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How did "vintage" cyclists climb hills?

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How did "vintage" cyclists climb hills?

Old 12-10-20, 04:30 PM
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no67el 
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How did "vintage" cyclists climb hills?

So it seems like one of the first thing the new owner of a vintage bike does--- at least if he/she intends to actually ride said bike, let alone ride it uphill--- is to start fiddling with things in order to get a reasonable climbing gear.

But "back in the day" these bikes were ridden too, no? How the heck did people get up the hills? I'm looking at a 50's era racing bike that was fitted with a single front chainring with 46 teeth, and 4 rear cogs with something like 14-17-19-22. Compare this to the supposedly macho racers of the 70's with a 53/39 and a 12/23! Let alone today's bikes which roll of the sales floors with a 50/34 crank and an 11-34 cassette....

Did people just like suffering more? Were people just strong enough to crank 40 rpm up 12 percent grades? Or did everyone just ride the flats and go around the hills?

I'm actually puzzled by this. How did cycling survive as a sport with such brutal gearing? Figured you folks might know...
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Old 12-10-20, 04:54 PM
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They knew how to harden the **** up in the day.

Giovanni Valetti. Likely a 48 up front, 17/19/21 in back.

Valetti 04 by iabisdb, on Flickr
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Old 12-10-20, 05:03 PM
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Passo Rolle, 1938. Mountains were not avoided. And the road conditions were much much worse than today.

1939_Giro032 by iabisdb, on Flickr
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Old 12-10-20, 05:07 PM
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Generally speaking, people who buy and Ride vintage are Vintage.
Bitd I rode 52-42 × 13-21 I stayed in the big ring about middle of freewheel, when a hill came up I'd put it in the small ring and then the grade percent would determine the rest.
32 years later I Now I keep it mostly in the small ring and my freewheels are mostly 13-26 or 28.
Possibly I was tougher but for certain I was younger.

Last edited by texaspandj; 12-10-20 at 05:18 PM.
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Old 12-10-20, 05:21 PM
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Sometimes, they walked up hills.
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Old 12-10-20, 05:25 PM
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I believe I had 53/42 front and 13-21 6sp rear when I raced. This was a typical racing setup and everyone suffered up hills. I upgraded to 7sp in the early 90s and opted to put a granny gear ‘23’ as 7th cassette. Spinning uphill was not a thing, but I did see someone jump off their bike once on a particularly steep climb and run up the hill with it. If you where touring you generally got a bike with a triple front.
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Old 12-10-20, 05:40 PM
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Comparing a casual vintage bike collector/rider to a vintage pro racer isn't really fair. Those riders put lots of miles in and did so to be competitive with other high level riders. Also stimulants. Not the whole story at all, but it was there for that competitive edge. Read what Jacques Anquetil had to say about that.

Really, though, the gearing isn't undoable for reasonably fit riders. A 48x21 low is like 60 year inches. Maybe too much to do day in and day out for most, but could be done at times. But why? If you're not racing, then there's no point grinding yourself out every day. Unless that's what you want. Nothing wrong with that.

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Old 12-10-20, 05:50 PM
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They mashed the hell out of the saddle, and occasionally walked. You also didn't really see some of the stupid steep stuff like the Angrilu or Mortorolo, and if they did have hills like that, a lot of riders might have walked them (many of the riders reported that basically everyone walked or got pushed up the Muro Di Sormano when it was put in the Tour of Lombardy in the 60s briefly)

Training was much different back then too. Remember hearing about stuff where your DS would put your bike in the big ring, and send you on a ride. When you got back, he'd go over your little ring with a microscope to make sure there wasn't a spot of chain grease on it. They were not training bike racers to spin up hills back then.
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Old 12-10-20, 05:55 PM
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53/39 didn’t come into use until the 80s. 39 was not possible with the Campy NR crank and 144 BCD. Only when the 130 BCD came about, thanks Shimano, did 39s get used. And the 53 was usually not the high end. Most folks ran a 52 with a 14 and later a 13.
How did we get up hills ? There are hills that I ride now that I passed by earlier years because they were just too steep. First year I rode the Mt Washington Hill Climb with my 42 21, there was some walking. Next year, I borrowed the huge fw from by sister’s Raleigh Record. It might have had a 26. Whatever it was, the ride was so much easier that year.
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Old 12-10-20, 05:57 PM
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Originally Posted by billridesbikes View Post
I believe I had 53/42 front and 13-21 6sp rear when I raced. This was a typical racing setup and everyone suffered up hills. I upgraded to 7sp in the early 90s and opted to put a granny gear ‘23’ as 7th cassette. Spinning uphill was not a thing, but I did see someone jump off their bike once on a particularly steep climb and run up the hill with it. If you where touring you generally got a bike with a triple front.
I think this is why you see old "touring" derailleurs with relatively high chain wrap capacity but an unusually low maximum cog. Back then your bailout gear for touring was a small granny ring, but you didn't really see big rear sprockets like you do now, so the actual max cog was fairly small still.
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Old 12-10-20, 06:03 PM
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Back when I was a boy I was on a farm at the bottom of a bluff. I got where I could make it up the steep gravel lane without stopping . I'm not sure what the bike was probably a BSO fro0m western field or sears roebuck. As boys we were strong from hard honest work.
Boys were boys and girls were girls. Even the girls then were probably much stronger than the gender puzzled wimps of today.
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Old 12-10-20, 06:04 PM
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I think the question is, “Why do cyclists today need such low gears?” I am glad motors don’t fit in vintage frame tubes. And I’m cranky today. Sorry.
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Old 12-10-20, 06:05 PM
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Back in those days the hills were all uphill in both directions.
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Old 12-10-20, 06:11 PM
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The gearing might be "easier" today but also they wouldn't have sent riders up say, the Plateau de Gileres back in the 50s, unless they wanted everyone to walk up.




