Ken Roberts - - Bicycling

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prettiest farm country ride in Pennsylvania?

08sep - Hawk Mountain Dream [ view route map on Bikely | photos ]

On a weekend day in late September, Sharon and I rode a 38 mile loop in eastern Pennsylvania on our single bikes. It was definitely the prettiest thirty miles of farm country riding I've experienced in Pennsylvania, and I took lots of photos. We had ridden it several times before as part of longer routes from near Trexlertown on our tandem -- we came back to it again and it really delivered.

We started a ways northeast from Kutztown and rode roughly northwest toward Hawk Mountain -- but didn't do the notorious climb up it. Then east roughly parallel to the Blue Mountain ridge, finally south back to our start.

We first discovered this area from the "Dream Come True" ride lotsa years before. Then once a year or so we came back and tried out different variations, and this route map on Bikely is pretty much what we've settled into as our favorite. Since this loop started from the "Dream Come True", but focused more on Hawk Mountain, we usually called it "Hawk Mountain Dream" -- but that name might make people guess that the route climbed Hawk Mountain, so I've added "Farms".

see photos

connecting steep climbs around Vernon NJ + Warwick NY

08oct posted to + roadbikereview forums

Out riding in the warm weather, I rode up Breakneck again a couple of times -- after warm-up climbs on some other steep hills around Vernon NJ. I found a way to ride around between 6 very steep climbs around there - (with little use of high-speed high-traffic Rt 94). Here's a
map of steep climbs around Vernon + Breakneck | GPX + Bikely links
also I've now listed my NJ steep climbs separately for each county, so like here's a list of
Sussex county steep climbs

I also tried measuring the steepness of Breakneck and some other climbs by using a special GPS unit with a barometric altimeter (because normal GPS units are not very accurate for altitude, and thus not accurate for steepness). I took four different data track sets for Breakneck. When I looked at each one individually it looked excellent: complete coverage of the whole climb, no funny jumps or spikes in elevation -- felt like at last by using a special GPS, I now had "the truth" about steepness.

But when I compared the steepness grades I calculated from two different track data sets, I got different grade numbers for some of the segments of the climb. Like one data set might show 14.2% grade, another one 15.8%. (Same sort of thing on other climbs where I captured GPS multiple data sets). Not like the two data sets are telling a totallly different story (since both 14.2 and 15.8% are very steep) -- but not leaving me the comfort of feeling that I know "the truth".

And not making me optimistic that using a barometric altimeter will "settle" the question of whether Breakneck is harder than Fiddlers Elbow.

My advice: before believing what your GPS tells you about steepness, try it again two more times on the same hill, and try downhill as well as uphill.

measuring steepness of NJ + NY climbs


Avoiding significant inaccuracy in measuring the steepness of steep curvy roads is tricky -- [ see discussion ].

I had tried topographical software on my personal computer, and various web-based topo interfaces, and some bicycling-specific websites which offer altitude info and steepness elevation profiles, and did not feel that these resolved the trickiness.

I thought a better solution might be a GPS with a barometric altimeter. I own a Garmin 60CS GPS unit which does have a barometric altimeter. I first tried on a couple of steep hills with it attached to a belt around the top of my hips while bicycling or hiking or jogging on the hill. But I encountered some problems with getting complete data that did not have sections with points missing or not making sense. So instead . . .

I mounted the Garmin 60CS GPS unit on my car and drove it up and down the road I wanted to measure -- and that method produced pretty complete results for each data set -- but there were still disagreements amoung data sets about the exact steepness of a particular sections of a climb -- like say 14% grade versus 16% grade for a section of 60 vertical feet.

So even though the data for each track set looked nice and complete and reasonably smoothly connected, it really was not as accurate as one might guess from the number of significant digits given in the data set.

When I look at one data track set from my GPS with barometric altimeter, I feel like I have "the truth". But when I compare four (or even just two) data track sets for the same road, I see that really it's just data (with the usual problems of inaccuracies).

