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  1. #1
    gone ride'n cyclinfool's Avatar
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    Climbing secrets

    My riding buddy could not ride this morning so it was either ride alone or do a club ride. I choose the club ride - it was in an area about 45 miles from my house in eastern NY near the Mass boarder. A 41 mile ride set at a moderately fast (tour) pace. Thought this would be good as I have never ridden in this region before. It was as expected - strikingly beautiful - rolling through farms and small towns.

    Before the ride started the ride leader talk about the course a bit and said that we would regroup at the top of the climb and wait for everyone to catch up. This part of the country can have some steep hills. The ride started off well - I held back in the pack as I did not know what to expect with this group and I did not want to stress my knee which I tweeked a few weeks back. For the first 18 miles the ride was on rolling terrain and we were averaging about 19 mph - I wasn't feeling at all pushed, it was a good pace. Then came the big climb. I did not know how long, how steep or what.

    So here is the question. How do you climbers approach a hill you have never climbed before?

    Turns out this was a good size climb - about 1100' rise mostly between 5% and 6%. It was a winding road so I could not see what was coming. I went down in my little ring and spun for as long as I could to keep up and then started to fade. After that I made no attempt to stay with the group because I did not want to irratate my knee so I just drop down to the lowest gear and took my time - mind you I was huffing and puffing, but not grinding too hard. When I got over the top everyone was waiting for the old fat guy as promised. After a glorious decent and a short rest stop we headed back out for the last half of the ride. I stayed with the leaders - doing a little over 20 mph. I guess I did not spend enough on the hill. It was a great day - perfect temps (high 60s). I ended up with a 17.5mph average which I consider great for this time of year although I was a shameless parasitic wheel sucker for a most of the ride.

    Usually when I know a hill I can time my power output to exhaust my reserves when I crest the top - keep my momentum up and standing only when I have to. On long hills where I don't know what's coming mentally I just hunker down and crank it out making sure I don't spend it all in one place. This typically results in getting dropped.

    Whats your strategy for those long climbs?
    "Of all the things I ever lost I miss my mind the most." Mark Twain
    If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

  2. #2
    Senior Member 1bluetrek's Avatar
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    Ummm I get out my Batman grappling hook and tow cable!
    Join the fight to stop Diabetes! You can help improve the lives of those living with this disease!Sponsor me in the 2012 Tour de Cure in Redmond Washington!


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  3. #3
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    I've run into many very long climbs in the mountains here. For each of them, there was always a "first time."

    The most important thing I think about on a long climb is cadence, and riding with (only) light pressure on the pedals. If I feel like I'm working too hard, I drop down to a lower gear. If I'm not working too hard, I shift to a higher gear. The more tired I am, the more I think about maintaining a nice, smooth cadence, and trying to make perfect circles with my feet. For some reason, a long time ago I decided the worst thing to do on a long climb is to get sloppy, so I think about not getting sloppy.

    And I try to remember to relax. I find that moving my hands off the hoods or drops and putting them on the flats of the handlebars right next to the stem helps me relax. It opens up your chest and lets you take nice deep breaths.

    The final thing I think about on a long climb is how happy I am that I don't live in Texas any more where the sun beating down on your back during a long climb will bake you alive before you ever make it to the top!

  4. #4
    Grumpy Old Bugga europa's Avatar
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    You tried too hard too early trying to keep up.

