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  1. #1
    Senior Member bernmart's Avatar
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    Those Damned Hills....

    I returned to committed cycling about two months ago. I bought a Specialized Sequoia Elite w/ all the usual clothes and accessories. Got the riding position dialed in. Gearing is 52/42/30 in front, 12/27 in back. As to the "motor", I'm 6'2", 200 lbs., 66. I never ride less than three times a week, more if work permits. Average week is about 5-7 hours of riding.

    I love it, and on the flats at least, my strength and endurance is improving. I recover more quickly after a hard ride, and my average speed, while still low by many folks' standards, is creeping up. But the hills still kill me, beyond a certain steepness. The hill that leads to my house from one of my favorite local rides is one I've never gotten to the top of. And avoiding steep hills in southern California really limits my riding options.

    So what's best to do--keep building aerobic capacity and leg strength on the flats by riding longer and faster and more frequently, or spend more and more time sweating my way up steep hills until I get better at it? I suspect I'll get different answers from superbly fit members than from others, but all advice is welcome.
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    One thing I've noticed about Boomers and our bike riding is we are always measuring our performance, always worrying about getting faster, stronger, etc., etc. I fall into this trap all the time. Maybe it has something to do with following a certain French bike race that an American has dominated for a while...

    That's when I try to think back about 40 years (I'm 52) as to why I ride a bike to begin with. It's fun! I passed my paper route with a bike. I visited some of my junior high honeys on my bike. We went on fishing expeditions on our bikes. We lived on our bikes.

    When I start getting too hung up on numbers, I get my mountain bike out, because I don't have a computer on it. Also, rest has become just as important, if not more so, than the riding. I cannot ride long and fast every day. If I try to, I just get slower and slower. Don't know if this is of any value to you, but it is something to consider.

  3. #3
    Rides again HiYoSilver's Avatar
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    Hey you almost have the setup I'm going to because of hills.

    Replace your lowest chainring, the 30 with a 28 or 26. 30x27 is only 30 GI. 28x27 would be 28gGI 26x27 would be 27GI. A 24 ring would drop it to 24GI. The 24 is about the smallest you can put on it. You'd be advised to also get a chain stop if you go with the 24.

    We have about the same motor. How's that hill? How far do you make it up it? 1/2, 1/4 or what?

    One easy method of finding out what low gear you need is to borry a bike with bigger gears and see if you can ride it up.

    The more complicated method, but more scientific is to use the site:
    http://www.analyticcycling.com/GearS...ring_Page.html
    Use 150 to 200 watts for power. Adjust the rest as appropriate. You'll have to do metric conversions. Many tools on the web will allow you to enter pounds and return kilograms.

    Slope is the term for grade. Main highways may have 5 or 6% grades. Local streets can be anything. Your local city should be able to give you the real grade number.

    My hard hill used to have me barely going 5.5 mph. Now I do it at 8.5, but only because it's very short. Any longer and it would be time to walk the bike.

    Rough guideline
    Gear Inches && use
    < 30 steep hills with heavy load
    < 40 steep hills with mod load
    < 50 moderate hille
    < 65 gentle hills
    < 75 flat cruising
    < 85 hard riding on flats, mod downhills
    <100 down steep hills
    >100 racing cycylist

    With our motor's we're heavy load.

    Keep us posted on your progress. This is an interesting question.
    Hi 'o Silver away

  4. #4
    Time for a change. stapfam's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bernmart
    Gearing is 52/42/30 in front, 12/27 in back. As to the "motor", I'm 6'2", 200 lbs., 66. I never ride less than three times a week, more if work permits. Average week is about 5-7 hours of riding.

    So what's best to do--keep building aerobic capacity and leg strength on the flats by riding longer and faster and more frequently, or spend more and more time sweating my way up steep hills until I get better at it? I suspect I'll get different answers from superbly fit members than from others, but all advice is welcome.
    That lowest gear you have could be the problem, Try dropping to a 28 on the front first of all, as this will be the cheapest. Don't go any lower then 28 with a 52 as the front derailler will struggle with a gear change range of more than 24 teeth. Still not low enough?, then change the rear cassette to an 11/32 ( take it you have 9 gears on the back) PROVIDING you have a long cage on the rear derailler- your lbs can tell you this.
    Next stage is the cheapest and that is to start the hill slower,change down gears until you have none left and then slow down again. It works for me up the steepest hill, but do not be afraid of walking up a hill. I have lost count of the number of times I have ridden up a very steep hill, keeping pace with those have succumed to walking, but have caught me up while I have struggled.

