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Increase stability uphill

Old 06-09-24, 12:57 PM
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Increase stability uphill

Not sure where my most recent post went to; it doesn't seem to be posted here. In any case, it does appear here without my knowledge, please pardon me for posting it again.

I've ridden gravel bike on paved trails for quite q while. I've just started mountain biking fairly recently. I am not a speedy rider at all, so speed isn't important to me, and I don't enjoy intense or fast peddling. I tend to use higher gear and prefer slight resistance, feeling weighted. paved trails for uphills are rarely problems for me if I standup.

However, I have problems going uphill on mountain trails, especially the narrow ones with slight humped shape sloping down on both sides. I cannot get up to the top, if I don't use lower gear. Since I cannot stand up while going uphill on the narrow trails, I use the lowest gear. The problem is the lower the gear I use, the more unstable I feel. I don't seem to be able to control the handle bar much. The handlebar likes to swing sideways. My husband says that my arms are too weak, which I admit. However, arm strength doesn't build up overnight. I can work with it, yet I wonder if there are other ways to improve the stability issue for uphills.

For example, My RAD is 187cm, yet even my small bike is bigger than my size, to be exact the bike RAD is 194cm. I actually feel more comfortable with smaller sized bike than bigger ones, for the stretching out feels unstable. What do to with this problem?

1. I am thinking of lower the stem, so the RAD number will decrease. Is it a good idea???
2. or maybe change to backsweep handlebar?
3. I don't seem to feel more stable as most all riders say about having wider handlebars. Should I ignore my feelings?? Maybe I feel it wrongly??

Please advise. Any input is welcome. Thanks
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Old 06-09-24, 06:56 PM
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Doubtful it is weak arms. I have found on our tandem that moving weight forward (adding stuff from our rear rack to the front pack) helps.

Slow is challenging.
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Old 06-09-24, 08:58 PM
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The problem you describe is also a problem for me as I age, and as above I don't think your arm strength is the cause. The problem going slowly up steep hills (IMO) is the weight on your front wheel is reduced and it tends to "wander". Newer bikes with chopper front head angles (even with steep seat angles) accentuate the problem, and someone, maybe many, is sure to disagree. One answer is an older MTB with "NORBA" geometry (steep head angle) or you could try putting a skinnier front tire on your current bike. Just be aware this will be a compromise riding downhill.
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Old 06-09-24, 09:10 PM
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Some bikes tend to get a floppy front end at low speed. I'd imagine a backswept bar will only make things worse. Often getting more weight on the front wheel will help reduce flop a little bit. Scootch forward on the saddle and put your head down a bit to try to weight that front wheel.

Lowering your handlebars can also help control the front end. I've been dialing in a new fork on one of my MTBs and I need to drop the bars another 10mm at least in order to tame the front end on climbs.
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Old 06-10-24, 01:48 AM
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Gosh I'm not a mountain biker, just trying to think through the physics of this.

Going slower is inherently less stable:
- less gyroscopic inertia of the wheels
- less centering force on steering due to fork trail/caster (like front wheel on shopping cart), and less weight on tire so less force acting through that steering moment arm. In fact, that trail/caster might be working against you, when slow, and pointing uphill, with little forward speed component, but gravity now partly acting on that steering trail in the wrong direction.

You said it feels less stable in low gear; I would say upshift (but still a low enough gear that you don't risk coming to a stop on the upslope) and stand on the pedals, because then there is more force on both pedals and resisting that at handlebars, so that gives you more stability, more to "push against" right and left, versus a lower gear. However on a skinny path, I could understand that standing feels less stable, and yes, sitting down definitely adds to stability of frame, a lot less rocking. But if you can climb faster while standing, that slight increase in speed may also improve stability. Have you ever seen road racers doing a steep climb? They are standing, rocking the frame, and if I recall, the steering is going left-right-left-right with each pedal pulse. I have not tried to master this, I try to keep the bike frame vertical, as it stresses the spokes less. But there may be something in terms of stability or efficiency on those slow race climbs. I'm hoping someone here knows more about that to elaborate on technique.

I'd say, try practicing your standing climbing on a hill of similar sloop, mark or just eyeball a straight path uphill, and try to keep to that path, get more practice at that, until you feel confident enough to do that on a more narrow path.

Forward loading does help. Though seemingly out of fashion, I'm mounted long bar-ends to my flat bar, this both gives me better grip and leverage when climbing standing, but a further forward hand position, which helps both my body ergonomics, and bike balance. My bike is less stable under all conditions because it's 20" wheels, so my climbing skills have improved. The small wheels have less inertial stability, especially when slow, however, steering corrections are easier, more agility, due to same reason.

Handlebar stem (horizontal) length can also have a big effect on steering feel. Often the stem length is chosen to fit the rider for "reach" on a given frame (seat to handlebar distance), but the stem length independently also affects steering dynamics. From online:

Stem Length Affects Handling

Changing the stem length not only impacts comfort but also affects the handling dynamics of the bicycle. A shorter stem, in fact, results in quicker steering, while a longer stem, conversely, leads to slower steering. By adjusting the stem length, you can therefore adapt the handling to your needs. Cyclocross riders, for example, use shorter stems than road cyclists because they need more responsive steering in tight corners.

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Old 06-10-24, 03:59 AM
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Thank you all for your replies. They are all very helpful.

Yes, my husband did tell me to forward my body with butt only touching the tip of the saddle and with faster peddling (I'm used to gravel bike with higher shift and less frequent peddling).

Yes, LesterOfPuppets, lowering the handlebar was what I meant by lowering the stem (I used the wrong term maybe?) to decrease the RAD, for I feel stretching.......

Yes, I did the bike racers do with swinging side to side on uphills for paved trail with my gravel bike on standing. However, with my mountain bike, I feel so dangerous already on the skinny path, while the handlebar wants to go whichever way it wants, I have a hard time to do anything else, LOL........... I guess just more practice....
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Old 06-10-24, 10:59 AM
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Move your seat forward. It should take care of 99% of the issue. It will distribute the weight towards the front of the bike making climbs more controllable.
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Old 06-10-24, 07:33 PM
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Originally Posted by prj71
Move your seat forward. It should take care of 99% of the issue. It will distribute the weight towards the front of the bike making climbs more controllable.
Really? Not questioning you but just asking: just the seat forward, or also stem/handlebars forward the same amount?

Because seat-forward I would be closer to the pedals, I also find I have to raise the seat slightly to have the same leg bend (I run my seat high) to take it easy on my knees.
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Old 06-10-24, 07:53 PM
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Originally Posted by chueh1
...I have problems going uphill on mountain trails, especially the narrow ones with slight humped shape sloping down on both sides. I cannot get up to the top, if I don't use lower gear. Since I cannot stand up while going uphill on the narrow trails, I use the lowest gear. The problem is the lower the gear I use, the more unstable I feel. I don't seem to be able to control the handle bar much. The handlebar likes to swing sideways...

Me Too!

For me I seem to feel a little more control when I am doing a Slow Mash on some of those Steep, Twisty, Climbs, instead of a faster spin. But the climbs still grind me down and then I end up doing a Walk Of Shame. Even on a well paved road I come close to loosing it if I have to make a sharp turn during a steep climb. Keep in mind its more then just gears and strength. Some people just have incredible balance and talent no matter what bike they ride. In many ways I am envious...
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Old 06-10-24, 08:30 PM
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(above) It's never the walk of shame. Even now, after retrofitting my folder for lower gears to spin up, and gotten better at climbing standing, I still often get off to walk, as it exercises different muscles, especially stretching out my calves when I feel a cramp coming on, it works much better than just trying to stretch it for a few seconds; A five minute walk does the trick. This is always where my biking in low gear is about the same speed as walking.
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Old 06-12-24, 03:18 PM
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Originally Posted by Duragrouch
Really? Not questioning you but just asking: just the seat forward, or also stem/handlebars forward the same amount?

Because seat-forward I would be closer to the pedals, I also find I have to raise the seat slightly to have the same leg bend (I run my seat high) to take it easy on my knees.
Moving the seat forward distributes the weight closer to the front of the bike. More than likely your seat is too far back while climbing so the front end wants to lift up a little and wander.
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Old 06-12-24, 03:37 PM
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The slower you ride, the harder it is to stay steady. Motor officers (police who ride motorcycles) have to pass a low-speed qualification course, which on a loaded down police bike is very difficult.

The thing which worked best for my cycling stability was getting a set of rollers. It took me a couple hours of practice to get to the point I could keep myself balanced on rollers, but even after the very first session, I felt a surreal improvement in stability when I took my bike out for a ride. Rollers are like other kinds of exercise equipment, you can often find them used for next to nothing. Like normal riding, your stability on rollers becomes easier the faster you ride, so you’ll want to ride them more slowly in improve slow speed stability.

