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Road Cycling “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.” -- Ernest Hemingway

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Old 01-04-14, 12:24 AM   #1
baiskeli
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Thoughts on climbing (spinning vs mashing)

Thoughts on climbing (spinning vs mashing)

So I recently moved to the Bay Area and have been trying to get better at hills. I've been slowly improving. I have a compact with a 12-26 cassette and found that there are times where I'm grinding away at 24 (preferring to keep the 26 only for emergencies) and ending up with an average cadence of 70 or so (where when I was on the East Coast my average would be 85-90). The bike I sold when I moved had a standard and I can definitively say I cannot get up some of the climbs here on a double (and even with my compact I've suffered once the grade goes beyond 16%.

Well, last weekend, after an already big week or riding that included mt Diablo, I did a long ride (43 miles) with about 4600 ft of climbing. I raised my saddle a smidgen (and moved it a tiny bit forward) which made it conducive to spinning. I also tried to spin as much as possible on climbs (and granny gear for emergencies be damned). Well, it felt like I was going much faster, and even at the end of the ride I felt pretty fresh. On one particular climb, I hang with someone who normally destroys me on climbs.

Strava bears my thoughts out. My cadence was higher, and my times were faster than almost all the other times I've ridden (like on one climb, Strava estimated a highest previous wattage of 180, this time, 210. My heart rate was slightly higher, but the climb actually felt easier, because I said terrain be damned and tried to keep a high cadence.)

I'm seriously considering a 11-28 or even Shimano's new 12-30 when my 12-26 wears out.
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Old 01-04-14, 12:29 AM   #2
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Read Contador rides SRAM 34/32 on hills. And just observing, when Lance was destroying, he wasn't hammering, he was spinning really fast up those hills. Spinning seems to be his strategy. I'm new to riding, so went with 34/28 Shimano just to have it if I need it. I haven't climbed any big moutains, since there aren't any around me though.

Good job riding those huge climbs!

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Old 01-04-14, 07:35 AM   #3
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It's good to see that your personal experience confirms what's been known and proven long ago.
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Old 01-04-14, 07:53 AM   #4
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It's good to see that your personal experience confirms what's been known and proven long ago.
Haha, yes! Even though I, myself, have known this for, well, decades, in a fit of foolish hubris last night, I tried to mash out some level 6 intervals (366w-399w) at low 80s rpm...boy, that didn't last long. After I popped and got some recovery, I was able to hit some level 5 intervals at low 90s rpm, and they felt much better. Lesson learned...yet again!
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Old 01-04-14, 07:56 AM   #5
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The whole "spinners are winners" thing does apply. I used to mash out of saddle going up hills. Once I started "learning" to ride, I began spinning on the saddle more. Once I started building the proper muscles, my times began improving. I recently dropped my 11-28 for a 12-30. I'm curious to see how it rides come next spring.
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Old 01-04-14, 09:41 AM   #6
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Spin-your knees will thank you-
besides our legs evolved doing LSD(maybe 100 rpm leg movements-fast walk jog) not hard grinding "squats" not designed for repeated near max force efforts-200 times in a row
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Old 01-04-14, 10:28 AM   #7
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Last November, I skipped work and took a weekday ride around Otisco Lake. I figured I would do the hilly west shore first, and save the pancake flat east side for the return. I totally failed to plan for the 18 mph headwind that I would have on the hilly side. I spent approximately 35-40 minutes climbing at UNDER 30 rpm, and was not happy at all. Once I turned back north, the now 18 mph tailwind was phenomenal. I was spinning 130 rpm effortlessly. I was very happy.

So this clearly shows that spinning is nicer.
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Old 01-04-14, 10:35 AM   #8
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Spin to win.

s
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Old 01-04-14, 10:53 AM   #9
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You're using different muscle groups.......even the pro's don't do one exclusively from what I have seen. I do a combo of in the saddle to standing up to sitting again to rest certain muscle groups and work certain ones. But then again I am no pro so there will be obviously a varied opinion here.
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Old 01-04-14, 12:07 PM   #10
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Sit & spin, stand & mash.
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Old 01-04-14, 12:48 PM   #11
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While i THINK (definitely not sure) spinning is the best way for most of us, there are some who really are capable of pushing those big gears up a mountain. Scarponi from lampre is a perfect example.
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Old 01-04-14, 01:16 PM   #12
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I can mash to a limited extent but spinning is much easier on my knees which were trashed from years of running.
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Old 01-04-14, 01:51 PM   #13
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I haven't seen anything that convincingly proves that one way or the other is metabolically more efficient, or allows you to put out more sustained power. What I do know is that if I mash too hard for too long my knees start to hurt. So I don't do that. Yet when I'm deliberately going hard a low cadence and stop before that point, those intervals get longer. It's a matter of training. Spending all our time at fast cadence and threshold using slow twitch muscles, trains our slow twitch (seems kind of obvious doesn't it). We actually use a mixture of muscle fiber types for various kinds of efforts (not all one or all another), and I believe that whatever we train the most winds up the most effective.

Guys like Armstrong and Contador putting out 350 watts (or 500 depending on chemistry) are doing it aerobically and probably recruiting mostly slow twitch fibers. I guarantee you that this wouldn't be the case for me, at those power levels. So I'm very hesitant to try to emulate those guys' techniques even scaling it down for shorter and more gentle climbs. But FWIW I AM planning to do the same thing as baiskeli is considering, trading in my 11 cog (and maybe the 12 also) for a 28 or 30 when my cassette wears out.
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Old 01-04-14, 02:33 PM   #14
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i guess my question is: how low (or high? I can never remember) do you go in gears when spinning. do you gear to the point where there is decent resistance but not enough to have to stand and mash? or do you go to the really easy gear where you're spinning your legs like crazy and moving 2 feet for it?
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Old 01-04-14, 02:34 PM   #15
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Mostly spin, mashing only to get a different position every now and then. I did Mt Haleakala this week, and found that after spinning for 20 miles and 6000' I had nothing left for either. Once I could no longer spin it didn't matter that I could stand up and go a little further. I still wonder if I'd made it past the last switchback if I could have spun slowly up the rest.
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Old 01-04-14, 02:49 PM   #16
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Spinning with 3 variations is my game.

Centered on the saddle for a nice floating circular stroke.
Moving Forward a scoot to be "on the rivet"
Moving Back a bit to best employ Proper Ankling

Each variation seems to employ different muscle groups and give me the ability to finish very long climbs.

I use a compact 50/34 and my 11-34 cassette has 27/30/34 as my lowest options. I can climb trees.
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Old 01-04-14, 03:37 PM   #17
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IME it is best to train at both high and low cadence, even though one will compete or do events exclusively at a higher cadence, except for relatively brief periods of standing. I kind of doubt that it has anything to do with muscle fiber type. Probably more to do with muscle fiber recruitment. IIRC, fast twitch packs in it at about 3 minutes.
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Old 01-04-14, 06:13 PM   #18
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Work done for a given speed is the same whether you're spinning or mashing. If you're doing 250w pushing a gear and going 12 mph then you'll be doing 250w if you're spinning a gear going 12 mph.

Spinning loads the aerobic system, saves the muscles a bit. You'll be fresher at the end of a longer ride, usually. Pushing loads the muscles and you can run into fatigue issues earlier (cramping or just plain fatigue).

Personally I just push once I'm in the red. My wattage doesn't vary much, 160-180w for a sustained climb (30 minutes to 2 hours, with the longer climbs resulting in the lower wattages). For short power climbs it's more anaerobic and I stand and use bigger gears. My bike is optimized for that, with longer cranks for my leg length (sub 29" inseam, 175 cranks). I happen to sprint better with the longer cranks, at least in the last decade or so, but the secondary effect is that I can roll really hard over 150-300m hills.

When I say "push" I'm talking 50-70 rpm on hills. I'll do 80-90 rpm if I'm not in trouble yet. On flats I'm typically sustaining 90-105 rpm.
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Old 01-04-14, 06:30 PM   #19
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i guess my question is: how low (or high? I can never remember) do you go in gears when spinning. do you gear to the point where there is decent resistance but not enough to have to stand and mash? or do you go to the really easy gear where you're spinning your legs like crazy and moving 2 feet for it?
Different for everyone. My practice is to climb at as close to 78 cadence as I can manage - that's on long climbs, especially multiple long climbs. I could gear down more and spin faster, but I'm slower that way, because my aerobic system loads more than my legs then. So that's what's different for different people. Some people do those climbs best at 60, some at 90.

You just have to experiment to find out what works for you, and then be prepared for that to change with changing strength and aerobic fitness. If you can feel the strength ebbing out of your legs, you better gear down. If you're panting and your legs feel good, you better gear up.

If I'm tired and it's a short climb, I might spin up it at 90 because on a short climb I won't go anaerobic before the top and spinning will save my legs. Or if it's a really short climb, I'll stand and power up it at 70.
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Old 01-04-14, 08:13 PM   #20
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i have no idea what my cadence is.
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Old 01-04-14, 09:30 PM   #21
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i have no idea what my cadence is.
That's probably okay. Except in a handful of cases, cadence is a red herring.
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Old 01-04-14, 10:23 PM   #22
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on the plus side i still remember the drum cadence from middle school marching band
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Old 01-05-14, 12:05 AM   #23
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That's probably okay. Except in a handful of cases, cadence is a red herring.
Red herring? Only if one can produce watts ad infinitum.
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Old 01-05-14, 10:37 AM   #24
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Cadence varies with the demands of the ride: it varies with power, with slope, with pedal force, with wind or drafting, with fatigue, with crank inertial load, with muscle type, and with the race situation. Focusing only on cadence without taking into account (at least some of) those other things is leaving out the context. Chasing cadence is either a red herring or else cargo cult.
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Old 01-05-14, 11:06 AM   #25
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Cadence varies with the demands of the ride: it varies with power, with slope, with pedal force, with wind or drafting, with fatigue, with crank inertial load, with muscle type, and with the race situation. Focusing only on cadence without taking into account (at least some of) those other things is leaving out the context. Chasing cadence is either a red herring or else cargo cult.
Very true in a purist sense. I find that if I focus on getting to the finish in minimum time, that with experience and experiment those other things you mention inform my body about the appropriate cadence for the conditions. That done, knowing in advance the appropriate cadence for the condition makes everything simpler and keeps my speed up, especially when I'm tired.
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