  5. #5
    Rides again HiYoSilver's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by stapfam
    That lowest gear you have could be the problem, Try dropping to a 28 on the front first of all, as this will be the cheapest. Don't go any lower then 28 with a 52 as the front derailler will struggle with a gear change range of more than 24 teeth. Still not low enough?, then change the rear cassette to an 11/32 ( take it you have 9 gears on the back) PROVIDING you have a long cage on the rear derailler- your lbs can tell you this.
    Whoa nellie. There is no such thing as a free lunch, especially in gearing.

    Once of the clearest descriptions of the issue of gear problem is
    Sheldon Brown had this to say: "Although "road triple" cranksets commonly come with a 30 tooth small chainring, it is very easy to replace this with something more reasonable, such as a 26 or even a 24. If you go with a 24, you would also be well advised to add a chain deflector such as the 3rd Eye Chain Watcher or the N-Gear Jump Stop.

    Using one of these devices allows you to set the low-gear limit stop loose enough to provde positive downshifting, without the risk of the chain overshooting and falling off inward.

    This is by far the cheapest and best way to lower the gearing of a stock bike with a road triple crankset.

    This will exceed the official "capacity" of your derailers, but generally works fine with original stock "road" derailers as long as you don't make a habit of abusing the small chainring by running it with the smaller rear sprockets."
    To change from your 30.42.52 12-27 to a 28.42.52 11-32 will drop your lowest GI to 24 BUT at the cost of ease of shifting. Any gear change above 14% is considered a hard gear change. To change to 11-32 will give you 6 hard shifts.
    Cog 8 to Cog 7 [28 to 24teeth], Cog 6 to Cog 5 and Cog 3 to Cog 2 give changes of 16.7%
    Cog 9 to Cog 8, Cog 7 to Cog 6, and Cog 5 to Cog 4 give changes of 14.3%
    Your average % change is 13.6%

    Currently, you have one hard shift: from Cog 8 to Cog 7 at 14.3%. It's at a low cog so you can often skip this by using other gears.

    Better than changing cassettes, the better option is to keep your cassette as it is nice and smooth and change your triple. Something like 24.38.48 would be a good combo. Again I would start with just the smallest chainring and hope that is enough. It just depends on what your monster hill is like. You can do some conditioning, but rather than tearing muscles it's better to get in the general range of acceptable gears first.
    Hi 'o Silver away

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    If you decide to mess with the chainrings take a good look at TA Allez rings: http://www.peterwhitecycles.com.

    Al

  7. #7
    Senior Member JavaMan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bernmart
    I returned to committed cycling about two months ago.....Average week is about 5-7 hours of riding.....So what's best to do--keep building aerobic capacity and leg strength on the flats by riding longer and faster and more frequently, or spend more and more time sweating my way up steep hills until I get better at it?.....
    After 2 months of 5-7 hours per week, I would suggest forgetting about that hill for another month and focus on your aerobic capacity. The hill isn't going anywhere.
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  8. #8
    Senior Member bernmart's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JavaMan
    After 2 months of 5-7 hours per week, I would suggest forgetting about that hill for another month and focus on your aerobic capacity. The hill isn't going anywhere.
    Thanks for the terrific replies. I particularly appreciate the info on gearing; it's a subject on which I've been confused for a while. But I opine that Java Man may be right; when I run out of steam on that hill, or any other, I don't feel that I'm mashing a gear at all. I just "can't go on", either as a failure of will, or aerobic capacity, or both. God, I hope this doesn't choke off the thread because I'm learning so much. What a terrific forum.
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  9. #9
    Macaws Rock! michaelnel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bernmart
    I just "can't go on", either as a failure of will, or aerobic capacity, or both.
    So what? WTF cares? Are you getting paid to climb that hill? Is it a race? Is there some other reason it's important?

    I didn't think so. If you crap out, stop and take a breather. Let your heart slow down, catch your breath, drink some water, look around you at the scenery. Wait until you're ready, then start pedaling again. Repeat as required.

