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What's the danger of cranking up hills on a really tall gears?

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What's the danger of cranking up hills on a really tall gears?

Old 08-19-19, 08:56 AM
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MB33 
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What's the danger of cranking up hills on a really tall gears?

All I hear is it's hard on your knees. Has anyone ever injured themselves doing this? What's the long term knee damage risks? I've been running the stock gearing on my 71 PX10 (45-21)and 85 Trek 460 (42-24) and I live in the land of steep hills (southwest Wisconsin). On the steepest climbs I just kind of use my weight to push the pedals down, I can feel it in my knees but haven't heard anything pop yet.
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Old 08-19-19, 09:05 AM
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Who cares about knees? What matters is it is harder on the bike- they are not making these things anymore you know.
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Old 08-19-19, 09:11 AM
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It's not doing your knees any favors, but I'd also be concerned about your back. When I've gone too hard on the hills, I've had more lower back issues than knee issues.

A second issue is the extra stress on the bike's drivetrain. There is the potential for a broken crank arm or pedal axle, both of which can cause loss of control of the bike when they break.

Steve in Peoria
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Old 08-19-19, 09:16 AM
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The biggest danger is not getting to the top.
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Old 08-19-19, 09:20 AM
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Old 08-19-19, 09:20 AM
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Originally Posted by MB33 View Post
All I hear is it's hard on your knees. Has anyone ever injured themselves doing this? What's the long term knee damage risks? I've been running the stock gearing on my 71 PX10 (45-21)and 85 Trek 460 (42-24) and I live in the land of steep hills (southwest Wisconsin). On the steepest climbs I just kind of use my weight to push the pedals down, I can feel it in my knees but haven't heard anything pop yet.
One big risk is that it brings out the "you should be spinning!" nanny in cyclists around you.

I love standing climbing, personally. As long as your muscles (including your lower back, to @steelbikeguy's point) are strong and up to it, you should be fine.
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Old 08-19-19, 09:21 AM
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Stress multipled by time - lots of people I've known had knee issues from pushing big gears. Spinning lower gears is a lot easier on the joints.
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Old 08-19-19, 09:36 AM
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Your knee runs the risk of straight up imploding ...like the death star at the end of Star Wars. YMMV
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Old 08-19-19, 09:45 AM
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It was SOP when those bikes were built.
As was said back-when about a great many things: "If it feels good, do it."

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Old 08-19-19, 10:24 AM
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Yeah, it was sort of expected that you could climb anything with a 42x21 as lowest gear BITD (my day anyway). Cleated cycling shoes, light sew ups, and knowing how to climb out of the saddle were part of the equation.

It's probably prudent to also note that you were supposed to train to your knees. That was part of the explanation to do massive spinning miles in a relatively low gear at the start of the year, before beginning any kind of speed work, sprints, or hard climbing. It was thought that muscles get strong quickly with training, but tendons take much longer. If you did a 6-8 weeks (i forget) of LSD at the start of the year, by the time you started stomping hard, your knees were toughened enough to take it.

Not sure honestly how true any of this was from the modern point of view, but it seemed to work.
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Old 08-19-19, 10:33 AM
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Q: How can you tell if an old bicycle was a Race Bike?
A: If the current owner can't hack the original gearing.

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Old 08-19-19, 10:36 AM
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I've snapped a chain before by mashing too much. Haven't noticed bodily harm. I'd expect component stress is your biggest risk.
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Old 08-19-19, 10:52 AM
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That part of Wisconsin is a cycling gem. Have done a few long day rides including the dairyland dare on tall geared vintage steel. On one event, lowest gear inch was 54 (4 speed) with an aluminum 'cottered' crank from the 1950s.

Today it seems masochistic but I wouldn't call it too troubling for the knees, providing you're conditioned and know limits.

Not sure if correct but I found a methodical means to climb on such bikes. That being a steady pressure throughout including focusing on pulling up on the opposing side.... all while seated. No pouncing. The rare occasional stand is only to stretch. I believe my lower back is doing some work too, as I like to be on the drops far more than the top of the bars.
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Old 08-19-19, 11:32 AM
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Not far from you at Blue Mound I did three repeats of the entire climb, including that final ramp, with a low of 42x24. That was six years ago and this season it finally seems
better, though not quite same as original. A friend won the Reddish Knob hillclimb in Virginia and had to have both knees replaced a decade later, no question at all it was the climbing. That was a lady in her early thirties when she won, forties for the knee surgery. Which is real early for knee replacement.

