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  1. #1
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    I'm a newb, and I suck at hills

    Hello. Long time lurker, first time poster.

    Around 10-11 years ago, I lived in NH and rode a fair amount of mountain bike trails. I'd drive to my parents house, ride a couple miles on road to the trails, and play for an hour or two. Then I moved to OH, and became lazy... never rode the bike, and gained 50lbs.

    This Feb I decided to get back into it, and signed up for the 35 mile local tour de cure event so I had a goal to work towards (and some fear inspired motivation). Well, I took the ol' full suspension Caloi out for a spin for the first time in 10+ years. Went maybe a half mile around the hilly neighborhood, and came back feeling like I was about to pass out. I kind of expected that to happen though.

    Luckily, I decided to get a nice fluid trainer shortly after that. I also got a more road suitable bike - a Fuji Cross 3.0, which I love. Between the cold, almost 6 weeks of rain, and daytime riding limitations of having a 2 year old, I put a lot of time in on the trainer and not a whole lot outside. I can definitely feel that I have more stamina and it seems generally easier.

    The last month or so it's finally nice riding weather. My first outdoor ride on the Fuji was two laps around a flat local bike path, about 15 miles. I felt like I could do more, but didn't have time. For mother's day I bought my wife the bike of her choice, which ended up being a comfort/hybrid with a 7 speed IGH. Shortly after that, she bought me a trailer to pull our daughter, and we've had a few nice family outings, though at lower speed/distances. I've managed to squeeze in a few 12-15mile solo rides too.

    Anyways, on flat land, I know I can pull off 15+ miles, and feel like I could just keep going and going. Today, I decided to work more on facing my uncomfort with traffic and ride around the rolling hills of my neighborhood. It was the first time riding around here since the ol' MTB incident. I planned a 3 mile loop, figuring it would hurt more, and I could always do additional laps if needed.

    Well, I felt like I was going to die after 2 miles. I did hit a personal record 38.4mph on a downhill though, that was FUN. Right after that, I'm climbing the next hill, and SNAP goes my chain. Like a good little cyclist, I had a spare SRAM powerlink. I fix everything up, get about 300 feet, and SNAP again. Apparently I didn't put the link in tight enough, and it popped apart. I was tired and pissed, and walked the bike home.

    I'm just not happy right now, and I guess I'm seeking motivation from you guys. How can I go such distances, but just get totally killed by rolling hills? I mapped it out on mapmyride, and the elevation curve thing doesn't even look that hard. My bike came stock with 46/36 chainrings and 11-25 cassette, pretty typical CX gearing it seems. I immediately had it swapped to 11-32 and a MTB derailleur because I figured I'd need it on the hills. (I suspect I slightly bent the chain when this was installed, and that's what caused today's problems)

    What do I need to do, other than the obvious practice / just do it? Given the child/job restrictions, majority of my "ride" time is on the trainer right now. Should I be trying intervals or something to try to simulate hills?

    It gets better right?

  2. #2
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    Yeah it does get better. Hitting 38.4 mph is pretty fast though, must be some steep hills. Sounds like some of my first rides with hills last year where I was just completely gassed after relatively short hills. Now I can roll up the same ones without batting an eye and only the longer 2+ mile climbs take as much out of me. Time on the bike building bike fitness and losing weight has helped.

  3. #3
    Senior Member WonderMonkey's Avatar
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    Where in OH are you?

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    Low gears are your friend. On our Monday ride, at the top of one hill,somebody asked why i was riding my hybrid instead of my rod bike. y answer was I would have been walking my road bike up that last hill but he hybrid had the gearing to make the climb.
    We have met the enemy and they is us.

    Pogo

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    Senior Member redvespablur's Avatar
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    The only solution is to do more hills. Try not to hammer. Spin. Fortitude!!

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by WonderMonkey View Post
    Where in OH are you?
    Cincinnati, west side.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by redvespablur View Post
    The only solution is to do more hills. Try not to hammer. Spin. Fortitude!!
    I try to spin... my computer has cadence, and normally I keep it around 80. Problem with the hills is they change so quickly that I feel like I'm almost always shifting, and I don't have enough experience yet to get it in the right gear quickly.

