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How did "vintage" cyclists climb hills?

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How did "vintage" cyclists climb hills?

Old 12-11-20, 01:01 AM
  #51  
downtube42
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Originally Posted by clubman View Post
Yeah but at least the track was flat and Kurt Harnett won gold in the 1000 TT.
We Canadians have to revel in our wins 50 years after the fact.
I was there (as a volunteer) that day! Kurt was a regular at Major Taylor Velodrome in Indianapolis. He was a character, and had the most massive quads I'd ever seen.
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Old 12-11-20, 02:08 AM
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Spinning at faster cadence up climbs in "easier" gears isn't easier than grinding up in big gears. It just moves the agony from the legs to the lungs.

And we lose VO2 max as we age, so spinning may be less effective than grinding. Definitely true for me. I'm surprised how quickly my respiratory capacity has declined over the past five years (I'm 63 now). Starting a year ago I changed techniques to strengthen my legs to compensate, and do a lot of walking and jogging, including off-pavement uphill and downhill to improve my overall flexibility and conditioning. My cadence used to be 90 rpm like clockwork but now it's 75 rpm. And I'm not any faster. The pain on maximum efforts just moved from the chest to the legs.

I switch between a lightweight carbon fiber road bike with lovely Ultegra 53/39 double and, currently on my Ironman, 50/38. Currently -- for comparison purposes -- pretty much the same 7-speed cogs on both: 11 or 12-28 cassette on the carbon bike (the original 10 speed is in a box waiting to be put back on); 13-28 freewheel on the Ironman.

Neither is easier on our roller routes with lots of short, steep climbs. I spin on one, grind on the other. Then flip flop cadence to see if weight matters (the Ironman weighs roughly 7 lbs more, as ridden).

Just different techniques, different pain. I find burning legs easier to tolerate than burning lungs. There's nothing more discouraging than lungs-on-fire, gasping for breath with asthmatic wheezing when I'm spinning around 100-110 rpm in an "easier" gear, at the same speed as grinding a bigger gear on the heavier bike.

I'm always amused by the younger pros and serious amateurs who've never competed on anything but carbon fiber bikes, mostly with compact gearing in the spin-to-win generation, who dole out advice about "not bobbing and rocking back and forth (not side-to-side) in the saddle" -- until they do one of those inevitable "modern vs classic bike" comparisons. They discover you can't climb a serious mountain on a steel bike in a 42 or larger chainring and 23T or so big rear cog without some rocking and bobbing to maintain momentum while grinding at 50-60 rpm. And a lot more climbing out of the saddle to maintain momentum. If they'd watched a few films of races from the 1950s-'60s on mountain stages they'd have realized what to expect.

With practice -- changing technique from high cadence with heavy respiratory load, to lower cadence with heavy muscle load -- they'd adapt. But neither would be "easier."

As the infamous Dr. Ferrari said during the 1990s about the faster cadence adopted by Lance Armstrong and others, it wasn't "easier." But it did shift the burden to the respiratory system, which can recover overnight (especially with the help of EPO and blood doping). The heavy muscle load imposed by grinding bigger gears at slower cadence impairs overnight recovery (one reason why steroids were often used -- to enhance muscle recovery, dramatically demonstrated by Floyd Landis' miraculous overnight recovery and comeback from his Stage 16 meltdown to a breakaway unsupported solo win on Stage 17).

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Old 12-11-20, 05:35 AM
  #53  
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Love this thread. My memories of riding in the 70's on my PX10 (bottom gear 42x21) were avoiding that "low" gear 'cause you needed to save that bailout.
Although, this was in eastern CT, with short, steep hills, I remembered hanging out in the Chicago shop of Al Stiller. You can look him up, an early US rider to go to Europe.
Of course, Chicago area is flatter, but his Paramount had 52/54 rings, and a straight block 13-18. When I saw pictures of Walter Godefroot racing Merckx, I thought, "That's
exactly the same body as Al Stiller, a kind of bulldog. He said he once won a roller race, but it was staged for him to win. "I could never spin those small gears."
Anyway, to echo this thread, I recently bought an old Vitus 979, and immediately changed the freewheel from 24 to 28.
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Old 12-11-20, 06:47 AM
  #54  
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In the 70s I went bike camping with my father. Raleigh International, 52/46, 13/23, sew-ups, and about 30 pounds of gear. Two years later I'd wised up and had 13/28 on the back. I stood going up a lot of hills but only remember walking up one. Rode carefully and didn't have any flats. At the time I didn't know there were any other options except that there was a Mercier touring bike I couldn't afford.

