Hilly Rides Mid-Mitten Cycling

Climbing in Kzoo

6th Street hill
6th Street approaching the infamous hill

It doesn’t take much searching through southwest Michigan cycling forums to discover that 6th Street in Kalamazoo Township offers the biggest hill for road cyclists in the vicinity. Even 20 miles east, at the Custer Cyclery in Augusta, this is the hill they recommend for roadies who want some climbing. And at 200 feet in 0.8 mile, with grades of as much as 9 percent, it is a big climb. But there’s a lot more to the area than one big hill, notably the exceptionally scenic Kal Haven Trail State Park. I got so distracted with the bike path that I nearly forgot about the road climbing.

Mid-Mitten Cycling Hilly Rides

Jackson Neighborhood Hills

The first summit: the high point on Glen Dr.
The first summit: the high point on Glen Dr.
Mid-Mitten Cycling Hilly Rides

A Scenic Hill Ride, or a Hilly Scenic Ride?

42nd Street north of Augusta
42nd Street north of Augusta

This recreation-rich area west of Battle Creek doesn’t have the biggest hills, but the setting is undeniably pretty, with rolling farmland, MSU’s Kellogg Experimental Forest and Gull Lake as a backdrop. It’s also one of the few areas where you can put several climbs together in a loop, rather than doing hill repeats. Thus the conundrum: is this a good hill climbing route that happens to have some nice scenery, or is it a scenic route with some decent hills? I’ll leave that up to you, providing several options for your ride.

The route described here begins in the village of Augusta and heads into the hills just north of town. A double loop of 20 miles will give you about 800 feet of climbing (contrary to the gain reported by MapMyRide, which seems unusually suspect in this part of Michigan). If you want more climbing, you could do another loop. Or you could do up-and-downs on E F Ave. or on one of the steep streets right in town. On the other hand, if you prefer a longer scenic ride with more gently rolling hills, you could throw in a loop of about 12 miles around Gull Lake for a total of 32 miles.

Augusta Creek from E F Ave.
Augusta Creek from E F Ave.
Mid-Mitten Cycling Hilly Rides

Kensington Road

Kensington Hill from below
The hill on Kensington Rd., viewed from the bottom

My heart beat faster when I saw the elevation profile for Kensington Road on MapMyRide. This hill east of Brighton has a 160-foot climb in half a mile, making it one of the steepest I’d discovered in mid-Michigan so far. And my heart beat faster again when I actually rode this route, but for entirely the wrong reason: all the huge gravel trucks zooming by, combined with the narrow road with crumbling pavement at the edge, were jacking my adrenaline more than the climb itself.

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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Mid-Mitten Cycling Hilly Rides

Ann Arbor Tour

Sculling on Argo Pond
Sculling on Argo Pond

It’s fall! Time for football (American or English, take your pick), apple cider, and of course, classic bike rides. The days are just the right temperature but without the stickiness of summer, the trees are turning, and the slanting autumn light is gorgeous. To add some hills to the equation, I headed for Ann Arbor.

This quintessential mid-western college town offers a glut of recreational opportunities that can make us mid-Michiganders green with envy (not to mention Spartan Fever). Parking in Bandemer Park, on Long Shore Dr. just off main street, I found myself surrounded by members of the Ann Arbor Rowing Club hitting Argo Pond in their sculls. Further downstream, beyond the Argo Dam, the “Argo Cascades” offer a tame bypass for canoeists around the dam. I even saw a woman in a kayak playing in the riffles at the mouth of one of the chutes.

But you’re here for a bike ride, so head north on the Border to Border bike path adjacent to the parking lot. From this point along the Huron River, the hills are easy to find. In half a mile, the pleasant, tree-lined path takes you beneath the Highway 14 overpass and then across Argo Pond on a narrow bridge. Just beyond, turn left onto Barton Dr./Whitmore Lake Rd.