    That said, going up the hill in my lowest (36/32) still feels like hammering. I just can't keep the RPMs high, and that's when the pain begins.

  8. #8
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    I live just across the river from you, and about an hour east. It's hilly where I live at the moment, good ole foot hills. I don't think hills are "Easy" for anyone. What I have been doing is making sure my cadence stays up on the hills, even if it means dropping to the granny ring and hitting gear #1 all the way up. I may only be going at a snails pace but I go until I hit the top. Yes, I am covered in sweat and feel like the grim reaper is riding with me, but after a while it has gotten a little easier. I suspect that the more hills I do this on the better it will be. Eventually I'll be able to get into at least 2nd gear on the granny ring!

    Keep it up, they will get easier.

    EDIT: I also never come out of my seat on hills. I stay in the same position as I would riding on flats.

  9. #9
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    I could use some advice on hills too! I have a big, 35-pound comfort bike -- which I love. But my city is in foothills, and most of the places I want to go are on a downgrade from where I live -- meaning a steady climb on the return.

    I have a feeling what you guys are talking about in this thread is "real hills," serious climbs. But what I'm dealing with is not even STEEP -- it's all 1% to 2% grades, but it will be two blocks of steady 2% grade, and it is embarrassingly hard for me. If I go with my kid, we ride so slow that it doesn't bother me, but on my own it get tortuous. WHEN will I develop the stamina to do two or three miles of continuous 2% grade and not mind it? I feel embarrassingly wimpy. There's a hiking trail 3 1/2 miles away that I'd love to be able to bike rather than drive to, but it's 2-4% grade uphill all the way to get there, on a busy road with other bicyclists, and I would need to not be poking along at an agonizing pace -- and be prepared to hike uphill when I arrive.

  10. #10
    Senior Member jr59's Avatar
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    Pedal down the hill as well. Learn to down shift just before the apex of the hill.
    Then power over the top and keep on pedaling all the way down, to build up speed for the next hill.

    Try to spin the best you can.

    BUT;

    The only way to get better ridding hills, is to ride more hills.
    Gravity hates us all, but it hates me more than thin people!

  11. #11
    Me and the cat... Pamestique's Avatar
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    Thalia: I tell friends I rather climb a grade that's 6% plus then do something between 1 - 4 %. Those slight grades are deceiving and demoralizing and half the time I didn't realize I was climbing until I do a turn around and go downhill.

    I have been riding many, many years and can't say nothing a slight grade has ever become easy (I see more improvement on the steeper stuff) but I have developed a more comfortable style of riding. A friend once gave me excellent advice - rest while climbing. Sounds wrong but think about it. If your bike has low gears what better time to use them? Instead of constantly attacking hills, I now just drop into a comfortable gear and cruise up them.

    I figure rides are variable... some parts of slow and some parts I can ride faster. You have to take the terrain as it is presented to you and use the best and most economical technique. Push and ride the flat stuff hard and "rest" up your climbs. I bet your time and speed will inprove as will your stamina. It has for me.

    Also SEEK OUT HILLS - best way to improve climbing skills is to just climb. I now hate flat rides and generally like to do long slow climbs (love mountain biking and climbing up the mountain).
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  12. #12
    Starting over CraigB's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jr59 View Post
    The only way to get better ridding hills, is to ride more hills.
    Very true.

    Everyone sucks at hills at first (with the possible exception of a few body types who aren't typically found in this section of BF), but if you keep riding them you'll improve. Technique will help only to a limited degree - it's repeated exposure to the hill that will make you a stronger, and therefore better climber. It shouldn't take long to notice an improvement, whether that comes in the form of less perceived effort, or ability to use a higher gear, or just getting to the top faster.

    It'll happen, but only if you keep working at it.
    Craig in Indy

  13. #13
    Me and the cat... Pamestique's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by lakkdainen View Post
    I try to spin... my computer has cadence, and normally I keep it around 80. Problem with the hills is they change so quickly that I feel like I'm almost always shifting, and I don't have enough experience yet to get it in the right gear quickly.

