EMTB Question - How Steep is Too Steep?

Catalyzt

Well-Known Member
Region
USA
Okay, the good news is: I discovered a new trail in the hills behind Griffith Park that is, apparently, not illegal for bikes! There is a forbidding, but ancient, "No Trespassing" sign, but read it closely, and it applies only to cars and dumping. Carried my bike around the gate, and wow-- a cool, very primitive fire road with no horses! Yay!

It was just after sunset-- isn't it always? So I just went maybe a tenth of a mile down the road and then it seemed... like the road descended rather sharply. I then looked around in the dirt: Plenty of recent footprints, but... no bike tracks. At all. This is suspicious-- the Verdugo foothills are full of MTB tracks.

I looked at the road more closely... it bent around a semi-blind curve that's not obvious from the map below, but I thought, "Maybe that's steeper than it looks." Can't eyeball this kind of thing accurately. And it was getting dark so I turned around and rode out.

Found this trail on a map and yeah-- by the numbers, it's very, very steep. Have a look at the graphics below-- as you can see below, it's max is 37%, and is often over 20 or 25%, which sounds pretty intimidating. By way of comparison, Brand Park Motorway tops out at 19%, and wobbles around 10% to 15% for a lot of the climb, with occasional stretches below 10%. Brand Park Motorway, I know I can do-- it's a bit grueling for me, I have to stop several times, but I was never, ever at a point where I thought I couldn't go up or go down something, or had the risk of losing control if I was taking reasonable precautions. Didn't even seem close to that. So if I could manage 19%, is 37% really twice as hard?

All of this is really hard to read, just going by the numbers. For example, there are spots on asphalt that I know are 10% or a little more, and they seem like a huge slog to get up, while I now see that I was doing bits that were almost 20% on dirt that did not seem as intimidating.

What I worry about is getting into a situation where I will lose control going downhill-- where I literally can't stop without crashing-- or where I can go down, but can't get back up, even by pushing the bike for a half mile or so. (Did I mention that the E5000 "Walk" mode does not seem to work at all with manual shifting?) Here's what I imagine going wrong: I start heading down, and about halfway to the worst spot, maybe at .35 miles, I realize, "This is too steep," and I have to turn around... only once I do turn around, I can't find a spot flat enough to get started again, or it's so steep I have trouble pushing the bike back up.

I should note that I only plan to go about a mile down this road-- I know that it gets narrower past there (from satellite views) and also I know that the ridge trail along Cahenuga Peak is both illegal for bikes and also impassible-- too rocky. But that mile will take me to the coolest, most primitive area of the park where I have never been and few ever go. The prospect of getting there is really tempting. I imagine there are primitive wedge tombs from ancient civilizations we know little about... and there might be, though if they are, they would definitely be abandoned props from Universal Studios, which is right nearby.

Also, as many of you know, I'm a total rookie, and while I'm in pretty good shape, I do have a bunch of weird health problems.

This is a stupid idea, right? One of those ideas best thought of, chuckled at, and promptly forgotten, correct? Or is there some technique I could use for assessing the situation more thoroughly or something?

Thanks for your patience. Hopefully this post will provide some comic amusement, if nothing else!



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JRA

Well-Known Member
I have ridden mtb's for 40yrs and am not put off by steep trails by experience on any type of bike because I figured out long ago that you can never be too proud to push, or slip and slide your way down either. That said on my e bikes I have climbed stuff that made me laugh that I was doing it.

It does take learned technique though and in your situation I would just suggest that you ride as far as you can easily then evaluate from there. Probably best to start from the low side also.

Going down it helps to have a dropper type post to lower your body mass and keep your weight over the rear of the bike more if really steep.
 

Stefan Mikes

Well-Known Member
Region
Europe
City
Brwinów (PL)
@Catalyzt: Don't risk your dear life! There might be some groomed MTB singletracks in your area. These are marked by difficulty level (from super-easy to super-hard). I was advised by an experienced MTBer to start with singletrack gardens good for children, gradually learn technical singletrack riding, and slowly increase the difficulty level. You might find out such a type of riding is just not for you. (It was just my case: When I saw an "easy" groomed singletrack, I gave up the idea of technical singletrack cycling for good).

And I hope you own a decent e-MTB equipped with large rotor, reliable brakes?

Don't even try the trail you described unprepared!

An anecdote: I went to Polish Table Mountains with my premium e-MTB in 2020. By navigation mistake, I rode onto a hiking trail. That mistake was my worst e-biking experience ever. I was close to calling for Mountain Emergency Service to take me out of the jam! (Provided there was phone coverage where I got stuck!)
 

rich c

Well-Known Member
I am of the school of thought that it's not shameful to get off the bike and walk it through a situation that you are not prepared for. Only once was I questioned and my reply was "I'm new and just not comfortable with the obstacle yet" His response was positive. There are a ton of videos on youtube for you to learn techniques, but experience will really teach you the lesson. You have to be all over the mtb to maintain balance and change the center of gravity. It's nothing like riding on flat ground!
 

Catalyzt

Well-Known Member
Region
USA
And I hope you own a decent e-MTB equipped with large rotor, reliable brakes?
Oh, yeah-- and recently serviced, too. I do a moderate amount of trail riding on some intermediate trails, and while I don't use a dropper-- probably rare that I would be on anything that technical -- I did completely go through my first front brake pads in 500 miles of riding, so I'm used to doing some downhill!