Country Club Dr.
The steep part of Country Club Dr. in Barton Hills Village

Your first set of hills is in the picturesque Barton Hills Village, so make an immediate left onto Barton Shores Dr. You can ignore the No Trespassing and Private Road signs. According to the Barton Hills Village association and the Ann Arbor Velo Club, the village welcomes cyclists as long as they ride single file and as far to the right as practicable.

As you roll along Barton Pond, take time to enjoy the scenic nature of this unique community. Barton Hills Village was designed by the famed Olmsted Engineering firm, whose design principles included making the best use of the landscape’s naturally occurring features. For the homeowners, this means every home has a view of Barton Pond. The views are equally good for cyclists, and there’s an added benefit: the hills have been left intact, instead of being cut-and-filled to a bland gradient. Even as it contours around Barton Pond, Barton Shores Dr. offers a few little bumps with scenic views of the lake.

The real climbing starts where the road veers to the right and becomes Spring Valley Rd. You’ll climb 175 feet in 0.6 mile, with some of the steepest climbing coming at the end. About half way up the climb, turn left at the T-intersection. This road is signed Barton North Dr., but you’ll actually be on Country Club Dr., where you’ll find the steepest climbing. Just over the top, past the golf course, veer left onto Forest Rd. and then left again onto Oakdale for a steep descent and then another steep, but short, climb. To stay on Oakdale, turn right at the street signed as Colliston Rd. Oakdale continues rolling back to Spring Valley Rd. Turn right here, returning the way you came along Spring Valley and Barton Shores to Whitmore Lake Rd.

Turn left on Whitmore Lake, to begin a completely different type of climb. Whereas Barton Hills offered short, steep hills, Whitmore Lake is a long, mostly steady grind, climbing 180 feet in 1.5 miles. The road can be busy, but the shoulders are relatively wide. Toward the top of the climb you’ll pass the upper entrance to Barton Hills, and continue climbing gently past a cemetery on the left and farmland on the right. Stein Rd makes a convenient turnaround point.

Now it’s time for some urban riding. Descend back the way you came on Whitmore Lake Rd., then curve left under the freeway onto Barton Dr. I chose to stay on this narrow street, but you could take the bike path that parallels it, picking it up before crossing under the freeway. The bike path will return you to Barton Dr. where that road intersects Longshore Dr. A block beyond that, take the first right onto Chandler Ave. Reaching Argo Dr., go straight ahead onto the bike path through Beckley Park. Beyond the park, go straight/left onto Wight. Crossing yet another Longshore Dr. and a set of railroad tracks, then curve left onto Swift St.

Two downhill blocks bring you to Broadway, where you’ll turn right onto a bridge over the Huron River, the railroad tracks, and Depot St. The right lane is wide enough for sharing, and the only other cyclist I saw on the bridge used the lane. If traffic seems heavy, the sidewalks on either side of the bridge are wide.

Across the bridge, turn right onto East Summit St. In one block, cross 5th and jog slightly left to get onto a bike path/sidewalk crossing Wheeler Park. On the other side of the park, return to street riding, again on Summit St. In one more block, you’ll cross Main St.

Summit St. Hill
The beginning of the climb on Summit St.

Now you’ll find out why it’s called Summit St., as the road climbs into the Water Hill neighborhood of Ann Arbor. The climbing begins with a short, sharp kick up to a level railroad crossing, and then another sharp kick before reaching a more gentle grade. Continue straight, now on W. Summit to a T-intersection with Brooks St.

The climbing continues as you take the first left onto Mixtwood and then the first right onto Red Oak. If you have the breath, take time to notice the nice houses in this older neighborhood of Ann Arbor. Turning right on Pomona, the climbing is nearly done as you approach a water pumping plant. At the top, you will have climbed a net of 210 feet in 1.25 miles.

Turn right onto Sunset for an easy descent back to the bottom of the hill. You’ll need to squeeze the brakes hard on the last block of the descent as you approach a sharp right-hand curve onto Wildt. In another block, turn left onto W. Summit to return the way you came.

