friday?

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by orange_julius View Post
    Awesome videos and I agree! With audio, I can guess the points where your HR jumped to 200 bpm :-). Awesome feat(s)!

    What gearing (in cm or inches) did you use on your Bike Friday?
    Thank you. The bike has a triple, and I replaced the stock 30t small chainring with a 24t. The cassette is an 8-speed 11-28. With the 170mm crankarms and 20" wheels, this gives me a 16" low gear according to Sheldon Brown's Bicycle Gear Calculator. I only had to use the lowest gear on Broderick. The rest of the steep streets were done in second gear (24t cog on the cassette).

  13. #13
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    I dig steep hills. Good stuff.
    * posted by Creakybot 2013 all rights reserved.
    * not actually waterproof.

  14. #14
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    My legs are crying after having looked at these pictures. Awesome.
    "'Are people seriously this stupid?'

    Yes, they are. If you assume that everyone is stupid, then you are never disappointed in them when they demonstrate their stupidity." - foggypeake

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by Creakyknees View Post
    I dig steep hills. Good stuff.
    Me too! The steeper, the better! That's why I always look for these crazy climbs.

    Quote Originally Posted by Spanky_88007 View Post
    My legs are crying after having looked at these pictures. Awesome.
    Thanks! I'm a firm believer in low gears. I believe they kept the lactic acid accumulation to a minimum, at least until the top of the last climb up Jones between Pine and California.

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    Quote Originally Posted by freighttraininguphill View Post
    Me too! The steeper, the better! That's why I always look for these crazy climbs.


    Thanks! I'm a firm believer in low gears. I believe they kept the lactic acid accumulation to a minimum, at least until the top of the last climb up Jones between Pine and California.
    Did you feel somewhat comfortable doing most of those climbs on the 24 gear inches? I know you were breathing hard from the climb, but do you think you need a setup lower than 16 gear inches or are you satisfied with your gearing as is?

  17. #17
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    my knees hurt looking at that
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  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by rkdvsm View Post
    Did you feel somewhat comfortable doing most of those climbs on the 24 gear inches? I know you were breathing hard from the climb, but do you think you need a setup lower than 16 gear inches or are you satisfied with your gearing as is?
    I'm very satisfied with this gearing. It is lower than typical mtb gearing. My mtb has a 22t small chainring and a 34t largest rear cog and has a 16.7" low gear. My Sirrus (basically a flat-bar road bike) has a 24t small chainring and a Shimano MegaRange 11-34 cassette. This gives it a 18.9" low gear. My true road bike with drop bars has the same mtb gearing as the Sirrus, for an 18.6" low gear. I did all the modifications myself, and until Broderick St I made it up every paved climb I ever started with all those bikes.

    I need to lose another 20 pounds, then I might make it up Broderick. Either that, or a massive strength gain needs to happen.

    Quote Originally Posted by weltyed View Post
    my knees hurt looking at that
    After the first steep climb of the day (Filbert at 31.5%), my calf muscles hurt for about a minute. The rest of the climbs were almost painless except for the last one, thanks to low gearing.

  19. #19
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    Okay. I'm planning to have a 24 low chainring and a 12-27 rear cassette. This gives me a low of 24 gear inches. I have hills where I live (Hudson Valley regions near NYC), but I don't think they are as steep as the ones in SF.

    That's why I was asking about how you felt with your 24 gear inches on most of those climbs.

    I wish there was a website that shows a of popular rides and their corresponding hill grades.

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by rkdvsm View Post
    Okay. I'm planning to have a 24 low chainring and a 12-27 rear cassette. This gives me a low of 24 gear inches. I have hills where I live (Hudson Valley regions near NYC), but I don't think they are as steep as the ones in SF.

    That's why I was asking about how you felt with your 24 gear inches on most of those climbs.

    I wish there was a website that shows a of popular rides and their corresponding hill grades.
    I just put the numbers into Sheldon Brown's Bicycle Gear Calculator, and the gear combination I used on all the climbs in the video (with the exception of Broderick except for attempt #2) was 18.7", which is very close to my road bike's lowest gear.

    On the first climbing ride with this bike, I did some local climbs with grades up to 19%. On those, I never felt the need to shift lower than the third lowest gear, which is a 21t (21.3" gear).

    I agree! I would love to see a website with grade readings for popular climbs.
    Last edited by freighttraininguphill; 01-06-2013 at 04:24 PM. Reason: removed link to deleted video

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    I wonder how hard these hills would be with a road bike with 34/28 gearing on 700x23 tires? I get 31.9 inches on Sheldon Brown's site for that gearing. I'm not sure how well I would do.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Milk-Bone View Post
    I wonder how hard these hills would be with a road bike with 34/28 gearing on 700x23 tires? I get 31.9 inches on Sheldon Brown's site for that gearing. I'm not sure how well I would do.
    I know there's no way I could do those San Francisco climbs with that gearing. I would strain up some of our steeper local climbs with that gearing, as I'm not as fit as a racer and I still have 20 pounds to lose.

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    Awesome! Try Pittsburgh next! Plenty of those 30+ grades to be found!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kelliann View Post
    Awesome! Try Pittsburgh next! Plenty of those 30+ grades to be found!
    I watched some footage of the Dirty Dozen bike race where they were climbing Canton Ave, which is a cobbled 37% grade. Some of the riders made it look almost effortless. Some of them were even able to climb it in the saddle! If I had that kind of strength I would have made it up Broderick no problem.

    For a slightly different perspective, here's the footage from the ContourHD helmet cam. I posted this on Contour's video site. I didn't look down as much as I thought I did, so I figured it was worth putting on Contour's video site with the rest of my ContourHD vids. You can hear a descending cyclist skidding down the 26% section of Jones between Union and Green on this one. On the GoPro video it sounded like I was applying my brakes while climbing!


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    Incredible.

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