In the world of cycling, I’m far from a climbing specialist. As much as I dream of dancing up the Pyrenees in the Tour de France one day, I unfortunately wasn’t blessed with a slender climbers build. At 83kg I pack a healthy 10-15kg handicapover the mountain specialists and as a result, despite my best efforts I tend to go backwards very quickly as soon as the racing points uphill.
Despite my relatively slow climbing pace, when it comes to riding my bike, I find nothing more enjoyable than battling my way up an epic hill. Heart racing, legs burning, redefining my pain threshold not to mention the satisfaction of finally cresting the summit and enjoying whatever view thatmay be on offer. Luckily for me, there is no shortage of climbs on offer here in Christchurch. While we may lack the sustained alpine ascents available in the French Alps or Italian Dolomites for example, the Port Hills are home to a staggering number of great 10-20min climbs. Furthermore, their close proximity to one another makes it incredibly easy to link one to the next with a short descent between. It is very easy to clock up an epic training ride with in excess of 4000m vertical climbing all in one day.
Dyers Pass Road (City Side)
It has become a bit of a challenge in recent times to locate the toughest climb in the region. For a long time, Long Bay Road was the obvious leader in this category. Starting out in the township of Akaroa and cresting at the Summit Road some 507m higher, this punishing 4.8km climb has an average gradient of 10.6% but several pitches that are over twice as steep.
In September last year, when on a planned bunch ride to Hilltop, my good friend James Early suggested we hang a right before reaching Little River and head up towards Okuti Valley on Kinloch Road. A popular route for surfers heading over to Te Oka Bay or Magnet Bay, the 5.5km that followed completely blew my doors off. While not quite as steep as Long Bay Road, it stretches a kilometre longer with the top half of the climb exposed to the wind. I’ve been back to tackle this ascent several times since then and still haven’t mastered it.
Lighthouse Road, Akaroa.
James, unlike myself was born a natural climber, possessing that ideal combination of a light weight frame and high power output that sees him scale hills at gravity defying speeds. With this in mind, alarm bells in my head should have been ringing a couple of weeks ago when he announced he haddiscovered a new climb behind Akaroa that was so steep that he had to zig-zag across the roads at times. A ride to Akaroa was quickly planned and with no other riders keen to join us it was a two up 170km return trip. I can now confirm that Lighthouse Road is definitely the hardest climb I have ridden in Canterbury, so steep that there will several times I doubted I would make it to the top. Unlike the other climbs mentioned, I won’t be rushing back to repeat this one any time soon.
<h5>Sam’s Top 10 Climbs of Christchurch</h5>
Sam’s Top 10 Christchurch Climbs. Click to Enlarge.
10. Dyers Pass Road (City Side)
While definitely not the hardest, Dyers Pass Road is a Christchurch cycling staple and definitely the most popular climb in the city. On a warm summer evening you can expect to see an almost constant stream of riders heading both up and down. This climb features in the annual Le Race cycle event. The traditional summit is at the Sign of the Kiwi however this climb can be extended by either turning left or right along Summit Road. 5.7km in distance with an average gradient of 5.1%. The first kilometre, as used for the Elite Cycling Nationals is the hardest, reaching 13% in parts. The climb really mellows out above the Sign of the Takahe at 2-3%. Hackthorne Road is an alternative route.
9. Mount Pleasant Road
Mount Plesant Road is 4.5km climb taking riders from the waters edge of the Main Road Causeway up through the houses to the Summit Road. The gradient, that averages 8.7% for the entire asecent, is pretty much constant the entire way up the climb, making it perfectfor training efforts. From the summit it is a great descent all the way down to Sumner Village where you can grab a brew from Glenn Rewi at Coffee Culture Sumner, one of the cities most popular cyclist hang outs. There are also several variations to this climb, including Major Hornbrook Road, Cannon Hill Crescent and my personal favourite, Longridge Drive as you near the summit.
