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Real problems with hills

Old 10-31-05, 10:11 PM
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MAK
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Real problems with hills

I've been riding for a few months and have logged about 400 miles. I know that's not a lot but showing up for work is pretty important because my kids have gotten into the habit of eating. I love to ride and get out when I can. I have a nice hybrid that weighs approximately 30-35 lbs. I'm 55 yo and about 235 lbs which is down from about 260 lbs when I started. I expect to continue losing weight.

I have horrible problems with hills. The bike is a 48/38/28 with an 8 speed 11-32. I mostly ride on the middle ring with platform pedals and sneakers. When I'm on the big ring and spin, I feel like I'm going nowhere and get frustrated. Despite spinning at a good cadence (80 +/-) I watch the speed just dwindle down and down. Are my gear ratios a problem?

I know that the "engine" is the primary problem but I can't understand why things aren't getting better. I know that fast twitch muscles give speed and that slow twitch muscles are better for endurance but I may have a case of no twitch muscles. LOL Lance's lactic acid disapates quickly while mine seems to ferment and multiply.

I'm determined not to quit and I'm willing to continue working at this but my personal failures are extremely disappointing to me. Next year I hope to gert a road bike and go clipless but I know that this won't magically "fix" things.

Any comments or suggestions please?
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Old 10-31-05, 11:15 PM
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i only re-started riding bicycles a short while ago ,but some personal thoughts might help you

to ride hilly roads easier you need:

light weight: both you and your bike
strength: more hill you ride, easier it gets. this is quite essential.
gear ratio: aint that important for some experienced riders i know(well, they are racers), but for most of us, low gear ratio helps to get up the hills. ( although sometimes i rather prefer to push the bike up. )

i live in a hilly country, you can rarely see one single fully flat road. so i am quite used to it.
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Old 10-31-05, 11:57 PM
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You just started riding. Keep loging the miles. See how it goes in 1,000 more miles. Keep riding up hills. 400 miles is not much riding.

Don't try to go up the hills fast right now. Just find a comfortable pace you can keep up for as long as possible. Your gears are low enough. The rest is up to the total weight, and the power output.
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Old 11-01-05, 05:36 AM
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You are in DE, so your hills might be in the realm from 4 to 10 percent. There is nothing wrong with your gearing, your bike, or your physique.
Hills takes skill, patience, and planning.

By the type of gearing you described, I assume that you are riding a mountain bike or a hybrid. I have the exact same gearing.
Reduce your cadence to 60 going up the hills, and breath DEEP and exhale FAST. Try to find a rithm between breathing and pedal strokes.

I did the transition between flatlanding and hills, and it was not an easy one. My approach was to forget about flats completely and just go up and down the same hill over and over. It paid off big time.

Another issue was my position on the bike. There are two distinct forms for climbing. The first I like to call the "water ski" position, which consists on sliding a couple inches backwards of the saddle and try to power up the hill using my quads. This had proven to be useful only in very small sections, and you need a lot of momentum.

The second one is what I call "upright" , wich consists on sliding forward on the saddle a couple inches, arms stretched and firm, head up and looking forward, and pedal away without bobbing your torso. This is my technique for longer hills since it allows my diaphragm to fully expand like a bagpipe. Loose the deathgrip on the handlebars and wrap your fingers gently around the grips. Try to prevent your bike to move sideways and concentrate all your efforts into pedaling STRAIGHT.

Once you are comfortable with this two techniques on your 1 or 2 mile hills, and once you become lighter due all your kick ass workout, you might try the "standing" position.

In any case, bobbing your torso excessively is a loss of energy that can be spent on the hills.
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Old 11-01-05, 05:52 AM
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Just to complicate matters unless you are blessed with great knee joints don't drop your cadence to climb if anything I tend to spin faster in an easier gear, Mashing/grinding up hills is probaly faster short term but I know it kills my knees.
I used to have the same hill climbing issue and hated hills now days I actually enjoy climbing hills it gives you a buzz to know how much you have improved, just keep logging the miles the hill climbing will come. I just came back from climbing the side of a mountain on a MTB for 2 hours, I enjoyed the ride up but the trip down whooooot. This from a person who used to drive to the bike track as I couldn't cope with the hills where I live.
Don't worry about trying to push the bigger ring just use whats required to get the job done, you will start using the higher gears soon enough.
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Old 11-01-05, 06:29 AM
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Use those low gears and high cadence pedalling. Most people slow their cadence a bit on the hills but you should aim to reel yourself up the slopes without too much pedalling force. You only have so much power in your engine. If the slope causes you to slow down, so be it. Just pedal at a steady rate.
Toe clips may help imporove your pedalling efficiency, enabling you to apply power more smoothly over more of the pedaling circle. Clipless sytems may give you a bit more edge than toe clips, although the price is a lot higher.
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Old 11-01-05, 06:52 AM
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clipless will help some, but the big thing is the weight. You'll be absolutely amazed by how much easier those hills get with every ten pounds you lose (I speak from the reverse experience ;( ) In the meantime, excercise patience. You'll get there eventually.
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Old 11-01-05, 07:00 AM
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Originally Posted by MAK
I've been riding for a few months and have logged about 400 miles. I know that's not a lot but showing up for work is pretty important because my kids have gotten into the habit of eating. I love to ride and get out when I can. I have a nice hybrid that weighs approximately 30-35 lbs. I'm 55 yo and about 235 lbs which is down from about 260 lbs when I started. I expect to continue losing weight.

