Cycling on a Grade – Part II of II

In a previous post, I introduced Cycling on a Grade, a method to estimate the relative difficulty of a ride.  The primary factors for this first portion were ride distance and relative speed.

This blog addresses the secondary factors that make a ride difficult, things like elevation gain, weather, road conditions, etc.  Another blog will introduce ‘suspect math’ that will support scoring for these factors.  This blog introduces the factors (mostly to make sure none are missed or any are not needed) and provides the base or an ‘allowable’ number for each of the secondary factors.  For example, for each of the ride levels introduced in the first blog, an elevation value is provided.  This amount is the number of metres of elevation gain needed before the impact of an additional metre is considered.  The base simplifies the calculation somewhat but also recognizes that a rider who is at the red level should have little difficulty absorbing 500M of cumulative elevation gain.  But what about the 501st metre; when do secondary factors turns an otherwise ‘blue’ ride ‘red’ or a ‘red’ ride ‘black’?  This is where these secondary factors and their impact come in.

Primary and Secondary Factors

As noted above, there are 2 primary factors: distance and speed.  There are also 13 secondary factors which either contribute an absolute amount or an amount based on distance.  The following table lists all 15 factors, provides a brief description and a range of impacts on a ride.  The Parent field provides a grouping of like determinants, namely:

  • Route: relating to the area being traveled.  For example, distance, elevation or trail head.
  • Weather: the climatic conditions when the route is attempted.  For example wind, rain or temperature.
  • Cyclist: The abilities of the individual relative to the route and the conditions.  For example comfort riding unsupported or the quality of the bike owned.
Factor Parent Factor Description Notes
Distance Route Primary Total distance traveled from the trail head and returning to the starting point. Distance in km of the route.
Average Speed Route Primary The ride speed measured in km/h. Generally the faster the ride the more difficult it is.  Speed is used to calculate total ride time. Excludes breaks
Elevation Gain Route Secondary Elevation straddles the primary and secondary factors and is the cumulative number of metres of elevation gained less the base allowed per each level. Descent is not factored to simplify calculations and that the benefit of descent is seldom equal to the effort of ascent. Total metres climbed less base.
High Grade Distance Route Secondary In addition to elevation gain, the number of metres of distance traveled over a grade greater than 12%.  This is included to recognize that significant climbs adds to the difficulty of a ride.  The distance of the maximum grade must be at least 250M.

If a precise calculation is not possible add 100 points to each significant climb (e.g. > 12%) longer than 250m.

Likely calculated in increments of 250M with the actual grade factored in.
Route Quality Route The quality of a route impacts its relative difficulty.  A smooth ride on relatively new asphalt is much less difficult then the same ride on loose gravel. Quality of road surface:
0=Smooth Ashphalt
1=up to 2″ Cracks, some gravel
2=50/50 Gravel asphalt
3=Hardpacked Gravel
4=Loose Gravel/Rock
This measure reflects the worst section at least 5km or 10% of the ride.
Traffic Route Traffic and road surface greatly increases the level of attention needed to ride and thus its fatigue.
0=Quiet trail, no traffic
1=Quiet City street or bike lane
2=Busy City street, no lane
4=Busy Highway, shoulder
6=Busy Highway, no shoulder
This measure reflects the worst section of least 5km or 10% of the ride.
Trail Head Route The distance needed to travel to the start of the ride contributes fatigue.  Thus driving for three hours and then riding two hours is more challenging that the same two-hour ride out of one’s own front door.  This factor is based on the distance from YEG city centre (or hub if on tour) expressed in hours driving less a base. Minutes of driving time less 100 minutes from the YEG city Centre.
Route Finding Route Route finding adds to the relative effort of a ride.  Notwithstanding backtracking and ‘long-way-rounds’, checking the map against landmarks requires effort and skill.   Route finding expectations:
0=No route finding needed, signed tour or group ride in familiar area.
1=Group ride in unfamiliar area with experience guide.
2=Map of roads
3=Map of trails, off-road
4=Ad hoc route finding in natural area
Applies to the portion of the distance for which the route finding is relevant.
Wind (steady) Weather  Air resistance has a greater impact on a rider than rolling resistance and thus wind is the bane of the cyclist.  A tail wind is welcome but does not come close to compensating for a steady cross or head wind.  As a result, one third of the wind velocity is taken as the contributing factor and added to score of a ride. Wind (W) in km/h, less base (Wb) amount X Ride hours (R) divided by 3
Precipitation Weather  Riding in the rain is disheartening.  Beyond the psychological drag, it also wrecks havoc with drive trains and can add weight to clothing and gear.  precipitation:
0=None or light showers
1= > 50% time light showers
2=Steady light rain
3=Steady rain / light snow
4=Heavy rain/snow
This is applied to the worst weather lasting for a duration of at least 25% of the ride.
Temperature The Goldilocks temperature differs for most people but is generally within an ideal riding range of 5-25C.  Colder than this can result in numb fingers and toes.  Warmer temperatures leads to excessive sweating, high fluid needs and exhaustion.  The ideal ride temperature for an EBTC ride is set at 15C.
Equipment Beyond a bike, having to take equipment on a ride adds weight, requires higher levels of skill on the part of the rider and imposes a psychological cost.
0= < 5km from start/transport
1= Local transportation is available (bus, train, taxi)
2= Sag wagon provided
3= Self supported, group ride
4= Self Support, solo ride with significant (>20km) distance from aide.
 Applies to both single day and multi/ overnight rides.
Repair Knowledge

Equipment must have a score > 2 before this is a factor.

Degree of expected technical knowledge in case of bike malfunction.
0. Ready access to transportation (e.g. bus, train, SAG wagon) in case of incident.
1. Riding with a group that has experience repairing most minor problems (e.g. flat, small adjustments, etc.).
2. Riding solo or with an inexperienced group.
Similar to food, this factor seldom has an impact because of the typical proximity of rescue means, available repair knowledge and the fact that most beginner riders are oblivious to the needs to conduct repairs.
Food Stuffing a few granola bars into a map pocket or buying a chocolate bar at one of a number of gas stations is one thing.  Carrying a day or more food is another matter.  Food:
0. Partial day ride and/or food is readily available en route for purchase.
1. Full day ride with limited or no purchase options.
3. Multi-day ride with limited or no purchase options.
 This factor seldom has influence except for rides in remote areas.

But What Are They Worth?

The next blog will discuss the algorithms for each of the above.  Prior to going down a rabbit hole of cartesian factors a more important consideration is whether the right secondary factors are being considered.  Drop me a note or a comment on the above factors.  Have I missed a big one, included some questionable ones or are the above really irrelevant when planning a ride for a club?