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New Clyde in a hilly area - suggestions?

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New Clyde in a hilly area - suggestions?

Old 04-17-18, 11:01 AM
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Jon A.
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New Clyde in a hilly area - suggestions?

Hi,

I am 45 years old and weigh 248lbs (and I'm only 5'9" so I'm pretty darn heavy for my height). I just bought a Cannondale Quick 4 to try to lose weight and get in shape. I am also making changes to my diet (hard boiled eggs and smoothie for breakfast, salad with chicken for lunch and not going too nuts at dinner). My plan is to ride 2-3 nights a week (~30min each) and 1-2 longer (1-2 hour) rides on the weekend. I will also be taking walks with my wife and 3 year old twins. I need to get in shape to keep up with the kiddos who never seem to get tired! My ultimate goal is to be <200 lbs but for this season, I would be happy to lose 20-30 lbs.

I live at the top of a hill with a 6.8% grade in an area surrounded by hills. So far, I have only been out twice on the bike. What is apparent is that these hills are going to kill me. I don't have a HR monitor/fitbit (yet) but I am pretty sure I was WAY out of the recommended heart rate zone for losing weight. I have been using Strava to try to come up with some routes that I can take from my house but no matter what I do, the routes all seem to have a 400+ foot elevation gain. The problem is that the area is so hilly that I am either climbing (which gets me huffing and puffing) or descending (which isn't helping me get fit)... there just aren't any flat areas within riding distance from my house.

Any suggestions for the weekday rides? For the weekend rides, I will throw the bike in the back of my car and go somewhere with a flatter route (perhaps a rail trail near me). Weeknights, time is pretty tight (I only have a 30-45 minute window between bedtime for the kids and our dinner) so I think I am stuck with riding from my house. It seems like it would be a lot easier to get into shape by spinning on flat routes and work my way up to hills. I guess I am either looking for suggestions or for those with similar experiences to tell me it will get easier tackling the hills as time progresses.

Thanks in advance!

-Jon A.
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Old 04-17-18, 02:07 PM
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I had this up during lunch and getting to it now, so there's no other posts as of yet....

Hills, you describe just about my entire start to cycling. I'm in Western PA, there's no such thing as flat. I thought the hills would kill me and indeed they seemed to at first.

You've got 1 inch and 1 pound on me from when I started. I started out on a Walmart full suspension mountain bike and with my first 3.5 mile ride and my 2nd being 5 miles, I gave up with what I thought was hills and drove the bike down to the trail. I lived a few miles from the Allegheny River Trail. There I spent 2 months until winter weather riding 12 flat miles nearly every day.

In the spring of 14, I bought a "real" bike, similar to your Cannondale. I have a Giant Escape 1. Love it. When I bought that bike, I headed back out on the country roads and the hills. Yes, they were killer. Like you, a 6.8% grade seemed like I would never get up it. I'll tell you, halfway through the summer, that 6.8% that I thought was a killer hill I began to consider flat.

The only way to get use to the hills is to ride them. Ride less distance if you have no choice but to ride hills because of your area. You will improve very quickly. My first ride up that hill I thought my heart was going to explode. I stopped 3 times to catch my breath on the hill and again at the top. The following week I tackled that hill no problems.

The rest of that summer I kept up about half and half going to the rail trail and riding the back country roads behind my house. It was nothing to have close to 100 ft per mile worth of climbing on my rides which is a lot.

Today I purposely seek out the big hills. I've climbed 24% which seems impossible, nearly feels impossible, but I ride in Pittsburgh a lot and climbed some of the Dirty Dozen hills (a race of the 13 biggest hills in the Burgh) on my own with a group I get together with (on my own as in not racing.) 24% is the steepest I've climbed yet, but I put a certain 20% grade on my route at least once a week while I was displaced after a divorce.

