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  1. #1
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    climbing steep hills

    With a 26T in front and a 32T in back, I generally take a "sit and spin" approach to climbing. I have made a point of standing occasionally, in anticipation of someday encountering a hill that is too steep to spin up.

    That day came yesterday, and it was a rude awakening. I climbed Gillette Road in Long Hill Township, NJ -- only 0.25 miles long, but an average grade of 13.5%. The top half is steeper than the bottom, with one section briefly topping 20%.

    I was able to spin up the bottom half, but by the top I was alternating between sitting and standing, as often as every 5 seconds or so. Needless to say, my cadence plummeted. The idea of tacking crossed my mind more than once, but I managed to keep my nose pointing straight ahead. I survived the climb, but barely.

    Other than "more often", is there a better way to approach this hill? Should I have stood up earlier, before I was already tired? Stayed in the seat longer, even if I had to tack a bit? Alternated between sit and stand less quickly?

    Of course, the ultimate answer is to lose the extra 15-20 pounds I carry around with me on every ride.

  2. #2
    7-speed doomsday prepper ThermionicScott's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by njlonghorn View Post
    Of course, the ultimate answer is to lose the extra 15-20 pounds I carry around with me on every ride.
    That would help of course , but don't discount what you can learn by trying different things each time you tackle that hill. What fun would it be if someone had the perfect answer for your next hill climb? My advice would be to find friends to ride the hill with you -- hill climbing can be really fun, and that enthusiasm is ultimately how I got much better at it.
    Quote Originally Posted by chandltp View Post
    There's no such thing as too far.. just lack of time
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  3. #3
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    Ha, I have a hill, more like a wall, like that in my neighboorhood. On the weekend I wanted to give it a try. On my first attempt I was to ambitious with the gearing so I rolled down and tried again. I stood all the way and it took me 1:59 to the top. I circled around and tried again sitting and it took 1:50. Both times it just about tore my lungs right out of my chest. Now that I've determined my weak point I'm going to try again every now and then. It certainly is an unique workout on the bike.

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    Ride the bottom at a lower cadence and save yourself for the steep, top part. Climb the wall at the end out of the saddle.

  5. #5
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    I have a similar hill in my area, though the steepest section is less, but the hill is slightly longer. I've found that pedaling technique is lost as I tire. I need to focus on unloading the weight of one leg from the pedals. One way is to push the knee over the top on the pedal stroke. Another focus is to draw the leg back into the heel cup of the shoe at the bottom for a rounder pedal stroke. Either focus seems to work as well for me.

  6. #6
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    don't discount what you can learn by trying different things each time you tackle that hill. What fun would it be if someone had the perfect answer for your next hill climb?
    Interesting perspective! I will ride it a few more times this year and use a different strategy each time.

    Ride the bottom at a lower cadence and save yourself for the steep, top part. Climb the wall at the end out of the saddle.
    This is one of the things I will try. First, though, Ill practice standing more on shallower climbs.

    I've found that pedaling technique is lost as I tire. I need to focus on unloading the weight of one leg from the pedals. One way is to push the knee over the top on the pedal stroke. Another focus is to draw the leg back into the heel cup of the shoe at the bottom for a rounder pedal stroke. Either focus seems to work as well for me.
    Ill try this, too. I have little doubt that my pedaling technique was far from textbook near the top!

    I stood all the way and it took me 1:59 to the top. I circled around and tried again sitting and it took 1:50.
    Id take 1:59. My climb time was 4:20 average speed under 4 mph.

    My advice would be to find friends to ride the hill with you -- hill climbing can be really fun, and that enthusiasm is ultimately how I got much better at it.
    Maybe WarrenR will join me. He could climb the hill twice while I climb it once.

    Both times it just about tore my lungs right out of my chest. Now that I've determined my weak point I'm going to try again every now and then. It certainly is an unique workout on the bike.
    Unfortunately, I think my weak point is biking. At least I enjoy it, though.

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    RR3
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    I know the hill and general terrain of the region. It is very easy to go into your anaerobic reserves on the lower, less steep sections burning those limited energy pathways before they are needed.....at 20% grades at the top. Climb the lower sections below your threshold and then only go hard towards the top. Most riders will stand on 20% grunts. It is a grunt.

  8. #8
    7-speed doomsday prepper ThermionicScott's Avatar
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    I'd ride with ya if you weren't so far away!
    Quote Originally Posted by chandltp View Post
    There's no such thing as too far.. just lack of time
    RUSA #7498

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    Senior Member mr_pedro's Avatar
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    What is your goal here, you already made it up the hill? If you want to climb the hill faster it will be harder. If you want to make it easier for yourself go slower, especially at the beginning when it is less steep. So shift down early (meaning that as soon as you feel the effort going up too much to remain at a high cadence you shift to a lower gear), keep spinning and remain seated. At some point you reached the lowest gear, then start lowering your cadence in order to keep the effort at a minimum. At some point the cadence is too low to remain seated and you have to stand, this is what you have been holding back for and now you can just stay seated at this minimum cadence until you can not hold it anymore and then finish it off standing.

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    What is your goal here, you already made it up the hill?
    My primary goal is to make it up the hill without feeling like I barely survived.

    My second goal is to be able to climb comparably steep, but longer, hills.

    My third goal is to get up the hill faster -- but if that never happens, oh well.

  11. #11
    Hardening the F up
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    Ten hours a week on the bike and cut the junk food for the rest of the season.

    Okay, you knew that. Or see if you can swap a 22 or 24T front chainwheel.

  12. #12
    Senior Member mr_pedro's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by njlonghorn View Post
    My primary goal is to make it up the hill without feeling like I barely survived.
    Go slower when you have gears left.

    My second goal is to be able to climb comparably steep, but longer, hills.
    For longer hills go even slower.

    My third goal is to get up the hill faster -- but if that never happens, oh well.
    That takes time as you have to get stronger and/or maybe loose weight.
    This involves first of all riding more and not only stress yourself on these climbs where you have to but also on the flats.

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    Go slower when you have gears left.
    Does it matter whether I (a) drop my cadence in the higher gear, or (b) drop to a lower gear sooner?

    For longer hills go even slower.
    How much slower can I go without toppling over? As is, I got down to 2.8 mph.

    I suppose the answer must be that I should drop down to 2.8 mph sooner, when it isn't a struggle, and then hold that speed for longer. I can see why you say that would be easier, but waaaay slower. Lol.

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    Senior Member mr_pedro's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by njlonghorn View Post
    Does it matter whether I (a) drop my cadence in the higher gear, or (b) drop to a lower gear sooner?
    Yes, your first choice is to drop to a lower gear so you can keep a comfortable cadence. You should only drop the cadence when you run out of gears and still need to go slower.

    How much slower can I go without toppling over? As is, I got down to 2.8 mph.

    I suppose the answer must be that I should drop down to 2.8 mph sooner, when it isn't a struggle, and then hold that speed for longer. I can see why you say that would be easier, but waaaay slower. Lol.
    Right. There is a relationship between the effort level and how long you can hold it before falling off your bike. The higher the effort, the shorter you can hold it. Normally the fastest way to climb a hill is to keep the effort constant, at the highest level you can manage for the duration of the climb.
    There can be a problem with this aproach: if the hill is too steep at some point, it might force you to go over the level that you can manage for the entire climb. In that case you need to go extra slow so you reach the steep part rested enough to put in the high effort. Hope this makes sense.

  15. #15
    Solo Rider, always DFL
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    You're on a 26 front, 32 rear? That's a hell of a mechanical advantage... I think my touring/road bike that I use for everything will run a 30 front/34 rear and that feels almost difficult to pedal, it's so low gain. Echoing the above: go a gear up if you want to build strength, go longer if you want to build endurance. It all comes, just takes time. This is what I keep telling myself... that, and "I'm faster than my couch."
    "Having modest aspirations RULES." --patentcad
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  16. #16
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    Normally the fastest way to
    climb a hill is to keep the effort constant, at the highest level you can
    manage for the duration of the climb.

    There can be a problem with this approach: if the hill is too steep at some
    point, it might force you to go over the level that you can manage for the
    entire climb. In that case you need to go extra slow so you reach the steep
    part rested enough to put in the high effort. Hope this makes sense.
    It does. Although I never thought about it in those terms, I use the "constant effort" approach on a typical climb. I tried that approach on Gillette Road, and I went over the line when I hit the wall near the top. Next time I climb it (this coming weekend, I hope), I will scale the effort back and see how that works. If I get to the top without too much damage done, I may circle around and repeat. That would seem to be the best way to develop the capacity to tackle longer steep hills in the future.

    You're on a 26 front, 32 rear? That's a hell of a mechanical advantage...

  17. #17
    Keep calm, Cycle on Panza's Avatar
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    When I went on group rides with my friends, I hit a "wall" as well on a 1.5mile 10%+ incline. Needless to say, I had barely made it to the top. I even had to stop in the middle to catch my breath and made my group wait for me at the top. To combat this, I started training on my local steepest hill. Between 10~22% of hell over a 0.5mi incline. I had my 34t crank x 25t rear. I managed to get up the hill halfway, then once, then twice. then I changed my rear cassette to max at 28t. Now I try to hit the hill 4 or so times. On hard group rides, I tend to stay seated unless sprinting to the top for a segment. High cadence, lowest gears, and constant burning lactate in my legs. The more your legs are exposed to that lactate, the more resistant to lactate fatigue they will become!

    While some people may bash you for using mountain bike gearing, I will not! Do what it takes to get to the top with your legs and your lungs intact! but at the same time, keep doing hills! We all have different bikes and fitness levels.
    Your bike reflects your attitude and your personality.

  18. #18
    just another gosling Carbonfiberboy's Avatar
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    It should not be an issue. What is making a problem for you is that you are trying to climb out of the saddle in a gear that is much too low for that technique. Out-of-saddle climbing demands a certain amount of momentum, so that the pedal sort of carries itself over the top. In that low a gear, you will come almost to a stop between downstrokes, so that progress is a series of leg burning bumps.

    Practice climbing lesser grades, say 4%-6%, seated, in much too high a gear, so that your cadence is very low, in the 45-55 range. Hold your upper body still and rotate your legs smoothly, pushing forward at the top, pulling back at the bottom, maybe even pulling up a little on the backstroke. When you get the hang of that, just sit and do that in your lowest gear on that steep climb. I don't usually stand in any ring under 39T. It's easier and more efficient to sit in very low gears. We have 26 X 34 on our tandem and have climbed 19% grades, fully loaded, with that technique.

  19. #19
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    In that low a gear, you will come almost to a stop between downstrokes, so that progress is a series of leg burning bumps.
    This makes a lot of sense to me, CFB. It feels like I speed up a bit (maybe 4-5 mph, lol) during the downstroke, then slow down to a near stop while pushing the other pedal forward into position for another downstroke.

    The inner math-geek in me thinks about this as a sinusoidal wave with speed as a function of time. During pedal strokes, speed peaks. Between pedal strokes, speed troughs due to drag factors (wind, road resistance, gravity). As the drag factors become more significant, the troughs deepen. At extremes, speed dips near zero and what usually works may not work anymore. Your approach of sitting down and focusing on evening out the pedal stroke would reduce the amplitude of the wave.

  20. #20
    Solo Rider, always DFL
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    When I'm about to stand up to climb, from my lowest gear of 30f/27r, even at that lower level of mechanical advantage, I'll click off at least two or three gears before getting out of the saddle. More torque, less cadence is typically what you do better when standing. For the 26 chainring combo above, you should plan on sitting, I can't picture really standing and grinding out that kind of gearing, though YMMV.
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