    It's about FUN, sir. Take it easy, and have some.
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    hilly roadie
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    The best way to get up hills, I've found, is to improve the engine. Make it cleaner, leaner, stronger. And work on technique: think of the stroke as a small circle, every part of which you can supply power to. Keep the upper body as still as possible.
    The low low gearing won't do a thing but make you go slower. You'll get up, all right, but you could walk faster.

  11. #11
    Rides again HiYoSilver's Avatar
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    We still don't know how far you can ride up the hill in your current condition.

    If get near the top, you can gain extra power by either standing and pedaling or leaning forward in the saddle. [ short people slide back ]. If you have a cyclometer with cadence, your most effective RPM is about 70. You can mash it down to about 50 and with those gears doubt if you're spinning.
    Hi 'o Silver away

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    [QUOTE=bernmart]I returned to committed cycling about two months ago. I bought a Specialized Sequoia Elite w/ all the usual clothes and accessories. Got the riding position dialed in. Gearing is 52/42/30 in front, 12/27 in back. As to the "motor", I'm 6'2", 200 lbs., 66. I never ride less than three times a week, more if work permits. Average week is about 5-7 hours of riding.

    congrats on your return to the fold and the new specialized. 2 mos is a real short time to get into shape. You might look into strength building and lower back exercises off the bike.
    look at it this way - you've got the rest of your life (till 120 y) to conquer that hill, take it one stroke at a time.
    most of all enjoy.

  13. #13
    Senior Member Terex's Avatar
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    Completely disregard the techno-weenie gearhead talk for now and give yourself some more time. You are doing exactly the right thing in your training, but you won't turn into Marco Pantani overnight (I mean, like, when he was alive, and really good at hills - but I digress...). It will take you AT LEAST six months and probably longer to mould your body into a sufficient engine for the hills. Try to make one of your workouts a shorter repeat session on a hill, or part of a hill, that you can go up and down a few times, withs rests in between to get your heartrate back down.

    As you are working on conditioning, work on your diet - 200 lbs at 6'2" is probably 10-15 heavier than you want to be for the hills.

    Also, try to work-in some core strength development. Also a few squat-type exercises and stairmasters may help, but don't hurt yourself. I hear Yogalates is big in SoCal (OC joke).

    What shoe/pedal system are you using? If you're using a "comfortable" clipless shoe, with say, spd pedals, you'l feel good walking around the coffee shop, but your climbing will suffer. I switched to Shimano top of the line carbon soled shoes with spd-sl pedals and my climbing and overall efficiency improved tremendously.

    Again, give yourself some time, allow yourself to recover after strenuous workouts, and stay on task. It's a process. I ride with a guy who is 80 and he's still going strong.

    All of our rides in western NJ are hilly, so I get hill work whether I want it or not. Enjoy the day.

  14. #14
    Rides again HiYoSilver's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Terex
    Completely disregard the techno-weenie gearhead talk for now and give yourself some more time. You are doing exactly the right thing in your training, It will take you AT LEAST six months and probably longer to mould your body into a sufficient engine for the hills. .... Enjoy the day.
    As a thrower of techno-weenie gearhead talk, Terex is right on. Gears can only do so much. It takes time. 6 months is a short time in terms of conditioning. Why not play with the hill? Last month I made it to point X. This month I made it to point X + 1 foot. It's lot more fun on hills if you play with them rather that always just fighting them.
    Hi 'o Silver away

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    Quote Originally Posted by HiYoSilver
    As a thrower of techno-weenie gearhead talk, Terex is right on. Gears can only do so much. It takes time. 6 months is a short time in terms of conditioning. Why not play with the hill? Last month I made it to point X. This month I made it to point X + 1 foot. It's lot more fun on hills if you play with them rather that always just fighting them.
    Now we're on the right track!

    Wish I had a pill for all of us who want rapid fitness, but I don't know of any. Oops, I think I just hijacked this thread.
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    Senior Member bernmart's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DnvrFox
    Now we're on the right track!

    Wish I had a pill for all of us who want rapid fitness, but I don't know of any. Oops, I think I just hijacked this thread.
    Hijack away; I'm enjoying and learning from all the replies--gear-oriented, fitness-oriented, or a combination of both. Just remember that my beginning question was what to do next and how to improve, not a request for a magic formula for instant fitness.
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  17. #17
    Time for a change. stapfam's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by HiYoSilver
    Whoa nellie. There is no such thing as a free lunch, especially in gearing.




