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climbing/ iowa hills.

I have been riding in the blackhills of sd for 5 years now. And when I first went out there, it was a rude awakening. I have bike all in the rockies, and big mts. But the blackhills were the hardest. And after about 2 years, I can climb good now.

I have herd all this stuff about potter hill. I watched a video,and saw all those folk having trouble climbing potters hill. And they were on road bikes. After climbing 10 to 15% grades for 3 to 4 miles on a mt bike. I think some ole hill in iowa want be much of a problem.

Peoplwe said it was because of all the riders in the way. Nah, that aint so, I saw quiters on that hill.

Please let me know where this potters hill is so I can climb it . However I do realize that it might not be on this years route. But iowa aint flat either. It has a lot of rolling hills in it that adds up over time.

My job will not allow me to ride all of ragbri, but I will try and make a couple of day rides. I wish I could ride the whole thing.One day I will.thanks.

13 Replies

seminole11, January 12, 2014 at 7:32 pm

Hey ya’ll I did a little research on potters hill, and I found out that it is 1.25 in lenth, and a total of 111.33 ft. At an elevation of 1,400 ft. this climb I did at custer sd was at 5,000 ft at the start and 7 miles later was at 6, 500 ft. And the last 4 miles was where all the climbing was.

I did this with beer and groceries in my panniers about 20lbs added to my mt. bike. I did this ride 3 times a week.And to top it off, I did the ride after a gruling 2 hr workout in the gym.

I also did 20 miles on the mickelson trail then drank a few beers and then did the trek up the mt. This was a gruling bike ride.

None of the kids I worked with see how I did it. It was always in the back of your mind when I was working out in the gym. You knew what laid ahead of you.

I like really big climbs. I thought potters hill was bigger than that.Maybe it rides bigger than what the stats show Thanks.


“Bicycle Bill”, January 12, 2014 at 8:08 pm

You are entitled to your own opinion of your riding ability (and your lack of spelling skills), but the idea that you are a huge, hairy-chested cycle-stud just because you can ride up the Black Hills or you have done the Mickleson Trail is a common fallacy found on RAGBRAI.  Hell, my mantra has always been “If they could pave it, I can pedal it”, but my first couple of RAGBRAIs showed that I did indeed have the skills but sometimes you need to make adjustments with that set of skills.  The truth is that riding a hill by yourself, with or without groceries, is nothing at all like riding up a hill surrounded by the congestion that is common on RAGBRAI … and here’s why.

RAGBRAI is an event that attracts people whose attitude to the ride runs the gamut from dedicated sprocketheads to people who are only here for the party.  They don’t have a good base of miles behind them before they came; they don’t know how to properly use their gears; and they certainly don’t know how to pace themselves on a hill — they are ones who “go ’til they blow”.  These people (you referred to them as “quiters” — a word that correctly has two ‘T’s, btw), quite simply, weren’t adequately prepared.  And when someone like that stops and gets off in the middle of the road, it creates an interruption in the flow behind them; this causes ripples down the line of riders — someone moves over and into the path of someone else, who has to slow down, which causes the person behind him (who was just about at the limit of their ability) to stop … and so it continues.

When you’re by yourself, on the other hand, you can use the entire roadway if you need to.  You don’t have to concern yourself with someone stopping in front of you, swerving into you from either side, or someone who is going to try to hammer up the hill before he loses momentum coming up on you from behind.  But you do have to worry about all this — plus more — on RAGBRAI.  So that is why hills like Potter’s Hill, Pilot Mound, or Waterworks Hill (near Boone) will ride harder than they look — at least on RAGBRAI.

Your core ability and your riding history, if it is on the level and if you maintain that once the 2014 season starts, will serve you will.  You should have the strength and the stamina so that you are well prepared physically for whatever Iowa and RAGBRAI throws at you.  Now all you need to do is get your head in the game.  I’d recommend you start by reading this article — https://ragbrai.com/training-safety/rider-safety/ — and pay special attention to section #4.

And keep reading this forum; maybe even look back at some of the earlier posts.  Lots of good information to be found.



Davy Sprocket, January 12, 2014 at 8:35 pm

Well said there BB!



CyclingCyclone, January 13, 2014 at 11:20 am

I’m going to agree with BB on this. According to Strava, Potter’s Hill is 0.9 miles, 356 ft, 8%. I’m no mountain goat, but if the road was less congested it would have been a lot easier to climb. Kuddos to all that were able to get up it though.