    That said, going up the hill in my lowest (36/32) still feels like hammering. I just can't keep the RPMs high, and that's when the pain begins.
    Not even professionals keep the cadence up at 80 while climbing. Your adjustment should be around 50 - 60.
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  14. #14
    Senior Member ill.clyde's Avatar
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    Excellent points Pam

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    Big thing that helped me on hills is to make sure you have built up momentum on the bottom of the hill and adjust gears as you slow down, this will help you maintain a decent speed at the bottom end of the hill and make the long grind that much shorter.

    Also when the legs get tired, really focus on pulling up on the pedals and spinning the cranks vs just mashing down, this helps get the cadence up and saves a lot of energy.

  16. #16
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    That is very comforting! Also, I just went and got more granular on Map My Ride, and the parts that are really giving me problems are more like 4-6%, which makes me feel a little less wimpy.

  17. #17
    Senior Member Seattle Forrest's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by lakkdainen View Post
    What do I need to do, other than the obvious practice / just do it? Given the child/job restrictions, majority of my "ride" time is on the trainer right now. Should I be trying intervals or something to try to simulate hills?

    It gets better right?
    It does get better. People will say "hills don't get easier, you just get faster going up them," but that's only true if you climb more and more hills. If you do the same ride over and over again, it really does get easier.

    But no, you shouldn't be trying to simulate hills. You should be going out and climbing them. Do hill repeats for a while, which are exactly what the name implies, and you'll be surprised how quickly you improve at climbing them.
    Don't believe everything you think.

  18. #18
    I Ride, Therefore I Am BigUgly's Avatar
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    The more you climb the easier it will get. I know some guys that clib up and down the same hill 4 or 5 times in one ride just to get better at riding hills on the longer rides. I haven't tried that though. I to my lowest gear(full granny, I call it) and just spin until I get to the top. Keep your shoulders relaxed and arms wise which helps expand your lungs to take in more air. My initial goal when first climbing big hills was to no get off an walk. I have progressed to not wanting to shift in the certain low gear. It has been working this season so far as I was able to climb a hill I have been climbing all year three minutes faster this past week. Embrace the hills, love the hills, it also makes you faster on the flats and rollers. Good luck.
    Don't worry, relax, ride and have fun.

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pamestique View Post
    Not even professionals keep the cadence up at 80 while climbing. Your adjustment should be around 50 - 60.
    That certainly makes me feel better.


    Quote Originally Posted by Pamestique View Post
    A friend once gave me excellent advice - rest while climbing. Sounds wrong but think about it. If your bike has low gears what better time to use them? Instead of constantly attacking hills, I now just drop into a comfortable gear and cruise up them.
    This is what I think I need to do. I'm still getting used to riding in/around traffic, and there's part of me that subconsciously forces myself to push too hard and burn out. Like the cars will think I'm going to slow or something. Sounds silly when I think about it logically... whether I'm going 3mph or 20 doesn't matter to them, I'm still an annoying obstacle for them to pass. There's a mental part of it that needs to be worked on as well.

    Also SEEK OUT HILLS - best way to improve climbing skills is to just climb. I now hate flat rides and generally like to do long slow climbs (love mountain biking and climbing up the mountain).
    I'm going to plan a shorter loop by my house so I can get my practice in without ever being too far from home. If it doesn't kill you, it makes you stronger right? Thank you everyone for the advice and encouragement!

  20. #20
    Senior Member goldfinch's Avatar
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    I might be one of the worst here if not the worst at hills because I was so unfit when I began biking only a couple of months ago, and my guess is that I have minimal muscle mass. My top speed in the past month was roughly 28 mph, pedaling hard down hill. I finally made it up that same hill. In the granny gear. Barely remaining upright, going 3.7 mph. You can hardly call my cadence a spin and it certainly was not as high as 60. But I made up.

    Only a week ago I walked to the top of that hill.

    I still have two more hills in town I cannot beat. I am confident by the end of summer I will have conquered them as well. For now, I ride and I walk.

    You will be good at this soon.