You can do a lot when there aren't any other options.
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Old 12-11-20, 07:10 AM
  #55  
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For me, it's either htfu or do switchbacks. I do a little of both.
I think this too. When I first set up my Bates with a flip flop 46x18 I thought it would relegate my rides to flat routes, but the more I rode and gained confidence in my capabilities the hills I thought were too steep became possible, just hard. No give up gear...
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Old 12-11-20, 07:25 AM
  #56  
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Originally Posted by mdarnton View Post
You can do a lot when there aren't any other options.
This. This is what riding all over my little corner of South Carolina on a 70-in fixed-gear has taught me. Reducing the gearing options has helped me to explore every trick I can make my body do, whether it's riding at different cadences, using every single variation of position on the bike, utilizing every centimeter of options on the dropped bars with brake lever hoods, the whole length of the saddle. And maybe even learning to not be too proud to use the traditional 24-in gear the way cyclists did in past years.

I used to think I needed four letters on my handlebar stem - WWFD, or "What would Fausto do?" But now I think I would be better served by having a sticker reminding me to HTFU.
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Old 12-11-20, 07:37 AM
  #57  
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Awesome, interesting stuff folks--- the climbing style of earlier generations was certainly different! I was watching "Stars and Watercarriers" the other day, and the heads of Merckx and others are bobbing all over the place on the climbs! But it's also clear that they are not riding in their easiest gear--- indeed they are in the big ring quite a bit.

I have noticed a few interesting things:

1). When I switch from my modern/carbon bike (50/34 and 11-32) to one of my old steel bikes (usually 53/39 and 12-26 or 12-28), I often set a couple of Strava PR's going up my regular hills! I figure that the older gearing setups force me to climb more aggressively, just in order to stay on top of the heavier gear. Or my legs are used to turning a faster cadence

2) Eventually, though, I relearn how to go slower in a heavier gear again--- I guess my legs get used to handling the high torque of lower rpms so I stop being as aggressive in trying to maintain cadence.

3). The heavier gears make it a lot harder to handle rapid changes in gradient. The hills around here are not very steady, instead often switching rapidly from 7-10 percent up to 13-15 percent (or more!) for short stretches and then back down. In a 39x23 or similar this can be pretty leg-breaking--- not the first few times, but eventually muscular power to just stand and crank through the steeper parts gets harder and harder to come by!

I'm interested in what a gearing limitation might bring back to pro racing--- juniors are limited to certain gear ranges, why not the pros? If the pros were limited to 39x23, would the burlier physiques with the power to turn the gear come back to the fore along with the super skinny/tiny climbers? Right now the Grand Tour climbs seem entirely the province of tiny or anorectic skeletons like Froome/Sepp Kuss/Jai Hindley. Certainly no one who looks "muscular" like Hinault, LeMond or Merckx seems to appear at the front of these climbs any more.....

Anyway, if I do end up with a 1950's ride with a 46x22, I may try to ride it for a while before monkeying with the gearing, just to savor the experience of what the OG's did on the regular....

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Old 12-11-20, 08:15 AM
  #58  
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Walking during a race

This is a quote from someone who did the Milk Race in 1965 using a simplex RD and said he walked up the 33% (!!!) grades:

“I rode the 1965 Milk Race/Tour of Britain on one of these gears and it worked perfectly throughout the fourteen days of the race on gradients of up to 33% - although we were walking at that point!

In the mountain stages it was OK with 52/42 and 14-28 (five speed). In the Tour we were often given bits of equipment by manufacturers - I was given this, several Williams cotterless chainsets which cracked, Polish Kowalit tubs, etc..

Source: Simplex Prestige derailleur (537)

If looking for a "racing" crank on an old school bike, there's a lot to be said for a stronglight 93 since you can go as low as 37. You could easily run a 50/37 with a 14-28 in the rear running vintage derailleurs and a stronglight 93 crank (or any 122 bcd crank).
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Old 12-11-20, 08:19 AM
  #59  
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As far as rocking and rolling goes, Pantani once said that the method he used for climbing (in the drops) was to climb like you're trying to snap the handlebars off the stem.