The route as described will give you about 550 feet of climbing. If you’d like to add more, you could do more loops in Barton Hills or more out-and-backs on Whitmore Lake Rd. Or you could just wander around the Water Hill and Upper Water Hill neighborhoods and get lots of climbing in.

Zingerman's Deli
Zingerman’s Deli

Of course, no bike ride in Ann Arbor would be complete without a trip to Zingerman’s Deli. From Summit St. at Wheeler Park, head right on N. 4th Ave. Turn left on Kingsley and in two short blocks this Ann Arbor landmark will be on your right. And the best thing is, you won’t need to fight for a parking spot for your car.

You have a number of options to return to your car at Bandemer Park. Those who like to ride in traffic could return to Main Street, heading north to Long Shore Dr.  But this is a highway-like road with narrow lanes, so a better option is to return to the bridge on Broadway by heading northwest on Detroit Street from Zingerman’s. You can even pretend you’re doing the Paris-Roubaix bike race on this street’s brick paving. Turn left on N. Division St., which will take you to the bridge.

Once over the bridge, you’ll need to access the bike path on the Huron River’s north shore. If you don’t mind carrying your bike down steps, cross Broadway at Swift Street, then walk back to the bridge, finding steps leading down to the bike path on the bridge’s west side. But if you want to stay on your bike, continue past Swift to Moore St., where you’ll turn left, then left again in one block onto Pontiac Trail.

Border to Border Bike Path and Argo Cascades
The Border to Border bike path passes Argo Cascades

One more block takes you back to State St. Looking slightly to the right across this intersection, find the bike path next to the sign for Argo Park. A hundred yards down this path, you’ll find the Border to Border bike path along the river. Turning right here leads you past the aforementioned Argo Cascades to Argo Dam. You’ll need to practice your straight-line riding skills to cross the narrow causeway that crosses the dam. From the dam’s west side, it’s a scant half mile north to return to your car.

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Mid-Mitten Cycling Hilly Rides

The Hills of Yankee Springs

Hall Lake
Picturesque Hall Lake with its two islands.

I thought I had found the biggest climb so far in my hunt for hills in mid-Michigan, until I actually started riding on Gun Lake Road. What looked like a three-mile hill at a two percent grade, getting steeper toward the end, proved in reality to be a series of shorter, steeper climbs punctuated by short descents or flats. So instead of a long, steady hill workout, I got an interval workout. Not bad, but not what I was expecting. Still, with shady forests and the beautiful Gun, Long, and Hall lakes reflecting the blue skies of a warm summer day, I wasn’t about to complain.

The Gun Lake unit of Yankee Springs Recreation Area, just off Gun Lake Rd. in Yankee Springs Township, is a convenient place to begin your ride, as long as you arrive after the opening time of 8 a.m. Parking far down the park road near the boat launch ramp allows for an easy warm-up as you pedal back to Gun Lake Rd. Turn right on Gun Lake Rd. to head for the hills.

The climbing begins after about two miles, just after you pass Long Lake on the left. In this first section, from Long Lake up to Yankee Springs Rd., the climbs are as steep as five percent, with shorter descents on the back side. The road has a decent shoulder to keep you out of the way of the many vehicles hauling boat trailers.

At 2.75 miles, Hall Lake comes into view on the left. This picturesque lake with its two islands is certainly worth a stop (on the way back) for a photo or two. A boat launch site provides an easy place to get off the road and get a good view.

Gun Lake Rd. east
Heading east on Gun Lake Rd. past Yankee Springs Rd.

Continuing uphill, the road rolls up to Yankee Springs Rd. Stay on Gun Lake to continue climbing on a now shoulderless road. Traffic was light here on a weekday, but I imagine it gets busy with lake traffic on weekends. Keep your eye on your mirror and make sure drivers see you as they approach from behind.

After a short flat past Yankee Springs Rd., the climbing begins again. The climbs are a bit longer here, with flats instead of descents in between. You’ll top out at 1,050 feet, 300 feet higher than your starting point. The road rolls along this high point for a short distance, then begins a steady descent. I chose to turn around at Shaw Road (at the Rutland Township sign), but if you want to get the most climbing, continue to the next safe turnaround point at Otis Lake Rd.

