Hills of Via Linda

Hills of Via Linda

The route east along Via Linda, in northeast Scottsdale, is one of the more popular ones in the area. Just come out on a Saturday morning and you’ll see. The reason for its popularity? Low traffic, bike lanes, tough climbs to test your strength, and fast and fun downhills.

When a cyclist tells you they are going to “ride up Via Linda”, what they most likely mean is they are heading up Via Linda past 136th St (near the Mayo Clinic, north of Shea), into the Hidden Hills subdivision. While this is the most popular route, there are actually three hills you can climb in the area. The Tri-Scottsdale group does all three on their Thursday morning rides. The three hills are Desert Cove, Hidden Hills, and Scottsdale Mtn. I’ve shown the portion of the route this group takes in completing their hill climbing trifecta, as they turn east from 124th St onto Via Linda.

After leaving 124th St, the route goes past a school on the south (watch for high school traffic in the early morning), and dips down a short roller, before climbing again to 136th St. At this point, you can head south for the Desert Cove climb, straight ahead for the Hidden Hills climb, or turn north for the Scottsdale Mountain climb.

Desert Cove

The climb up Desert Cove can be found between Via Linda and Shea, on 136th St. Just turn south from Via Linda, and east onto Desert Cove Rd. This is a relatively short climb, about a mile, and is mostly in the 3-4% range (there’s a bit of 6% in there) until you encounter a roundabout with gates. Go past these gates and the fun begins. The road is best described as a wall here — about a block long — with a 12-16% grade, that ends in a cul-de-sec — the top. If the gates are closed (likely), then there’s a sidewalk on your left that you can pass through, although I’ve been told that even this has a gate now, so you may not be able to do the whole climb anymore. I’ve been able to get up it on the weekends, but haven’t been this way during the week in quite a while, so I can’t vouch for the current access status.

Update 5/3/2011: There appears to be no more public access to the top, as the main gate and the sidewalk gate are locked, or at least, they have been everytime I’ve been this way.

Hidden Hills

The Hidden Hills climb is the most well-known of the three — and the most controversial. Just head up Via Linda past 136th St. This climb is about 2 miles long and has bike lanes. It starts out easy enough, mostly 2-3% grade. At the 1 1/2 mile mark, you will also encounter gates — except these gates are constructed so that bikes can get through, even when the gates are closed. Although the Hidden Hills subdivision is private, the city of Scottsdale has an easement on the road, and the long range plans call for this road to connect into the Fountain Hills area. (Apparently, the construction of this connection is on hold due to lack of funds). Go past the gates, and the climbing fun begins, with the grade kicking up to 4-6% — but never much steeper than that. After a half a mile, you’ll reach a cul-de-sac — the top.

Please do not linger on this cul-de-sac. If you want to regroup and brag to your friends about your climbing prowess, do so after you’ve gone back down, past the gates. Homeowners on the cul-de-sac have complained of the noise, and rightly so.

This particular ride is so popular that it’s a virtual circus on Saturday mornings, and the homeowners aren’t happy about it. They’ve successfully lobbied to have speed bumps installed to prevent cyclists from speeding back down the hill. And these are no ordinary speed bumps, but ones fitted with a plastic overlay that doesn’t join smoothly with the road surface, making for nasty bumps. If you don’t slow down, you are in danger of popping a spoke, or cracking a rim.

The controversy over this route has gotten heated the past year, with both sides (homeowners and cyclists) crying fowl. The homeowners are right to complain about speeding cyclists — but only if they too aren’t speeding down the hill, and I’ve seen them do it. Also, they knew (or should have known) when they bought their houses that there was a public easement on the road. Cyclists and the general public have every right to use this street. If the homeowners don’t like it, they can move somewhere else more private. That being said, they are right to complain about noise and unsafe cyclists. Both sides need to act civilly.

Because of the speed bumps, I’m afraid the homeowners have won this round. I don’t climb past the gates as much as I used to. However, someday, there will be a road through here, and that road promises to give cyclists a safer way to get to Fountain Hills than riding up Shea Blvd. The homeowners will have to get used to seeing more traffic, cars and bikes alike.

Update 11/10/2011: Though the homeowners tried real hard to get the easement up through their neighborhood closed, in a surprising move, the City of Scottsdale voted to keep it open. That’s good news for us cyclists. And apparently, the city already has an easement along the (now just a footpath) trail that connects to Eagle Ridge in Fountain Hills, and thus, it’s a only a lack of funds that keeps a more developed trail being built to give us a connection to Fountain Hills along this route. Who knows when that will actually happen, though. In the meantime, be respectful of the residents in this area and ride sensibly and quietly.

Update 2/29/2012: Well, that didn’t last long. With new members on the transportation committee, the City of Scottsdale reversed their earlier decision and have closed the road through Hidden Hills. Cyclists must turn around at the gates. This is supposed to be only temporary, until the connector route is completed into Fountain Hills. There is no indication as to when that might be.

Scottsdale Mountain

See this page for a description of this climb.

Be good cycling citizens

The general trend on all three of these hills is less and less access. Desert Cove used to not be gated. Hidden Hills used to not have speed bumps, and the homeowners keep threatening to have access blocked altogether (hard to do, since there is a public easement along the route — but it’s not like that easement couldn’t be revoked). Scottsdale Mtn so far is the friendliest of the three, probably because cyclists aren’t riding there in great enough numbers to be a problem. (Maybe I shouldn’t be publishing this!) Be respectful, so this great training climb isn’t lost too.

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