There are some hills in New Jersey that command the respect of cyclists. Others that bring shudders and fear. Their very names bring groans at the beginning of a ride when they appear on the route map. Hardscrabble Road. Petticoat Lane. And of course Phil Hardin Road, where the bleached bones of cyclists past lie in the sun, tattered bits of once-colorful jerseys flapping like prayer flags in the breeze.
Well not really. There’s no breeze on that hill.
Peachcroft is one of them. I was pleased to learn though that we were going down it, and not up. That pleasant feeling didn’t last. We earned it first, climbing a series of long shallow hills to get to the top. Once the descent started, I rode my brakes a little to stay in the pack, then decided to let her rip.
At the marker in the map above is where the turn was. I think I was going around 38 mph. The last time I was in a crash, some 25 years ago, it was on a road much like this when I was unfamiliar with the terrain and came upon a curve I couldn’t handle. I ended up in the emergency room, road rash on my forehead and a week in a cervical collar. I was determined to not let that happen again, but I needed to think fast. Then I heard the voice of my inner bicycling zen master.
How to handle difficult turns
First, remain calm.
Second, remain calm. It’s easy to panic, slam on the brakes or do something else silly that is just going to make you wind up wrapped up in the guardrail, or splattered across the windshield of an oncoming car. Your brakes are a bad idea anyway while in the curve. You’re going to lose traction, control and some of your steering. Any braking has to be done on the straight sections.
Now, there are techniques for managing sharp curves at high speeds. I hadn’t had to really use them, but I know what they are. Plus, a modern bike is designed to handle that kind of maneuver. The same frame geometry that the guys descending switchbacks in the Alps at 55 mph on the Tour de France, you get at a good bike shop. The tires have a different rubber compound on the shoulders than they do on the flat part, so when you bank hard you get more grip on the road.
Have you ever hit a rock, or a pothole, and wondered “how did I hit that, I was looking right at it?” Here’s the third important thing: Under most circumstances your natural tendency is going to be to look at that which you want to avoid. It might be a pothole or a rock, or in my case the guardrail and ditch at the wrong end of the turn. You must not look there. If you have a responsive bike that you’re comfortable riding, it is naturally going to go exactly where you look. You have to keep your eyes focused on where you want to go, and in this case it’s the far end of the curve in your lane. It takes concentration, but that’s why you have to remember rules one and two.
And four, you have to lean, hard. I don’t think I’ve ever pushed my bike over that much, but I got the feeling it kind of liked it. Another interesting technique is, if you’re banking hard right, push down on the left handlebar. It sounds and feels funny, but it works.
So I made it down in once piece. My knees were shaking for quite a while afterwards, it was pretty scary. It pays to know where you’re going before you let things get out of control.
Other than that little skirmish, a great ride on a beautiful day. 55 miles all told, and on some of my favorite roads like Roxiticus, Rockaway and Lake Rd. along Ravine Lake. Whomever charted out the route thought it would be amusing to put a big hill at the 55-mile point. We chuckled over that one. But it was such a beautiful day you could only feel good, so I pounded up it –just like I had the others — without ever needing my granny gear. Another small victory.