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What makes a bike a better climber?

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What makes a bike a better climber?

Old 02-22-15, 10:15 AM
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What makes a bike a better climber?

Adequate gearing is an obvious answer, but a stiff bottom bracket (for greater efficiency) and lighter overall bike weight would be my guess. How about shorter chainstays? Any known research into the subject?
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Old 02-22-15, 10:35 AM
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A strong and lightweight rider.
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Old 02-22-15, 10:39 AM
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If I could read, I'd read the research, but I can't.

From what I understand, which isn't much:

1-The weight of the rider has more impact than anything, as far as weight/height ratio.
2-The gearing, especially if there isn't a narrow range of rider abilities in the group.
3-The weight of the rims/tires you have to move (rotational mass?)
4-The weight of the bike as a proportion of overall weight.

I do not know if geometry makes a difference, but tri-bikes are notoriously poor climbers, or maybe it's the riders, not sure.
I do not know if frame flex makes a difference, but some feel power is lost in flex.
Not sure I agree, as my Ironman Carbon was a great climbing bike.

The only improvements I can anecdotally support are:
a-weight of the rider
b-rotational mass of the rim/tire
c-the gearing.

As far as climbing, a- and c- made the most difference for me.
As far as climbing FAST, I think that's where b-may come in, relative to what other wheels I may be using.

When I am not successful climbing, I blame the bike.
When I am passed by people on heavier bikes, I blame my gearing.
When I face the truth, it's me.
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Old 02-22-15, 10:55 AM
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There has been some research- showing that weight only amounts to a few seconds over a period of a couple of miles of incline.

IMO only the biggest factor still seems to be the weight of the rider as opposed to the weight of the machine.
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Old 02-22-15, 11:07 AM
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Way back a bike with a tight rear triangle was allegedly a better climbing machine.

To a point I agree.

After I moved on from my first road bike, the differences were slight.

From the "feel", a few bikes stand out:

A Teledyne Titan, if you were in phase with the swaying of the bottom bracket, it Felt like it was assisting you.
If you went faster or slower, not.

A Masi 3 Volumetrica, for that I give the 25 mm chainstays and perhaps the oversized tubing elsewhere the nod to keeping the power going to the rear wheel.

And last, a Tesch S-22, Big beef everywhere. Heavy, but you feel like all the power is getting to the ground.

Neither of these bikes had exceptionally short chain stays. I had one bike that did have Very short chain stays and it climbed well too, but the three mentioned were more noteworthy.
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Old 02-22-15, 11:25 AM
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We don't have a lot of climbs in south Florida but going up the bridges, myself 120lbs (weekend warrior), and a 90lb female triathalete destroy the actual crit and road racers in the club.
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Old 02-22-15, 11:36 AM
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The three biggies: (Not in any order) Bike fit. VO2/weight. The three inches between the rider's ears. Bike fit is huge. It affects both power applies to the road and the ability to breath deeply and use that oxygen.

With the right stuff between the rider's ears and good fit, watch out! Good luck trying to slow him down with the wrong gears.

Ben
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Old 02-22-15, 11:42 AM
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Originally Posted by Salubrious View Post
There has been some research- showing that weight only amounts to a few seconds over a period of a couple of miles of incline.

IMO only the biggest factor still seems to be the weight of the rider as opposed to the weight of the machine.
A lot to this point.

I am a terrible climber, yet I put in loads of miles every year.

I rode with some guys in January and I did a fair amount of climbing on our 72 mile ride.

I asked for their critique of my riding form and they were complimentary until it came to climbing.

Several issues in form, but the truth hurts guys.

I simply carry too much weight on my midsection. One of the guys said it was like carrying a 25-30 lb. bag of rice up every hill.

That's way too much extra, so I have been really watching what I eat/drink since then and cranking up the gym minutes.

I feel better already and will continue this into the riding season.

Physical fitness is the sometimes hidden ingredient, as we often worry too much about the weight or particular build of the bike.

Lose the extra weight and the rest will figure itself out.
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Old 02-22-15, 11:53 AM
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shorter chainstays certainly improved the off road climbing traction, . but on pavement, sitting and spinning up a climb you wont break traction .


1st generation long stay Stumpies I had to balance between wheelies and tire slip . as a street /touring rig they're fine..

you talking road riding or gravel?

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Old 02-22-15, 12:10 PM
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Climbing was my strong suit way back when. But I only weighed 130. Still do.
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Old 02-22-15, 12:11 PM
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Originally Posted by fietsbob View Post
shorter chainstays certainly improved the off road climbing traction, . but on pavement, sitting and spinning up a climb you wont break traction .


1st generation long stay Stumpies I had to balance between wheelies and tire slip . as a street /touring rig they're fine..
That is why I said fit and did not get into details. I have always considered the weight balance between the wheels and the location of the BB as part of the fit. Any bike that discourages me from standing on the steepest, hardest sections of a hill is a bike that fits my body very poorly. Short chainstays help me a lot. I rode 20 years on long chainstay bikes until I picked up an old racing frame and it was like "wow, uphill is fun!" even though the frame was not especially light, nor was the bike built up. My two recent customs have very short chainstays, helped by very steep seat tubes and big setback seatposts.

I am not saying anyone else should stand as much as I do or that they want to ride the short chainstays I do. Just that my idea of torture would be a 10 mile ascent where I wasn't allowed to stand. (Now one where I wasn't allowed to sit? Long, hard and I am all there!)

Edit: I don't just stand. I pull myself far forward. Yes, I can hold back and put more weight over the rear wheel, but that is a real compromise in my power and comfort when I am out of the saddle. My first racing bike with its 74 degree seat tube and chainstays so short I could barely get training tubbied wheels out without deflating was my revelation. (And that bike wore permanent scratches from those rear wheels. Vertical dropouts weren't common yet.)

2nd edit: Stiff BBs. Necessary if you are fighting the bike. But if you are in sync with it, you can dance uphill on a quite flexible bike and pay no penalty at all. My racing bike, a mid '70s Fuji Pro, was not stiff. Never felt that bike slowed me down at all or that adding stiffness would have gained my anything. It's all about "the dance". And flexible bikes are just as good dance partners. (Not a climber, but take note of the one or two wins the road sprinter Sean Kelley had, riding one of the most flexible bikes ever.)

Ben

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Old 02-22-15, 12:11 PM
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Originally Posted by Salubrious View Post
IMO only the biggest factor still seems to be the weight of the rider as opposed to the weight of the machine.
Wholeheartedly agree! I need to lose about 25 pounds before heading to the mountains.
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Old 02-22-15, 12:13 PM
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Data point: a couple decades ago, I owned a Cannondale Criterium. VERY stiff, and pretty light for the day. Got tired of the harsh ride and replaced it with an Eisentraut Rainbow (which I still have, in need of repair). The 'traut is ~1lb heavier and noticeably less rigid in the bb. And climbs FAR better for me (6'3" 180 lb). Geometry of the two is virtually identical, no more than 3mm or 1/2 degree difference anywhere.

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Old 02-22-15, 12:18 PM
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Originally Posted by horatio View Post
Wholeheartedly agree! I need to lose about 25 pounds before heading to the mountains.
I was skiing last weekend at Vail and Copper Mountain.

I had forgotten the impact of altitude..........

I thought a truck had hit me the first day.
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Old 02-22-15, 12:20 PM
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Placing the rider's weight correctly over the pedals makes a big difference. If that means coming off the saddle, the frame will flex more than usual, so you'll definitely feel a whippy frame. If you stay on the saddle, it will help if the saddle is relatively far forward. If you're not on the saddle at all, saddle position becomes irrelevant, but handlebar position still matters a lot. I never like having my handlebar too high, but a high handlebar is especially bad for climbing.
Gearing matters, of course, but not as much as you'd think. Of all my bikes, the fastest climber is my fixed gear, for one simple reason: I can't downshift, so if I can't get up the hill with a reasonable riding cadence, I'll be walking it. So I hammer up every hill. And this brings me back to the handlebar subject: they say a fixed gear bike doesn't need two brakes, and that may be true, but for hammering up long steep hills I absolutely need two brake levers, 'cuz that's where my hands will be.
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Old 02-22-15, 12:26 PM
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I look at it in two different ways-

Whats makes it a 'faster' hill climber and what makes it an 'easier' climber. Sometimes I look at the obvious factors but often prove myself wrong. For example, I feel pretty good climbing on an above average weight frame but using a lightweight wheel having less rotational mass. Could pull a higher gear and grunt it out at a better speed. Then of course depends on the length of the climb. But, my fave hill climber is modern with hydroformed aluminum frame. Without doubt, it will smoke any of my vintage steel rides. I can attribute it to quite a few things but its an amazing stiff torsional frame.

To me, the sound of wasted energy is hearing the big ring rubbing the cage while under duress.

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Old 02-22-15, 12:36 PM
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Rider weight to strength.
I weigh 290, damn I eat too much, and make the climbs around here albeit slow.
I dont believe anything on the bike helps that much unless you are a light weight. I have seen people destroy faster riders on their fancy bikes with touring rigs.
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Old 02-22-15, 12:42 PM
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Stiff BB? Nope. My noodly flexible Vitus 979 is one of my best climbing bikes. The frame flex is returned to you on the second half of the crankset rotation.

Overall weight is important. Wheel weight is most important factor - 1,000 gram carbon tubulars are a revelation. No overlap between the climbing performance of tubulars and clinchers. None. No matter how much you spend.
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Old 02-22-15, 12:44 PM
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Shorter stays will have a slight weight savings as far as the bike is concerned.
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Old 02-22-15, 12:59 PM
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Very interesting answers. Here are a few points to consider, some already hinted at above.

Rotational mass of the wheels and tires "counts as double" but only for the purpose of acceleration. If the terrain is such that your bike is always changing speed then it matters a little. If the terrain is just one long steady climb, then an ounce on the wheels matters no more than an ounce anywhere else on the bike. Around here my bike is rarely at a near-constant speed for more than, say, ten seconds at a a time, so it matters to me how quickly I can accelerate. That affects my overall speed down the road, but in the end it doesn't really affect my climbing per se.

For me at least, the ultimate limitation is my aerobic capacity as long as my low gear can let climb indefinitely. If I can shift low enough so that my legs don't hit lactic acid overload then I'll go up as fast as I can breathe in the oxygen (or until my glycogen runs out). But give me a 12% grade hill and a low gear of, say, 40" low gear and I'll have to pull over and rest in short order.
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Old 02-22-15, 01:17 PM
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I've got a nice steep section in my paved driveway, about 17% which is good for experimenting.

Traction depends a lot on the rider's position. When it is dry pavement, it isn't a problem. When it is wet, it is a significant problem.

Too upright of a rider position and short chainstays (my folding bike), and I can't keep the front tire on the ground when seated in the saddle. It is a major pain for climbing.

On the other hand, my new Litespeed is a 26" to 700c conversion. It has moderately long chain stays, and a long top tube. Traction is fine when seated, but I loose traction when standing as I throw too much weight forward.

Perhaps the traction and rider position would be dependent on how steep the hill is. The longer bike might in fact be of an advantage for even steeper hills, perhaps 20% to 25%.
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Old 02-22-15, 01:36 PM
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like me, i'm sure many of you compare the rear cog of all your bikes used to climb a well known section of a local hill. on some of your bikes, you might frequently be in a larger cog for the same hill, thus concluding these bikes are poorer climbers.

i was always fascinated that my grand jubile with its long stays was not in the largest cog on that hill among my many riders. it always seemed to put me in an efficient position.

i think fit, comfort and rider position are most crucial.
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Old 02-22-15, 01:57 PM
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Here's what I know about the subject in terms of the bike part.

Fit is foremost, if you can't get back on the seat enough to use your glutes to climb with a long and deliberate pedal stroke you will not have a good climbing bike. This is part of the reason that the wedgie seats and way forward position of tri bikes gives them a reputation as bad climbers. I sit way forward on the flats, but you need a bike and seat that you can get back on comfortably for long periods of time.

Long stays tend to flex, worst case allowing the tire to rub on the chain stay. Yet, I don't like uber stiff short stays, as I want the bike to have some rhythm.

Vertical drops are helpful. I've had issues with wheels coming loose on climbs, and getting back on right in the middle of a stiff climb after you try to re-purchase a horizontal stay wheel sucks at best.

A stiff rear wheel like a shamal is better than something too fragile. Most wheels are fine, but really light wheels can get squirrely.

The front end matters also. A bike that has "wheel flop" isn't a great climber since you feel like you're working against yourself when making steering corrections. A more aggressive bike without massive footprint tires will mean easier corrections when climbing.

Having the handle bars too forward isn't good since you need to sit up to use your glutes. Leaning forward tends to emphasize the quads (short burst muscles), and being back helps the glutes (long twitch muscles) take over. My experience is that I can climb longer using the glutes, so sitting up just takes some of the pressure on the quads. Another reason tri bikes are crap climbers by design...

When all your weight is on the back wheel, good flexible sidewall tires allow more speed than something that takes more effort to deform. That's true all the time though. If your bike is slow down the hill compared to the field, I guarantee it's even slower going up.

Lighter pressure with a slightly faster cadence in an easier gear tends to be my best bet on longer climbs. I have gotten away from having a "bailout gear", and like to use multiple low gears to modulate my way up. Having a 30 ring makes that 2 or 3 tooth climb on the back less of a gap than it will be with a 39. This is the one area where having 10-11 speed is really nice, you can have a whole range for climbing without a lot of overlap.

It sometimes amazes me that people really want a 1 cog difference at the high end of their gearing at the expense of a 5 cog gaps at the back. On my modern stuff, I like to have a 7-9% per gear difference in gears across the whole range.
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Old 02-22-15, 01:58 PM
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Short chainstays might put your weight in a favorable place for climbing, but I tend to feel more secure descending the other side with a little longer wheelbase. My rides are never "climb-only", despite roadies in the 41 trying to assemble the perfect "climbing bike."

I can climb paved hills fine with either, loose ground with insufficient low gearing (aka, my fixed-gear) is where the weight balance becomes a concern.
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Old 02-22-15, 02:04 PM
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Originally Posted by 79pmooney View Post
The three inches between the rider's ears.
ummm, you have a really small head. very aero i guess.
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