  21. #21
    "Fred"--is that bad? DTSCDS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by lakkdainen View Post
    If it doesn't kill you, it makes you stronger right?
    Someone on here once said "That which doesn't kill you. . .has made a horrible, tactical error!"
    That's how I look at hills--if the hill doesn't kill me then I have another chance at it tomorrow. Eventually I will be the victor!
    (Being in Dallas I have to say "hills" knowing that we have nothing approaching what you other folks are talking about.)
    Look, you've already progressed from the "1/2 Mile Near Death Experience" to over 2 miles. You are making progress and will continue to do so. Give yourself permission to own your successes. It's a series of small, steady wins over an extended period of time.
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  22. #22
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    "That which doesn't kill you. . .has made a horrible, tactical error!"
    Hahahaha! I love that!

  23. #23
    Senior Member Seattle Forrest's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pamestique View Post
    Thalia: I tell friends I rather climb a grade that's 6% plus then do something between 1 - 4 %. Those slight grades are deceiving and demoralizing and half the time I didn't realize I was climbing until I do a turn around and go downhill.

    I have been riding many, many years and can't say nothing a slight grade has ever become easy (I see more improvement on the steeper stuff) but I have developed a more comfortable style of riding. A friend once gave me excellent advice - rest while climbing. Sounds wrong but think about it.
    This is fantastic advice, to the point that, if there's a secret, this is it. Also, Pam is right on the shallow climbs being insidious monsters.
    Don't believe everything you think.

  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by lakkdainen View Post
    Today, I decided to work more on facing my uncomfort with traffic and ride around the rolling hills of my neighborhood. It was the first time riding around here since the ol' MTB incident. I planned a 3 mile loop, figuring it would hurt more, and I could always do additional laps if needed.

    Well, I felt like I was going to die after 2 miles. I did hit a personal record 38.4mph on a downhill though, that was FUN. Right after that, I'm climbing the next hill, and SNAP goes my chain. Like a good little cyclist, I had a spare SRAM powerlink. I fix everything up, get about 300 feet, and SNAP again. Apparently I didn't put the link in tight enough, and it popped apart. I was tired and pissed, and walked the bike home.

    I'm just not happy right now, and I guess I'm seeking motivation from you guys. How can I go such distances, but just get totally killed by rolling hills?
    1) Pace yourself. Lots of people get some sort of psychological compulsion to ride unsustainably hard once the terrain gets steep. You might get 5 minutes at 110% of the power you can sustain for an hour, 1 minute at 150%, and 10 seconds at 300%.

    2) Use low enough gears for your climbs, fitness, and weight. This might mean a road or mountain triple with the later options precluding SRAM shifters (although perhaps not rear derailleurs and cassettes - Lenard Zinn was happy pairing triple-capable Campagnolo Centaur 10 speed levers to SRAM derailleurs).

    3) Increase your power output. 10 minute threshold intervals do wonders. Your lactate threshold heart rate is about the average over the last 20 minutes of an all-out 30 minute effort and a suitable target is 94-100% of that. Chris Carmichael has a set of zone definitions built around a pair of 8 minute efforts that are easier psychologically and logistically than 30 minutes. Counter-intuitively you also need rest days, weeks (traditionally 1 in 4), and months to be able to work hard enough on your tough days.

    4) Decrease your weight, because hills are about power to weight ratio.

    5) Increase your tolerance for lower cadences when you run out of gears with low-cadence intervals.

    It gets better right?
    Not really; you can just go faster and suffer longer at high intensities.
    Last edited by Drew Eckhardt; 06-09-11 at 03:00 PM.

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    Where I live there's one major hill, but many roads up it with various grades. So on workout rides (rather than the transportation ones with kid & groceries) I plan hill repeats, find the comfortable grade, spin up, speed down, repeat till you're tired, then add a mile or so to cool down. Once that hill becomes easy, find a steeper one.

    The other training I do is on the xtracycle + toddler and child seat, sometimes with shopping. Go up the hill, and wheeeeeeee! Great training for when you're on your own on a bike that's 60lbs lighter. Plus it gets good family time. Every ride with her I try to work in a couple of hills.

    And +1 to everyone, long shallow climbs always stink. They eat your energy.

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