Gun Lake Rd. west
The steadiest climb in the Yankee Springs Hills: Gun Lake Rd. westbound from Shaw Rd.

Returning the way you came, you’ll face the steadiest uphill stretch on this westbound portion of Gun Lake Rd., climbing 170 feet in one mile. You’ll be rewarded at the top with a nice long descent back to Yankee Springs Rd. Only one of the rollers in this westbound direction feels like much of a hill at all.

Arriving back at Long Lake, you will have completed one lap with about 460 feet of climbing. You can turn around at any convenient point here to do the hills again. Each lap from this point will be 10 miles roundtrip. Sam’s Store and Country Restaurant is probably the safest turnaround spot, and the store has the usual Gatorade and snacks (as well as hardware!).

There are many loop options if you don’t like the idea of doing out-and-backs. For instance, instead of crossing Yankee Springs Rd. as you’re returning on westbound Gun Lake Rd., you could turn left on Yankee Springs for a circumnavigation of Gun Lake. Or, turning right on Yankee Springs, then left on Chief Noonday Rd. (Highway 179), then left on Briggs will return you to the start at Yankee Springs Recreation Area. Other loop option look possible on the map, but close inspection with satellite view shows you’ll need a mountain or cyclocross bike to handle the dirt roads.

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Mid-Mitten Cycling Hilly Rides

An Easy Cruise to a Gut-Busting Hill – Plus Beer!

Park at Rockford Dam
Park at Rockford Dam

Hills! I need more hills! I’ve decided to do the Big Mac Shoreline Tour 100-miler in Mackinaw City in September. It has 1600 feet of climbing, so I’d better get in shape! In pursuit of hill training I traveled back to the Grand Rapids area, and the White Pine Trail. This paved bike path passes through lovely forests above the Rogue River, using an old railroad bed. The path is well surfaced, wide, straight, and has very few hazardous crossings, all of which are marked with stop signs.

Of course, railroads never go up steep hills. To find those, this route takes side trips to hilly streets on either side of the Rogue. You’ll cross that scenic river twice and climb a couple of gut-busting hills. When you’re done tearing your legs off, you can cool down with a level three-mile cruise on the White Pine Trail to Rockford, which offers cafes, a brewpub, a bike shop, and a pretty riverfront park at the Rockford Dam. Put all of this together with the great weather we’ve been having this summer, and it makes for a perfect Michigan biking day.

A word of warning: this route involves many turns, and also many discontinuous streets with the same or similar names, so follow the directions carefully and print out a cue sheet.

White Pine Trail at Herrington Crossing
White Pine Trail at Herrington Crossing

To find the start, travel to Rogue River Park, on Belmont Ave. just north of Lynhurst St. in Belmont, which is just north of Grand Rapids. The park offers ample parking, bathrooms, and a drinking fountain. A paved ramp from the parking lot access road climbs up to the White Pine Trail. Turn right, northeast, onto the trail to begin your journey.

The 92-mile White Pine Trail, traveling from near Grand Rapids to Cadillac, is the main feature of White Pine Trail State Park. We can thank the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources, Friends of the White Pine Trail, and Fred Meijer for its existence. The trail uses the roadbed of the abandoned Michigan Northern/Penn Central Railroad, making for straight sight-lines and gentle grades. Much of the trail has yet to be paved, so enjoy the smooth asphalt your tires will be gliding over.

The relaxing, gently rising bike path, coupled with steep hills on either side, makes this a good outing for a family or other group with differing abilities. Those who just want an easy cruise can stay on the path. But if you want to test your legs on steeper roads, you’ll turn off the path after a little over one mile. Anarchists can turn left at the first stop sign, using the unsigned, private Wildwood Creek Dr. (What’s with all these private roads in West Michigan, anyway? Worse, these aren’t marked as private on Google Maps.)