You will lose weight by eating better. The bicycle will improve your fitness. I've been up and down and started 4 years ago at 247 and am currently down only to 240 (been down to 212.) Yeah, I'm still a Clyde and I'm not fast, but show me any hill and I'll climb it no problem, just slowly. Along with my 240 lb. frame, my bike with the rack weighs 35 lb. and I carry at least a gallon of water with me any time I get on the bike. That's a lot of weight to push up a 20% grade, but it's like nothing today for me.

A lot on this forum talk about interval training. That is where you ride as hard as possible getting to max or close to max heart rate for a time, then slow down to bring the heart rate back down. Rinse and repeat. Great for fitness training. The hills are kind of like natural interval training. You spike your heart rate going up them, then rest going down.

All in all, the only suggestion one can give another that is surrounded by hills is to keep riding the hills. It doesn't take long before the lesser grade hills that seemed impossible are what you will call flat, as 6.8% is pretty darn flat to me.

Here's the example of my steepest so far, Rialto Street in Pittsburgh. I believe this is 24%, the 4th steepest of the 13 hills from the Dirty Dozen race. Yes, it was difficult, but I even got stopped 1/3 of the way up from a car coming down and had to start again. I think I got started again on the 4th attempt to get moving and my feet on the pedals. It was not easy. Note, I also did it with a rack, panniers, water, extra clothing (it was cold, not the snow in this picture though) and the bike probably weighed at least 60 lb. in total.

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Old 04-17-18, 02:12 PM
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Oh, and you don't have your location in your profile. Where is it that you are surrounded by hills? If you were near me, I'd be more than happy to ride with ya as I was in your same situation when I started as I said.
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Old 04-17-18, 02:12 PM
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Originally Posted by Jon A. View Post
Hi,
I live at the top of a hill with a 6.8% grade in an area surrounded by hills. So far, I have only been out twice on the bike. What is apparent is that these hills are going to kill me. I don't have a HR monitor/fitbit (yet) but I am pretty sure I was WAY out of the recommended heart rate zone for losing weight. I have been using Strava to try to come up with some routes that I can take from my house but no matter what I do, the routes all seem to have a 400+ foot elevation gain. The problem is that the area is so hilly that I am either climbing (which gets me huffing and puffing) or descending (which isn't helping me get fit)... there just aren't any flat areas within riding distance from my house.

Any suggestions for the weekday rides?
Get lower gears and pace yourself.
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Old 04-17-18, 02:36 PM
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Originally Posted by Jon A. View Post
I have been using Strava to try to come up with some routes that I can take from my house but no matter what I do, the routes all seem to have a 400+ foot elevation gain. The problem is that the area is so hilly that I am either climbing (which gets me huffing and puffing) or descending (which isn't helping me get fit)... there just aren't any flat areas within riding distance from my house.

I guess I am either looking for suggestions or for those with similar experiences to tell me it will get easier tackling the hills as time progresses.

Thanks in advance!

-Jon A.
Just keep trying. They do get easier as time progresses. You mention there's nothing that doesn't have a 400+ foot elevation gain. Friday was my first ride of the year. I rode 17 miles and had 1600 feet of climbing. I didn't mean to ride this far and climb this much as it was the first ride of the season. After being stuck in the house all winter (as opposed to last winter where I had more miles than the previous summer) it was a very difficult ride, but not impossible. I can't wait to get the legs moving again and ride this same route, but add a bit more climbing to it. The living surrounded by hills is actually very nice if you do have a trail fairly local so you can have a break and get some flat ground time.
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Old 04-17-18, 02:40 PM
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I would second the suggestion that you get started riding the hills. Leaving from your house saves time. Maybe make your way from the hills to a rails to trails area to give you a flat destination for part of the time.
Another suggestion is to make sure your gearing is functional for the hills you are attempting. Maybe you could share what kind of drivetrain your bike has. Hopefully you have a triple crank with a “granny” ring in the front that you can drop down into at the base of the hill and a rear cassette that goes low enough to allow you to still have some spin left on the steepest portions. I’m a big proponent of proper cycling shoes and pedals as I believe when you put the power down into a rigid shoe that is clipped securely and properly into quality pedals - this makes a difference!
As for the descending part, I believe that the adrenaline, the recovery from the climb and the technical side of descending do not translate into wasted training. They are important to your development of a cyclist. Breathing, recovering and bike handling while descending can be super cool if not a bit dangerous.
Also, with regard to climbing - it is a free country and you can adopt your own style and climb in whatever way works for you. Most people can’t stand an climb the whole incline but standing serves a valuable function of recruiting different muscles to give you some variety and rest. Sitting and climbing is also a skill worth practicing. I use a cadence sensor on my computer and like to try to keep my rpm’s above 80 on the climbs and above 90 the rest of the time. Shifting your butt back in the saddle helps generate more low rpm power. Lastly, where you put your hands on the bars while climbing also has an influence on how fresh you are at the top. If you watch European pros climb you’ll see that they often lightly grasp the bar tops. Rocking side to side or bobbing the bike between your legs while standing to climb are variations you might explore as well.
Let us know how you develop as you embrace your inner mountain goat!
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Old 04-17-18, 03:23 PM
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Thanks for the responses. All good information! My bike has 27 speeds and I definitely used the granny gear on the first assent of my hill. I didn't have to use the lowest gear the second time and, according to Strava, I shaved ~20 seconds off my earlier time on that "segment", setting a Personal Record... of course, I was still 2 minutes off the record-holder for that segment. Lots of room for improvement. Like most newbies, I am a little scared to get clipless pedals and shoes at this point. I used to use cages on my (very) old 10 speed and mountain bike. I might start there and progress to clipless as I get more comfortable on the bike. I might also buy bar ends for the grips at some point... I like the idea of being able to use those on ascents and just to change the grip for comfort. I have them on my old Diamond Back mountain bike and like them for climbing. I am sure the best way to get better on the hills is to ride up the hills... I just hate feeling like my heart is going to beat out of my chest and that I have broken glass in my lungs!

I am in Western Massachusetts. I will update my profile when I get a second.
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Old 04-17-18, 03:36 PM
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Good advice above. Re your heart rate, you should get a monitor to see what it is doing. How it feels is not reliable. I also recommend a cadence sensor you can monitor your RPMs. Don't mash too big a gear and hurt your knees, they need time to strengthen. Aim for around 90 rpms on flat and low 70s climbing. If you're bogging down shift to a lower gear.

You will get better, you will be amazed how quickly you can progress in 3 months and 6 months time. In September 2013 I rode about 5 flat miles and thought I was going to die. I kept at it, when I could consistently do 20 miles I bought myself a road bike, then in December I joined a club. On New Years Day I did 48 miles/2000'. In March I did my first metric century with 3300'.

You're using Strava and already seeing your progress, that's great!
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Old 04-17-18, 03:39 PM
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OK Hilly western Mass, Not Bhutan.. when my heart rate feels too elevated , I get off, rest, and walk...
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Old 04-17-18, 04:00 PM
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Make the best of it! I live in the hills, my local midweek ride is a short 10-17 miles with 1,000-1,300 ft gain.

I don't avoid the hills, I use them to my advantage. I actually do loops so I hit the hill 2 or 3 times depending on how I feel that day.

Evening rides, never to far from home and I get a good workout saving the distance rides for the weekends.

I do loops and as I said, if i feel good, I do 3, if I am tired or pressed for time, I do 2.

Sooner or later, those hills don't seem quite as big or long.
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Old 04-17-18, 04:34 PM
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the problem you have is to judge how far you can go before returning. If you lived in the valley you would start out uphill and once you are exhausted, just roll back home. You kind of have to judge how far you can roll easily before returning home uphill.

Maybe start with 1 mile from home and back, then go to 2 miles and back. Takes some experience to judge yourself.

Lower gears, spin at high cadence will help. it will get easier over time, your body needs to get used to cycling. Over time you lose weight and add muscles, so it will get better. unless you move, get used to the gears. no sense to be a "flat pro" when most of your riding is in the hills. give yourself some challenges and rewards. Like today you make that hill in 10 minutes, tomorrow only in 9:30 etc.
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Old 04-17-18, 05:17 PM
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Since gearing has been mentioned, you're good on that Cannondale. Should have a 28t small ring in front and a 11-32t 9 speed cassette. That works just fine for hills. Very similar to my Giant except I think I have a 34t in the rear.

