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Book Review - The Complete Guide to Climbing (By Bike)
By Vaughn Trevi
Date: 12/12/2007
Book Review - The Complete Guide to Climbing (By Bike)

Book Review - The Complete Guide to Climbing (By Bike)
Author John Summerson has written a must read book for climbing aficionados, race directors and those that aspire to test themselves on the biggest climbs in the U.S.

The Complete Guide to Climbing (By Bike)
"A guide to cycling climbing and the most difficult hill climbs in the Unites States"
Author: John Summerson
Publisher: Extreme Press
ISBN: (13) 978-0-9792571-0-0; (10) 0-9792571-0-7
Size: 6x9 paperback, 224 pages, 78 photos

Men can be moved to collect many things; John Summerson is a cyclist who collects climbs. John caught the climbing bug after watching a rider suffer his way up Mount Lemmon in July 1992 as a college student in Tucson, Arizona. What followed was one man's journey of finding and testing his grit against the giant climbs in the USA, collecting the climbs to his personal palmares.  Along the way Summerson sharpened his training, climbing techniques and researched the climbs in the USA that were comparable to the legendary climbs of the grand tours of Europe. In the volume he passes along some of the wisdom learned over 15 years.

Climbing and climbs are as most fans and riders of the sport know often the decisive point making the selection from the favorites in the Grand Tours and one day pro races. In fact most of the drama and legend connected to the sport have been written by the legs of the cycling gods on the passes of the Europe. The America's have their own climbs that have defined generations of cyclist here as well; though the real giants of north America, lack the exposure of being used in a grand tour.

Defining and Categorizing Climbs
The first part of the book discusses how climbs are categorized including a definitions and why some climbs can be classed differently from year to year in the Tour and other races. Summerson concludes the chapter with his unique categorization used in the book that provides a standard quick thumbnail of a climb and its difficulties including road conditions, and challenges.

Improving Climbing Ability
What follows in the next chapter is a concise primer for training to improve your climbing. What is impressive here is the wealth of excellent information compressed in a no nonsense guide covering: basic cycling techniques, building a base, climbing technique, intervals, weight training, and equipment. He finishes up with notes on gaining descending skills and tactics to use in races.

Memorable Performances
Is a salute to performances in north American races in climbing stages and races. As a history it includes some of the less known exploits of American climbers in Europe and USA such as the Red Zinger/Coors Classic stage races and Saturn Classic and other exploits like Andy Hampstens victory in the 1985 Columbian Caracol de la Montana stage race that was billed as that year as the world championship of climbing. All good reading, and a bit of inspiration that should move some to take up the challenge to stake out a piece of their own history to climb one of the monsters described in the book.

The balance of the book is devoted to a guide to 142 of the most challenging climbs of the U.S.. Each climb is described in detail with the total elevation gained, length, average and maximum grade, and rated using his system. Climbs are double rated adding the category used in the grand tours; a comparison that climbs any race fan will be familiar with. Short descriptions often with photos, let the reader know what to expect on the climb in the way of road conditions and more. Maps, and directions to the climbs (including the nearest airport), with accurate start and finishes points should be helpful in finding the climbs and planning a trip.

The appendix includes a profiles of the climbs, selected hill climb races and rides, 100 most difficult climbs and classifications of toughest grades, KOM' of the Grand Tours, records, and other resources.

The Complete Guide to Climbing (By Bike) Delivers
The book is excellent resource for cyclists and contains detailed statistics and descriptions of America's most difficult climbs. It's a good read, with solid advice and I enjoyed looking up some of the climbs I had ridden in training and races in Southern and Northern California; chances are you can look up climbs in your area. Previous to the book I had no idea how they might be classed. The book lived up to the billing of its subtitle, and would make a strong addition to any cycling fans book collection, especially those that love finding a new gravity challenge for races or training.

The book is a must read for the mountain goats and climbing aficionados, race directors for future races and as a reference source. It will help any fan gain a better understanding of climbing and find climbs near them in the US to test themselves on. The book can be purchased on Amazon or e-mail and mention it to  your local bike shop to stock the book. More info.

Sample Rating:

Whitney Portal, California

Total elevation - 4,580 ft                            Length - 11.3 miles

Average Grade - 7.7% (13%)                    Rating - 3.98 (hors)

Whitney Portal is a great and difficult climb out of the high desert up towards Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the lower 48. Like most eastern Sierra ascents this one starts out tame and ends up tough. The grade increases as you climb so that the average grade over the last 5.5 miles is over 9%. The hill lets up just before the finish at Whitney Portal (8,371 ft) and a parking/hiking area (trailhead to Mt. Whitney). Whitney Portal is very similar to the famed French climb of the Madeleine, a monster frequently used in major cycling classics including regular appearances in the Tour de France (closed in winter - Inyo National Forest - 760 876-6222).

