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Feet of Climb Question

The route maps note on each day there are X amount of “feet climb”. Are these #’s in relation to there are 5,280 Feet in a Mile??

27 Replies

KenH, July 6, 2016 at 11:55 am

Each of us is different so while you are on the right track the difficulty scale will vary with the individual. Feet per mile is perfectly valid but the closely related average grade is what is reported in the Geobike database. They can be converted with:

30 ft/mi = 0.57%
40 ft/mi = 0.76%
50 ft/mi = 0.95%
60 ft/mi = 1.14%
70 ft/mi = 1.33%
80 ft/mi = 1.52%
90 ft/mi = 1.70%

Looking at the numbers for the RAGBRAIs I have ridden I would say that I am less of a climber than you. I’d probably bump your scale down by 10 ft/mile. Speed and distance and weather also play a role. Looking over the past rides I can see that shorter and less hilly days done with my faster riding buddy taxed me more than longer and hillier days with my slower riding buddy. Weather is the real wild card. The miles and hills set the minimum pain level for a day, weather always determines how high the actual pain level is!

This year that minimum pain level for the first 5 days is as high as it has ever been over the time I’ve been riding. It’s going to be fun!


powellpd, July 6, 2016 at 4:09 pm

Ken- I don’t understand what the %’s describe. 30 ft/mi=.57% of what? Is it slightly more than .5% grade? To me, that would be almost a flat road. How difficult would be 90 ft/mi climb be for a fairly beginner rider? i sure would appreciate an explanation of the chart you posted. With you saying the pain level this year is as high as it has ever been scares me!!
Thanks for clarifying this for me.


Brian Wallenburg, July 6, 2016 at 5:13 pm

No worries, Pam.

“Any time we announce a southern route, people automatically assume it’s going to be extremely hilly and very difficult,” RAGBRAI director T.J. Juskiewicz said. “The interesting thing with this route is, the data says it’s not that difficult.”

This year’s ride/social gathering begins July 23 in Glenwood and ends July 30 in Muscatine.

The course covers 419.9 miles (third-shortest in the event’s 44-year history), with a total climb of 18,488 feet (making it the 24th flattest).

Add everything up and you have what should be the 15th easiest course.

By the looks of the RAGBRAI information, none of us need to worry, unless there are torrential rains and gale force winds!


Brian Wallenburg, July 6, 2016 at 9:01 pm

Some easy reading on climbing and gradients.



KenH, July 7, 2016 at 8:59 am

Pam, the % grade numbers are just the rise per mile divided by the the feet per mile so 30 feet per mile expressed as a grade in percent is 30/5280 = 0.57% and so on. That is a gentle grade that you would hardly notice for a mile or two. After a 70 mile ride you will feel more tired on a 0.57% grade than on a 0% grade. And of course if the road should rise 90 feet per mile (1.7%) then you will feel more tired yet. But you will finish!

The numbers Brian quotes are accurate but they do not include the two optional loops which I plan to take. They make this year a more difficult prospect than any year I have ridden to date and I have a few side trips under consideration as well. But the difficulty level is somewhat under your control. You don’t have to make any side trips, you don’t have to take the optional loops, and you can slow down. Last year my two riding buddies each did only part of the week with the one replacing the other on Thursday evening. The first part of the week I rode with my 14 mph buddy and we like to wore each other out a few times. The last two days I rode with my 12 mph buddy and I had no trouble at all although he pushed himself pretty hard. I always try to let him set the pace up hills and into headwinds but he goes as hard as he can and he often pays a price for that, as would any of us. Slowing down a little makes a huge difference.

The hardest year I have ridden so far was 2013/XLI and I did that one with my 12 mph buddy exclusively. I finished that year feeling stronger than when I started. This year’s terrain is similar, just more hills. I will be doing it alone except for whatever companions I pick up from the the Riverbend club charter I am using or along the way. Don’t worry Pam, I think you and I will both finish it and if 2013 is any guide that which neither killed nor stopped us will have only made us stronger at the end!


powellpd, July 7, 2016 at 12:20 pm

Hi Ken- You have done a great job of clarifying things for me. I now understand how to finger things out better when they start talking about % grade, etc. I just received my jersey yesterday which makes me even more excited than before. I hope to met you on the route one of the days. Thank you for taking the time to explain this information and your thoughts about the hills or long rollers we will face. Pam


navychief01, July 7, 2016 at 2:09 pm

Forget about how much climbing there is. Just learn how to climb. By that I don’t mean become a “climber” in the professional cyclist sense of the word. I just mean get comfortable with your body, your bike, and by extension, your gears. Much of the gain is very incremental. On last year’s ride, especially heading to Coralville Dam, and then also heading into Davenport, there were some steep but short climbs. On RAGBRAI, unless you’re very lucky to be unaccompanied at that point, you’re not going to carry a ton of speed into a steep climb for no other reason than it can be unsafe. I saw a bunch a hill walkers on those climbs. I think most were psyched out and if they were comfortable shifting rings and push themselves a little bit, wouldn’t run out of gears. I say that because they’re already fit enough to ride for miles and miles in the sun across Iowa.

So, find some climbs in your area. Ride them and see what happens. Downshift before your lose all momentum, learn how to get out of the saddle effectively, don’t try to coast, and don’t worry about how far to the top. Climbing is rewarding. I can also say I’d much rather being in a hard climbing environment that having a block headwind all day. Good luck. And remember, the Tour de France is won on the climbs-so is RAGBRAI. :)


jwsknk, July 7, 2016 at 3:19 pm

On Big BAM there were some tip-overs on the first real challenge that got steeper at the top as you neared a T intersection. Don’t know if they ran out of gears, tried to shift too late or just momentum. Don’t fixate on the crest, it might be a false one anyway, look far enough ahead to be able to avoid hazards, maybe 20-30 feet. Take quick glances up to the crest.


KenH, July 7, 2016 at 3:28 pm

I remember the hills on the approach to Coralville last year. There was a little crowd of locals standing at the top of each one saying “this is the last hill before Coralville, we promise.” LIARS, I tell you, LIARS!

Pam, I’d offer to ride with you to give you moral support on this ride that you fear too much simply because it is unknown territory for you. But I have seen too many posts from you about your training and the truth is that you would smoke me, girl! Don’t worry, you are going to do fine and you are going to love every mile of it.


navychief01, July 7, 2016 at 3:59 pm

KenH is right. I think it’s kind of an Iowan joke to tell you you just rode up the last hill and it’s only 5 more miles to go. And FWIW I think most people ride way farther than the official RAGBRAI mileage. Last year’s official was 462, but my meter had me at 527 for the week. Now I did double back to bring in a struggling rider from my team the first day, but still. So it wouldn’t surprise me that elevation is off too.


Brian Wallenburg, July 7, 2016 at 5:01 pm

“There’d be hills” she said! Kind of a joke my wife and I say as we climb hills. It all started on a ride around Lake Okoboji, on the bike trail none the less, with very few hills!
We over-heard an elderly lady telling her friends, “there will be hills on this ride…” (there were no hills) It was pretty funny at the time, now we use it as a motivator to get our a$$es up the hill in the shortest amount of time possible! Smiling as we go. So ready to climb another years worth of RAGBRAI hills, can’t wait to get started!


Brian Wallenburg, July 7, 2016 at 5:07 pm

Those hills north of Coralville were legitimate!


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