Law-abiding cyclists should wait for the second stop sign and turn left. (Like most intersections on the White Pine Trail, this one doesn’t tell you which street you’re crossing. The map marks it as Herrington Ave., and you can easily recognize it as the only gravel road crossing the bike path. There are also no annoying “Private Drive/No Trespassing” signs here. You may want to walk or carry your bike across the twenty yards or so of sandy surface.)

Whichever way you exit the bike path, you’ll soon arrive at public Van Dam Dr., where you’ll turn right, climbing gently to Packer Dr. NE. Turn right on Packer, which soon passes high above the bike path on a bridge, then begins a gentle-to-steep descent to your first crossing of the Rogue River. The street is quiet and the bridge is wide, so take the opportunity to snap a photo here.

Beyond the river crossing, turn left on Las Vegas Dr., entering a residential area. Go two blocks, turn left on Blythefield, then immediately right on Riverwoods. After a gently rising third of a mile, turn left on Kuttshill. This is where the real climbing begins. Use caution on Kuttshill, as the pavement is rough and the shoulder narrow. Make a left onto Childsdale Ave.

Rogue River at Childsdale
Rogue River at Childsdale

The steep climbing continues on Childsdale, giving you 130 feet of ascent in a little over half a mile. From the summit, Childsdale rolls along for half a mile then descends steeply for another half-mile to the second Rogue River crossing. A river access point across the bridge offers an opportunity to enjoy the stream and maybe cool your feet on a hot day.

Confusingly, Childsdale both heads straight and turns right after crossing the river. But there’s no confusion for you: you’ll head for the steep wall facing you straight ahead. CAUTION: You may be tempted to blast through the yield sign to use momentum to carry you up the hill straight ahead, but watch for cars coming from your right on the main branch of Childsdale Ave.

Childsdale Ave.
Childsdale Ave.

This hill on Childsdale shows how misleading the elevation profiles on MapMyRide can be. My route map shows it as a smooth 2% grade. Mapping just this portion gives more detail, showing it as a 7% grade followed by a 2% grade. In reality, the road climbs at what I call a gut-busting grade for about a tenth of a mile. I could just barely keep spinning my easiest gear without standing up. I’m going to guess it’s 10 or 12 percent.

The road levels off to a more gentle climb as it bends left, crosses the White Pine Trail (a good opportunity to meet up with group members who chose the easier option), and becomes House St. The respite of gentler climbing continues a short distance, before the road kicks up nastily around a right-hand bend.

House St.
Where you’ll want to yell, “Shut Up Legs!”: House St.

As you grit your teeth to make it up this short, steep pitch, just remember: no pain, no beer (or large mochachino with double whipped topping, if that’s your preference) at the end. Another tenth of a mile returns you to gentler climbing up to the circle where House St. dead-ends. From the Rogue River crossing, you’ve climbed 165 feet in a little under half a mile.

Turn around at the circle for a fast descent back to the White Pine Trail. Gluttons for punishment can continue down Childsdale, reversing the route as far as Riverwoods, then U-turn and do these climbs again. But our route turns right, southwest, onto the White Pine Trail for a gentle, 1.5-mile descent back to Herrington.

Turn right at Herrington, being careful of the sandy surface. This time you’ll turn left on Van Dam, heading west toward Belmont Ave. Get ready for the steadiest, longest climb yet, as you turn right, north, onto Belmont. Use caution on this ascent, as the shoulders are narrow and the traffic is moderate (at least mid-morning on a Tuesday). You’ll climb 150 feet in three quarters of a mile, with grades ranging from 2 to 5 percent, averaging about 4 percent.

Cresting the hill, descend  and then climb a short distance to a right turn on House St. (yes, House St. again, separated from that other House St. by a tributary drainage of the Rogue River). Now you have a choice to make. Anarchists can continue on House, turning right where it dead-ends into House Court, then quickly left onto the private Roguewood Dr., marked with “No Trespassing” signs. This brings you in half a mile back to the bike path.

(UPDATE: On my second visit to the area, a resident warned us that there has been vandalism in the neighborhood, and residents are prone to call the police when they see cyclists riding through. So consider yourself warned.)

