I had a little time to take the cross bike over to Bowen to try out the new section. As the title indicates, it didn’t go so well. I need to fix my mountain shoes, so I tried it today with road shoes, which might have exacerbated some of the problems I had…
First attempt. Rode up the bottom part from Main to Benefit taking it quite easy, and started in the 26 to avoid any messy shifts from the big to little chainring. On the cobbles, I decided to try going on the cobbles all the way to the top. The ground was definitely more firm than last time I tried it, but I was also already thinking about the final section to come, so I didn’t want to go too hard in the really steep section, and as a result I lost momentum, spun out, and had to unclip.
Second attempt. Rather than try the top section again after stopping, I just looped back down to Main to do the whole thing, this time transitioning to the sidewalk at the normal spot, before the 30% insanity. Everything was fine up to Pratt. It was then that I noticed that the transition from sidewalk to road on Pratt is anything but easy. There’s about a 3-foot hole, making it impossible to ride straight across Pratt, so instead, I turned left on the sidewalk and hopped onto the road a few feet north of Bowen, and then turned back to go up the steep road section from Pratt headed up towards Congdon. This section is incredibly steep. It probably isn’t quite as bad as the final section before you hit Pratt, but it’s not much better either, except you’re on good pavement. It’s short enough that you could easily sprint through it and hardly notice it, but sprinting is unlikely after finishing the bottom part, plus you need something for the dirt section, so I opted to put it in a low gear and spin it as much as possible. (I was probably riding the 26-26 at this point.) The transition to the dirt is a little scary…total bottleneck, and at 25% gradient, you need good control to make sure your line is good going down from a standard sized road to a 3-foot (or so) path. The path stays at 20% for the fist 10 meters or so, and is pretty rocky – rockier than I remember it from walking it – I managed to get through most of that, but eventually lost my line and unclipped. I tried several times to re-clip in and get going, but without much success. I was able to get back on the bike just before the low-hanging branch and verified that a rider of my size (gewilli would probably have problems) can duck under it, but if I were out of the saddle I probably would have clocked myself. From there I rode to the top, popped out on Congdon and continued the gradual climb on Bowen up to Prospect.
Third and fourth attempts. Figuring what I really needed to do was practice getting a good line and mastering the terrain, I then rode down Jenckes to Pratt, so that I could just try the last section again. This time I made it slightly farther before unclipping but still not far enough. Walked it to the top, and looped back for another try. This time I barely got going on the path before I lost my line, so I just turned around and rode home.
Verdicts. So, I think it should be possible, but it’s going to require a lot of practice. (It certainly requires strength, but I think the real issue is technique, mostly handling the rocky section.) I won’t say it’s not possible on a road bike, but I don’t think I could do it. And as for how it compares to the Koppenberg? It doesn’t. Bowen to Congdon is in another league. In terms of elevation gain and distance the profiles, as I noted yesterday, are quite similar. But the Koppenberg has nothing approaching 30%, and a capable rider should be able to clear the Koppenberg in one try without special gears and skinny tires. Bowen not so much. (For one thing, no one would ever think to make a race go up Bowen, it would be a complete clusterf**k on the dirt section.) Anyway, I look forward to mastering this f-er.