Directions - From highway 395 in Lone Pine, CA take Whitney Portal Rd west for 6/10ths mile to begin the climb where the road crosses the Los Angeles aqueduct.

Facilities - Bishop, CA                     Airport - Reno, NV
More samples here.
Photos courtesy of John Summerson

Selected Text  from the Book and Back Cover:
Europe is generally considered to be the epicenter of climbing by bike and that reputation is well-deserved. Full of very steep roads often laid down before regular auto traffic was used on them, Europe does contain many difficult hill climbs along with having the distinction of being home to most of the major cycling tours.

Because of this many climbs there are well known; not only to professional riders but also to the legions of amateur cyclists on the continent. As there are few major stage races in the United States, many of the best climbs are relatively unknown. However, the U.S. has a wide variety of climbs comparable to the most difficult used in the major European Tours. Whiteface Mountain in New York for example is almost identical in length and grade (steepness) to the famous French climb of L’Alpe d’Huez, one that is often a stage finish in the Tour de France and considered among the toughest used in that race.

Others such as Whitney Portal in California and Mount Equinox in Vermont are even more difficult. Owens Valley in California may have more beyond category (the most difficult classification) climbs within its walls than any location on earth.

Nearby Death Valley has multiple category 1 (the second most difficult classification) climbs by itself. There are many climbs with over 5,000 feet of vertical elevation gain, and others that top out in the rarified air above 10,000 feet, including the highest paved road outside of the Andes and Himalayan Mountains. The U.S. also has a select group of climbs that are among the most difficult in the world including Onion Valley Road in California, several Hawaiian giants, unique in that they gain up to and beyond 10,000 vertical feet of continuous climbing, and the incomparable Mount Washington in New Hampshire, which may be the toughest of them all...

Road bike cycling is one of the most popular sports in the world and the biggest challenge within the sport, and its most intriguing aspect, is hill climbing. Major professional cycling tours such as the Tour de France are usually won and lost in the mountains. Cycling greats such as Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Lance Armstrong, while very complete all-around riders, became legends in the sport in large part from their climbing exploits. The mountains add an almost mythic quality to races as the riders are seen overcoming obstacles that extend beyond the actual asphalt, rock and dirt upon which they climb. Even average cyclists feel the allure of attempting difficult climbs and achieve tremendous satisfaction from a successful summit....

About This Guidebook
The performances of great early climbers such as Alfredo Binda, Fausto Coppi and Charley Gaul continued to increase the popularity of the major tours. These events made climbs such as the Tourmalet and L’Alpe d’Huez in France and Stelvio in Italy as well known to cycling fans as the Daytona Speedway or Yankee Stadium are to U.S. racing and baseball fans respectively.

The mountains allowed bike races to become truly great as the event rose beyond the personal concerns of the cyclists to reflect life as a whole. Today hill climbing is more popular than ever and within multi-stage races those with hilltop finishes are usually the most anticipated and best attended stages of the race. Racing fans know that hills offer the best opportunity to view the drama within the peloton as it struggles through the most difficult and important element in any race. Climbing adds the mythic quality of overcoming obstacles that continues to be associated with the major cycling tours and which has produced many memorable moments. Ascending difficult hills is about struggle and perseverance and it is these aspects that have made conquering the mountains the heart and soul of cycling.

Back Cover
Avid cyclists know that hill climbing is the crux of the sport. Getting up cycling’s brutal slopes is often what separates average from elite riders. However, accurate information on this cycling sub-specialty has been lacking, particularly the location and profiling of the great American climbs, which rival the major European professional tours’ best. This situation has now been rectified as this guidebook provides cycling peak-baggers with everything they need to know; from how best to prepare to get to the top of the mountain to the most difficult climbs in the U.S. From the incredibly steep roadways of New England, to the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains of the Southeast and the high altitude assaults of the mountain west, the most difficult climbs are all included in these pages.
Information within the guide includes:
• Climbing training tips
• Accounts of memorable climbing performances
• Easy to read directions with maps
• Descriptions and accurate climb information including total elevation, length and average/maximum grade
• Appendices with climb rankings and other information
• Climb profiles

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