RAGBRAI LI Registration is Now Open!

Hill Grades

Since I am new to cycling, I know having an idea of the grades of the hills will be riding on will help me better prepare for my RAGBRAI experience. Living in central Florida I have all sorts of hills around here I can practice on. I want to know if the steepest hill I will ever encounter is going to be a grade 6, grade 7, maybe a grade 10. I don’t know how else to prepare for the most difficult hill I will be climbing. Does anyone know the answer to this question? Pam

41 Replies

DenBiker, March 1, 2016 at 1:02 pm

It is a good question but it is a bit early to get an answer for you. Once the exact route is announced (beginning March 6) we will have the kind of detail you are looking for.

That said (and bear in mind that every RAGBRAI is different) there will be hills and it is possible that a few could be 8+% grades (the RAGBRAI record in my memory is still Potter’s Hill which had a reported section of 19%). However steep grades are not the norm and you will likely find that there will be lots of 4,5 and 6% ers. Being from Colorado I use a cyclometer that measures the incline and I really do not remember seeing a lot of hills in Iowa above 6% – some but not a lot. Perhaps just as important as the grade is the length of the climb. 4 miles at 4% can be more tiring than a 1/4 mile of 8%.


jwsknk, March 1, 2016 at 1:23 pm

look at the overnight towns like for Shenadoah, there have been a couple different routs to there from Glenwood and one to Creston. The day summary will show mileage, pass through towns and elevations, a bit skewed by the compression maybe, but it gives an ides of where the hills are and how many foot of climb


Cameron Cranston, March 1, 2016 at 3:18 pm

If you are from central Florida you have no concept of the hills you will encounter on RAGBRAI. I’m in Winter Springs. I did numerous rides in Clermont and rode the bridges in Daytona Beach on a daily basis. It helped a little. On the first day of RAGBRAI I learned a new phrase: Florida flat. Iowa is not Florida flat. When an Iowan says flat it means rolling hills, when they say hilly it means mountains, when they say mountains it means death. In all seriousness, ride Clermont as much as you can. Also ride on windy days. Anytime you hit a bridge or a hill shift up one gear. In the long run it helps. My first RAGBRAI was 2014. The first couple of days are rough. By Tuesday I was no longer contemplating suicide and by Wednesday I was having fun. Good luck


powellpd, March 1, 2016 at 3:30 pm

I certainly appreciate the information I have received so far about the possible grades of the hills. I will definitely take cranesfc2 advice and get over to Clermont to ride their hills. I have ridden up the backside of Sugarloaf, made it to the top, but thought I was going to die on the way!! I really am looking forward to my RAGBRAI experience and will climb every hill in my way. Thank you for taking the time to provide me with valuable feedback. Pam


KenH, March 1, 2016 at 3:51 pm

Take this for what it is worth but the max grades my Garmin Edge 500 reported for last year’s rides were:


If I can figure out a way to convert the files to something that I can process in a sensible way as opposed to how the online tools I use from Garmin and Ride With GPS process them I might be able to say more and try to confirm that there really were a couple of 25% grades last year. Ten to fifteen percent I can believe but I suspect that 25% was a glitch or if not, very, very short! There were a few hills last year that may not have been “named” but which we could have done without!!


Michrider !!!, March 1, 2016 at 4:26 pm

Do not fear hills. Riding Hills will make you stronger. Hills can be your friends!!!!


Brian Wallenburg, March 1, 2016 at 6:38 pm

Funniest post I’ve read here!!! It’s usually hilly in the beginning and the end. Almost always a stiff breeze blowing, hopefully more of a tailwind than a headwind. Either way, ride any hills you can find. …and on some days just go up and down the biggest one you can find, over and over. After you’ve trained for a while and feel like you have them conquered, shift to the next harder gear and start over, repeat as many times as possible. The more you’re prepared, the more fun you will have. Remember, “Florida flat, Iowa not flat!!!”


aclord1, March 1, 2016 at 8:21 pm

Just remember that what goes up, must come down. You’ll be riding river to river. What that means to you is river valleys on both sides of the state. Northern Iowa is table top smooth. The farther south you go, the hillier it gets. Expect tons of rollers.
Unlike other rides that avoid civilization like the plague, Ragbrai goes from town to town so you can explore and enjoy what they have to offer. Don’t think of this as a long ride. It’s more a series of short rides (normally about 10 miles between stops). Never expect to go more than 3 miles without seeing something to drink and probably eat. The biggest rookie mistake is riding too fast.


CyclingCyclone, March 2, 2016 at 10:42 am

Agreed, don’t fear hills. I definitely don’t have a climbers physique, but I do enjoy climbs. They can be a challenge and sometimes fun.
It’s interesting to see what people consider a “hill”. Growing up in Ames, the closest thing to a hill I had was Twister Hill which meant a 25 mile ride one way to get to it. It’s about 8% for about 0.4 mi. I remember early morning in Rockwell City in ’98 getting ready to go to Boone, chatting with someone in line for the kybo about the days ride. They were from Colorado and heard throughout the week about twister hill. They asked if it would take 30 minutes or more to climb. I told them probably less than 5 or 6, and they scoffed at me. Oh well.
Now living in Madison, WI and my riding is primarily west of town in the driftless region it’s not uncommon to find punchy climbs like Twister all over the place. We have a section called Barlow Road, where the grade is up over 17%. Granted, it’s about a half mile climb but I’m fat and old enough to feel it.
Back on the Sunday ride to Spencer in 1990, John Karras published an article in the Sunday DSM register which listed the steepest hill in each of the 99 counties. I with I kept that article.
As always, enjoy the ride, and pray for tailwinds!


Mark Hartung, March 2, 2016 at 3:43 pm

Talked to the RAGBRAI Director (TJ) at a recent Bike Swap. From what he said, this year’s route will have some good rollers but nothing to buckle anyone like Potter’s hill a few years back…but who knows, maybe he just set me up for a surprise once I see the route :)


jeffreydennis, March 2, 2016 at 3:58 pm

Hit em with some speed and have no fear. Remember, cars drive these two so it’s pretty rare to get a Potter’s Hill. Wind, wind is the enemy.


jwsknk, March 3, 2016 at 10:31 am

RAGBRAI has the 4-H of enemies. Heat, Hills, Headwind & Humidity. And don’t believe the local who drive those roads and tell you they are flat. :-)


Cameron Cranston, March 6, 2016 at 11:07 pm

Got out and did 41 in the wind today. Winter Springs, Longwood, Sanford, and Oviedo. Lots of long shallow grades. Guess it is a little hilly around here.


William Mugan, March 10, 2016 at 12:51 pm

This is a very entertaining thread! Lots of humorous, but true posts :-)

Thanks everyone!


cfaber, March 10, 2016 at 3:46 pm

what i have learned about the hills in Iowa is pretty simple, rollers are the norm and no big deal, there are always a few rather steep climbs, but don’t worry about a hill until they give it a name ie Twister, Potter ect, those are the ones that kick your butt. and yes the downhills are fun as long as you aren’t riding a fixed gear, unicycle or a high wheel


Viewing 15 replies - 1 through 15 (of 41 total)

The forum ‘RAGBRAI XLIV – 2016’ is closed to new topics and replies.


RAGBRAI L – 2023




Gatherings & Meetings

Lost and Found


Clubs, Teams & Charters

Friends of RAGBRAI