    The big secret is knowing to stop early or to take it easy early. I learned this lesson via my HRM - see, the stupid things are good for something after all. In the early days of my return to cycling, I stubbornly stuck to the 'keep going, keep going' mentality - a nice bit of bravdo when you're young but seriously counter productive for us old blokes. Once I got the HRM, I noticed it'd zoom up to something approaching my max and that'd be it. I'd push and push until I just had to stop, then recover. At some point, I decided this was too hard and started stopping a bit earlier. Whereas before I'd push my HR to over 180 before stopping (scarily close to my observed max of 185), I now pushed it to 170 before stopping. I used to wait until my HR was 130 before moving off again. With that earlier stop, I found that even though I rested the same, that second stint lasted a lot longer and I was a lot stronger than if I went that bit further. By not going so hard (ie, pushing myself further), I actually had fewer stops. Of course, after a few months, I was riding those hills without stopping at all. Hell, nowadays, my MR doesn't even go over 165 climbing up Flagstaff Hill (my regular big hill) whereas at one time, it was a three stop hill. I'm at the point now where I could pull higher gears, but probably wouldn't be able to maintain the same cadence ... so I'm sticking with my granny for a bit longer.

    The secret (for me), is to settle on a good cadence of 90-95 before hitting the steep bit of the climb - easy on Flagstaff because you've actually been climbing for well over a km before you hit the hill itself. Then work the gears down (pretty quickly as I hit the hill) until I can't go any lower and then sit on that cadence. I keep that cadence going even when the hill flattens - just go up a gear or two or three, then work down again it increases.

    If I try to go too hard too early (eg, pushing too high a gear in an attempt to keep the speed up), I die and can't recover quickly, which is what you experienced. By starting easy, setting the rhythm and maintaining it using the gears, I find I get to the top of hills still generating power and it's not unknown for me to come over the crest of Flagstaff on the big ring and doing 30km/hr (it flattens out in the last couple of hundred metres to the top).

    As the slope of the hill varys, I choose the gear that gives me the same cadence with the same perceived effort ie, I don't spin out but don't go pushing hard on the pedals either. Nor do I stand because that spikes the HR - I stand only when I know I'm about to hit a crest and will have an opportunity to recover. On a climb that was going to take half an hour or more, I might stand to ease the old rump.

    That's the fat old git's guide to getting up stupid hills he should have enough sense to avoid.

    Richard
    I had a good bike ... so I FIXED it

  5. #5
    gone ride'n cyclinfool's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BengeBoy View Post
    The more tired I am, the more I think about maintaining a nice, smooth cadence, and trying to make perfect circles with my feet.
    You are spot on there - when I know the hill and I know what I am going to need to put out I use the whole circle of power and the hill is fast and easy. When I don't know the hill and the end is out of sight I put my head down and mash. Good advice

    Discipline grasshopper - discipline.
    "Of all the things I ever lost I miss my mind the most." Mark Twain
    If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

  6. #6
    Let's do a Century jppe's Avatar
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    It's very simple if you have both cadence and HR monitors. Find a gear you can spin 80 rpm+/- and keep your heart rate no more than 80% of max. You should be able to tackle most climbs and not bother your knees.

    On steeper stuff my cadence will drop lower than 80 rpm-and it can certainly create some pain the knees if there are long hard climbs.

  7. #7
    Ride Daddy Ride Jet Travis's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cyclinfool View Post
    I just hunker down and crank it out making sure I don't spend it all in one place. This typically results in getting dropped.

    Whats your strategy for those long climbs?
    That IS my strategy.

    FWIW I have read about riding as if you were a carpet unrolling--starting slowly and spinning up more quickly as you get nearer to the top. Every time I try this, I end up feeling like I'm about to throw up.
    "Light it up, Popo." --Levi Leipheimer

  8. #8
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    Just before the climb fake an incoming cell phone call..."Hello, WHAT? AW SHI*, OK OK I'll get there as soon as I can."

    Say goodbye to your mates and head for the car.

  9. #9
    gone ride'n cyclinfool's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Louis View Post
    Just before the climb fake an incoming cell phone call..."Hello, WHAT? AW SHI*, OK OK I'll get there as soon as I can."

    Say goodbye to your mates and head for the car.
    Wow! Why didn't I think of that - your a F%$*ing Genius
    "Of all the things I ever lost I miss my mind the most." Mark Twain
    If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

  10. #10
    Member billmagee's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jppe View Post
    On steeper stuff my cadence will drop lower than 80 rpm-and it can certainly create some pain the knees if there are long hard climbs.
    You guys amaze me. On steeper stuff my cadence drops to 60 or below and I have to tack back and forth across the road like a puffing sailboat just to make it to the top. I don't know what my HR is but it is pounding away in there.

