Friday, May 25, 2012

What is a "Snake Alley"

Snake Alley is one way going down
 except for the race.
Before we left Cincinnati we mentioned we were heading to Snake Alley to several cyclist and the response was a pretty unanimous "oh, really?" The kind of response that says "I heard of it, but I ain't never been there." Which, before this weekend, is exactly what I knew of it - there is an alley and it snakes - and of course OVCX regular Drew Dillman has won the hotly contested Juniors 15-18 race two years consecutive.

Today our mission was to find out exactly what this Snake Alley really entails. A preview ride the day before the real race should at least tell us what some of the hub-bub is about, but the real race will be a new experience to all in the car.

Some research on Wikipedia revealed some information about the Alley - or at least I am hoping this specific Wikipedia page wasn't hi-jacked.

Spencer and Kenzie headed up the bricks
According to the Wikipedia page the alley was constructed in 1894 to connect downtown Burlington, IA to the close by neighborhoods. Due to the steepness of the hill, the alley winds in a serpentine fashion about 275 feet, rising about 58 feet vertically over that span. The resulting grade is approximated at 21% - though that appears to vary if you take the outside line on all the curves. The pictures on the internet give it a Lombard Street from San Francisco feel to it. Wikipedia says, again hoping it is accurate, the crooked section of Lombard is about 1300 feet long, making Snake Alley about 1/10th the size.

To prepare for this race we had to find something local to Cincinnati to practice. Through discussion and research we found that Adams Road is relatively close to Snake Alley in dimension. If you haven't been up it, head up the Little Miami bike trail to Loveland and head up the hill just north of the downtown Loveland section. Many of you have done this and groan audibly when someone suggest starting a ride up Adams. Now go race up it a few times with about 2 minutes between attempts and your heart rate already spiked.

Closeup of the pavers used
Many of you will agree that sounds hard, but what brings the lore that Snake Alley has earned is the fact that the climb is also cobbled. Yes, it is laid brick from bottom to top creating the opportunity to lose your traction, fall over, slip and have to run up a 21% grade in road cleats. 

I bet this Alley could tell quite a few tales and I hope to capture some to share tomorrow.

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