Hilly Rides Mid-Mitten Cycling

Rides of Spring

Barry Rd. barn
A rural scene along Barry Rd.

Riding the trainer in the basement over the winter, pretending I was following the pros on the TV, it was easy to imagine I was a hero on the bike. But on my first ride of spring, starting out into a headwind, going 14 mph downhill, those illusions were quickly dashed. I’m just a 52 53-year-old duffer who can’t even keep up with his former self, let alone any serious rider. And riding outdoors is far different from any workout a trainer can provide.

Ah well, I told myself, it’s 50 degrees and the sun is shining – the whole reason I’m out here, really. I decided to just enjoy the ride, moving my hands to the drops to better slice through the breeze. Wind resistance is the hill training of the Midwest, my California friends warned me, and the folks at Lansing Bike (and Ski!) Party say the same.

Barry Rd. West
Barry Rd. West

I turned onto Barry Rd. and picked up a tailwind, trying not to get cocky as I began to move faster. I started up the first climb, the 75-foot Barry Rd. West. I had done this hill a couple of times before, and it seemed no harder now than it had in the fall. I credited that to the tailwind, not my spring conditioning.

Rolling along for another mile or so, I came to the top of the main climb of the day, Barry Rd. East. Lansing-area riders agree, this half-mile climb of about 100 feet is the best hill in the area. The road dropped to a short flat, then dropped again out of sight. Picking my way down through the shaded patches of persistent snow, I discovered not one but two false summits punctuating the climb. That would be both good and bad – steeper climbing sections, but unwelcome short rests in between. No getting into a steady climbing groove on this hill.

Three Lakes
Three Lakes along Barry Rd.

I paused at the bottom of the climb where a small stream crossed under the road, taking in the view of the snow-covered Three Lakes to the south. After a winter of temps in the single digits, I shouldn’t have been surprised at how warm 50 degrees could feel, with the sun glinting off the open water of the inlet stream and the snow beyond. Now that I was standing still, the wind didn’t seem so strong.

But there’s only so long you can bask in the sun when the hills are calling. I turned the bike around and headed for the climb. My first time up I tried to stay in “survival mode,” shifting down early and often until I was in an easy gear, then spinning the rest of the way up, finally standing for the last and steepest pitch. Not too bad, I told myself.

The second time around I tried attacking the hill, shifting to harder gears on the flats and standing up most of the way. Reaching the top in a little over three minutes, totally gassed, I couldn’t help thinking about the guy on Strava who’d done the same climb in half the time. Who was he? A god? Probably just someone half my age. Yet it seemed impossible.

Barry Rd. East
The first two bumps on Barry Rd. East

Putting my ignominious beating from my mind, I continued along Barry to turn right on Lounsberry, following a rectangular circuit MSU Bikes manager Tim Potter had suggested. The road plunged into a little valley then quickly scaled the other side. Kicking on the uphill, I was pleased with my recovery from the Barry Rd. climb. Then the route turned right and downhill once again, and I felt the elation of speed and the endorphins coursing through my body. This is what riding a bike is all about. I looked down at my computer and saw that I was averaging 15 mph for the ride, the same as I’ve been doing since I bought my first road bike fourteen years ago. Not bad for an old guy on a spring ride.

Enough with comparing myself to others! I had forgotten the one weird trick that got me into endurance sports in the first place, nearly 30 years ago: the idea that you’re never competing with the person next to you (or with other MapMyRide and Strava users), but only with yourself. And that’s a subject for a future post.

These days, truth be told, I’m not even competing with myself, but just looking for that endorphin kick. Mission accomplished, I headed back to the commuter lot where I had left the car, descending a false flat with the wind at my back, easily exceeding 20 mph, once again a hero in my own mind.


The directions for this ride are simple: navigate to the intersection of Barry Rd. and Williamston Rd., then head west until you reach the top of the hill in about one mile. Turn around, descend, repeat as many times as you like. As always, be cautious making the U-turns.

If you’re driving to reach this ride, the commuter lot at Woodbury Rd. and I-69 offers convenient parking. You could head straight south on Woodbury for 2 miles to Barry Rd., but here’s a more scenic and less-trafficked alternative: follow Woodbury south for a half-mile, then turn left on Braden, right on Dunn, right on Foster, and left on Barry.

The Barry Road hills are about a 24-mile roundtrip from the Lansing area, using Burcham Dr. in East Lansing, the Inter-Urban Pathway, Haslett Rd., and Green Rd. to reach Barry Rd.

If repeating the same half-mile climb gets boring, you have several options. To do Tim Potter’s suggested square circuit, begin at the Williamston Rd.-Barry Rd. intersection and head west on Barry. Turn right on Lounsberry, then right on Milton. Milton will become Lovejoy, and you’ll continue straight ahead to Williamston, where you’ll turn right to complete the square. That makes for a 5K loop (3.1 miles) with about 130 feet of climbing, and no U-turns required.

Another option is to do out-and-backs on Barry Rd. between Williamston Rd. and Foster Rd., letting you do both of the big hills on Barry Rd. One lap would be nearly 5.5 miles with 200 feet of climbing.

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