Mashing out of the saddle will always look cool.
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Old 12-11-20, 08:39 AM
  #60  
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For contemporary rocking and rolling, look at Pogacar in the Tour. Roglic certainly looks better to my eyes, but whatever works.
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Old 12-11-20, 09:01 AM
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Originally Posted by canklecat View Post
Spinning at faster cadence up climbs in "easier" gears isn't easier than grinding up in big gears. It just moves the agony from the legs to the lungs.

And we lose VO2 max as we age, so spinning may be less effective than grinding. Definitely true for me. I'm surprised how quickly my respiratory capacity has declined over the past five years (I'm 63 now). Starting a year ago I changed techniques to strengthen my legs to compensate, and do a lot of walking and jogging, including off-pavement uphill and downhill to improve my overall flexibility and conditioning. My cadence used to be 90 rpm like clockwork but now it's 75 rpm. And I'm not any faster. The pain on maximum efforts just moved from the chest to the legs.

I switch between a lightweight carbon fiber road bike with lovely Ultegra 53/39 double and, currently on my Ironman, 50/38. Currently -- for comparison purposes -- pretty much the same 7-speed cogs on both: 11 or 12-28 cassette on the carbon bike (the original 10 speed is in a box waiting to be put back on); 13-28 freewheel on the Ironman.

Neither is easier on our roller routes with lots of short, steep climbs. I spin on one, grind on the other. Then flip flop cadence to see if weight matters (the Ironman weighs roughly 7 lbs more, as ridden).

Just different techniques, different pain. I find burning legs easier to tolerate than burning lungs. There's nothing more discouraging than lungs-on-fire, gasping for breath with asthmatic wheezing when I'm spinning around 100-110 rpm in an "easier" gear, at the same speed as grinding a bigger gear on the heavier bike.

I'm always amused by the younger pros and serious amateurs who've never competed on anything but carbon fiber bikes, mostly with compact gearing in the spin-to-win generation, who dole out advice about "not bobbing and rocking back and forth (not side-to-side) in the saddle" -- until they do one of those inevitable "modern vs classic bike" comparisons. They discover you can't climb a serious mountain on a steel bike in a 42 or larger chainring and 23T or so big rear cog without some rocking and bobbing to maintain momentum while grinding at 50-60 rpm. And a lot more climbing out of the saddle to maintain momentum. If they'd watched a few films of races from the 1950s-'60s on mountain stages they'd have realized what to expect.

With practice -- changing technique from high cadence with heavy respiratory load, to lower cadence with heavy muscle load -- they'd adapt. But neither would be "easier."

As the infamous Dr. Ferrari said during the 1990s about the faster cadence adopted by Lance Armstrong and others, it wasn't "easier." But it did shift the burden to the respiratory system, which can recover overnight (especially with the help of EPO and blood doping). The heavy muscle load imposed by grinding bigger gears at slower cadence impairs overnight recovery (one reason why steroids were often used -- to enhance muscle recovery, dramatically demonstrated by Floyd Landis' miraculous overnight recovery and comeback from his Stage 16 meltdown to a breakaway unsupported solo win on Stage 17).
Yep, whole lot of this makes sense to me. Obviously I'm just your average joe rider but I do a lot of riding in the mountains. I mash no matter what cause I suck at it, LOL! But while I prefer one of the compact doubles or triples for climbing I won't hesitate to take a 42T small ring bike up also. The Opus III means pairing that 42T with a 22 in the back and DT shifters, the Antares jumps me up to a 23T with DT shifters or if I go "luxury" the PDG Paramount has a 26T with STI shifters. They all hurt but the reality is I get up just fine. The Old Snowbasin Rd climb is about 1700 ft of climbing over a 8 mile section with a mile of that being a little downhill break from the pain. Avg incline is around 6 % but hits over 8% in places. Oh, and over the years the road has degraded so some gravel, some major cracks, gaps, etc. I get up just fine with a 42T and in all honesty most of my better times up this ( I've probably ridden it well over 100 times in the past 10 years) are on one of the 42T chainring bikes. So if an asthmatic, fat, blown knees, ol' geezer like me can climb this I'm sure the old pros had no problem tackling the climbs with the gearing they had.
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Old 12-11-20, 09:24 AM
  #62  
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I live on a hill so the end of my rides is always brutal. I do pull ups with the handle bars and switchback a lot. In my early riding days when I climbed a hill on my Japanese racer it felt like the frame was going to break! It never failed me and I still ride it today. It is the only bike I feel flex in when powering up hill. These Columbus and Reynolds bikes that I have now are way stiffer . I didn't have a clue back then how much difference tubing makes. I thought my Kabuki Diamond Formula was the fastest thing out there because it was lighter than my buddies bikes and I had the legs to pass them whenever I wanted.I couldn't afford the more expensive bikes and didn't know what I was missing. Now it is switchbacks and walk of shame.
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Old 12-11-20, 09:45 AM
  #63  
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I always wondered this too, more so when I am riding and shifting with my down tube shifters. I've been using these for 30+ years so very comfortable with the mechanics of it but always wonder how easy they would be to user in a race? What would I do when I suddenly had to sprint and how awkward it would be to reach down and shift?
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Old 12-11-20, 11:24 AM
  #64  
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Originally Posted by rogerm3d View Post
OK Boomer. Gender identity doesn't have anything to do with cycling nor ability to climb hills. Considering that the athletes of today are faster and stronger then in the past I would say there isn't much truth either (Focused training/dieticians etc have made the differences amazing)
Pretty sure he was joking. But an outdated point of view is just as bad as using a term like "ok boomer," no?

And this is an entirely different can of worms, probably best discussed somewhere else, but this often thrown around idea that athletes today are faster and stronger is highly debatable.

Originally Posted by no67el View Post
1). When I switch from my modern/carbon bike (50/34 and 11-32) to one of my old steel bikes (usually 53/39 and 12-26 or 12-28), I often set a couple of Strava PR's going up my regular hills! I figure that the older gearing setups force me to climb more aggressively, just in order to stay on top of the heavier gear. Or my legs are used to turning a faster cadence

3). The heavier gears make it a lot harder to handle rapid changes in gradient. The hills around here are not very steady, instead often switching rapidly from 7-10 percent up to 13-15 percent (or more!) for short stretches and then back down. In a 39x23 or similar this can be pretty leg-breaking--- not the first few times, but eventually muscular power to just stand and crank through the steeper parts gets harder and harder to come by!
That's interesting, because I had a very similar experience. There aren't many long hills (or simply hills, for that matter) where I usually ride, and a couple of years ago I finally decided to schlep a bike up to my family's annual vacation in the Adirondacks. I decided to take my '86 Lotus Legend, Original Shimano 600 53/42 (Biopace!) up front, 24 biggest on the rear, because it's pretty beat up and I didn't want to worry about anything.

I found a nice nearby climb that I liked, and rode it a few times. It's not very long, but quite steep in places 10-15% according to Strava, and on the steepest parts I was out of the saddle and doing my best just to maintain forward momentum. But I was happy with the results and decided I would see how much I could improve with a more modern setup this year.

So I took the Aluminum Deda Aegis, which has a 53/39 and 12-25 Chorus 11sp group... and of course I proceeded to go slower! It wasn't until the very end of the trip that I managed to finally pip my best effort on the Lotus. Part of me secretly wonders if it was the Biopace cranks making all the difference?

In reality, I think I just felt more comfortable mashing in a slightly higher gear (I hate the feeling of being out of the saddle and feeling like the gear isn't tall enough, so you are almost holding back to keep from spinning too fast). I also think that the higher handlebar placement on the older bike was much better for the steepest sections where I'm basically pulling up full strength on the bars to balance out the leg effort.

Originally Posted by sheddle View Post
As far as rocking and rolling goes, Pantani once said that the method he used for climbing (in the drops) was to climb like you're trying to snap the handlebars off the stem.
Mashing out of the saddle will always look cool.
Yes (and see above). Out of the saddle will always look best, and people shouldn't put form over function at all costs. If something allows you to go fast, don't try to change it. There was some Spanish rider in the tour this year (forget whom), that was constantly zig-zagging his front wheel slightly as he climbed. I'm sure some nerds could have had a field day figuring out how inefficient it was, but it worked for him and he was damn fast.
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Old 12-11-20, 11:38 AM
  #65  
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Back in the day I (we all) rode a 52/42 x 14-18 just like every other Real Man! If we decided to hit the San Bernardino mountains to Arrowhead or Big Bear the back way on the week end I and a couple others wimped out with a 21 or a 23. It was a shameful thing to do.
Now I ride a 52/39 x 13-26 and often wish that the Masi were triples but of course that is just not done. Getting old really sux goat balls.
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Old 12-11-20, 11:48 AM
  #66  
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On the subject of old steel going just as fast as modern carbon--- it has been very heartening to me to see that a good proportion of my PR's this summer/fall were set on my old steel bikes, which are certainly a few pounds heavier than my one carbon bike. Makes one wonder at the rush to spend thousands on a new carbon bike when a perfectly functioning used steel bike can be had for a tenth the price, and most people won't be appreciably slower on the old steel--- or at least the bike won't be the limiting factor!
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Old 12-11-20, 11:49 AM
  #67  
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First move on my 14 yo sons new roadie. 28t rear cassette! Found a new one and didn’t have to mortgage the house! Cyclists were HAM back in the day. Usually poorer than dirt too!
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Old 12-11-20, 12:04 PM
  #68  
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Originally Posted by SurferRosa View Post
For me, it's either htfu or do switchbacks. I do a little of both.
This reminds me of a blog I followed about five years ago of a young guy (late college age) who crossed the US from East to West on a fixie, self-supported and alone. He vowed to himself when he started that he wasn't going to walk any of it. When he got to the Continental Divide there was a section that was just too steep, but it was a wide road with no traffic so he zig-zagged his way to the top.

I guess in a race you don't have to beat everyone ever, now and in the future, you just have to beat the people in the race, and that's exactly what the old guys did, regardless of not having our technology.
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Old 12-11-20, 12:18 PM
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We migrated to mountain bikes, that's how we climbed!

I had a great Dawes road bike, but riding hills was an ordeal. I wonder sometimes, if I'm better shape now ... But around the time I was getting frustrated with my road riding, mountain bikes - with granny gears! - grabbed my attention. Even with knobbies, I could spin my way up a hill to the trail. I got rid of the Dawes, put slicks on the mountain bike, and only recently got another (vintage) road bike. (See the Ironman thread.)

I'm looking for more friendly gearing, yes.

But I think that was one of the problems with the industry back in vintage days. Bikes were either (a) geared toward racers and strong riders, or (b) essentially clunkers geared towards youth. Think of trying to find the equivalent of one of today's hybrids back in 1972, right? You either went high end, or ended up with a Schwinn, if you were a lucky kid. That's why I inherited the Ironman - my friend bought it 30+ years ago, rode it a couple of times, and found the gearing too hard. Knowing what I do know (how to ride), and the condition I'm in, I can ride it. But back in 1990, I was in the exact same boat. I just discovered mountain biking, while he stuck with cigarettes

(Also, most of us back then (me, at least), never thought about tearing bikes apart and making them more usable. I really had no clue of cycling culture until college.)
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Old 12-11-20, 12:23 PM
  #70  
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Originally Posted by Steel Charlie View Post
Back in the day I (we all) rode a 52/42 x 14-18 just like every other Real Man! If we decided to hit the San Bernardino mountains to Arrowhead or Big Bear the back way on the week end I and a couple others wimped out with a 21 or a 23. It was a shameful thing to do.
Now I ride a 52/39 x 13-26 and often wish that the Masi were triples but of course that is just not done. Getting old really sux goat balls.
LOL, while I'll still take a 42T front 23 rear, up the mountains occasionally. If I'm being honest though I purposely built up a light Lemond with light wheels, a triple with a 30T small chainring and a 30T cog on the cassette to me my main climbing bike now days. Getting old does suck!
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Old 12-11-20, 12:28 PM
  #71  
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Originally Posted by gthomson View Post
I always wondered this too, more so when I am riding and shifting with my down tube shifters. I've been using these for 30+ years so very comfortable with the mechanics of it but always wonder how easy they would be to user in a race? What would I do when I suddenly had to sprint and how awkward it would be to reach down and shift?
It's racing. You gotta be in the right gear, That means thinking ahead, observing, being smart. All part of the high speed, two wheeled chess game we call mass start racing. Yes, now it is easier. But then? Well 1977 when I race was far easier than the 1920s when you had to reach down to your seat tube to shift and you had maybe three gears. And that was easier than 1913 when you had two cogs and you had to stop and flip your wheel. A Tour de France was won by a rider who pretended to flat approaching the bottom of a mountain climb. Flipped the wheel onto his big cog. Spun like a madman and caught up. While everyone else was stopping to flip their wheels, he flew past and gained two minutes he carried into Paris days later. (My avatar photo is a 2011 version of those early race bikes. Fix gear, flip-flop hub. In the photo, the rider screwed up and didn't flip his wheel for the steepest (supposedly) ever Cycle Oregon hill. Two mile climb hitting 14% in a 42 x 17 (instead of a 23)! (I kept asking "Is this the big one?" No one answered. By the time I realized it was, it was too steep to stop and get started again!)

Two miles topping out at 14.5% sounds hard, But in my racing days, I rode 75 miles to the base of Pack Monadnock in southern New Hampshire and rode up the 1 mile, far steeper climb on my 42-19 racing low. Then visited my cousins in Peterborough and rode back to Boston. My glory days.

Oh - the detail my mentors stressed - riding a straight line while you rock the bike. I practiced leaving a perfectly straight tire track while doing the full "dance" where everything is moving side-to-side except my eyes. (My head rotates so the world as i see it does too, but the bridge of my glasses goes up the hill on a laser line. I didn't practice this but simply observed one day that is what I do.)
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Old 12-11-20, 01:00 PM
  #72  
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Back in the day I tried one of those 13-24 freewheels. It was about as macho as I was willing to be. I tried a 13-19 freewheel briefly and climbed a steep hill. I made it but didn't elect to do it again. So racers put up with the limitations because they didn't make things that intolerable. They take advantage of the lower gears but not as often as the rest of us do. The reason they don't is that they still have a goal of going faster than the competition.

There was also a tolerance for walking. Nowadays anyone buying a bike wants to be able to pedal up all foreseen hills.
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Old 12-11-20, 01:35 PM
  #73  
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When I started my cycling journey in '85 it was because it was part of a Triathlon. When I got me a real bike it was a brand new '86 panasonic dx3000 with a 6 speed 52-42 13 or 14 x 23 or 24. Then in Late '87 I bought a Pinarello frame and built it with 6 speed 52-42 ×13-21. After getting fairly good at riding I then went to a 53-39 × 13-18 straight block.
For some reason I could never get as comfortable on that set up as the 13-21. In the mid '90s I stopped racing, then picked it back up and mid 2000s. I built my Ironman to the exact components specs as my Pinarello but the 13-21 wasn't nearly as friendly.
Fast forward a few years and put a 13-26 on my Ironman to do the St. Croix triathlon but it didn't help, for the first and last time I had to walk up a hill too steep for my gearing/fitness...that one hill is called the Beast.

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Old 12-11-20, 05:47 PM
  #74  
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My old Fuji came with a 51/39 up front an the ubiquitous SunTour 14-17-20-24-28 five speed freewheel out back. At the end of the first day of TOSRV (105 miles that day) the OSU cycling club group habitually got together around dinner time (when everybody finally finished the 105 miles) and did the ride UP the hill on the Kentucky side of the river 'to see who still had something in the tank' - a 500' climb in less than a mile. Yeah, I made it with my 39-28 (38.8 Gear-inch) lowest gear, but barely, and that was after a couple hours rest....

That same bike today wears a triple front and 'flat-lander' 13-21 six speed freewheel. With that 28t granny ring up front, the 21 cog in the back actually gives me a lower gear (36.1GI). Of course I'd probably change that freewheel out for one with a 24t (31.6GI) 26t (29.2GI) or 28t (27.1GI) if I was to consistently ride in hills... and today I'm carrying 60 pounds over what I was 45 years ago!
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Old 12-11-20, 05:49 PM
  #75  
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Most of my riding is on randonneuring bikes with wide gear ranges. I like to spin up the hills. But sometimes I'll do the same hills on my fixie, which is great fun. I'm a lot faster on the fixie. When I ride an old ten speed, like my Allegro, It's more like the fixie than the rando bikes-- it's harder work, and you go faster.
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