Cadence has also been mentioned (pedaling RPM). Everyone comments to keep the cadence up and spin at 80 rpm for hills. Truth is, like me, you're carrying a lot of weight. You're also brand new to this. Don't worry about the cadence. Just be in the lowest gear for the hills. I certainly can't sit and spin at 80 rpm up some of the 18-20% grades that I climb. I slog it out very low RPM in my lowest gear. I have far more power in my legs to climb at low RPM than I do endurance trying to keep them spinning at a high cadence when trying to climb. Right now your 6.8% hill is very difficult and to you very comparable to me talking about climbing 18-20%. I doubt any new cyclist whom is overweight is going to spin high RPM on climbing. Some of the hills I climb my bike computer doesn't even register a speed because it doesn't start displaying until 2 mph and I am riding that slow. If I tried to spin on hills at normal riding cadence, I don't last 30 seconds. Powering up a hill at 40 or 50 rpm cadence though and I can climb for an hour, which is pretty much what I did with that 17 mile ride I mentioned since it was all downhill from my place to where I turned around. I had pretty much a solid 7 miles of straight climbing to get back home. Took me about an hour of which I did it all at low RPM.

Keep at the hills and one day you'll realize, hey, I wasn't in my lowest gear that time. Eventually you'll find yourself climbing more and more and staying in the middle chain ring on the front and will consider that 6.8% to be a flat ride.
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Old 04-17-18, 06:56 PM
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Originally Posted by mrodgers View Post
Since gearing has been mentioned, you're good on that Cannondale. Should have a 28t small ring in front and a 11-32t 9 speed cassette. That works just fine for hills. Very similar to my Giant except I think I have a 34t in the rear.
Gear Calculator

I have a 28-36 as my lowest gear on my hybrid and occasionally use it after longer tours or when I'm too lazy to stand up. I'm not in hilly area. but I'm much lighter and not new to riding..... so I'd think the OP may benefit from lower gearing depending on how hilly it is.

When you are more fit, you can go uphill faster, which increases cadence at low gear. But when you are not fit, you are slower and at even lower cadence (vicious cycle). I'd say beginners need lower gearing more than seasoned riders.

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Old 04-17-18, 09:00 PM
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For a minute there I thought you moved in next door to me. I have a half mile of 7% to get back to my house no matter which way I ride... and it was enough to keep me off the bike for the first 8 years that we lived here (I had a flatland bike with a standard crank and tiny gears in back). A couple years later I bought a new drive train and discovered that compact cranks aren't compact, they just have smaller chainrings. Duh. Life saver.

So now that we've determined that you probably have appropriate gears, just get out there and do it! It'll get better but probably never easier.

And as for HR... this "fat burning zone" BS probably keeps more fat people fat than McDonalds. Your body MAY process more fat than glycogen at low levels of exertion but the real measure of weight loss is calories in - calories out, and if you hammer up a hill you will absolutely FRY calories compared to an easy ride on a flat bike path. Control your diet, get some good exercise in and you will lose weight.
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Old 04-18-18, 09:08 AM
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As has been said ... the best way to overcome hills is by riding them.

Last year we moved to south/central-south/west Wisconsin. It's called the Driftless area, named that because the glaciers that "drifted" across much of northern Wisconsin (and other states like Illinois, where I'm originally from) that flattened the land, did not reach this area. As such ... it's hilly. Anywhere from short punchy climbs at stupid percentages to long, gradual slogs. When I started, like you, there were, in my opinion at the time, not one stretch of flat road anywhere around here. But wanting/needing to ride, I didn't have a choice. So I would map out rides that I thought were flattish and started riding them. Occasionally a "flat" ride was a big miscalculation on my part and there ended up being hills. Being that I didn't want to ride back over the same roads I came out on, I pushed through. I walked some hills at the start. Others I struggled up mightily.

But as the spring turned to summer and summer to fall, I found that the hills I originally thought were insane, were really just bumps. I found myself searching out bigger hills. I would purposefully do a hilly route at times. This winter (which seemingly refuses to end) I spend hundreds of miles on Zwift ... including quite a bit of climbing, and I can tell you, I'm stronger still.

Climbing is a mindset as much as it is a physical challenge. Once you find your climbing rhythm, you ride at your rhythm and before you know it you're up the hill.

And as you get fitter, as has been said, you can go uphill faster, but climbing is still a challenge.

Ride hills, rinse, repeat.
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Old 04-18-18, 03:07 PM
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Scratch "easy" from any sentences about hills. Unless it's to say "It's easy to find a good hill to climb around here". There's no secret. No hack. It's not like you can do X to be better at Y. Nope...ride hills to get better at riding hills. When you're done with that...keep riding in the hills.

I started riding a road bike in 2016 and I've made improvements in the hills every year. I focused on weight loss over the winter and dropped 40lbs since August. My FTP is the same as it was then, but I can absolutely tell the difference when climbing. I set PR's the first time I rode on each hilly segment on my local rides. I will set more PR's on the rest of my climbs too. Losing the equivalent of a small child from your body will do wonders for your climbing.

1. Eat less.
2. Seriously we need to quit shoveling so much food in our mouths.
3. Never, ever shy away from a hill.
4. If you have to stop and catch your breath 5 times. A "win" is only stopping 4 times on the next ride.
5. Eat Food, mostly plants, not so much.

There's something magical about climbing. I mean really digging in on a climb. It's the suffering, the if you stop you fall, the tunnel vision. Something about it. Then you get to the top? Cresting that climb...it's glorious. And it does not have to Alpe d'Huez either. Your local mulberry hill with a 3-4% grade for a half mile can be your Mont Ventoux.

Don't worry about what others do, I'm guilty of this. I rode with a group last Saturday and there's a Cat 4 climb 90 seconds from my house. Our group ride at about the halfway point came to this hill. I was first up in our little group of six, got to the top and set a PR!!! Later in the day, one of my friends rode the same hill and beat my time by 1:45! I was actually dismayed. I mean he crushed this climb, got a top 5 and it's only about a 6-9 minutes climb (for me and others) and for him to beat my almost 6 minute time by almost two minutes? I thought I'll never do that. Really got down on myself. I forgot about my triumph and felt emotions because someone else "beat" me. So that would be some advice, focus on your own PR's and admire the others. If you have the premium version of Strava you can sort segments by weight (if you want to see how you stack up) and you can compare yourself to people your size. That can be a nice carrot in your quest to get better.

The rewards of even a small climb are greater than other aspects of cycling, IMHO. Because the risk, hardship, and struggle are greater.

Good luck and see you on the hills (I'll be the chubby guy huffing and puffing breathing like a wounded sea lion with my HR screeching into the 190's slowly conquering something deep inside me).

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Old 04-18-18, 08:29 PM
  #17  
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Hills have always been a challenge, but as others have said, they slowly get easier if you keep working at it.

Where I am is relatively flat - there are maybe 50-60 foot climbs, but there are undulations so you can start to get some climbing altitude if you keep at it. But not all hills are the same - a short rise is a lot different than a long steady climb.

I started doing Zwift last fall, and got into a mode where I would head for the hills most of the time. I am still pretty slow going up the hills, but I still set PRs, so I guess I am gradually improving..
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Old 04-18-18, 08:37 PM
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Originally Posted by Jon A. View Post
Hi,
So far, I have only been out twice on the bike. .............. the routes all seem to have a 400+ foot elevation gain.

-Jon A.

