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Old La Honda Climb (Portola Valley, CA)

2011-11-20 - Send Feedback
Related: Rides

Old La Honda Road in Portola Valley / Woodside, CA is a popular climb with local cyclists. Perhaps the climb on which cyclists compare best times. On a Saturday morning, hundreds of riders might ascend the 3.3-mile route in the space of an hour. The road has limited visibility and many turns— see the discussion of safety further below.

In late 2011, much of Old La Honda Road was repaved, so the pavement is now excellent over its full length. Descending Old La Honda is no cake walk, it can be dangerous.

Ascent and distance

From the bridge at bottom to the stop sign at top, my SRM power meter consistently averages 1280 feet, plus or minus 20 feet.

My carefully calibrated wheel diameter derived distance is 3.31 miles, so the average grade is 1280/(5280 * 3) = 7.32%.

This site has detailed info on the grade, etc.

Getting faster on Old La Honda

I discuss the relationship between weight and power in Faster Ascents By Reducing TOTAL Riding Weight, and Predicting Ascent Times From Total Riding Weight.

To get faster, you will need to do repeat ascents and aim for consistent power. See my late 2011 personal best for an example of how I ride it.


Some years ago, I made myself a rule to never ride Old La Honda on Saturday mornings, but I broke that rule yesterday (Saturday) because of scheduling issues.

Here are just a few of the issues:

  • Groups of 4-8 riders that clog the road, occupying nearly the entire width. Sail around a turn, and there they are. Like today, with one rider fully sideways on the wrong side of the road (as he turned around I guess).
  • Try to pass a motley group of riders uphill, and one is forced far left, entering the danger zone for oncoming traffic. The larger the group, the less aware of surroundings, and other riders approaching.
  • Dimwitted riders can be found 1-3 feet away from the left side of the road (this is not the UK!), ready to be smashed into as one rounds a turn, by bike or car. This is not funny— I see it all too often. There are also blind spots where riders can be completely hidden even at close range.
  • The sheer volume of riders irritates motorists. Some drivers slow down, but others take dangerous chances, passing on blind turns, accelerating to higher speeds to pass, etc. Watch out especially while descending.

I estimate the accident risk at 10 times higher on Saturday mornings, based on riding OLH hundreds of days. It’s just not worth it. It’s also why I raise the odds in my favor every day I ride with my Lupine bike light on high while descending, and on medium while ascending.

At the top of Old La Honda, Skyline Blvd should be considered off-limits from 9am -5pm on weekends— very dangerous.

Old La Honda Rd images

Most images can be clicked for a larger view.

Summit of Old La Honda Rd

I time myself to the stop sign, from the bridge at bottom.

Old La Honda Road summit

Visibility can be very poor with wet roads once one hits the summit at Skyline Blvd.

Don’t even think of riding Skyline Blvd in this fog, at least not without a very bright rear tail light. This fog can drop the temperature 10°, so even in summer one might need a jacket.

Old La Honda Road summit

At the top

Do move to a safe spot here— too many cyclists cluster and block traffic. Avoid the mailboxes, as many cars want to pull up right there.

The top of Old La Honda Rd

Just past the mailboxes the road descends immediately.

Descending just below the summit of Old La Honda Road summit

Dangerous turn

Cyclists with a death wish hide themselves behind this redwood tree when ascending, often riding right on the edge of the left side of the road. Actually, this risky behavior is common on many turns, making it a dangerous descent on crowded Saturday mornings.

Slow down here, and use a wide apex turn so you can see around this tree, then zip around it.

Old La Honda Rd descent — a dangerous redwood tree that hides cyclists and cars
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