A few months ago I went to Los Angeles on business and on the way back decided to stop by the Fargo Street in Echo park – which at 33% gradient is the 2nd steepest paved road in the United States (* at least according to our bible – The Complete Guide to Climbing – By Bike). THE steepest road is Canton Ave. in Pittsburgh which is billed at 35% to 37%, depending on who you ask, and features a lot of cobblestone. Fargo Street is just concrete (in places badly cracked up and crumbling, as you can see below), no cobbles, therefore making the steepest US road paved with asphalt or concrete.
A lot of people, even Californians, think that San Francisco is where all the steep roads are, while LA is pretty flat. This is only because the touristy parts of LA are in flatter region, but in fact the steepest 5 or 6 California roads are all in LA, and about half of top 20 steepest US roads are in California – primarily in LA, San Francisco and San Diego.
Here’s some highly unofficial, partial list of steepest climbs in US:
37% Canton Avenue, Pittsburgh (+video)
33% Fargo Street, Los Angeles
33% Eldred Street, Los Angeles
33% 28th Street, Los Angeles
32% Ewing Street, Los Angeles
32% Duane Street, Los Angeles
32% Baxter Street, Los Angeles
31.98% Dornbush Street, Pittsburgh, PA
31.5% Filbert Street between Leavenworth and Hyde, San Francisco
31.5% 22nd Street between Church and Vicksburg, San Francisco
29% Jones between Union and Filbert, San Francisco
29% Boustead Street, Pittsburgh
28.6% Poe Street at Evergreen, San Diego
28.3% Ramona Avenue, San Diego
28% Flowers Street, Pittsburgh
27.9% Duboce between Buena Vista and Alpine, San Francisco
27% East Woodford Avenue, Pittsburgh
26.6% Oliphant Street, San Diego
26% Jones between Green and Union, San Francisco
26% Webster between Vallejo and Broadway, San Francisco
26% Torrance Street, San Diego
25% Logan Street, Pittsburgh
25% Rialto Street, Pittsburgh
25% Duboce between Alpine and Divisadero, San Francisco
24.9% Bandini between San Diego and California, San Diego
24.8% Jones between Pine and California, San Francisco
24% Fillmore between Vallejo and Broadway, San Francisco
24% Tesla Street, Pittsburgh
These roads are all relatively short, as short as 0.1 miles, but it doesn’t help all that much – as you can see from videos below, it takes a full 100% effort to climb those streets, even using compact 34 tooth small ring at the front and 28 cogset in the back, while zigzagging from one side of the street to the next. My hat is off to whoever can ride straight up those hills with standard gearing.
In fact, Fargo Street area shown on the map below, contains several twin streets that go up parallel to Fargo Street, featuring very similar 32-33% gradients according to Garmin – these are Duane, Baxter and Ewing Streets. All of them start at Alessandro St. and all, except Baxter, dead-end at North Alvarado St., while Baxter keep going for steep downhill and another similarly steep uphill, so if you want to experience roller-coaster ride, go ride Baxter St!
Riding up Fargo and its sister streets is a bit tricky at first. One has to balance the weight carefully between the two wheels – forget about sitting on your saddle, don’t even try it as you will pop a wheelie and fall backwards. Instead you have to be standing on your pedals, while leaning forward to provide enough weight for your front wheel to maintain contact with the road. Meanwhile, back wheel has to have enough traction – mine was slipping from under me a few times, especially during “switchbacks” on the side of the road where there were a few leaves and other debris. Any momentum you can hope to gain before climbing will be lost in the first few meters, that’s how steep the road is – and even if you are trying to ride straight up (which is what I tried at first), be prepared to start zig-zagging as you are running out of power to keep the pedals turning over. Be prepared to unclip too, these roads are very steep and get slippery especially wearing cleats!
If you are zig-zagging, make sure you accelerate a little to gain momentum as you reach the turning point – you don’t want to get “stuck” while your bike is pointing upward, the idea is to go through the turn as quickly as possible.
Here’s my ride up famous Fargo Street:
As well as my rides up Ewing and Baxter Street nearby:
Finally, here’s some video from 2011 installment of the annual Fargo Street Climb that gives you an idea of how difficult the climb is, even with mountain bike gearing: