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  1. #1
    Have bike, will travel Barrettscv's Avatar
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    LD climbers: how slow can you go?

    I completed a hilly century event this weekend, the event had several 13 to 19% grades. At 215 lbs, this was a challenge.

    Keeping my speed down while climbing helped me finish the event. After a little trial and error, I could travel at 4 to 5 mph with a 50 rpm cadence. This worked much better than trying to hammer up the hills at 8 mph.

    What is your climbing speed and cadence when the hills are steep?

  2. #2
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    How Slow Can you go...?

    4 mph. I am about 207-210. Most of my rides include 15%- 18% grades. My bikes are typically geared with a granny gear as low as 19", up to about 24".
    2003 Richard Sachs, 2010 Rivendell Roadeo; 2002 Rivendell Custom, 2010 Vanilla, 1980 Colnago Super, 2009 Tony Pereira Custom, 2004 Rambouillet, Gunnar Crosshairs CX; 2004 Quickbeam;
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  3. #3
    Professional Fuss-Budget Bacciagalupe's Avatar
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    IIRC the slowest I usually cycle uphill is 5-6 mph. Not sure of the precise cadence, but I tend to spin fairly quickly no matter what.

    My feeling is that if you go slower than that, you might as well walk. It may not seem macho, but I don't see much point in mashing uphill at 3 mph.

    You'd also need extremely low gearing, possibly low enough that you'd need both a triple and have to cut back a bit on the high end. That'd be OK if you use the same bike to tour as to do a brevet and are not worried about the high end, but it will require custom gearing choices.

    That said, it does seem to me that if you plan to climb more 15-20% grades, you may want to lower your gearing anyway. Mashing won't instantly blow out your knees, but in general lower gearing is cheaper than knee surgery.

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    p.s. On the Death Ride (130 miles, 15,000 vertical feet), I try to use the low granny gear only once during the ride. It's there just as a psychological safety net.
    2003 Richard Sachs, 2010 Rivendell Roadeo; 2002 Rivendell Custom, 2010 Vanilla, 1980 Colnago Super, 2009 Tony Pereira Custom, 2004 Rambouillet, Gunnar Crosshairs CX; 2004 Quickbeam;
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  5. #5
    Senior Member robertc3's Avatar
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    I am not a sage LD rider, but play on on the interweb. One day I hope to be one. I have done a good amount of climbing and I feel that generally I do well when the road pitches up. I have found that if the road is steep >15% and I am in the saddle I can go as slowly as 4.5 mph. If the road gets really steep I will get out of the saddle and power through. On my most recent ride I did a climb of 5.3 miles which gained 2000 vf. I averaged only about 6.4 mph for the whole climb. I have pretty low gearing as I am riding a mtb. Even at 4.5 or 5 mph I am not really mashing. I am not quite your size (172 lbs) so do with this what you may.

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    My slowest climbing speed on brevets is around a bit under 3 mph, after which point I get off and walk. My cadence is around 13-14 RPM at that point, because my long distance bike is a fixed gear, hence the getting off and walking when things get really steep. But on grades up to 15-16% (give or take; depends on how much stuff I'm carrying and how long it is), I can keep it going slowly and steadily at a comfortable enough rhythm that it is still easier and faster than walking. Part of the reason I'm so slow on climbs on long rides is that I'm careful not to push it, and just settle into a comfortable rhythm. Even if I know I would be capable of going faster, I also know that on a long ride I'm better off just taking it slow and steady. My normal gear is 42X16, or about 70 gear inches; my bail-out gear is 24 inches, i.e two feet, i.e my own two feet.

    Awhile ago I was on a brevet that went into Switzerland, and we had just started our slog up yet another long, steep hill when we heard some chain noise from behind and were passed like we were standing still by an elderly couple, happily spinning away up the hill on some very heavy-looking, bolt upright city/cruiser/comfort bikes. Took a moment to realize they were electric-assist!

  7. #7
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    The slowest I've seen on my computer while still riding up a hill, prior to getting off and walking, is about 4.5 km/h. Yes ... that's km/h. Let me get my conversion program out here to convert that into the old imperial system ... hold on a moment ... OK, that's 2.8 mph.

    I've been there many times, not just on one occasion. It's a rare steep hill where I'm cycling faster than 5 km/h. Yes, I am still upright and riding at that speed. It does get a little bit wobbly, but it is definitely possible to ride that slowly up a hill.

    I have found that riding up a hill slowly is much better for my heart rate and breathing. I struggle with EIA, and if I get breathing too hard on a hill because I'm trying to tackle it at a fast speed, I end up hyperventilating and having to get off and walk much sooner than I would if I just slowed down.

    My walking speed up a steep hill is about 3.5 km/h, so even being able to do 4.5 km/h for a little while is better than just walking from the bottom of the hill. Usually, however, there is a point after doing 4.5 km/h for a while that I will get off and walk because walking ends up being less of an effort.

    4 mph (6.4 km/h) would be nice ... zipping right up the hill!!

  8. #8
    Senior Member Richard Cranium's Avatar
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    I think dipping below 5mph is pretty rare. At least one of my coaching admonitions is to go ahead and slow down for a long climb - find your "bottom pace" and hang on to that speed or go up 1 mph if you feel up to it.

    The worst method of working a hills on long rides is to mindlessly just "try as hard as you can." Although that's not a bad idea for shorter training rides.

  9. #9
    Have bike, will travel Barrettscv's Avatar
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    Thank you for the feedback.

    I'm going to target between 4 and 5 mph when the grade is 10% or more. I'm going to put a 28t granny gear on my road triple, this and my 12-27 ten speed cassette will help me keep a cadence of about 50 rpm at that speed.

    Easy does it.

    Michael

  10. #10
    Senior Member Road Fan's Avatar
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    Currently I'm using a compact double 50/34, and a 13/28 freewheel. I can comfortably spin down to about 50 rpm, which is maybye 5.5 or 6 mph. I'm thinking of changing to a 13-32 freewheel, because I think it'll be useful to be spinning a bit faster on these climbs.

  11. #11
    This is Shangri La MTBMaven's Avatar
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    Last years Death Ride the key for me was less about speed than it was heart rate. My Lactate Threshold is about 170 bpm (unscientifically tested by me). I kept my heart rate around 160 bpm all day with minimal spikes close to 170 while standing. I completed the ride without doing only two short rides the four weeks prior to the event due to a non-riding vacation. Obviously your results may vary.

    As for speeds I can't say for certain but I'm sure speeds of 5-6 mph are pretty common. I know on shorter training rides with major climbing efforts speeds are between 5-8 mph but again this is on my normal 20 mile weekday training loop. Recently on a 9 mile 5,000 foot gain mountain bike ride I was sadly passed by a runner, pretty quickly actually. And yes I felt like I should just get off and walk.

    I think I remember reading in Archie Baker's ACE Training for Cyclist something to the effect that your cadence should not drop below 50 rpm. If one can not maintain that cadence at a manageable speed then gearing should be changed to allow for a higher cadence. I personally have not followed this rule but thought I would pass it along.

    Lastly to increase my power I have taken to climbing my normal hills but in a much harder gear. Something like maybe 34x13 or 14, or 52x15 or 17. My cadence is probably somewhere in the 30 range speeds are probably somewhere in the 4-7 mph range depending on grade. I will mix this routine in with several other training methods.
    I thought of that while riding my bicycle. ~ Albert Einstein on the theory of relativity

  12. #12
    The Professor akohekohe's Avatar
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    The odd thing is you can maintain your balance at a slower speed going up a steep hill than you can on the flats. Don't know why. My long distance bike currently has a 16" low and a 118" high. I got the range without large gaps by using an SRAM Dual Drive in addition to chain rings. Works for me. I have another bike where I have a Schlumpf Mountain gear which gives you a 2.5 gear reduction using a gear in the bottom bracket. This can get you geared down low for steep hills while letting you maintain your usual gearing for everything else. Both the Dual drive and the Schlumpf do add some weight to the bike ... there are always trade-offs.
    The more you drive the less intelligent you are. - Tracy Walter as Miller in Repo Man.

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    On a recent club ride I dropped to a bit more than 3 mph riding up some damn cliff. I got uncomfortable at the 40 or 50 RPM so got off and walked, which opened a gap between me and the trailing group...

  14. #14
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    I can now go under 3mph. But boy it's taken me 3 years of riding to be comfortable enough to do it. I sometimes think my computer actually got in my way by reminding me HOW slow I was going. But it is So much better than walking up those hills. Of course, I am thinking that being a stronger rider over these 3 years has helped me get up the hills too.

  15. #15
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    Consistent 6 MPH

    My longest climb was in September with a rented Trek 5000 equipped with a triple crank - I believe 53-39-30. I rode from a resort across Maui, Hawaii, and climbed Haleakala carrying just a handlebar bag. 36 miles of climbing with 10,023 feet of elevation. I was a bit slow as I wasn't sure of the effects of altitude and I had to bring extra water due to lack of services, so I was too conservative drinking. Still it took 6 hours of climbing (with stops), and that averages out to 6 MPH. The top was steepest, and the grade varied a little bit, but I was rarely out of granny. I saw no reason to try to sprint, but I doubt my speed fell to less than 6 MPH. The Appalachian foothills that I train in all have a summit that I can usually look up and see. Not this one - until the last mile! Now, of course the pay off was the descent - the fastest 36 miles of my life, even with a crosswind down lower. The cross wind was a tailwind across the island to complete my 10th century of the year at 101.23 miles in paradise! The hills around here are way shorter, and a lot are way steeper, but they are not interminable. Bottom line - do what feels sane to you.

  16. #16
    Senior Member Road Fan's Avatar
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    I just went from a 13/28 to a 13/32 cassette, and practiced a little more cadence with teh 6 mph climbs. MUCH more comfortable to make 65 turns than 55 or so turns on our (some would say meager) local climbs. I think my 52/42/30 triple is going back on this bike. With the 28 my bottom gear was 32 inches, with the 32 it drops to 27 inches (16% less), and with the addition of the triple I can get down to 25 inches (another 6%). If I "max down" the granny to 26 teeth, I will have 22 inches, a total improvement of 31%, and I think I have all the parts on hand.

    Will have to try this ...

  17. #17
    Senior Member Daveyboy's Avatar
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    I just returned from Maui were I did the Haleakala climb (ascending 10,023' over 36 miles). I had my own bike with me and so was stuck with it's gearing. I was a little concerned that I would be able to haul my 215 lbs up the mountain with a standard double. The lowest gear was a 39 x 25 (~ 41 gi) so in order to keep the rev's up I had to keep the speed up. Early on I was spinning easily at 9-10 mph in the 39x25 or 39x23. As I got higher (above 6,000') I was pretty much stuck in 39x25 with speeds of 7-8 mph depending on the pitch. The grade typically ranged from 5-8% occasionally dipping to 2-4% or pitching up to 10%. The last 1/2 mile my speed dropped considerably as the grade increased to 10%+, which just about killed me at 10,000' (but I stood on the pedals and managed to make it to the summit.) Total riding time was 4 hours 20 minutes.

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