Taking on the toughest climbs Worcester offers.
George Street has an average gradient of 18 percent and a steep section of about 23 percent in the 500-foot ascent from Main Street to Harvard Street in downtown Worcester.
However, is it the steepest street in Worcester? Is it the toughest climb in the city?
Worcester is the city of seven hills. Though people argue about the names of those seven hills, there is little dispute that the city has plenty of hilly terrain.
From the lowest area along Lake Avenue in the east that sits about 400 feet above sea level to the higher elevations of about 1,100 feet near Worcester Regional Airport on the west side of the city, Worcester roads go up and down at sharp angles.
"It's definitely got quite the topography,'' said Jim Kempton, assistant director of street operations for the Department of Public Works. "You have some streets that are pretty steep over short or moderate segments.''
More than 20 years ago, former Assistant Commissioner of Public Works Andrew C. Murch said the DPW had an unofficial list of the steepest streets. Murch gave former T&G running columnist Dave Greenslit the list of the steepest seven streets and Greenslit went out and ran up each one. As a cyclist, I was intrigued by the idea of riding up those same streets.
Two DPW officials told me there is no longer any list of the steepest streets, official or unofficial. However, they said the list appeared to be pretty accurate.
Will Niemitz, an engineer in the DPW, said no new streets have been built since the early 1990s that would be any steeper because construction would not have been approved at those steep grades.
So the old unofficial "steep seven'' list is as follows:
1. Bloomingdale Court, 30 percent, from Franklin Street to Norfolk Street.
2. Boyden Street, 28 percent, from Southbridge Street to College Street near Holy Cross.
3. Diamond Street, 26 percent, Millbury Street to Perry Avenue.
4. George Street, 23 percent, Main Street to Harvard Street.
5. Forbes Street, 22.5 percent, Lincoln Street to Channing Street.
6. Perkins Street, 22.5 percent, Paine to Channing streets.
7. Farnum Street, 22 percent, Institute Road to Bancroft Tower Road.
I set out to ride the "steep seven,'' going through the list from No. 1 down to No. 7. Another street that kept coming up in conversations was also ridden after the seven.
I mapped out a loop of about 20 miles that included all the streets. It only seemed appropriate to start in the low end of the city.
The ride rolled out from Lake Park on Lake Avenue. I headed up Hamilton Street, which was mostly uphill as I headed toward Grafton Street and Bloomingdale Court.
As I approached Bloomingdale Court from Franklin Street I could barely see the narrow road shrouded by overgrown trees. This is a tough uphill but short, only 213 feet. A strong effort is needed to turn the pedals on this steep ascent. My heart rate quickly headed toward the red zone, and I had to get out of saddle and over the bars on the way up this "wall.'' The narrow road does not appear to have been maintained much over the years, maybe because it is so hidden. The road is littered with debris -- from branches, sticks, rocks and pebbles, to some trash -- but more importantly the road has many cracks, potholes, and various layers of overlapping pavement. Surprisingly, there was one house on the street.
Bloomingdale is a tough climb, make no mistake about that, but the hard effort is brief. The average gradient is about 24 percent and the "unofficial'' list cites a steepest grade of 30 percent. The hill is a steady slope. The leg muscles worked hard, but the effort was too short to be called excruciating. Weak legs will not make this ascent, but several really hard strong turns of the pedals will get you to the top.
From Bloomingdale Court I headed to Norfolk Street, to Franklin, Harding, Millbury, Cambridge and Southbridge streets. Boyden Street goes up from Southbridge to College Street, at Holy Cross.
Boyden Street is one of the hardest of all seven climbs. On approach, I saw a wide smooth street in a residential area. It starts out very gradual then kicks up. The street gets steep then tapers for a couple of pedal rotations then goes steep again.
The quads were working hard here as I looked up around the bend at Holy Cross. The effort is long enough -- nearly 1,200 feet -- to create a burn in the legs.
Boyden is a much longer grind than Bloomingdale. The "unofficial'' list says it has a steepest section of 28 percent, while MapMyRide shows a steepest section of 30 percent. The average gradient is 18-20 percent, depending on where you start the calculation. Boyden is a tough ascent.
I headed back toward Millbury Street for the climb up Diamond Street. This is a short steep hill, pretty smooth. There were a couple of cars parked on the side of the road. Made it halfway in saddle then jumped up to finish the short climb. This was not a tough effort, too short to be a battle. The road goes to Fairfax and Perry Avenue. Diamond has a steep section of 26 percent but at just over 400 feet long it is not a brutal climb.