Probably best to start from the low side also.
Thanks so much for this, because you got me thinking: At first, I thought, "Hey, I read the map, and I cannot start on the low side. The lowest part is halfway through the hike, and the lower end is only accessible by a ridge trail that is both illegal and probably not navigable by emtbs."

Then I thought: Why not check the map and grading again, make sure I was reading it right? I did, and I'd been reading the grade totally wrong! The "start" of this trail was calculated from near Cahuenga Peak for the map, while for me, it starts at the end of the paved road. Thus, the mile or so of this ride that I want to explore has a grade that does not exceed 16%.

Based on my experience in the Verdugos, I'm fine with brief stretches up to 19%. So, given the right time and weather and a little luck, I should be able to access the most remote part of the park, where I have never set foot before, safely on Seeker.

Thanks-- I feel a little silly realizing the grade is less than half of what I thought it was, but you folks helped me think it through!
 

mschwett

Well-Known Member
Region
USA
37% ?!?!? definitely not.

19% … maybe!. part of the equation is power - it would take a TON of it, but bigger parts of the equation are traction and balance. it takes skill and practice to keep the wheels on the ground on a slope over 15%, especially dirt, while delivering enough power to go uphill and with enough rear wheel contact/friction/traction. getting out of the saddle naturally moves your weight forward, at which point the rear wheel just spins, at which point you stop going forward, at which point you fall over…. never to get going again lol.

downhill the issue is braking traction. similar weight transfer issues are at play. it takes some guts to get low and lean way forward to keep enough weight on the front wheel to actually slow down. the rear brake at those grades ….. you’ll just drag the rear tire along.

not saying it can’t be done with the right tires, gearing, and bike … but i definitely can’t do it and i’m guessing you’re not there yet either! start smaller, and work your way up.
 

Stefan Mikes

Well-Known Member
Region
Europe
City
Brwinów (PL)
getting out of the saddle naturally moves your weight forward, at which point the rear wheel just spins, at which point you stop going forward, at which point you fall over…. never to get going again lol.

downhill the issue is braking traction. similar weight transfer issues are at play. it takes some guts to get low and lean way forward to keep enough weight on the front wheel to actually slow down. the rear brake at those grades ….. you’ll just drag the rear tire along.
@mschwett: It is something wrong in how you described the riding position uphill and downhill. I have not only watched the Electric Mountain Bike Network (EMBN) channel on YT but also practised what they were telling the viewers.

On a steep ascent, you actually lean on the bars to maintain the front wheel on the ground; the bike wants to collapse backwards. Actually, applying a lot of assistance in low gear up a steep ascent produces a wheelie. In one of EMBN videos, Chris was climbing a steep rock, lost his balance and fell backwards, with a serious injury to his finger, eliminating him for two weeks from rides.
On a steep descent, you drop your seat, stand on the pedals, and move your butt far backwards (over the rear wheel) as the bike tries to do a wheelbarrow.

See the uphill riding position in this EMBN video:

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These guys lean far forward during the climb!

1638423419113.png

The proper downhill riding position is far backwards. That's why the dropper seat-post was invented: so the saddle is not in your way when you move your weight over the rear wheel.

But you seem to say it opposite mschwett?
 
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mschwett

Well-Known Member
Region
USA
@Stefan Mikes i’m sure you’re right! the problem i found on an e-bike climbing a steep slope in the forward position as you describe was lack of traction on the rear wheel. i’m sure there’s some trick to leaning forward and still having enough weight on the rear wheel to not simply spin it out.

experienced riders also likely don’t need to brake so much going downhill, reducing their need to keep weight low and forward.

it is certainly about skill, balance, power … and not as easy as it looks!
 

Catalyzt

Well-Known Member
Region
USA
37% ?!?!? definitely not.

19% … maybe!. part of the equation is power - it would take a TON of it, but bigger parts of the equation are traction and balance. it takes skill and practice to keep the wheels on the ground on a slope over 15%, especially dirt, while delivering enough power to go uphill and with enough rear wheel contact/friction/traction. getting out of the saddle naturally moves your weight forward, at which point the rear wheel just spins, at which point you stop going forward, at which point you fall over…. never to get going again lol.

downhill the issue is braking traction. similar weight transfer issues are at play. it takes some guts to get low and lean way forward to keep enough weight on the front wheel to actually slow down. the rear brake at those grades ….. you’ll just drag the rear tire along.

not saying it can’t be done with the right tires, gearing, and bike … but i definitely can’t do it and i’m guessing you’re not there yet either! start smaller, and work your way up.

I have, in fact, ridden up and down Brand Park Motorway, which has sections of 22%, on medium-loose dirt with little problem...

But there's another very important variable here: How long is that section? For a very, very short section, my trusty little Moto with 40nm can blast up even 22% with no problem... other than the rider bonking after, mm, a little 19% here, 16% there, 9%, 22%, etc. By way of comparison, I suspect that the hill near my house where I like to enter the park averages about 12-15% (I'm estimating) for 100 feet...

And I've never made it all the way to the top without stopping. I've gotten very close, maybe 80%. So the length of the steep section, and what it's surrounded by, really seems to make a huge difference. Take a look at the graphic below, particularly the bar at the bottom where you get a clear sense of it-- green is less steep, red is more steep. The 22% grade is really very short, and the 50-100 feet on either side of it is far less steep. This is probably why I literally didn't even notice it during the ascent or descent, and it required no special technique. Other than stopping, like, four or five times-- and not stopping on one of the steep bits!



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