Belmont Ave.
Belmont Ave.

Law-abiding cyclists should use House St. to turn around and head back south on Belmont. Use extreme caution turning left onto Belmont, then look for the left onto Packer Dr. in about three quarters of a mile. Again, use extreme caution making the left from Belmont onto Packer.

Packer heads east, then south. You’ll want to pedal rapidly as the road descends steeply past a house on the left with a dog that likes to bark and race cyclists. At the bottom of the steep hill, you will have completed one seven-mile, figure-eight loop (not including the warm-up on the White Pine Trail). If you’ve been keeping track of the numbers I’ve been giving for the climbs, you’ll see that you’ve climbed about 450 feet. But MapMyRide’s tally for the loop is only about 350. Remember, all of these figures are just estimates. My advice: do two loops, call it 1000 feet, and go have a beer.

Rockford Brewing Co.
Rockford Brewing Co.

To repeat the figure-eight loop, with its hills on Childsdale and Belmont, follow Packer as it turns left and crosses above the White Pine Trail, then repeat the route directions above. Or, if you’ve had enough climbing, continue straight ahead onto Van Dam, reversing your route from the beginning of the day. A scant quarter-mile descent brings you to Herrington, the gravel connector to the White Pine Trail, on the left.

From this junction with the White Pine Trail, the parking lot at Rogue River Park is one mile to the right; Rockford, with its shops, cafes, and the Rockford Brewing Co. Pub right on the bike path, is three easy miles to the left, offering a good cool-down. Since it was only 11 a.m. when I arrived in Rockford, I opted for an excellent coffee and lemon-raspberry oat bar at the Twisted Vine Deli.

If this figure-eight route seems too complicated, or if you’d like to pack your hill-climbing into a shorter distance, here are a couple of suggestions:

Belmont Only: Park on Van Dam (or use the White Pine Trail as a warmup), then do semi-loops of Van Dam to Belmont to House, then Belmont back to Packer and Van Dam. That will give you about 150 feet of climbing in a 2.5-mile loop.

Rockford Dam
Rockford Dam

Childsdale Only: Park in the residential area at Riverwoods Dr. From the corner of Riverwoods and Blythefield, follow Riverwoods to Kuttshill to Childsdale to the dead-end on House, then return. That will give you about 400 feet of climbing in just 4.5 miles.

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Mid-Mitten Cycling Hilly Rides

The Four Faces of Egypt Valley

Knapp St.
The gentle hill on Knapp St. NE, west of the Grand River.

You have to figure, any place that’s called Grand Rapids has to have some hills, right? A search of routes on MapMyRide revealed that Roselle Park in Ada Township is a good place to start. From there, you can go up the hills east and west of the Grand River on Knapp St. and connect to even steeper hills on Egypt Valley Rd.

Since this route goes four directions from the summit of Egypt Valley Rd. at Knapp St., I’ve named it the Four Faces of Egypt Valley, in honor of my hometown’s Five Faces of Mt. Soledad. (I never did that route, having the legs for only the easiest face!)

The route starts from Roselle Park on Grand River Dr. NE in Grand Rapids (just east of Meijer Gardens). The park has porta-potties and two old concrete silos. One has been converted to a rock climbing wall, and the other has stairs leading to a viewpoint at the top. Just what you’ll need after completing several loops of this course!

From the park, we begin with an easy warmup of a couple of miles on Grand River Dr. heading north. You’ll notice a paved sidewalk on the east side of the road. That’s the Ada Township Non-Motorized Trail. When I rode here on a Saturday, the trail was clogged with joggers, while cyclists were rightly sticking to the road. Later, I saw some casual cyclists on the trail.*

Catamount Trail
Where you’re not wanted:
Catamount Trail at Grand River Dr.

After one mile on Grand River, you’ll see Catamount Trail on the left. This is a private road, so not recommended unless you’re a resident or guest of folks living in the Ridges community. I’m a bit of an anarchist, so I rode in anyway. The gate was open, so I figured why not? I was eager to try those hills! They were satisfyingly steep, but I found the gate closed on Knapp Court at the top and had to walk around through the landscaping (being careful not to step on any of the flowers). The official route continues another mile up Grand River Dr. to Knapp St NE.