To be honest, as someone who prefers the longer, more epic climbs, I'm not a huge fan of the modern Vuelta trend of sending riders with low gears on the steepest, most miserable looking goat track roads they can find, but that's one of the few ways to break up mountain train tactics, unfortunately, and fans like them.
​​​​​​
But yeah, personally I'd take the classic Saises/Arivas/Joux-Plane tour route any day over Saises/Arivas/Gileres like they did this year.

Last edited by sheddle; 12-10-20 at 06:15 PM.
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Old 12-10-20, 06:22 PM
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Just as another example--the Col de la Lusette was once considered hard enough that it supposedly broke Bernard Hinault and forced him to walk up, where this year nobody attacked because nobody was confident it was hard enough to get a decent time gap on.

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Old 12-10-20, 06:24 PM
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Youth. Necessity

Youth: I am helping a 30-something with the “renewal” of his Scott. High end in 2006. 53/39 and 11-24 DA 7800. His 53T is shot, 39T like new. I’ve chased him up Cat 4’s with my compact and big cogs.

About 10 years ago, norskagent and I rode straight blocks in “hilly” Franklin County NC. Riding the same at the Dairyland Dare cured me of that.

Necessity: eBay was slower and the selection was poor back then.

Cyclists were tougher.
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Old 12-10-20, 06:36 PM
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I like climbing but I don’t use 144 bcd or even 130 bcd cranks. I build my racing bikes with 110 bcd doubles, 86 bcd doubles, or TA doubles. I like triples too.

Last edited by bikemig; 12-10-20 at 06:56 PM.
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Old 12-10-20, 06:43 PM
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Drugs, excellent drugs.
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Old 12-10-20, 07:03 PM
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Originally Posted by nlerner View Post
Drugs, excellent drugs.
Amphetamines, mostly, then. They dull pain as well as fatigue if you’re high enough. They’re why modern meth-heads don’t go down with Tasering, and have to be shot.
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Old 12-10-20, 07:23 PM
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I was never a racer, but I had nothing else to do as a teenager but ride my bike. I have a bike very similar to the one I had at 17 or 18 years of age and I enjoy it because in many ways it makes me feel 18 again. And there is a hill I rode then that I ride now occasionally, but I don't feel 18 again when I get to the top of it now.

And if I'm reading some of these posts right, I find it interesting that many racers would walk the hills. I wouldn't have imagined that, but I find it interesting they did.
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Old 12-10-20, 07:24 PM
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Originally Posted by sheddle View Post
I think this is why you see old "touring" derailleurs with relatively high chain wrap capacity but an unusually low maximum cog. Back then your bailout gear for touring was a small granny ring, but you didn't really see big rear sprockets like you do now, so the actual max cog was fairly small still.
Was that for the half-step gearing on the first two chainrings, then a bail out like you say? So the larger rings were still pretty big for touring, at least by today's standards
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Old 12-10-20, 07:31 PM
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How did "vintage" cyclists climb hills?

By standing up and pedalling!

I have a 3 speed road bike, sturmey hub, the bike is geared 53/23, first gear is a reduction of %25 so my 1st gear is equivalent to 40/23, I did climb 14,200' on that bike in one ride, I spent 4-5 hours out of the saddle that day. I am sort of light though, ~162 pounds, which makes all the out of the saddle time easier.
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Old 12-10-20, 07:51 PM
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The same question might have been asked when they went from single speed to two-speed with a wheel flop, to derailleurs. They went up slower before, faster after, and didn't destroy themselves as much on the climbs.

At the '87 Pan Am games in Indiana, everyone assumed the road race course would be flat because that's Indiana's reputation. They held it in Brown County State Park in southern Indiana, which has ridiculously sharp short climbs. A few guys managed to buy climbing gears at the local shops after seeing the course. The rest? Many of them DNF'd.
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Old 12-10-20, 07:54 PM
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"Ah, you were lucky!"

Originally Posted by Vintage_Cyclist View Post
Back in those days the hills were all uphill in both directions.

Something about this conversation recalls the above....

Thanks for all the replies--- I live on the side of a valley, and pretty much every ride available to me involves at least a few gradients of anywhere from 10 percent up to 18-22 percent, depending on how ambitious I'm feeling. I think of myself as enjoying climbs, but the idea of riding a 48x22 up a 2 mile climb which averages 10-12 percent? That's daunting...

I love the pictures of the famous Tour climbs back when they were unpaved gravel---- I've ridden the Tourmalet, and the idea of riding that as an unpaved dirt track is just insane. The descents would have been far worse than the uphill!

Amphetamines seem a bit extreme as a training option... but I suppose I could just try to HTFU. As long as my knees don't explode....

N


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Old 12-10-20, 07:54 PM
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For a couple years in my early minimalist twenties my only bike was a Raleigh SC - single speed with coaster brake. I used to say it had three gears: sit, stand and push.

Is it possible that some of the fascination with low gears today is a consequence of how uncomfortable (and sometimes hazardous) it is to walk up hills in cleated shoes?
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