    Currently, you have one hard shift: from Cog 8 to Cog 7 at 14.3%. It's at a low cog so you can often skip this by using other gears.

    Better than changing cassettes, the better option is to keep your cassette as it is nice and smooth and change your triple. Something like 24.38.48 would be a good combo. Again I would start with just the smallest chainring and hope that is enough. It just depends on what your monster hill is like. You can do some conditioning, but rather than tearing muscles it's better to get in the general range of acceptable gears first.
    Don't understand all the %age on Gear ratios, but 11/32 is the normal rear casseete on Mountain bikes nowadays, and is not a problem on changes. Agree on if you like the spread of gears you currently have, then why change, but one of the things we are looking at is ease and cost of any changes. That is why changing just one sprocket on the front seeems to be the easiest and cheapest way out. I ride offroad, and 28 to 50 is too high for me. I use 11/32 cassette an all my bikes, 22/32/44 on the solo's and the beast(Tandem) has 24/36/48. Keeps it within the 24t changing regime and just about low enough. We have tried 12/34 on the cassette but we keep folding them and all the lower gear does is make us slower. This is offroad though where lower gears are necessary, but we do miss out on speed on the road, even though we can match most other riders with our higher cadence.

    One point that has to be made though is that Cranksets are expensive. Like two to three times more expensive than a rear cassette, and that is only for the respectable quality units.

  18. #18
    I need more cowbell. Digital Gee's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by michaelnel
    So what? WTF cares? Are you getting paid to climb that hill? Is it a race? Is there some other reason it's important?

    I didn't think so. If you crap out, stop and take a breather. Let your heart slow down, catch your breath, drink some water, look around you at the scenery. Wait until you're ready, then start pedaling again. Repeat as required.

    It's about FUN, sir. Take it easy, and have some.
    Excellent advice! Sounds like you are no longer a Geezer in Training, Michael. You're a jedi master geezer! You'd be fun to ride with!
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  19. #19
    Senior Member jazzy_cyclist's Avatar
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    I'm into my second season now, and I'm surprised at how much I've improved, especially on the hills. I don't think they ever get *easy*, but hills that I used to suffer up in my lowest gear (I have a 53/39 + 12-25 cassette), I can now get up 3 or 4 gears higher. My common driveway is about a 10% grade that's 1/3 - 1/2 mile, and I always ride up it now. My goal is not be prevented from riding someplace because of the hills.

    The non-technical approach is to just keep riding, and to include hills. Every pound you can drop will also really help - I find I tend to lose (or at least not gain) when I ride a lot anyway.

    Technically, you need to either spin (do high RPM in a low gear) or mash up a hill. Lance Armstrong versus Jan Ulrich is the classic representation of this -- Lance spins; he is the pinnacle of aerobic fitness. Jan mashes and is incredibly powerful. So I view it as a tradeoff -- either you're using aerobic capabilities or muscle power. But if you muscle up a hill of some distance, you're likely to hit your lactate threshold (when you get the "burn"). Premier athletes train to be able to maintain at this rate for long periods.

    Just keep it up!

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    Sounds to me like you're a victim of Shimano marketing. The standard triple gearing, 52 or 53 big ring with a 30-tooth granny, is way too high for most riders, certainly nearly all of those in our age bracket. When I built my Atlantis four years ago, I got the crankset Rivendell recommended, a 46-36-26 triple. It made an amazing difference--I have about twice as many usable gears, a real granny for climbing and not nearly as much wasted gearage at the top. In the 52 or 53 on my other bikes, I very rarely go past about 16-17 teeth in the cassette. I don't think I've EVER used a 53-11, and don't expect to.

  21. #21
    Rides again HiYoSilver's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by stapfam
    Don't understand all the %age on Gear ratios,
    It only sounds complicated. Formula steps are:
    1. find the change in gear inches. [ Look up on a gear inch table]
    52 ring with 28 cog shows 50.2 GI
    52 ring with 24 cog shows 58.6 GI
    58.6-50.2 == 8.4 GI
    2. Find the percentage change in GI
    ChangeInGI/StartingGI
    8.4/50.2 in our example, will return 16.7% change.


    but 11/32 is the normal rear casseete on Mountain bikes nowadays, and is not a problem on changes.
    I don't have any mountain bike experience. I just know most people say over 14% is not smooth and over 15% is beyond the range of most cyclists for easy gear changes. My old paper route days were at a 21% and even in my best shape, I often couldn't handle that much change when at load.

