Ronde PDX

Climbs

This is one crazy ride!

You may have heard of the infamous Ronde PDX, an annual ride in Portland that has developed a cult following. Developed by Brad Ross and Hugh Givens, and inspired by Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour de Flanders), the route covers ~50 miles and ~7,900′ of climbing in Portland’s west hills.

Although I knew about the ride since its inception in 2007, it hadn’t achieved hit list status for me–I’d seen video of a rainy version, and riders tipping over on some insanely steep pitch. It didn’t even look like type II fun to me.

But, it just so happened that I had a free day in Portland, so I asked Russell Cree of Upper Echelon Fitness for some ideas. My original plan was to do a brick workout in preparation for an upcoming duathlon. Russell’s response: “Of course, De Ronde is this weekend too. And it’s not to be missed! It’s the group ride that hits all the climbs in the west hills. It’s an unsanctioned event but gets about 700 riders. Really fun day on the bike.”

Riders strain their way up infamous Brynwood, the first of the two seriously steep climbs.
Riders strain their way up infamous Brynwood, the first of the two seriously steep climbs.

I didn’t really want to do a brick anyway…too much like training.

Although Ronde PDX gets touted as “the hilliest ride in Oregon,” I think it’s more interesting than that because of the variety of terrain it covers. For example, after a ~2 mile self-imposed neutral start on the only flat road the entire day, the route goes upward into Forest Park and climbs 4+ miles on muddy, rutted NW Saltzman Road.

On that sector I was near the front of the group, and the pace was fast but civil. We rode 2-4 abreast most of that section at a steady pace. Riders safely passed when there were clear gaps.

Less than 10 miles in to the course I decided it was a masterpiece.

Riders finish a dirt section near the Portland Japanese Garden.
Riders finish a dirt section near the Portland Japanese Garden.

The Map My Ride version of the route lists nine categorized climbs, but I quickly lost count. The route is (mostly) marked with a yellow lion and arrows. There were a few places where the route went into cul de sacs or dead end streets where the only logical exit was via a dirt or gravel path. It was these instances that made the route really special to me–finding those connectors required a ton of on-the-bike research by Brad and Hugh.

There are two insanely steep climbs. The first is quarter-mile long NW Brynwood Ln which has a grade somewhere between 20-31%. As you first turn on to it you see a long narrow wall of pavement going up and out of view.

“How hard can this be?” Pretty hard.

Maybe less hard if you have the technique dialed, which is to either have enough mojo to power up the entire way, or to make it from one driveway to the next and rest along the way.

The route is mostly well-marked with the yellow Lion of Flanders.
The route is mostly well-marked with the yellow Lion of Flanders.

The second steep climb is SW College, which seemed to have about the same grade as Brynwood, though it seemed a bit shorter and with fewer driveways. I walked the upper third of Brynwood, and stopped on two driveways on College. I’ve heard that locals specifically train to do both climbs clean from bottom to top.

Given the variety of terrain, a cyclocross bike would have been appropriate. At one point I rode with a guy on a single speed…and previous editions have included tandems, recumbents, and tricycles.

Households along the route provided snacks for the riders; at mile ~35 riders were treated to beer and whiskey shots.
Households along the route provided snacks for the riders; at mile ~35 riders were treated to beer and whiskey shots.

There were numerous food stops along the way put up by residents living along the route. On offer: cookies, gummy bears, IPA, whiskey shots.

If one day of climbing madness isn’t enough, a second ride on Sunday–La Doyenne–was added to the weekend in 2013. Developed by Andrew Springer, La Doyenne explores the hills in the east side of Portland:

Bike Portland report about the 2015 Ronde PDX

OPB Story about Ronde PDX

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