    My low gear has a gain ratio of 1.3. Any sense going lower?

  11. #11
    Pedaled too far. Artkansas's Avatar
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    I relax, find a low gear and enjoy the scenery. If I need to stop, I stop, I rest and then I go again. Enjoying the ride is the point.
    "He who serves all, best serves himself" Jack London

    Quote Originally Posted by Bjforrestal View Post
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  12. #12
    Banned. The Weak Link's Avatar
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    41 miles, much of it at a 19 MPH pace?

    You'd like us to feel sorry for you for WHAT reason?

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by cyclinfool View Post
    Wow! Why didn't I think of that - your a F%$*ing Genius
    Yaay! I'm a genius.

  14. #14
    Time for a change. stapfam's Avatar
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    Climbing takes practice- but even with practice some of us never get good at hills- they just improve.

    I have no worries about telling my partners- "I'll see you at the top". I go at my pace to keep the cadence right for the legs and the breathing up to a discomfort level.

    Only thing I never do is stop for a breather at the top of a hill. I ride over the top to stop the lactic build up- and so as not to show my mates how shattered I am.
    How long was I in the army? Five foot seven.


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  15. #15
    Don't mince words Red Rider's Avatar
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    If spinning up the hill in a low gear/high cadence isn't an option, then concentrate on pulling your knees up. Think "pull, pull, pull" instead of "push, push, push." Scraping the feet (pulling back with the heel at the bottom of the pedal stroke) is also helpful.

    And yeah, practice. Hill repeats are painful but really pay off in the long run.
    When my feet hit the floor in the morning, Satan shudders and says, "Oh, *****, she's awake!"

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  16. #16
    Grumpy Old Bugga europa's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by billmagee View Post
    You guys amaze me. On steeper stuff my cadence drops to 60 or below and I have to tack back and forth across the road like a puffing sailboat just to make it to the top. I don't know what my HR is but it is pounding away in there.

    My low gear has a gain ratio of 1.3. Any sense going lower?
    Clearly you are too highly geared. The gain ratio is meaningless, it's what you're capable of doing that's important. If you can't keep the cadence up, you're too highly geared. If the pedal pressures are such that you can't spin and nice, smooth stroke, you're too highly geared. Incidentally, small changes can make a big difference. Where my fitness is now, my granny (26x32) pulls me up big hills with my HR in the mid to high 150's - one gear higher sees my HR climbing pretty quickly.

    My son laughs at my gearing, but he's sixteen, hyper fit and 2/3rds my weight. On the other hand, he doesn't ride to school because he doesn't like having ride back up a hill that used to defeat me but now is just part of my riding.

    Richard
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  17. #17
    gone ride'n cyclinfool's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by billmagee View Post
    You guys amaze me. On steeper stuff my cadence drops to 60 or below and I have to tack back and forth across the road like a puffing sailboat just to make it to the top. I don't know what my HR is but it is pounding away in there.

    My low gear has a gain ratio of 1.3. Any sense going lower?
    On steep long grades - when I'm outa gears I get below 60 - you just can't help it. My tamac has a triple - 53/39/30 with a 12/25 casset (lowest ratio = 1.15) - yesterday I was in that gear for the last part of the climb.
    However - most of the riders on that ride had standard 53/39 cranksets with what appeared to be 12/26 cassetts - so they went up in quite a bit higher gearing.

    Today it's more hills. That's the plan anyway.
    "Of all the things I ever lost I miss my mind the most." Mark Twain
    If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

  18. #18
    gone ride'n cyclinfool's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Red Rider View Post
    If spinning up the hill in a low gear/high cadence isn't an option, then concentrate on pulling your knees up. Think "pull, pull, pull" instead of "push, push, push." Scraping the feet (pulling back with the heel at the bottom of the pedal stroke) is also helpful.