8. Hilltop (Little River Side)
The ascent of Christchurch Akaroa Road to Hilltop from Little River is one of my favourite climbs. At 6km in length it is also one of the longest. The average gradient is 7.1% and is fairly constant the whole way up, although there are a few nasty pinches throughout.This climb is also a feature of Le Race and it is the 13% section inside the final kilometre that usually splits things up. The summit offers a great view of the Akaroa Harbour on a clear day.
7. The Bastard (Teddington Side)
The appropriately named Bastard takes riders up Gebbies Pass Road, turning onto Summit Road and carrying on upwards to the lookout at the summit. It can be ridden from either the Teddington side or Akaroa Highway side, with the “Bastard” name specificallydescribing the nasty steep final stages of the Summit Road section. From the Teddington side it is 5.7km in length at and average gradient of 7.1%. The Gebbies Pass Road section is fairly solid at a consistent 9-10%. At the top of Gebbies Pass riders take a right hand turn onto Summit Road and while the next couple of kilometres are fairly mellow, the road kicks up to an ugly 13%+ for the final stretch with a couple of cattle stops along the way to further break up your tempo. The climb is exposed to the elements at the top making for an added challenge in windy conditions.
6. Dyers Pass Road (Goveners Bay Side)
The nasty sister of the the city side, the ascent of Dyers Pass Road from Goveners Bay is both shorter and steeper. Only 2.9km in length but at a constant, relentless average gradient of 10.2%. The closure of Evans Pass following the earthquake has forced Christchurch riders to become much more familiar with this climb. Another popular climb for efforts, I am still mentally scarred from a year or so ago when a young Josh Atkins dropped me like I was standing still on his way to a 10minute20 ascent. Mere mortals usually take around 12 minutes.
5. Port Levy Saddle (Purau Side)
Arguably the hardest climb on the Christchurch side of the peninsular, the Purau Port Levy Road can be ridden in either direction. Riding to Port Levy and return,taking in both sides of this climb has become a weekly training regular for me in recent times. The Purauside of this climb is 3.5km at 10.5%. A technically demanding climb with a continually changing gradient, there are several stages you can be easily fooled into thinking the summit is much closer than it actually is.
4. Port Levy Saddle (Port Levy Side)
As above, the Port Levy side of this climb is 4km long at 10.4% average gradient. Despite being similar in length and pitch, this side has always seemed significantly harder, than the Purau side. Whether this is because it is much straighter with the summit always inview, or because this climb will typically be tackled after having already ridden the other side beforehand I am not sure.
3. Kinloch Road (Magnet Bay Climb)
As mentioned previously, the ascent of Kinloch Road is relatively unknown but incredibly challenging. You can find it by turning right onto Kinloch Road off Christchurch Akaroa Road just prior to reaching Little River. The climb starts from the valley floor and finishes at the intersection with Bossu Road where the seal ends. 5.5km long at an average gradient of 9.9%, the opening kilometres are particularly enjoyable with the road winding uphill through thick woods. As you near the summit however the road becomes exposed and crosswinds are common here. An increase in gradient over the final kilometre will uncover just how well you have paced your effort.
2. Long Bay Road
As mentioned earlier, Long Bay Road has long been considered one of the regions toughest. Starting in Akaroa and finishing at the intersection with Summit Road. 4.8km long with an average gradient of 10.6%. Extra points if you have ridden out from Christchurch prior to tackling this beast. Consistently steep the whole way but getting even steeper towards the top. You are rewarded with some great views when you eventually crest the summit.
1. Lighthouse Road
Located behind Akaroa, this climb starts at the intersection with Onuku Road and finishes where the road turns to gravel. Don’t be fooled by the relatively short distance of 2.9km as with a brutally steep average gradient of 14.6% this climb will take a while. Great views of the Akaroa Highway the whole way up, unfortunately I was too busy concentrating on maintaining forward momentum to notice. Guaranteed to have your legs, lungs and arms burning by the summit.