Some do better than others with big gear climbing. Richard Virenque notoriously won all his TdF KoMs with a low of 42x19. And survived. You might not be so lucky. But it could happen.

A PX-10 does not stop being correct when the freewheel, a service part after all, is replaced with something more realistic than the one that came with the US import version. Even amongst young racers BITD replacing that gear was common.
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Old 08-19-19, 12:37 PM
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I like to stand up and mash - for a minute or two. Just to stretch out muscles that are growing weary of working hard in one position for too long.

Gimme low gears every time, though. Only so much mileage left on this old pair of legs.
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Old 08-19-19, 01:00 PM
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Whether it's hard on your knees depends on your knees.

Mostly it's slow and fatiguing. Small gears can be for going slow, but they can also be for going fast when the going is slow.
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Old 08-19-19, 01:13 PM
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Originally Posted by HTupolev View Post
Whether it's hard on your knees depends on your knees.

Mostly it's slow and fatiguing. Small gears can be for going slow, but they can also be for going fast when the going is slow.
Umm, climbing out of the saddle is hardly a time for spinning... Pushing bigger gears at lower cadence, is certainly fatiguing, but if you've got the motor, it ain't slow.
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Old 08-19-19, 01:20 PM
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Originally Posted by Last ride 76 View Post
Pushing bigger gears at lower cadence, is certainly fatiguing, but if you've got the motor, it ain't slow.
It is if you're bottomed out significantly past what you'd self-select for the intended terrain and effort level, which is usually the case when people are saying things like "just kind of use my weight to push the pedals down."
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Old 08-19-19, 01:53 PM
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I'd say the danger is probably exaggerated. I was diagnosed with chondromalacia (roughness in the insides of the kneecaps) when I was only 24 years old. They told me it was wear and tear. I'm 58 now, and I'm fairly OK. My knees hurt a bit but not too much. I try to be gentle on them, but going hard uphill doesn't seem as bad as mashing on flat ground. One reason is that I don't climb for that long.
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Old 08-19-19, 04:12 PM
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Ummmmm ...

Wouldn't a doctor be more qualified than the entire internet to answer a medical question?
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Old 08-19-19, 04:22 PM
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Pro racers used the aforementioned gearing much more often and harder than we do - and they didn't all turn to invalids as they approached their 40s. I vote that it's a case-by-case basis.

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Old 08-19-19, 04:35 PM
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Originally Posted by iab View Post
Ummmmm ...

Wouldn't a doctor be more qualified than the entire internet to answer a medical question?
I'm not a doctor, but methinks you are correct. Besides, I remember you doing those hills on a 1933 Frejus.

Having grown up in SW Wisconsin, there are only two ways I know to climb those hills:
1-Be 11 years old, have a banana bike and have no idea it's hard.
2-Just do it.

If you're climbing my home area on that gearing, you are a stud.
Come see us next month at www.vivacycling.com . Public roads, we ride.


I'm much more prone to injury by being falling down drunk. And not near as tired.

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Old 08-19-19, 04:58 PM
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Old 08-19-19, 05:04 PM
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Originally Posted by iab View Post
Ummmmm ...

Wouldn't a doctor be more qualified than the entire internet to answer a medical question?
Oh gawd no! Better to ask a buncha old farts and get a buncha opinions!

Keeping it real, though, I'm not sure that most doctors know that much about bicycle related sports injuries, and the wisdom of elders can be applied. Earlier this year my achilles tendon on one leg was getting sore from riding. @northbend told me to drop my saddle height a bit early in the season, I needed to get some miles in before stretching it back out. I did, the pain went away, and several weeks later inched it back up to the normal height. Doubt if there are many non-biking doctors that would have given me that advice.
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Old 08-19-19, 05:05 PM
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Originally Posted by MB33 View Post
All I hear is it's hard on your knees. Has anyone ever injured themselves doing this? What's the long term knee damage risks? I've been running the stock gearing on my 71 PX10 (45-21)and 85 Trek 460 (42-24) and I live in the land of steep hills (southwest Wisconsin). On the steepest climbs I just kind of use my weight to push the pedals down, I can feel it in my knees but haven't heard anything pop yet.
What's the downside to driving your car up those same hills at 10 mph in 5th gear?
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