    And yeah, practice. Hill repeats are painful but really pay off in the long run.
    I think that's very true. I find when I am letting the climb beat me I just put my head down and mash. When I am attacking a hill I am using the full stroke, pulling back and down and then up and forward - you can hear my speed play cleats clicking away as the force is going back and forth. I think I just need to focus on pedal stroke and not so much on when will I get to the top of the hill.

    I guess that's my mission for today as I have a nice litte 1200' climb on tap with grades ranging from 6% to 8% - will be riding alone so I can focus on form rather than keeping with the pack.
    "Of all the things I ever lost I miss my mind the most." Mark Twain
    If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

  19. #19
    Senior Member George's Avatar
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    I kept a slower cadance and a real easy gear, when I was out in west Texas and it was easier than walking up stairs.
    George

  20. #20
    just keep riding BluesDawg's Avatar
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    Rather than thinking about the different parts of the pedal stroke, pushing down in front, sliding across the bottom and pulling up the back, I only think about circles. That gives me the smoothest transition between all the segments of the spin. When I think circles, my cadence increases and I move up the hill.
    The more you ride your bike, the less your ass will hurt.

  21. #21
    Galveston County Texas 10 Wheels's Avatar
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    My secret is to NOT look at the top of the hill.
    Just focus on the road in front of the bike.

    [SIZE=1][B]What I like about Texas[/B]
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  22. #22
    gone ride'n cyclinfool's Avatar
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    10wheels - Somtimes pictures don't do a hill justice. However - this pic does.
    This is what I will climb in late June - 8 miles 3500' to the weather station at the very top.

    "Of all the things I ever lost I miss my mind the most." Mark Twain
    If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

  23. #23
    Senior Member gcottay's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cyclinfool View Post
    . . Then came the big climb. I did not know how long, how steep or what.

    So here is the question. How do you climbers approach a hill you have never climbed before?

    . . . I went down in my little ring and spun for as long as I could to keep up and then started to fade. After that I made no attempt to stay with the group because I did not want to irratate my knee so I just drop down to the lowest gear and took my time - mind you I was huffing and puffing, but not grinding too hard.
    That sounds exactly right to me.

    Any climb under your own power and without major damage is a good one.

    The only real problem with hills is the millions of otherwise happy cyclists trapped on the couch by fear of climbing.
    George
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  24. #24
    Fred at large
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    There are a couple of reasons for not doing well on hills. The first is obvious - fitness and strength. If you're not fit you need to do repeats to gain the strength and fitness to climb.

    The second reason isn't so obvious. Take it from me, the BIKE is a major factor in how well you do hills. I currently am riding a Trek 1100 aluminum. 3X crank with 32 in the back. I can grind it up some pretty steep hills but my HR and breathing go sky high if I try to push myself. I've been riding this bike for a few thousand miles and it has not changed from day one. I suck at hills on it.

    My friend who just started riding a MONTH AGO can blast past me on any hill in the area on his new Orbea. And his gearing is 39X25. He's older than me, hasn't been riding, and still goes OTF on every hill. Why?? It's the bike. His Orbea is stiffer and is more efficient at transferring energy into motion than my Trek. Thus, his bike climbs better than my bike (all other things being equal).

    So, perhaps you need to do some repeats, but you should also look at what you're riding. Equipment does play a big part in staying up with the group on hills.
    I am Fred, hear me slurp my Grande Mocha.

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  25. #25
    Time for a change. stapfam's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 10 Wheels View Post
    My secret is to NOT look at the top of the hill.
    Just focus on the road in front of the bike.

    I wish I could see the top of the hills on most of my rides. As it is- all I see is a steep hill that goes round a corner and I know there is more to come. And some hills just have to be climbed.
    Last edited by stapfam; 05-31-09 at 01:46 PM.
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