Yesterday I rode the Summits of Bothell. Like its more popular cousin to the south, S (I'm not a big fan of "cute" acronyms so I'm not going to use it...) is a ride focused around hills, originally 7 but now 8 in a bid to outdo the competition.

Their other bid to outdo the competition is in steepness. The advertisement sheet says two very troubling things. The first is an offhand comment about equipment:

Triple cranks and <24" low gear highly recommended as well as beefy brakes

24" refers to "gear inches", a measure of how far your bike moves forward for each pedal revolution. An average "riding on the flat" gearing for me is something like a 42-17 (teeth on the front/teeth on the rear), which is about 67 gear inches. My lowest gear (with my 12-27 rear cassette), is 30 gear inches. 24 gear inches is very low.

The second comment is a list of the hills:

Ascents - 14% (2), 16% (3), 18% (1).

Though I run a site for bicycle climbs, I am not a climbing specialist. But I have done some steep stuff. 10% is steep. 15% is painfully steep, and above that is just crazy.

But I've survived the Zoo multiple times, so I know what it takes to get up those kinds of hills. And I'm doing the Mountain 100 km Populaire in September, which includes the zoo (and other such climbs), so I need the practice at the steeps.

In other words, my strategy is sound.

My tactical decisions, however, are fairly suspect. I'm riding with a few friends, but what I've forgotten is that rides like this are self-selecting - the people that show up are the ones that can *climb*. I have at least 25 pounds on all of these guys, and at 170 pounds on my 6'2" frame, I'm not carrying a lot of weight.

Franklin doesn't ride that much more than me, but is strong on the flats and fast up the hills. He "went on a long run" yesterday.

Steve is riding his steel Colnago. Steve is scary fit - on our group rides, he'll just be talking to you at the bottom of a climb near the back of the group, and then he'll just ride past everybody on the ascent. He "rode 120 miles" yesterday. That is not a good sign, it's a sign that I'm out of my league. Anybody who rides 120 miles on Saturday and then shows up for a pain-fest on Sunday is to be watched.

And finally, we have Joe. Joe has focused in on the ride guarantee - "If not completely satisfied, you can ride the course a second time for FREE!"

He is planning on taking them up on that.

The start is very low key. A sign-in table, where you get a map (this is the 2005 map, and doesn't show the 8th hill up Hollyhills drive) and a T-shirt (included in the $25 fee). Some water and sports drink, and that's about it. And there are only about 20 people milling around. A nice change from the 3000 people that do flying wheels and the 9000 that do STP.

We head out to the first hill (Hollyhills), and ride up it. I start slow at the bottom, but stay about 10 seconds behind the group. It's fairly easy - 7%-8%, and I can compete on those grades. The group crests the top, circles once as I crest, and we descend down. One down.

The second hill (Bloomberg) is a different story. It starts at around 10%, the group gaps me, and then it kicks up to about 13%, and the gap grows. And then it gets steep - 16% (ish) for the last half block.

At this point, I part ways with the group. This is a very good thing - I killed myself on the southern cousin by trying to stay with this same group.

The next three hills - Beckstrom, Nike, and Westhill - blend together. They're steep, I ride up them trying to keep my HR in the low 150s. The day is perfect, and I talk to the very few riders I run into as we ride between hills.

Which takes us to Finn Hill. I've climbed this hill a few times, but never in this direction. This hills is probably the steepest one of the ride. I ride slow (around 4MPH), but manage to get up it in one piece without having to tack back and forth across the hill. This is the only place I see people walking.

Norway hill is next, but it's Norway from the South side, the easy way up, then Brickyard Road, and back to the finish, my finish-line ice cream, and my Costco cookie.

I don't have my full stats, but I do know my average speed was 13.4 MPH. There are no real flats on this ride, and there are a lot of stop signs and traffic lights, so don't expect to be pace-lining it.

Discounting the considerable amount of pain involved in the climbs, this was a very enjoyable ride - I liked it more than its smaller cousin. Very low key - the rest stops were very tiny but with great volunteers, cold water and the right food. And they had some cookies at the end of the ride, when you really want something solid. The course markings were all great.

I do have one small complaint with the signage. When I'm climbing, it's nice to know how to mashall my effort, and to do that I need to know when the pain will end. On several of the climbs, you'll finish the really steep section, and then ride at least half a mile on gentle slopes or rolling terrain to get to the "summit". Delaying the signage until that point diminishes the feeling of accomplishment at finishing the steep section, and makes you think there's more steep. I think Norway is the only exception, where the climb finishes right at the top.

It also makes the stats seem weird. Bloomberg hill is 440' high at the true summit, but the climb distance is perhaps 7000 feet, giving it a gradient of only about 6%. But the section on 240th gains 230 feet in 1770 feet, putting it right at 13%, and that's the average for that section, not the max.

It would be nice to have an indication of the steeps on the map (perhaps with some beads of sweat on the route), and a sign that says, "Pain lessens" at the end of each steep section.

I was going to suggest that they get a real website, but that would encourage more riders to participate...