I have horrible problems with hills. The bike is a 48/38/28 with an 8 speed 11-32. I mostly ride on the middle ring with platform pedals and sneakers. When I'm on the big ring and spin, I feel like I'm going nowhere and get frustrated. Despite spinning at a good cadence (80 +/-) I watch the speed just dwindle down and down. Are my gear ratios a problem?

I know that the "engine" is the primary problem but I can't understand why things aren't getting better. I know that fast twitch muscles give speed and that slow twitch muscles are better for endurance but I may have a case of no twitch muscles. LOL Lance's lactic acid disapates quickly while mine seems to ferment and multiply.

I'm determined not to quit and I'm willing to continue working at this but my personal failures are extremely disappointing to me. Next year I hope to gert a road bike and go clipless but I know that this won't magically "fix" things.

Any comments or suggestions please?
You are doing a great job with your weight loss and determination. Keep up the good work.

If I were you I would make one little change to my bike that will really help you with your hill problem. Have compact chainrings installed on your bike. They are 42/32/22 rings. Your middle ring will have just 4 teeth more than your smallest ring that you are using now. Don't be afraid to use the 22 tooth chain ring on those hills. You can always move up to a larger chainring after you get used to the hills. Being geared too low is better than being geared too high when it comes to hills. You are now in the 23 inch gear range using your lowest gear. You need to be in the below 20 inch gear range starting out. Try this and see how much of an improvement that it makes.

Good luck
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Old 11-01-05, 07:04 AM
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My wife (67) goes up steep hills amazingly well. She puts her mountain or hybrid in the combination giving her the most cadence and just spins her way up. Takes her forever, but she does it.

Incidentally, you stated

"When I'm on the big ring and spin, I feel like I'm going nowhere and get frustrated."

I assume you meant the small chain ring and not the big chain ring. If you are in the big chain ring, no wonder you can't do it. Try the small chain ring in front and the largest cassette in the rear. Then make changes from there by choosing a larger cassette as you can.

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Old 11-01-05, 07:10 AM
  #10  
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If you stay into cycling, you'll need clipless pedals. For now I would buy toe clips. These bolt on to your platform pedals and have straps that go around your shoe. Toe clips (and clipless pedals) allow you to use the full motion of pedalling. Instead of just pushing down, you use a complete range. This is especially important in climbing where you get strength on pulling back with your show - think trying to scrape mud off the sole of your shoe. After a while try pedalling in a triangle motion - scrape back, pull up at a 45 degree angle, and push down at the reverse 45 degree angle.
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Old 11-01-05, 10:01 AM
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Toe clip safety: dont cinch the straps tight. Although this may improve your effiency it wil prevent safe and quick removal of your foot. Keep them lose, you will still have a quantum leap over plain platform pedals in efficiency.
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Old 11-01-05, 11:26 AM
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My route to work is about 75% uphill. These vary from long low degree sloping and short high degree sloping. I tend to take each one differently each day and according to how much energy I have that particular day (yes, I know that is no help ). The one thing I have learned is to not look up the hill. Doing that and getting more fit are the main items that have helped me the most.
That and learning patience. If a particular hill takes a while I can make it up later.
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Old 11-01-05, 11:59 AM
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with hills weight is the most important factor- you need a good level of fitness as well but fitness only takes you so far- the amount of extra effort and energy to haul 235 lb up a hill compared with e.g. 180 is huge. The amount of extra training you would have to do match a 180 lb person climbing a hill is very difficult to achieve.

But 400 miles is not a lot. As long as you are not competing there is no need to rush and compare you performance to others- just take your time. Change down to a low gear early and just keep going up the hill at a sustainable speed. A heart monitor might help.
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Old 11-01-05, 12:30 PM
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Originally Posted by MAK
I've been riding for a few months and have logged about 400 miles. I know that's not a lot but showing up for work is pretty important because my kids have gotten into the habit of eating.

...
I'm determined not to quit and I'm willing to continue working at this but my personal failures are extremely disappointing to me. Next year I hope to gert a road bike and go clipless but I know that this won't magically "fix" things.

Any comments or suggestions please?
First of all, congradulations on making the first big step. The first 400 miles are the hardest.

Second, you need a gearing change. It'll take about 1,500 miles before you really have developed the engine so you don't have to worry, Until then, use gears. You're lowest is only 23.9 gear inches. [Roughly the number of inches you move in one revolution of the wheel. Don't worry about the term, it's just a unit of comparison.] You want to be have a low gear around 20 GI. Best recommendation with curerent bike: Have shop change out lowest gear to 22 tooth chain ring. It would be best if you could swap out the cassette and get one that goes down to 34 teeth instead of 32 like you have now. Single swap you'll drop to 18 GI. Double swap you'll drop to about 17 GI. That's like 3 extra low gears.

Don't focus too much on losing weight, you need to convert weight to working muscles.

Fourly, you might consider getting new bike now, as often you can finance at very attractive rates. But if you do, watch gearing. The "standard gearing" is setup for lighter riders and doesn't adequately address the needs of the heavier rider. You won't save much weight on new bike, but would gain: more gears for easier adjustment of gears to hills,
The bike will give you a better ride.

Finally, don't even try to keep 80 cadence on hills. Shoot for something more efficient in the 70 range. Below 70 and it can get too hard on the knees. Above 80 you're burning too much energy trying to spin. I usually shoot for 75 as it's an easy number to remember.

Good luck, let us know. Oh, also don't forget to get a good nights sleep. You'll need it for the power you need to use.
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Old 11-01-05, 12:37 PM
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Don't worry about slowing down on hills. Everyone slows down on hills. You have some significant weight to haul up the grades, so just drop the gears down, spin away and keep at it. If you find a hill that's too steep or long for you, then walking up is always an option.

Try not to get caught up in the speed game. Don't ride too hard and concentrate on increasing you mileage. Long and steady is better for weight loss and general fitness. Be patient. With time, you'll make great strides.
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Old 11-01-05, 12:58 PM
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You have a great advantage (i know it's not gonna make you feel better) in terms of being able to throw weight around. As you pedal, try rolling your shoulders to your pedal stroke and shifting your weight left and right.
It'll help since you're using not only muscles but also your body weight (which you have a lot of) and momentum to push down on the pedal with each stroke.
Also work on the breathing, as someone else said, exhale fast and inhale deeply. Try to time it so that your breathing is in sync with your pedaling; it helps me get into the groove. Don't look straight up, instead, look forward maybe 10-15 feet and look up occasionally to check for stuff in the road on a long climb; it's easier on you mentally. Also, knowing when the hill will end works too since you know exactly how much farther you have to go.
Try counting numbers. Count backwards from 10 each time you put your foot down, repeat when you reach 0. It's a mental game but it splits the climb up into little 10 stroke increments.
Spinning works the aerobic system more. Mashing at a low RPM works your muscles more. Since you really haven't put that many miles in, I suspect neither of them are too strong right now. Spinning's easier on your knees so you should work on that. Try to keep things above 75rpm or so (if you have a cadence meter).
On long climbs, don't pay attention to speed, try to find a gear where you are right at the edge but never going over it, where your legs aren't like giving up after every pedal stroke. Get into a rythm that you think you can maintain for a while and stay there. With the correct combination of gears, you can get up almost any hill, just a lot slower, but it's possible. Your body's capable of a lot more than you think it is, half the challenge is mental and not giving up.

Last edited by slvoid; 11-01-05 at 01:41 PM.
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Old 11-01-05, 03:23 PM
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Shouldn't your cadence be (ideally)constant no matter whether going uphill or flats, only changing gears to keep it that way?

Just a couple of days ago, I went a bit offroad up a huge (estimated 16-18%) grade just to see if I could make it. I pumped those pedals probably ten thousand times or more, but I made it without having to stand up. I was creeping along so slow I wondered if the bike might fall over sideways.... My cadence was a bit lower than normal in lowest gear due to the increased effort I was having to put forth to pull my big 400 lb rear up the hill, but I expect that will get better over time. I have nothing but hills to ride on with very few flats so I don't have a lot of choice in the matter. But then again, I have a 28 chainring / 34 cassette combo (the Giant "MegaRange") that I think would allow an experienced rider to climb Mt. Everest...
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Old 11-01-05, 05:58 PM
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Shouldn't your cadence be (ideally)constant no matter whether going uphill or flats, only changing gears to keep it that way?
I think that is a myth, and don't know anyone who can actually do it on a significant hill.

Sure, it is easy on a slight incline.

I was bicycling today on a noticeable hill, surrounded by some pretty good skinny, muscular young bikers (much better than I), and none of them was doing that.
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Old 11-01-05, 06:20 PM
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If you want to get better at climbing then here's the 2 secrets - 1.do more climbing, 2.learn to deal with sustained pain, it's really that simple. 400 miles is a good little start, you'll get better as you rack up the thousands of climbing miles.

