Hills, Hills, Hills

By Bill Telgheder

I have wondered for years why hills appear steeper than they actually become as you cycle over rolling terrain. So, I looked into it and discovered that it’s an optical illusion. We may falsely perceive taller hills in the distance if the horizon cannot be seen, if the horizon is not level, or just because we are looking down from our bikes, which can throw off our perception of the horizon.

Sometimes our perception fools us into thinking an uphill appears flat – a phenomenon called “false flat.” And there are “gravity hills” that appear as downhills but are actually uphills. In the 1970s, the exit ramp off of Route 208 East onto Ewing Avenue in Franklin Lakes was considered a “gravity defying exit.” However, the exit has since been filled in to recombine with the hill, and the phenomenon no longer exists.

In recent years, with the proliferation of measuring devices for cycling, we seem as concerned with the “total vertical climb,” “grade,” and “hill index” of a ride as the total miles. We sometimes even want to know how many more vertical feet we need to climb before the end of the ride. These numbers are fun to know, but they can be misleading. For example, is there just one really long steep hill or many short hills? Are the hills close together allowing the rider to roll up or over the next hill with little effort? Are the numbers accurate?

There are hundreds of articles on how to cycle hills and numerous mental tricks to enhance your hill-climbing ability. I try not to worry about hills. I go into a “spinning” mode from spinning classes and just do it. Remember, exercising our heart muscle is one of the reasons we cycle. North Jersey has some hilly terrain, and knowing how to cycle hills and developing mental tricks to get up and over the hills helps one become a better cyclist. So, I say, bring on those hills in order to get stronger and healthier.