I do think it's better data than from most other methods, but it's not "the truth".

I set the GPS unit to retain a sample for each 0.01 mile of distance traveled. I mostly tried to drive my car at slower speeds on the hill, around 15-25 mph.

Here's some results I got . . .

Fiddlers Elbow - NJ

I gathered four data sets (two going uphill and two going downhill) on the main steep sections on Roxburg Hill Rd and Fiddlers Elbow Rd. I also gathered two data sets for the section of Fiddlers Elbow and Harmony Brass Castle Rd which are above the main steep section.

These were the steep sections:

  • Roxburg Hill Rd includes about 140 vertical ft with steepness around 16% grade.

  • Fiddlers Elbow Rd lower part of main steep section includes about 275 ft around 13-14% grade.

  • Fiddlers Elbow Rd upper part of main steep section includes about 130 ft around 20-21%.

above the main steep section

  • top section Fiddlers Elbow Rd continuing onto Harmony Brass Castle Rd includes about 80 vertical ft at steepness around 11% grade.

Breakneck - NJ

I gathered four data sets (two going uphill and two going downhill) on the main section between the intersection of rt 515 with Main St of Vernon NJ and the intersection of Breakneck Rd with Tahama Rd. I also gathered two data sets (one going uphill and one downhill) for the sections above and below that: (1) lower starting from the railroad track on Vernon Cross (rt 646); and (2) higher, from Tahama Rd up Abricada Rd.

The lower section on rt 646 Vernon Cross has only a short climb, with a short section maybe around 8%. (seemed too short to have enough data to measure accurately)

The main section had about 90 data points for each of the four runs. These were the steep sections:

  • rt 515 from Main St up to Breakneck Rd includes around 50 vertical ft with steepness around 14-16% grade.

  • 1st section Breakneck Rd up to Hidden Valley ski area includes around 40 ft around 13%.

  • 2nd section Breakneck includes around 150 ft around 16%, including 30-40 ft around 19%.

  • in between 2nd + 3rd is around 110 vertical ft at around 11% grade.

  • 3rd section Breakneck includes 120 ft around 19-20%, including something like 50 ft steeper than 20%.

  • 4th section Breakneck includes 45 vertical ft around 12-13% grade.

For those continuing the climb above Breakneck turning south on Tahama Rd . . .

  • Abricada Rd includes around 75 vertical ft around 16% grade.

I think what makes Breakneck so hard is that the super-steep 3rd section comes so soon after the very steep 2nd section (and that the super-steep section goes around a curve, so on your first time you don't know how long it's going to be). From the bottom of the 2nd steep section to the top of the 3rd is around 370 vertical feet at about 15% grade.

Hidden Valley - NJ

I gathered two data sets (one going uphill and one downhill) on the Curtis Dr and Hidden Valley Rd (south of Breakneck Rd). I find there's five steep sections, three on Curtis and two on Hidden Valley:

  • 1st steep section (on Curtis) includes 80 vertical ft at steepness around 18-20% grade, some of that likely a bit more than 20%.

  • 2nd steep section includes around 50 ft around 18-20%.

  • 3rd steep section (on Curtis after a sharp dip) has a short section at 10% or more.

  • 4th steep section (on Hidden Valley Dr) includes about 85 ft around 18-19%.

  • 5th steep section includes about 70 vertical ft around 19% grade.

rt 505 Stockholm Rd - NJ

I gathered two data sets (one going uphill and one downhill) for this road climbing south from Vernon. 

  • main steep section includes 210 vertical ft at steepness around 13-14% grade.

Glenwood Mountain Rd, West side - NJ

I gathered two data sets (one going uphill and one downhill) for this road southeast from rt 667: 

  • main steep section includes 240 vertical ft at steepness around 13% grade.

Glenwood Mountain Rd, East side - NJ

I gathered two data sets (one going uphill and one downhill) for this road northwest from rt 565: 

  • main steep section includes 200 vertical ft at steepness around 11-12% grade.

