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What to Expect on a Ride

GPC welcomes all riders, especially new and guest riders. These detailed conventions regarding pace and terrain give ride leaders a good idea of how to pace a ride, and riders a good idea of what to expect. Ride leaders are expected to ride at the published pace. Riders are expected to check the published pace in advance.

If you don't know which pace is right for you, it is better to err on the conservative side. Your sustainable pace for 50 miles will be slower than for 20 miles. If you have questions about the pace or terrain of any given ride, contact the ride leader in advance.

Rating System Overview

GPC rides are rated using a notation such as 3/LT/35. The three factors are: terrain/pace/distance. For example, 3/LT/35 is a moderately hilly ride at pace between leisurely and touring with distance about 35 miles.

Terrain Ratings
TerrainDescriptionAvg Climbing
1Essentially flat.10 - 30 ft/mile
2A few low hills.30 - 50 ft/mile
3Moderately hilly.50 - 70 ft/mile
4Hilly, a few steep ones.70 - 90 ft/mile
5Very hilly, considerable climbing.90 - 110 ft/mile
!A "!" after the terrain rating number indicates surprisingly hard hills in view of the overall terrain.
Pace Ratings
XLExtra-leisurely: child-friendly pace with many long stops.
LLeisurely: easy pace, frequent stops, good for new riders.
LT(Intermediate between L and T)
TTouring: steady pace, fewer stops, for experienced riders.
TM(Intermediate between T and M)
MModerately fast pace: for strong experienced riders.
MB(Intermediate between M and B)
BBrisk: very strong riders; tight fast packs and pacelines.

The faster-paced rides usually have fewer regroups, farther apart, with less time for off-bike socialization during the ride. M-pace and faster rides usually have a fair amount of riding in packs and pacelines. These differences between the pace groups are not required, but are what typically happens. Specifics often depend on the ride leader.

Terrain Rating Details

GPC terrain rating is formally defined using average climbing per mile over the entire route. It is:

Terrain Rating = ((Climbing, in feet) / (Distance, in miles)) / 20

rounded to the nearest integer. For example, a 100 mile ride with 6,200 feet of climbing has terrain rating (6200/100)/ 20 = 62/20 = 3.1, which would be called a 3.

The definition also allows for terrain 0 = astoundingly flat, and terrain 6 or more = enormously hilly.

An exclamation point "!" in the terrain rating means "SURPRISE!". It signifies surprisingly hard hills — long and/or steep — in view of the average. The "!" should be used for routes where the overall average alone might be misleading. An example is the Del Puerto Loop which is usually considered "3" overall. Because it has one notably long hard steep section, it is generally rated "3!". The "!" is relative to the overall terrain rating: The steep stretch on Del Puerto would be no surprise if the terrain were otherwise rated as 5.

Terrain ratings in ride listings are often approximations, for several reasons: The total climbing of some routes is not well known; not all ride leaders have the time or inclination to do detailed altimetric research; and in any case, not all altimeters agree. Even so, with experience, many people are able to make quite good guesses to the nearest integer. If your own altimetric research indicates that the terrain rating for a given route should be refined, feel free to share that knowledge with the ride leader (in a constructive sort of way).

Ride Pace Details

GPC ride pace is formally defined using average ride speed on a known course of mixed terrain. The specific course is the Bears Loop (also known as the ITT Loop), an 18.7 mile loop with some nearly flat stretches, some rollers, some hills — and a total of about 1600 feet of climbing (average climb about 85 feet/mile). The paces correspond to the following average speeds around the complete loop when ridden under ideal conditions, but not treating it as a race or time trial.

As used here, "average speed" means average ride speed for the entire ride excluding rest stops or regroups, and "ideal conditions" means dry roads, moderate temperatures, no precipitation, and no wind. For different terrain or conditions, the paces correspond to the same amount of effort by the same rider, and may therefore have different average speeds. Flatter rides will have a higher average; hillier rides will have a slower average.

Bears Loop — 18.7 miles
PaceAvg mph Ride time

If you wish to time yourself in order to find your natural pace, here are riding directions for the 18.7 mile Bears Loop. The start point is San Pablo Dam Rd (SPDR) and Bear Creek Rd, approximately 2.5 miles north of Orinda. (It's also the intersection of Wildcat Canyon Rd and Camino Pablo.) There is a map and cue sheet in our Routes library.

  • North on SPDR
  • R on Castro Ranch Rd
  • R on Alhambra Valley Rd
  • R on Bear Creek Rd
  • return to origin

The club offers a timed ride around this loop dring the spring and summer months. See the Current Ride Schedule. Remember to ride your usual pace, not a race pace.


As noted above, the reason for these explicit quantitative definitions is to give everybody a better idea of what to expect. To define pace, a specific "benchmark" course was chosen for concreteness, and mixed terrain was chosen, rather than flat, because most GPC rides are over mixed terrain. The Bears Loop was chosen in particular because it is representative terrain, it is familiar to many people in the club, and because the club offers monthly timing rides around it. The purpose of quantitative terrain definitions is so that we all mean the same thing by (for example) the description "moderately hilly" and we can, in principle, all agree to the same rating for any given route.

More Resources

Pace Rating Background. The names Leisurely, Touring, Moderate, Brisk and the terrain/pace/distance scheme date from the misty past of early GPC history. Groundwork for the present definitions was laid at a special club meeting on ride pace held 7 December 1999. The quantitative definitions of ride pace used here were adopted by unanimous vote at the regular club meeting of 19 April 2000; an article about it appeared in the May 2000 Wheel Truth, page 4. The verbal descriptions and other accompanying explanations used here were adopted by unanimous vote at the regular club meeting of 17 January 2001.

Terrain Rating Background. The club historian, Pierre LaPlant, states that ft/mile/20 was the original basis for the numerical terrain rating system (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) when it was devised in 1975. Apparently, however, ft/mile/20 was not formalized; by the 2000 decade only a few members used it or knew about it. It was formally adopted at the regular club meeting of 14 January 2009. The surprise flag "!" was proposed by the Terrain Rating Committee in February 2001 and has been in informal use ever since. It too was formally adopted at the regular club meeting of 14 January 2009.

Further Background Info. Further background info on the terrain proposals is archived on the GPC maillist. To see the following references, you'll need to enter your GPC mailman username and password (they are automatically mailed to GPC maillist users the first of every month).
The Terrain Rating Committee Report, February 2001, considered seven (!) different rating schemes which had been proposed by club members:
Pierre's statements are here: