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.

Mid-Mitten Cycling Scenic Rides

You Don’t Have to Go Up North to Find a Tunnel of Trees

Diamond Rd.
Heading south on Diamond Rd.

Mid-Michigan is known for its flat farmland, but we do have some pretty scenery, especially where roads pass near rivers, lakes, and state recreation lands. We even have roads overhung by canopies of oaks and maples so we can feel like we’re “up north” right here at home. The foliage adds variety to a long ride and welcome shade on a hot day.

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.

Stay up-to-date with Mid-Mitten Cycling by filling out the form below. Want all my bike-related posts? Check only “Mid-Mitten Cycling.” Want posts on a particular type of ride? Check the type(s) of ride you’re interested in (but not “Mid-Mitten Cycling”). Want all my posts on a wide variety of topics? Check “All categories,” but none of the others.


Mid-Mitten Cycling

Dreaming of Spring Rides

Barry Rd. Hill
Barry Rd. Hill

One day of nice spring weather and already I’m dreaming of warm weather riding. Yet it’s still a bit too snowy, icy, puddly, and pot-holey to make riding safe, let alone fun. So for now I’ll content myself with thinking about climbing the biggest hill I’ve found in the Lansing area. This is Barry Rd. out near Williamston Rd. Three steep pitches punctuated by two level sections over six-tenths of a mile.

Lansing cyclists, do you know of any other hills in the area? (Paved roads only, although to call this section of Barry Rd. “paved” might be a bit of a stretch right now.)

Mid-Mitten Cycling

Climbing Tips from Joe Friel

I found these tips for climbing on the bike on the Training Peaks website. They’re geared toward racers, but the same principles apply to those of us who just want to feel stronger on the bike: Find a hill, go up it, repeat. Friel suggests a hill that takes 8-12 minutes to climb, with a grade of 4-6%. The problem for us mid-Michigan riders is that hills like that are hard to find. The closest I’ve found is Knapp St. outside of Grand Rapids.

Michigan cyclists, where else can we found some good hills?

[slideshare id=23425949&doc=climbinglikeatourriderslideshow-130624163715-phpapp01]

(read more on Joe Friel’s blog.)

Mid-Mitten Cycling

Get Psyched for Indoor Cycling

Kinetic Road Machine Trainer
Kinetic Road Machine Trainer

[UPDATE: since I posted this, the YouTube account Indoor Cycling Videos has posted a bunch of one-hour workouts. See details below.]

Thirty-one degrees with freezing rain. Five above with a windchill of twenty below. Two feet of snow followed by temperatures too cold for the salt to work on the roads. Forty degrees and an inch of rain turning all that snow to icy slush. These are the forecasts that try cyclists’ souls.

While cross-country skiing or jogging make good cross-training, the conditions aren’t always right for these activities either. So it’s into the basement for some time on the bike trainer. But if you’re like me, you’ll quickly go out of your mind with boredom while riding indoors. What’s needed is something to trick your mind into thinking you’re riding outdoors, or at least remind you of how nice it is to glide through a tunnel of green trees on a warm summer day. Here are five videos that have kept me from losing my mind this winter.

But first, make sure you have a decent bike trainer like the Kinetic Road Machine. It beats the hell out of the cheap, loud one I started out with. This one is quiet and gives good resistance. That means you’ll actually be able to hear the sound on these videos while pedaling hard.

CTXC Cycling Club 45-Minute Workout


This video from an Australian cycling club will give you the feeling of riding in a paceline. The videography is smooth, the scenery is mostly suburban with some occasional views of the ocean, and the music is a motivational but somewhat repetitive club mix. On-screen titles guide your target effort, with 10 minutes of warmup followed by 20 minutes of medium-effort intervals, a short break, and five minutes of hard intervals. Of course, you’ll need to provide the increased effort by switching up to a higher gear and even getting out of the saddle, if you’re comfortable with that on a trainer. A couple of counter-intuitive things for an American audience: they’re riding on the wrong side of the road and the effort scale is from 1 through 6, rather than 1 through 10. And another strange thing I learned: there are club mixes of “Addicted to Love” and “Highway to Hell.” But at least they stop for coffee at the end.

New Mallorca Training


An hour-plus of beautiful scenery on the Mediterranean island of Mallorca, mostly on sunny days. The video features five climbing sections with recovery intervals on the descents followed by a section of short intervals. If the climbing and the Europop music don’t get your heart racing, the close calls with cars and other cyclists on narrow mountain roads should do the trick. The onscreen titles are in German. “10 Minuten Einrollen” – I think that means 10 minutes of easy riding. “3 Minuten bergauff” must mean three minutes of butt-kicking. And of course, “Widerstand erhohen” translates to “out of the saddle, lazy-ass!” You get the idea.

Maratona dles Dolomites 2013


John McKechnie did a fantastic job of capturing helmet-cam video from last year’s Maratona dles Dolomites, one of the largest of the Italian Granfondos, with 9,000 riders covering seven passes in the famed mountain range. The scenery is incredible. No music here, just the natural sounds of wind, tires on pavement, and cyclists gasping for air. I tried to go hard when they were climbing and take it easy when they were descending and nearly killed myself. Next time I’ll just use it as nice background scenery while riding in the basement.

Bike Trainer Video 10 – Kensington Metro Park


Lucaseq77 has a series of cycling videos shot right here in Michigan. This one features two laps around Kent Lake on a beautiful spring day. The video was shot with a handle-bar mounted camera, which makes it a bit shaky. But if you need a reminder that Michigan is not always black-and-white, but bright green for half the year, this is it.

SDBC Fiesta Island Paceline


More sunny skies with the San Diego Bicycle Club on their training ride around Fiesta Island in Mission Bay. If you’ve got watt and cadence meters you can compare your numbers to the ones these guys are putting out as they ride at 24 mph. No music, just the wind, gears changing, and an occasional shout at a slower rider.

Liz Hatch – Come Ride with Me


And now I realize that’s four hours of nothing but men, mostly their butts. That could either be motivational or demotivational, depending on who you are. So here’s a video from 2009 featuring pro cyclist Liz Hatch, from Cyclefilm. It’s part interview and part scenes of Hatch cycling on Mt. Tamalpais in Marin. There’s beautiful scenery featuring redwoods and the stunning Marin coastline, plus a good variety of music.

Kolo T.C. – Drums in the Deep


Of course, if you like to go off-road, you’ve got a lot more options in winter. You could be like these guys on their cyclocross and fatbikes up in Traverse City, and get out on snowy trails. Or you could just watch them from the comfort of your basement. The video begins with ten minutes of warmup with snobiking footage, then moves to one of the Cross the Bay series of cyclocross races in northwest Michigan. You’re encouraged to ride the two twenty-minute sections of the race at tempo, wrapping up the last segment with a kick to the finish. The laps on the course through a park get a bit repetitive, but the onscreen coaching is motivational (extra points for the LOTR reference!), and the music has some of the best variety of any of these vids, ranging from hip-hop to soul to alternative.

Indoor Cycling Videos on YouTube


This YouTube account has a ton of 30-minute, one-hour, and 90-minute videos shot in locations across Europe.

The entire playlist is here.

Michigan cyclists, what are some of your favorite indoor workout videos?

Hilly Rides Mid-Mitten Cycling

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.

Stay up-to-date with Mid-Mitten Cycling by filling out the form below. Want all my bike-related posts? Check only “Mid-Mitten Cycling.” Want posts on a particular type of ride? Check the type(s) of ride you’re interested in (but not “Mid-Mitten Cycling”). Want all my posts on a wide variety of topics? Check “All categories,” but none of the others.




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.

Stay up-to-date with Mid-Mitten Cycling by filling out the form below. Want all my bike-related posts? Check only “Mid-Mitten Cycling.” Want posts on a particular type of ride? Check the type(s) of ride you’re interested in (but not “Mid-Mitten Cycling”). Want all my posts on a wide variety of topics? Check “All categories,” but none of the others.


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