fashimpaur, January 13, 2014 at 11:29 am

I agree with the earlier comments. On 5 Ragbrai’s I have only stopped on 2 hills and Potter’s Hill was one of them. Why?
I ride about 40 miles most years before I ride Ragbrai. I ride mostly on flat. So, my leg muscles aren’t prepared for major hills. Even when I have ridden a lot some summers, some people just have more leg strength and that can make a difference when you are muscling your way up the hill.
Why muscle it, why not just shift it?
Well…the year I was riding Potter’s Hill I was on my trail bike. My team teased me for three years for its thick tires and extra 25# I was carrying up the hill. It had maybe 18 gears but I remember on Potter’s Hill thinking I needed just 1-2 more gears and I would have grannied my way up it. I had a pretty clear shot, avoided traffic and made it over 2/3 way up. It just got to point where I was going so slow I could have walked it faster, so I did.
Here’s the thing. For me RAGBRAI isn’t about proving that I am super cycler who doesn’t have to “quit”. RAGBRAI is my fun team, its seeing new towns, its meeting the people of Iowa, it is waking up every morning for a week (not one day’s ride) and starting the whole thing again (even if it is 114 degrees on the pavement by noon and you rode 12 hours yesterday because headwinds cut you down to 8 mph).
It isn’t just a hill. It is a hill in the middle of week of rain, heat, late hours (in some cases) and traffic (they say there are 10,000 riders, but it is honestly up to 22,000 at times). My good friend rode Potter’s Hill with me and is an excellent climber but she was on the outside and two people ahead of her stopped suddenly. She had to come to dead stop at the near top of the hill. I wouldn’t have even been able to start pedaling again at that point, but she did and kept going and made it.
I think you have wrong impression about RAGBRAI. For most folks it isn’t about impressing others (though some like to race it)…it’s really about getting out and experiencing Iowa at a different pace and up close. I don’t think of myself as quitter because I chose to not torture myself to finish a hill and possibly exhaust myself for the next 30 miles and 10 hills (or whatever was left). Shrug. It’s pacing yourself and making sure you’re able to keep going for the day, the week and have fun doing it. :)


seminole11, January 13, 2014 at 8:43 pm

thanks for all the info! I do realize that ragbri is a fun party ride of all abilities. anybody that can finish the ride need a big ole trophy. I am not a centry rider. I am just now riding for ragbri.I am a weight lifter/ mt. biker who never rides over 35 miles at a time 3 hrs.
hills are no problem but my as_ is. I will need all the help I can get to allow me to stay in the saddle for 7 hrs a day. I can do it no problem stamina, but I have saddle pain sometime. The more I ride , the less it hurts!!


seminole11, January 13, 2014 at 8:48 pm

thanks for all the info! I do realize that ragbri is a fun party ride of all abilities. anybody that can finish the ride need a big ole trophy. I am not a centry rider. I am just now riding for ragbri.I am a weight lifter/ mt. biker who never rides over 35 miles at a time 3 hrs.
hills are no problem but my as_ is. I will need all the help I can get to allow me to stay in the saddle for 7 hrs a day. I can do it no problem stamina, but I have saddle pain sometime. The more I ride , the less it hurts!!


seminole11, January 13, 2014 at 8:51 pm

Again thanks ya’ll . I can climb but I will need to go the distance. I hope I can meet great people and ride while I am recovering from a hang over.! this will be my bigesst obtsicle.!! thanks!! Lets all party and and have a great summer.!!


Ragbrai Nation, January 13, 2014 at 9:27 pm

It’s called “Notch 8.” If ur a railroad buff u know what I’m talking about. Notch 8 is full locomotive throttle. It’s peddling flat out, as hard as you can, in the lowest gearing, to get you up the steeps.

If you properly train your body to do this it actually feels good! I train myself to notch 8 for as long as 3 min at a crack because if I expect to climb most all the hills of Ragbrai I must be able to do this. Thankfully I don’t have to do it every day of Ragbrai but it’s nice to know the physiological throttle setting is there when I need it.

I was on Notch 8 climbing a hill inside the town of Colfax on Day 4 of Ragbrai XXIX. This went on for about 2 min. Everything was cool. I was in my groove. Familiar territory. Sure, I was huffing & puffing and I’m sure my face was a little red. I had a younger rider peddle up on my left, passing me slowly. He was all so concerned about the level of excursion I was putting into the climb and he warned me that maybe I should back off and… what…? Walk???

I will walk every hill that I MUST walk if it’s THAT steep but no other. Walking, to me, requires even more calories burned in the long run than riding. If you don’t believe that, you will. Also consider: if ur walking it’s going to take u longer to climb out of a stuffy, zero-breeze river bottom while the air temps are high. Not where I want to be if I can help it.


straycat, January 13, 2014 at 10:19 pm

What makes Potter’s difficult for most people is not that the average grade is 8 percent, but you get slammed with a 19 percent grade for the last 1/3 mile.

And for Seminole’s original question, it is just outside Graf, IA.


seminole11, February 3, 2014 at 6:56 pm

hey all of ya’ll riding my mt. bike up mt rushmore from town of keystone with a 10 lb chain in my paniers on my mt bike is a very hard feat. I use to do it all the time.

last year I tried it again and made it with no problem non stiop.heck I see folks on road bikes that can’t do it. Ilthough I am struggling with my trek fx due to knee pain, it does not hurt on any other bike. but my trek fx just glides up those hills after use to riding a fat tire bike up the blackhills.

I even had a challenge to start on the other side of keystone drink a six pack and then do a fast 100 push ups in one fast set first, jump on the bike ride like the wind to the half way point get off bike do another 100 push ups less than 2 minutes get on the bike and finish the ride. this was very brutal. I was trying to make it non doable. but I was able to do this very easy.

I would like to see the skinned out roadies do this. they would be loosing some beer.


CyclingRoberto, February 25, 2014 at 4:20 pm

The biggest obstacle regarding hills on RAGBRAI are the other riders. Many struggle up the center or left of center only to finally stop regardless of who might be coming up from behind. If you don’t think you can ride up a hill, please move to the right. I’ve had riders yell at me to slow down going uphill! Really? The road is often only one lane in each direction, and given that officially the roads are open, I don’t like being forced almost to the left-hand shoulder just to have a place to ride.
The hills can be difficult, but never very long. Just keep in mind that there are some who enjoy hills.


Julia, April 4, 2014 at 9:50 am

In regards to “notch 8” can you help me understand how you train for that if you don’t have the actual hill? I’d assume very low resistance and spinning, but not sure. Thanks!


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