From Diamond Street, I went down Perry Avenue to Harlem to Millbury Street, over to Quinsigamond Avenue to Southbridge Street to Main Street.
Ranked fourth on the "steep'' list is George Street, training ground of Major Taylor. Thoughts of the 1899 world champion race through my mind as I hit the bottom of the hill. I rode a carbon-fiber bike with many gear options and he pedaled a steel, fixed-gear track racer.
The road was in pretty good condition. Basically two bumps, with a steep finish to Harvard Street. Two hard out-of-the-saddle efforts will get you to the finish. No roaring crowds like there are at the George Street Bike Challenge, but the legendary 500-foot ascent is enough motivation. My heart rate climbed but it was a couple of beats below the effort at Boyden. Of these four so far, Boyden and George streets were the toughest.
No easy route over to Nos. 5 and 6 off Lincoln Street. I rode across Highland Street onto Salisbury, then up Lincoln Street toward Forbes and Perkins streets, which are parallel streets off Lincoln one block apart that have similar grades.
From Lincoln Street, which is a construction zone, I rode over the lip onto Forbes Street, which is one way.
The "do not enter'' sign was a bit ominous as I headed up the street against the direction of traffic, but I encountered no motorists driving down the hill.
Forbes quickly gets steep, the second third also goes up but the last third flattens out as it hits Channing. After climbing Forbes, I rolled right back down Perkins and across Lincoln to the bottom of Perkins Street, which has a lower section west of Lincoln Street. The lower section of Perkins is a short steep climb with a ragged right side of the road. I had to stop at Lincoln Street, then shoot across the road, over the lip and up the rest of Perkins. The grade here on Perkins is similar to Forbes. Forbes is about 1,100 feet long and Perkins is about 1,400 feet long, and both have steep sections of nearly 23 percent. Doing the two back-to-back made this effort a hard one, but neither was as difficult as Boyden or George.
From Lincoln Street, I headed to Salisbury, to Lancaster, to Institute Road and then to Farnum Street, No. 7 on "steep seven.''
The lead-up to Farnum on Institute Road is an uphill for about 150 feet. Farnum has pretty good road surface but there are some cracks and potholes near the top. The street has a gradual start then kicks up hard and the end is steep. The road ends at Bancroft Tower Road, which continues upward, bends around and goes to Bancroft Tower.
By itself, Farnum is not that tough. Farnum is 686 feet, the addition of Bancroft Tower Road makes the climb almost 1,200 feet long. But you have to continue upward and go straight onto Bancroft Tower Road, it just wouldn't be right to stop halfway up this hill. The addition of Bancroft Tower Road makes the Farnum Street climb much tougher. Including the lead-up on Institute Road and Bancroft Tower Road, it was one of the longest efforts. This was a hard climb, but my legs may have been feeling the previous six climbs.
The "steep seven'' list did not include Gage Street, situated behind Cristoforo Colombo Park on Shrewsbury Street. Residents call the upper section of the street "Steep Gage.'' I felt I had to try this street, too.
I rode up a steep section of Eastern Avenue to get onto Gage Street. Gage rolls down a bit then there is a short climb with a short downhill before the steep section of Gage Street, and it surely is steep and worthy of its name. "Steep Gage'' has a gradient of about 21 percent, and the pedals churned slowly as I reached the top. However, the street is not as challenging as the toughest of the "steep seven.''
In summary, Bloomingdale Court looked like a wall from the bottom of the hill. A cyclist will need strong legs to get to the top of the very steep hill, but it was the shortest climb at just over 200 feet and could not be considered the toughest ascent. If the street had been 400 or 500 feet long, you might need a chair lift.
I felt like Boyden Street, George Street and Farnum with Bancroft Tower Road were the hardest climbs.
The legend of George Street probably clouds my perspective a bit, as well as the fact that every time up the street I feel like I'm racing the clock and probably working a little harder. Boyden is a longer climb with a steeper grade, making it a very challenging incline.
The one ascent of Farnum came after six tough climbs and that may have swayed my perspective of the hill. But there is an uphill segment on Institute Road on the approach to Farnum, then a steep climb of Farnum and onto Bancroft Tower Road, and my legs felt it when I reached the tower.
Contact Mark Conti at
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|Publication:||Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)|
|Date:||Jul 27, 2014|
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