Forget your speed for now, you're better off getting a heart rate monitor and use it to work out your lactic threshold. To really get better at climbing you hammer uphill at (or very slightly below) your lactic threshold - it hurts but if you can deal with the pain you can hold that pace for quite a while.

I'm a bit of a clydesdale at 220lb so I have to work hard at being a better climber. I've worked out a nice hilly route to/from work and a couple of days a week I throw a 10lb weight in my trunk bag and do the entire route standing up out of the saddle at my lactic threshold. It's a real killer workout but in 12 months I've put on a slab of muscle on each leg while dropping 3 inches off my waist (almost no change to my weight), it's increased my average speed uphill by over 30%. As an additional benefit you'll be able to hold a higher cruise speed on the flats as well, a few thousand miles of hard climbing and 20 miles an hour on the flats will feel too slow.
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Old 11-01-05, 06:27 PM
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Originally Posted by HiYoSilver
First of all, congradulations on making the first big step. The first 400 miles are the hardest.

Second, you need a gearing change. It'll take about 1,500 miles before you really have developed the engine so you don't have to worry, Until then, use gears. You're lowest is only 23.9 gear inches. [Roughly the number of inches you move in one revolution of the wheel. Don't worry about the term, it's just a unit of comparison.] You want to be have a low gear around 20 GI. Best recommendation with curerent bike: Have shop change out lowest gear to 22 tooth chain ring. It would be best if you could swap out the cassette and get one that goes down to 34 teeth instead of 32 like you have now. Single swap you'll drop to 18 GI. Double swap you'll drop to about 17 GI. That's like 3 extra low gears.

Don't focus too much on losing weight, you need to convert weight to working muscles.

Fourly, you might consider getting new bike now, as often you can finance at very attractive rates. But if you do, watch gearing. The "standard gearing" is setup for lighter riders and doesn't adequately address the needs of the heavier rider. You won't save much weight on new bike, but would gain: more gears for easier adjustment of gears to hills,
The bike will give you a better ride.

Finally, don't even try to keep 80 cadence on hills. Shoot for something more efficient in the 70 range. Below 70 and it can get too hard on the knees. Above 80 you're burning too much energy trying to spin. I usually shoot for 75 as it's an easy number to remember.

Good luck, let us know. Oh, also don't forget to get a good nights sleep. You'll need it for the power you need to use.
This is good sound advise. You can't have enough low gears especially when starting out. Your gears are not low enough. The change will not cost that much and is not too difficult to make the change
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Old 11-01-05, 09:57 PM
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I started at 220, on a comfort bike. Had the same problems- either legs gave out or lungs gave out- legs when using to large a gear and low cadence, or lungs when using too small a gear and high cadence. Did two things- got a heart rate monitor, and put "power grips" on the pedals.

I found that if I used too low a gear (spinning 80-95 cadence), my HR would skyrocket and I'd "blow up"- have to stop and recover. If I was using too high a gear (50-60 cadence) , my leg muscles weren't developed enough yet to sustain it for the climb. I found a happy medium- I try to maintain about 70-75 cadence, remain seated as much as possible and slide back on the seat. Stand every so often to use different muscles. This keeps my HR in the 80 - 85% range. Most of the hills I've done are not super long, or super steep- we have a 1/2 mile 20 % that still kicks my butt (have to stop 1/2 way up and recover for 3-4 minutes), but all the others I can now handle. The 20 % is on my list for next summer.

The BIG difference was the power grips (toe clips will do the same thing, I like the grips cause there's nothing to tighten/loosen). Lets you use the full pedal circle instead of just the downstroke. It'll take some practice to get used to pulling up, pushing forward and pulling backwards while pedalling, but OH what a difference it'll make. The other thing to do is climb hills. The more you do the more you can do.
It took me my first season to figure out I couldn't spin 80-85 up hills yet.

I used my comfort bike to ride an MS150 this year (about 3500 feet of climbs on each day), and just did a 110+ mile century on it. Trained for the 150 by riding hills every chance I got, for two months prior. I'm down to 180, and feel better now than I did at 30 (I'm 49). I'm not a strong slimber by any means, but I'm working on it. Hang in there, climbs hills, and figure out the cadence/combo that works for you to get up them, then you can start fine tuning to get up them faster/easier.
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Old 11-02-05, 12:04 AM
  #22  
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Thank you to everyone for your positive comments and sage advise. I will not quit and I will beat this hill problem.

This is what I hoped for when I found and joined this forum. I'll definately be upgrading my forum membership next week so administrators; be prepared to order some extra chimichangas.
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