    Agree on if you like the spread of gears you currently have, then why change, but one of the things we are looking at is ease and cost of any changes. That is why changing just one sprocket on the front seeems to be the easiest and cheapest way out. I ride offroad, and 28 to 50 is too high for me. I use 11/32 cassette an all my bikes, 22/32/44 on the solo's and the beast(Tandem) has 24/36/48. Keeps it within the 24t changing regime and just about low enough. We have tried 12/34 on the cassette but we keep folding them and all the lower gear does is make us slower. This is offroad though where lower gears are necessary, but we do miss out on speed on the road, even though we can match most other riders with our higher cadence.

    One point that has to be made though is that Cranksets are expensive. Like two to three times more expensive than a rear cassette, and that is only for the respectable quality units.
    Ah, but you don't change the crankset, only a chainring. My 28t chainring replacement was $17. The 54t change was $50. I think labor is $15 or $20, I can't recall which. Agreed one change is easier. But you can do the whole thing for less than the price of a jersey.

    For on road riding, what is most important is not losing the momentum you have worked to build up. That's why the cycling team uses the 12-27 cassette. I don't mash like high school so my only hope is the lance spin method. I had an 11-34 but swapped it for a 12-23. That was too optimistic. I have two hills that bug me. One is short and steep. The other is longer and moderate. Back in Oct when I started, the short one was push hard, huff and puff, maybe hit 5mph and hope you can keep moving and not fall down. The longer one was just slow and painful at about 7 mph. I'm stronger now. I can do the short one at 8 mph and the longer one is also 8. The problem is some hills are worst than these 2, so I need lower gears. I decided to split the difference. I'm going to a 12-27 for a bit lower gearing and working on trying to ride 4 or 5 days a week to build up the engine.

    If you're interested, I'll let you know the real world results of the changes. I'll get the bike refitted next week and it'll probably take me a week to get use to the new shifting patterns and keeping out of the sloppy cross chaining.
    Hi 'o Silver away

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    All the info so far is great. But at some point, to ride hills successfully (i.e. minimal agony at a decent pace), you need to deliberately seek out hills and ride them. If you do it enough, leg strength and endurance will improve greatly and hills no longer become a dreaded obstacle.

    I'm not suggesting you do it now, it is more important to build up your base strength first. But maybe in a month or two or three.

  23. #23
    Frosted Flake
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    I think I know the feeling, and I'm only 40 !! My best approach to killer hills is to rest my legs a bit by taking it easy on the approach, then as it starts getting steeper, to hammer it hard standing on the pedals, and remember to downshift early instead of late.
    Still, there are some hills I just shake my head at and say F*** That, there's an easier way around, yours may be one of those. Gearing does make a huge difference though, my Kona is 44-32-22 up front, and 11-32 out back, and there isn't much you can't climb with that kind of choices.
    If it were me, I'd work on getting a cadence I'm happy with, something easy on the knees. The quads will scream for a while at the sustained spin rate, then they'll slowly get used to the idea. I agreethat 2 months isn't a long time, maybe when we were 20 conditioning was easier. If you're at a comfortable cadence, and still find yourself running out of gas, then that's just the way it's going to be. Like the guys said, enjoy the ride. I still have places I'd like to ride but can't get to.. yet.
    It's either old age or I need more suspension...

    04 Kona Blast (mine)
    05 Trek 4500 (hers)

  24. #24
    jtm
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    I agree with all said and would like to add that I set up my gearing so that I can spin 70-90 on hills as I have found that to be easier on my knees. I still do about the same mph spinning as mashing, and climb seated although I am trying to learn to climb standing especially on the climbs that run 1/2 mi. or less. My first biking upgrade was a computer which taught me that I could go faster by gearing down.
    On the steeper climbs I slow down to 5.2-7 mph. On one I have done I slowed to 3.5 mph which I had to do standing as the front wheel kept lifting when I was seated, made me think of even lower gearing.

  25. #25
    Macaws Rock! michaelnel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by chilly
    Still, there are some hills I just shake my head at and say F*** That, there's an easier way around
    Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. I see lots of hills like that in SF and I just KNOW I'm not ready for them. There's always an alternate route that will let me bypass them.
    ---

    San Francisco, California

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