Lounsberry Hollow Rd - NJ

I gathered two data sets (one going uphill and one downhill) for this road west from rt 517 to rt 565. Unlike for the other climbs, I set the GPS to retain data points for only 0.2 mile apart, instead of 0.1 mile apart. I found

  • five short steep sections around 50-80 vertical ft each at steepness roughly around 10-12% grade (one or two a little steeper).

Barry Dr - NJ / Barrett Rd - NY

I gathered four data sets (two going uphill and two downhill) on this road crossing the New Jersey / New York border. The bottom in NY is called Barrett Rd, and the remainder with most of the steep climbing is in NJ and called Barry Dr.

I find three steep sections:

  • 1st steep section includes 200 vertical ft at steepness around 11-12% grade, including about 115 ft around 14% grade.

  • 2nd steep section includes around 140 ft around 14%.

  • 3rd steep section includes around 120 vertical ft at steepness around 12% grade.

Kain Rd - NY

I gathered four data sets (two going uphill and two downhill) on this road.   

  • main steep section includes about 440 vertical ft at steepness around 15-16% grade.

Iron Mountain Rd - NY

I gathered two data sets (one going uphill and one downhill) on this road.   

  • 1st steep section includes about 150 vertical ft at steepness around 13-14% grade (or some a little more).

  • 2nd steep section includes about 150 ft around 13-14% grade (or some a little more).


riding between GWB and Newark


See new detailed route maps linked from this page.

2008 September posted to

quote from mcgreivey:

Rt. 46 would be a little difficult, but doable. From the GWB to the Rt. 46 Hackensack River bridege, I think I'd recommend using side streets to avoid the Rt. 46 Overpeck Creek bridge: steets through Ft. Lee and Ridgefield --> Edgewater Rd --> Hendricks Causeway --> Edgewater Ave --> Bergen Tpk --> Main St. instead of Rt. 46.

I rode the Rt 46 bridge over the Hackensack River multiple times in the past few days, and tried several different routes for reaching it from the GWB and Fort Lee . . .

map of my riding between GWB + Newark

I found mcgreivey's idea of using Bergen Turnpike to reach the Rt 46 bridge made it pretty comfortable for me. The bridge itself had 6-foot-wide sidewalks (rough and dirty, but bikable for me). The roundabout / traffic circle on Rt 46 at the west end of the bridge I handled just by riding around it like I was a car. Then riding to Newark by way of Wallington seemed straightforward.
(for me the tricky part is navigating through the city of Newark)

quote from mcgreivey:

Ft. Lee Rd is the easiest, and safe--but by now, you must be 20 miles north of Newark.

I've skated across that one at least once. I think the traffic-handling is arguably trickier than the Rt 46 bridge the way I've done that (more times), because of the entrance-exit ramps for the NJ Turnpike. For me the main problem with the Fort Lee Rd strategy is not the distance from Newark but the complexity of finding a route between it and Wallington.

visiting NYC + Hudson Valley from Europe

2008 August

Sharon and I have done road bicycling in a variety of places in France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, and other countries in western Europe. So I got thinking about what's special about road bicycling around the New York City region for people visiting from those countries (perhaps lured by the cheap dollar).

Compared to Europe: What makes bicycling in this region different (in a good way) from western Europe? Here's my try . . .

  • New York City has some bicycling which is way better than any large European city -- especially (a) big interesting asphalt loops in city parks; (b) bike paths alongside the water in Manhattan and Brooklyn, way more km than any European city; (c) bicycle tours using trains and ferry boats.

  • Barns and farm animals in Columbia county and northern Dutchess county. Barns in the Hudson valley are different from Europe, and there's more variety of horses and cows out alongside the quiet roads.

  • Hudson River is wider than European rivers, so you can ride a bicycle across longer bridges.

  • more individualistic building architectures in many villages.

Compared to the rest of North America, the Hudson valley has these advantages:

  • New York City is here.

  • lots of quiet roads with good surfaces

  • lots of wide roads

  • roads and streets have lots of curves and unpredictable connections (unlike many places in USA where the roads follow a grid pattern) -- so they're more interesting to explore.

