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Grouse Mtn via Old Mountain Hwy
by Chris Cullum

Chris rode his 650B bike up a mountain on May 9. Story and photos below.

I have been intrigued by the idea of riding a road bike to the top of Grouse Mtn by way of Old Mountain Hwy for some time. I have ridden parts of it on a mountain bike but I have never gone right to the top and certainly not on a road bike. Kevin Bruce has been rumoured to be plotting an even more sinister version of the "That's Ridiculous! 200" that travels this road. Spurred on by Nigel's 8h14m time last time out (, Kevin has vowed to include this gravel road up to the very top of Grouse Mountain in his route. I also read a report of the Rapha Continental crew riding the Triple Crown (all three North Shore Mtns) including the climb up Old Mountain Hwy ( I had a weekday off yesterday and the typical grey clouds were absent from the North Shore, so I thought "why not"?

One reason I recently got my 650B Rawland "demi-ballon" tired bike was to do rides like this. I started off my ride at home in Kitsilano and crossed over to the North Shore by the Second Narrows Bridge. There was very strong, gusting cross winds on the bridge which made the crossing a bit of white knuckler. Once across the bridge I took the most direct route which is straight north on the rather steep Mountain Hwy road. It is a fairly busy road and there are far nicer ways to get to the start of the Old Mountain Hwy but this was the route I took. Mountain Hwy itself is a fairly long climb and the gradient get quite steep near the top, so it's a good way to soften up your legs before you hit the gravel. At the end of the paved part of the road there was a large sign with "Service Road Closed due to Winter Conditions". At this point I started to think it might be a bit early in the season for this ride. I did see quite a few mountain bikers walking their bikes or spinning wildly in their granny gears, so I continued on.

Once on the gravel I was pleasantly surprised by the road. It was in reasonable condition with a few larger, pointy rocks that you had to weave your way through. Overall it was relatively easy to find a decent line to make your way up. The slope was not too intense. Before the gondola was built this road was the only way up to the alpine ski area so the road is graded as you would expect for a paved mountain road. I had relatively low gears with a 30t front ring and a 27t big cog in the back. Even lower gears might be beneficial as rising out of the saddle generally results in losing traction of rear tire on the loose surface. If you think you can power up anything in 39/23 you might want to think twice. My 40mm slick tires were OK although I could see the benefit of full on mountain bike tires on this road. If you were riding high pressure 23mm tires it would be a real handful and god help you on the decent (more on that later).

The road is very quiet and surrounded by large trees almost the whole way up. It was funny to see the mountain bikers give me a bemused look as I road up on a road bike. At a certain point the road surface became much worse. It was still rideable but much more rutted with larger rocks etc. Shortly after the road became a bit more wet and muddy due to snow melt. As I climbed the first traces of snow appeared by the sides of the road and eventually the road became a tunnel trough the snow banks. Nearing the summit the road became pretty bad and there was snow all the way across in places. Just before the very top where the wind turbine is the road ended in a snow bank. I guess they hadn't cleared the very last part yet. It was kind of disappointing to ride that whole way and not reach the very top which was just a couple hundred metres away. I had ridden about 12km on the gravel at that point. I did stop to enjoy the great views up there.

I then began the decent which I knew was going to be particularly hairy. The first part of the decent on the bad part of the road that I mentioned on the way up was quite a handful. I had to avoid rocks, ruts, snow, mud and negotiate some tight hairpin bends. It was pretty slow going. I had forgotten to bring gloves with me so I was braking hard with freezing cold hands. Some parts were like riding a jackhammer. Once the road improved I was able to increase the speed quite a bit. All the bumps had rattled loose my front fender so I stopped to tighten it. Back on the decent I was appreciating the more open road and better surface conditions. Of course shortly after that I got flat from one of the jagged rocks on the road. It was a fairly easy fix and I was back on my way.

I took a few photos of the ride. I recommend it as a fun adventure within the confines of the city. You might want to wait a little while for the snow to melt however.



Additional from Chris later:

I forgot to mention that those Rapha wimps took the gondola down! From Rapha:

"Because bikes aren’t allowed on the gondola and few in their right minds would choose to ride back down ‘the Highway’ on road bikes, cyclists normally take Capilano Road to the base of the mountain, where the gondola starts, and call the end of the climb there. However, the nice folks at Grouse Mountain Resort agreed to allow our bikes on the aerial tramway, so our route up would be the gated gravel road followed by a ride down on the gondola."

May 12, 2012