How tough is your favorite climb?

What makes a climb?

Many cyclists and runners ask me all the time what makes a hill a hill? How do I know how to gauge a hill’s difficulty? So I did some research and put together a little guide. Hope it helps.

How are the categorizations determined?

Categories are determined by the following criteria

  • Length of the climb
  • Steepness of the climb
  • Position of the climb within a race
  • To a lesser degree the quality of the road surface

Category details

  • Category 4 – the lowest category, climbs of 200-500 feet (70-150m). Length is usually less that 2 miles (3km)
  • Category 3 – climbs of 500-1600 feet (150-500m). Between 2 and 3 miles (3km and 4.5km) in length.
  • Category 2 – climbs of 1600-2700 feet (500-800m). Between 3 and 6 miles (4.5km and 10km) in length.
  • Category 1 – climbs of 2700-5000 feet (800-1500m). Between 6 and 12 miles (10km and 20km) in length
  • Hors (literally ‘out’ or ‘above’) Category – the hardest, climbs of 5000+ feet (1500m+). Usually more than 12 miles (20km) in length

Gradients on the above categories are >4% with the Hors Category being greater than 10%. Very few climbs in the United States make it into the Category 1 classification.

Why categorize climbs?

Back in the 1900s the Tour de France race organizers needed a way to tell reporters who followed the race what gear would be required to make it up a mountain. At the time many cars wouldn’t be able to make it up some of the climbs and the reporters would end up getting in the way of the cyclists racing because their cars would break down or not be able to complete the climb.

Then in 1905 climbers were awarded time bonuses for reaching the top of categorized climbs first. It was felt by the race organizers that it wasn’t fair that climbers who worked hard were often caught by the peleton (main group) before the descent was completed. These time bonuses were later removed but starting in 1933 top climbers were recognized for the efforts once more. It wasn’t until 1975 that top climbers earned the KOM or King of the Mountain jersey. This jersey is represent by a white background and pink polka dots. Today the KOM of the jersey is given at the end of each race stage that contains a categorized climb. The KOM points competition is often referred to as the race with in a race at the Tour de France.


Now quit reading and go climb a mountain!

Coach Rob

One Comment on “How tough is your favorite climb?”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.