I know rollers aren’t a common training aid for mountain biking, but they are very useful. In addition to balance, no other training aid works better to improve your pedal stroke.
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Old 06-12-24, 10:11 PM
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Originally Posted by prj71
Moving the seat forward distributes the weight closer to the front of the bike. More than likely your seat is too far back while climbing so the front end wants to lift up a little and wander.
My bike is a special case; It's a 20" wheel folder, so perhaps seat closer to rear tire, though longer wheelbase there, and in front as well. The bike pictured below is not my bike but similar, but mine has a steeper seat tube angle because it passes behind the bottom bracket so the seatpost can drop behind:



Mine is always panniered front and rear and has other front weight accessories, but empty, you're probably right, the front end would feel light. But I don't know how much difference just the seat rail length would be. These days, I'm either spinning up in a low gear, or climbing out of the saddle and hands on forward bar ends, so significantly more weight forward than sitting. But a plus for low-speed turns and stability: Notice how much toe clearance I have with the front wheel.
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Old 06-13-24, 09:39 AM
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Originally Posted by Duragrouch
My bike is a special case; It's a 20" wheel folder, so perhaps seat closer to rear tire, though longer wheelbase there, and in front as well. The bike pictured below is not my bike but similar, but mine has a steeper seat tube angle because it passes behind the bottom bracket so the seatpost can drop behind:



Mine is always panniered front and rear and has other front weight accessories, but empty, you're probably right, the front end would feel light. But I don't know how much difference just the seat rail length would be. These days, I'm either spinning up in a low gear, or climbing out of the saddle and hands on forward bar ends, so significantly more weight forward than sitting. But a plus for low-speed turns and stability: Notice how much toe clearance I have with the front wheel.
Folding bikes are not mountain bikes. You are trying to compare apples and oranges.
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Old 06-14-24, 02:34 AM
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Originally Posted by prj71
Folding bikes are not mountain bikes. You are trying to compare apples and oranges.
I'm not saying they are not different. But folding bikes also have stability issues. And by looking at the differences in design, versus the differences in stability, that sometimes yields knowledge. It's like in mathematics, asking how a function behaves at zero, versus infinity, it sometimes gives a clue to a solution. My folder has less front stability versus larger wheel bikes, so changes to front weighting make a BIG difference, more evident than large wheel bikes. Some of those lessons can be applied. When they did a study at Cornell and Delft U's on bike stability, they gave their test model, zero gyroscopic stability, and zero trail/caster, in order to concentrate on weight effects, and thus changes in weighting really jumped out. Those weighting conclusions, then applied to my bike, which has some gyroscopic inertia but not a ton, some trail but not a lot, made a big difference. Those lessons also apply to a mountain bike; They'll make a bit less impact than on my bike, but they do apply.
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Old 06-14-24, 09:38 AM
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Nothing about a folding bike applies to a mountain bike. Nothing.
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Old 06-14-24, 08:27 PM
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Originally Posted by prj71
Nothing about a folding bike applies to a mountain bike. Nothing.
Well that's like saying that nothing in the design of race cars, applies to the design of passenger cars and trucks. And yet, Race Car Vehicle Dynamics by Bill and Doug Milliken, is the most widely used standard reference within the auto and truck design industry.

Road touring bikes are also not mountain bikes, yet, extensive studies of best load distribution for stability, yielded valuable data that can be applied to mountain and bikepacking bikes.

It's common in aviation, to prototype in a much smaller scale than intended final design, to verify design concepts, then scale up. Much the same way that stability information from a small-wheel bicycle, more stability sensitive, could still be applied to larger wheel bicycles, which have more inherent stability, but lessons learned can make them closer to perfection than they might be otherwise. Design is advanced by examination at design limits.

The most significant and recent study of bicycle stability, involved building a computer and test model, with zero trail/caster, and wheels the size of inline skate wheels (tiny) and a counter-rotating wheel directly above each wheel to cancel gyroscopic inertia; Most assumed a bike with zero trail and zero rotating inertia would be unstable. But it was made stable, through proper mass distribution, so that it would turn in the direction it was falling (while rolling) and self-correct, just like normal bikes. And that information yielded, applies to every bicycle system, regardless of wheel size. That information would have been more difficult to detect on a more stable bike configuration. To find critical factors, you need to eliminate interference, this highlights the critical factors. A small wheel bicycle (like my folder), better highlights stability factors such as weight distribution, that can be applied to all bicycles.
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Old 06-18-24, 12:33 PM
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Let me simplify this for you since you seem to be a little obtuse...

Climbing uphill on a mountain bike trail has zero in common with a folding bike that is used on paved roads or trails. The fact that you brought a folding bike into this discussion is pointless and useless. You might to visit the folding bike forum instead.
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