Tackling Hills
Group of people ride bikes

Whether you’re new to cycling or an experienced cyclist, tackling hills can be a challenge. Riders for the 10-mile course for Empire State Ride Long Island can expect a relatively flat route with one hill in the final two miles, but those completing the 25- and 62-mile courses will experience greater elevation changes. Don’t let that scare you! Preparing for elevation makes you stronger and helps you get the most out of your ride. We’ve got you covered with tips from two of Long Island’s most avid cyclists.

To start, familiarize yourself with the course. Check out all three routes here.

As you can see, the starting line at Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park sits at sea level. From there, there will be a series of rolling hills for the 25-mile route. For the 62-mile route, you’ll need to tackle a larger hill during the final stretch of the ride. Once you’ve conquered that hill, it will bring you to Theodore Roosevelt’s beautiful summer home, making it well worth the challenge.

So, what’s the secret to successful hill riding?

Name Your Enemy

For long-time runner turned cyclist Phil Zodda from Brooklyn, it all comes down to naming your enemy. Phil helps organize a group of riders every year for the weeklong Empire State Ride called the Dragon Slayers. The name, inspired by a patch made by a fellow rider, has come to symbolize the grit and determination it takes to “slay” the difficult, uphill portions of the course. The “dragon” represents both cancer and obstacles like hills. Anytime you’re riding uphill and reach the peak, you’ve just slayed your dragon.

This takes practice, Phil says. “It’s a matter of putting time in a saddle. Change your RPMs and your pace. Push hard for a few minutes, then back off. Simulate what it would be like to expend energy going up a hill.”

Practice Riding on Hills

Richard Noll, a cyclist from Oyster Bay, regularly rides around with an unofficial cycling group called the Long Island Rough Riders. The group is named after Theodore Roosevelt’s historic cavalry and rides together on the weekends, often covering between 40 and 100 miles.

Richard says that you should seek out hills before event day to practice riding through elevation changes. Find hills and practice going up and down them. If you live in an area that’s relatively flat, he suggests finding a bridge or using a vacant parking ramp (when it’s safe to do so) to simulate an incline.

Above all else, though, Richard says that you should remember the real reason you’re tackling hills and riding in Empire State Ride Long Island: to end cancer. And you’re riding with other people who are riding for the same reason. Plus, you get to challenge yourself in the process.

“In terms of a physical challenge: What greater way to improve yourself than to do something you’ve never done before? Hop in, take the challenge,” he says.

A Few Final Tips

Our route expert at the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation, Thomas Johnston, added that new riders should remember a few additional pointers for success:

  1. Shift gears on hills. If you don’t know how to, talk to your local bike shop before the event.
  2. Watch for sand. On Long Island, there can be sand accumulations on the bottom of hills. Take it easy on the downhill to stay safe.
  3. Most importantly: Have fun! You’re going to ride past beaches and the Long Island Sound. You’ll find narrow winding roads and quiet lanes. Afterward, you can enjoy everything Oyster Bay has to offer. Don’t forget to enjoy the sites.

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