Turning left on Knapp St., you’ll begin a climb of 140 feet in 1.3 miles. It’s gentle – around a 2% grade. The climb flattens out when you reach the Knapp Reformed Church on the right. Just beyond the church, turn left on Knapp Ct. for even more, and steeper, hills. This road curves back eastward and gives you a couple of good dips (some of which aren’t shown on the MapMyRide elevation profile) before you reach the upper entrance to the Ridges at Catamount Trail. Turn around in the circle here; this is also a good spot for a break.

Return to Knapp St. NE and head back down the hill eastward, the way you came. You’ll cross Grand River Dr. and then go across the Grand River itself. (There were construction delays when I rode here in early July 2013.) Crossing Pettis Ave., the route begins climbing again. This hill offers 240 feet of climbing in 1.75 miles. If you’re looking for consistent climbing, you might be disappointed by the dip where Knapp crosses Egypt Valley Rd. Turn around when you reach Woodrick Hill NE – beyond this point, Knapp St. rolls more gently.

Returning to Egypt Valley Rd., you have a number of options: add more out-and-backs on Knapp St. and Knapp Ct. (as I did when I rode this route), turn one way or the other on Egypt Valley, or grab some refreshment at Grams General Store.

To follow our route, turn right, north, on Egypt Valley Rd., descending steeply into bucolic Egypt Valley. Across the valley, you’ll start the steepest climb on the route, up to 4-Mile Road. MapMyRide says it’s only 3% but I’d swear it’s steeper, more like 6 or 7 percent in spots. You’ll climb 180 feet in a little under a mile. Turn around at 4-Mile Rd. and return the way you came, climbing steeply back up to Knapp St. (Now maybe you should take that break at Grams General Store!)

Egypt Valley Road near Grand Rapids
Egypt Valley Rd. offers some nice scenery
to go with the suffering.

Continue across Knapp on Egypt Valley, carrying your speed for the sharp roller ahead of you. After this dip, a long descent puts you in another beautiful but unnamed valley, part natural wetland, part estate homes. After one more short hill, it’s all easy pedalling on Egypt Valley to Pettis Avenue. If you’re feeling like you’ve had enough hills at this point, turn right on Pettis, which will curve around on level terrain back to the bottom of the hill on Knapp St.  But to complete the Four Faces of Egypt Valley, you’ll need to turn around here and head back up Egypt Valley Rd. to Knapp.

Whichever way you choose to return, turn left on Knapp St. and re-cross the Grand River. Turn left immediately on Grand River Dr. for an easy cool-down back to Roselle Park and a bit of bouldering (siloing?).

Climbing wall in Roselle Park
Climbing wall in Roselle Park

This route gives you 650 feet of climbing. If you add another out and back on Knapp St. and Knapp Ct. that should put you at nearly 1,000. Gluttons for suffering can add more laps as they please.

Grand Rapids cyclists, what are some of your favorite hilly routes. Leave your suggestion in the comments below!

*Tangential Comment #1: Riding around Lansing and environs, I’ve noticed that drivers will almost always go way over in the other lane to give you lots of room, and will slow down behind you if there’s a blind curve or hill. In contrast, more of the drivers on Grand River and Knapp St. in Grand Rapids either passed close or moved dangerously into the other lane, even when they couldn’t see on-coming traffic. I don’t think this is because Lansing drivers are better or more friendly. I think it’s because drivers in Grand Rapids see the non-motorized trail and think, “Why the hell isn’t the cyclist over on the bike path?” But given the dangers of joggers, blind corners, and blind intersections with driveways, I’d say any cyclist who’s riding faster than 10 mph should be in the road. Ada Township should consider completing its streets with car lanes, bike lanes, and sidewalks, accommodating all three types of road users. Or, at the least, put up some “share the road” signs.

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