Only been out twice? Keep doing the hills, you're just starting so it appears difficult. Soon you will be riding up them
hills with no hands wondering why they were hard in the first place.
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Old 04-19-18, 08:02 AM
  #19  
Jon A.
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Thanks for all of the replies, advice and encouragement. If it would stop snowing here in Western MA, I'd get out more. When I went for a quick ride on Sunday it was 32 degrees and I was not dressed appropriately. Unbelievably, it is snowing again this morning.... I thought we were into Spring. It is supposed to be in the mid-50's over the weekend so I hope to get a nice long ride in then.

I might have to look into a turbo trainer and Zwift so I can keep moving until the weather improves. Eating better is helping, I am down 2 lbs. from last week.

Thanks again!

-Jon A.
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Old 04-19-18, 09:18 AM
  #20  
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Originally Posted by Drew Eckhardt View Post
Get lower gears and pace yourself.
This. Yes, hills are hard, and not much fun, but look at it this way. You have an opportunity to gain fitness on the bike that your flatlander friends don't have.
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Old 04-19-18, 09:26 AM
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I looked up your bike, and it is currently specced with:

Sunrace M90, 11-32, 9-speed cassette
Suntour XCM, 48/38/28 crank

If the 28/32 is not low enough, you can either put on a larger cassette (I think some brands of 9-speed will get you up to 36) or a smaller inner chain-ring (but you probably won't be able to go too much smaller).
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Old 04-19-18, 12:24 PM
  #22  
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I think/hope the granny gear is low enough. It felt like I was spinning at 90 RPM (I'm sure I wasn't) and only inching forward. The second time I went up the 6.8% hill I didn't have to use the lowest gear. Part of my difficulty (over and above the obvious weight and fitness issues) was not being familiar enough with the bike, knowing when to shift, how fast/slow to pedal, etc.
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Old 04-19-18, 12:54 PM
  #23  
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Originally Posted by Jon A. View Post
I think/hope the granny gear is low enough. It felt like I was spinning at 90 RPM (I'm sure I wasn't) and only inching forward. The second time I went up the 6.8% hill I didn't have to use the lowest gear. Part of my difficulty (over and above the obvious weight and fitness issues) was not being familiar enough with the bike, knowing when to shift, how fast/slow to pedal, etc.
At first you just ride no matter what the gear, cadence, shifting.

Because you are just starting, the more you do it the better you will get so don't worry about technical stuff right now. You will get stronger and then you can figure out how to keep your legs moving at max efficiency and technique. Right now the goal is to just make it up!

Once you figure out that you CAN make it up, you will figure the other stuff out then you will fly up that hill.

I remember my first 7% hill, about 1 mile long. Thought I was going to die! After some time, that 7% was not that difficult. But you got to keep at it. You are actually lucky, good local training ground.
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Old 04-19-18, 04:31 PM
  #24  
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Originally Posted by Jon A. View Post
I think/hope the granny gear is low enough. It felt like I was spinning at 90 RPM (I'm sure I wasn't) and only inching forward. The second time I went up the 6.8% hill I didn't have to use the lowest gear. Part of my difficulty (over and above the obvious weight and fitness issues) was not being familiar enough with the bike, knowing when to shift, how fast/slow to pedal, etc.
Before you spend money on upgrades, either get a cadence sensor (often combined with a speed bicycle computer) or "count" cadence with a clock (probably hard to do when you huff and puff up a hill). If you only have speed, maybe the gear calculator can tell you want cadence you were in. if your cadence was good (i.e. over 70 or 80) it is just what it is....

Cadence sensor is a great shifting device (like a tach in a manual transmission car) and very valuable when contemplating gear ratio changes.
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Old 04-20-18, 02:46 PM
  #25  
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Originally Posted by Jon A. View Post
I think/hope the granny gear is low enough. It felt like I was spinning at 90 RPM (I'm sure I wasn't) and only inching forward. The second time I went up the 6.8% hill I didn't have to use the lowest gear. Part of my difficulty (over and above the obvious weight and fitness issues) was not being familiar enough with the bike, knowing when to shift, how fast/slow to pedal, etc.
When going up a 6.8% grade, you have permission to use the lowest gear if you need it. That is what those gears are there for.
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