John Drescher

Here are Raleigh’s 10 toughest hills for bike riders

If you drive around Raleigh, you might not consider it a hilly city. But if you run or ride a bike around town, you know otherwise, especially as you get away from its mostly flat downtown.

This city is pocked with hills.

I’m a recreational cyclist, riding my road bike 35 to 45 miles almost every weekend, year round. That’s not enough mileage to have the stamina to pedal quickly up Raleigh’s hills.

As I was grinding my way up another hill recently, cursing my burning lungs and legs, I started a mental list of Raleigh’s toughest paved hills. I got home, wrote down my list and emailed it to a few riding partners, who reminded me I’d missed a few. To refresh my memory, I rode all of these hills last weekend, accompanied for most of the ride by News & Observer photojournalist Travis Long.

Here’s my list of the 10 toughest Raleigh hills for a road cyclist, in no particular order:

1. Galax Drive, starting at the Crabtree Creek greenway trail (west of Crabtree mall), to Laurel Hills Road. For me, the toughest hills are those where you start at the bottom with no momentum. That’s the case with Galax because it starts near the creek. You can try to build momentum as you start up Galax but immediately you come to a hairpin curve, which slows your progress. Then you hit one of the steepest pitches in Raleigh. I’m always winded at this point but there’s no recovery time — you still have a steady climb of about a half mile to Laurel Hills Road.

2. Fairview Road from Canterbury to Oberlin Road. I hate this hill. Leaving Canterbury Road, you build good speed down Fairview and can quickly climb the first hill. Then you hit a plateau — followed by a challenging climb up to Oberlin Road and Raleigh Fire Station 6. At least I know if I make it to the fire station there’s someone there who, if needed, can resuscitate me.

3. Glen Eden Drive from the bridge over the Beltline to Ridge Road. The numbers say this isn’t an especially tough hill (about a half mile with a climb of 115 feet, according to the Strava app) but it seems difficult to me. At least you have a bike lane.

4. Lassiter Mill Road from Crabtree Creek to North Hills. You get good speed cruising down St. Mary’s Street (see No. 5) but it’s hard to keep that speed going past St. David’s School and Crabtree Creek. It’s almost a mile from the creek to North Hills and you rise 167 feet in elevation, tops among these 10 hills. Given the pitch and length of this hill, one could argue this is the most demanding hill in Raleigh.

5. The other side of No. 4: St. Mary’s Street from Crabtree Creek to Anderson Drive. At least the views are nice through this beautiful neighborhood.

6. Homewood Banks Drive behind Crabtree Valley Mall, from Crabtree Valley Avenue to Blue Ridge Road and up to Glen Eden Drive. Another one of those hills where you start with no momentum. At Blue Ridge, you think you’re done — but you have to climb all the way to Glen Eden. All told, this segment is more than a mile, the longest hill on this list.

7. Trinity Road after crossing over Interstate 40, heading east toward Carter-Finley Stadium. This hill makes me feel like I am out of shape and need to ride more.

8. Reedy Creek greenway trail away from the N.C. Museum of Art, over the creek and to the bridge over the Beltline, toward Meredith College. The curves and pedestrians keep you from building any speed. The tight curves of this greenway make for interesting but difficult cycling.

9. An offshoot of the Crabtree Creek greenway trail from the creek to North Hills Park. This is a gnarly climb. It’s steep (according to Strava, a part of this hill has the steepest grade of the 10 on this list) and two gooseneck curves keep you from building speed. Stones and small sticks sometimes litter the greenway here, not usually a problem for trail bikes but trouble for road bikes. This is the only Raleigh hill where I’ve thought of dismounting and walking my bike to the top.

10. Churchill Road from Banbury Road east to Brooks Avenue. This is an oddly sentimental (perhaps sadistic?) choice for me, as this is typically the last hill I climb on my way home. It’s short but steep. I could have chosen several other climbs in this hilly neighborhood off Wade Avenue. Grant Avenue westward to Canterbury Avenue is longer and Brooks Avenue south to Banbury Road (toward Wade Avenue) is challenging, too.

I got tired just writing about these hills. But if you’re not a regular cyclist, don’t let this discourage you. To me, there are few things better than being on a bike on a nice morning.

With a growing network of greenways and bike lanes, Raleigh has become a good city for cyclists. The hills force you to push yourself and give you a better appreciation of this green, beautiful city.

John Drescher: 919-829-4515, @john_drescher