  • farm property lots in most of North America are much bigger than farms in the Hudson Valley, so often you can't see the buildings and animals well from bicycling on the road.

  • way bigger public transportation system of trains + ferries + buses.

  • lots of little villages out in farm country (especially on the east side of the River) have more and better food options than farm country villages in the rest of North America, because: there's lots of customers with money, and graduates of the Culinary Institute of America who discover the Hudson valley as students, and decide to stick around after they graduate.

  • New York City.


[ more to be added ]


Vernon NJ climbs -- Breakneck tougher than Fiddlers?

2008 July

I got to try some climbs I'd heard about around Vernon, way north in New Jersey, near New York state. Overall some pretty riding, and one of them turned out to be maybe the toughest paved-road climb in NJ state.

I started riding near rt 644 Vernon Crossing, then south on Sand Hill Rd, and west up the Drew Mountain Rd climb, varied steepness, pretty, with interesting curves. Back down to its bottom, then rt 517 south and up Lake Pochung Rd -- starts pretty steep, then a couple of ups and downs to the top. Down the other side with some views to the west. Then climbed up most of the west side. Then rt 565 north and rt 667 Lake Wallkill Rd north (lots of pretty views and pleasant riding). Climb up west side of Glenwood Mountain Rd (sustained steep at first), then interesting + steep descending east side, then decided to climb up the east side of Glenwook Mountain Rd (interesting with curves). Then climb a little south on rt 565, then a little more on Lounsberry Hollow Rd, then south and east down Lounsberry Hollow, south on rt 517 and back to Vernon Crossing Rd.

Started the tough climb of the day first by first climbing east on rt 644 Vernon Crossing, then on rt 94 South, then climb rt 515 south, then a left turn in the midst of a steep section onto Breakneck Rd. First it was less steep, but then steep and steeper, then a another section even steeper. Coarse-stone pavement surface made it tougher. It was a hot day, not much shade, I started to worry I'd get too much sweat in my eyes. More car traffic than I wanted. The steepest section was so sustained I was afraid I wouldn't be strong enough to finish it, afraid that I'd fall over onto the road. Then the climb went around a sharp curve to the right, so I was thinking I wouldn't want to fall over where cars couldn't see me as they came around that curve. Fortunately I was able to keep pedaling all the way to the top, so I didn't have to find out about the alternatives. Looking back there was a sign at the top warning that it had a 25% grade.

Overall felt at least as tough as Fiddlers Elbow Rd, but perhaps that's because it was a hot day with little shade. I've never tried Fiddlers on such a hot day, and Fiddlers is much better shaded by trees.

Then north on Breakneck Rd to Wawayanda Rd (which enters the park and turns to dirt), but instead I went north on Barry Dr. Several nice ponds along the way. Barry Dr started to go downhill (warning sign for 14% grade) with some eroded road surface in several places. I saw that the road was not evenly graded as I was expecting -- instead there were gentle and steeper sections. At the bottom where it meets rt 94 in New York state, the road sign was "Barrett Rd", so I guess the two jurisdictions couldn't agree on the name of the road -- so the name changes where it crosses the state boundary. After climbing Breakneck, my legs felt it on the steep sections on Barry Dr, but the top section didn't feel as steep as the lower two.

Then I had a drink + snack at the store by Lake Wanda, and continued north and then west on rt 638, pleasant with moderate ups and downs, finished with a steeper down to rt 515 -- and I went down rt 515 north, the downhill got steeper (warning sign said 17% grade, but to me it felt more like 13%) down to rt 94, and left on Vernon Crossing to finish.

On my way home driving on rt 17A east, I thought I might still have the strength to climb Kain Rd in Orange county. It was tough and very sustained, but with alternating sitting and standing, I made it to the top. The ice cream store was open this time, and I decided that re-fueling was appropriate, but with the heat of the day, I ate inside in the air conditioning, instead of outside with the big view to the west.

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