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Difficulty With Climbing

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Road Cycling “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.” -- Ernest Hemingway

Difficulty With Climbing

Old 09-15-17, 04:43 PM
  #1  
BIKEREX
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Difficulty With Climbing

Hello everyone,

I'm in my early 60's and have returned to riding after not being on a bike for many years. I have a flat bar hybrid road/gravel bike with 46/36 front chainrings and an 11/32 cassette. 700X40 tires. I am 6'4" and weigh 228lbs. I'm using clipless pedals and I feel that my seat height and overall setup are correct. I think the bike weighs somewhere around 22 lbs.

Unfortunately, my work schedule only allows me to ride once or twice a week and I find myself struggling to build endurance for hill climbing. I guess that should not come as a surprise given the amount of riding I do I use Map My Ride to create routes that are within my abilities and include hills that are up to 8%...sometimes a short segment with a 9% grade. If I have a 25-mile route will numerous hills, I typically have to stop several times to rest the legs. On one route, I missed a turn and encountered a 14% hill that was about .5 miles long. I tried it, but half way up, the legs gave out and I had to descend.

I've been reading about front chainrings and am wondering if I should swap the small ring for a 34t or if this is simply a matter of putting in more hill work. I also believe that my weight is a factor and the fact that I am using wider gravel-oriented tires introduces more rolling resistance.

When used with my 32t rear cog, would I notice much difference between the 36 and 34 ring? Should I abandon that idea and work on conditioning instead? My cadence on steeper hills is much too slow, so I am thinking that this is more a conditioning issue than gearing.

Based on your experiences, any feedback that might help keep me on the right track would be appreciated.

Thank you!
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Old 09-15-17, 04:46 PM
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At your age and weight, get a MTB double or sub-compact. Basically something to get you below 1:1 gearing, ideally way below if you want to ride the steep stuff and not be totally spent. Swapping those 40mm tires for something lighter like a 28mm would help, too.
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Old 09-15-17, 05:02 PM
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How long have you been riding since you started back?

It took me about a full year maybe a little more, before I could keep up or out climb some of the younger guys (granted they might not be trying).

I started back when I was about 53. My bike was 23 pounds and only 7spd 14-28 and 53/39. I'm not strong in the legs so spinning fast cadence is the key for me, and I still don't have my cadence where I want it after six years. But I'm closing in on it.

If you can't maintain at least an 80 rpm cadence up hill, or any other time, then I think that is what you need to concentrate on. I think your current gearing should let you do that. Don't worry about speed, that comes later as you legs get stronger at that cadence.

If you are riding a paved surface, those tires might be too wide and likely are knobbies for dirt riding. Get the smallest width your rim will take with a smooth tread/no tread down to no less than say a 25mm or 28mm tire. But just guessing your rims are probably to wide for those.

I'd also ride your current bike till you see that you are going to stay with it. For me, I rode a 44 pound Schwinn Varsity for a year before I knew I'd stick with it. I was even climbing pretty good on it compared to others before I switched to the lighter Raleigh Competition GS.

Last edited by Iride01; 09-15-17 at 05:07 PM.
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Old 09-15-17, 05:41 PM
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Originally Posted by BIKEREX View Post
I also believe that my weight is a factor
Yes. On steep slopes, most of the resistance to a cyclist's forward motion is the Earth's gravity pulling their body downward.

and the fact that I am using wider gravel-oriented tires introduces more rolling resistance.
If they're beefed up with considerable puncture/sidewall protection, and/or rumble on the ground due to centerline knobs, then they probably do have higher rolling resistance than a road tire. The good news is that the rolling resistance is probably made smaller on climbs since the speeds are low...

The width itself won't make rolling resistance higher, but it tends to result in a heavier tire, which is obviously more gravity resistance.

When used with my 32t rear cog, would I notice much difference between the 36 and 34 ring?
It's a 6% difference. Tangible, but not very large.

My cadence on steeper hills is much too slow, so I am thinking that this is more a conditioning issue than gearing.
If you're bottoming out your gearing, then it's both. A stronger rider would be able to go faster and keep a higher cadence in that gear.

Originally Posted by Iride01 View Post
If you can't maintain at least an 80 rpm cadence up hill, or any other time, then I think that is what you need to concentrate on. I think your current gearing should let you do that. Don't worry about speed, that comes later as you legs get stronger at that cadence.
On that bike's lowest gear, 80rpm would be over 7mph. For the OP on a 9% grade, gravitational drag alone would be over 300W. For someone just getting back into cycling, that might not be feasible.
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Old 09-15-17, 05:44 PM
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Changing to a 34t chainring should be easy and inexpensive. Not a huge difference but everything helps. If that is not enough you can also go to a 34t in the rear or even larger. Or start with the larger cassette. Either way, get the gearing you need now, your knees will thank you.
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Old 09-15-17, 06:44 PM
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Originally Posted by HTupolev View Post
On that bike's lowest gear, 80rpm would be over 7mph. For the OP on a 9% grade, gravitational drag alone would be over 300W. For someone just getting back into cycling, that might not be feasible.
Are you sure you calculated that right? Sheldon's calculator puts a 700x38 tire at 11.8mph with a 36front and 32back. No idea about the watt. I don't use them yet so they are meaningless to me. I can climb 9% hills with little issue in my setup described earlier.

I'm also understanding that this isn't the average hill for the OP. So if it's a once every so often, then it becomes a goal to let him know when he's getting there.

I just don't like seeing people spend money on bikes, then loose interest. However if the bike is indeed not adequate for the OP's average ride, then it may well be a deterent for him riding.

But he's got to add some more input for any of us to say one way or another. (Blondie.... hot back in the day!)
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Old 09-15-17, 07:07 PM
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Originally Posted by Iride01 View Post
Are you sure you calculated that right? Sheldon's calculator puts a 700x38 tire at 11.8mph with a 36front and 32back.
I just tried it on Sheldon's page, and I got 7.3mph.

(If it was 11.8mph, that would make things a lot harder. Someone who can hold that pace on a 9% for 5 minutes is an absolute beast, possibly even thinking about going pro.)
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Old 09-15-17, 07:16 PM
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Your leg muscles have weakened from not riding/ age. It is super common. Rule #1 DO NOT EXPECT TO GET STRONGER AT CYCLING FROM CYCLING. The rpm's are too high. Try to get to a gym two or three times a week and try to build up using the leg press. Through the years I have had several foot surgeries that had me not using my legs for long durations and when I returned to the bike, had really poor results with "riding to get stronger". There are ways on the bike, like alternating single leg, big ring/ mid cog accelerations from under 5mph up at least 10% grade hills for ten pedals. The leg press is your best bet. Do not advance more than 5% per week.
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Old 09-15-17, 08:36 PM
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59 here. Been back on the bike two years, starting with hybrids. Finally got a road bike this summer, first one I've ridden in more than 30 years.

Hills are my nemesis, always have been even when I was younger and fitter. Some limitations now from asthma, thyroid disease and neck/back injuries, but mostly it's lack of conditioning for too many years. I walked with a cane for years after a 2001 car wreck, so it took awhile to get back into shape. Just had to be patient and persistent, and be satisfied with every bit of progress.

Besides the lighter bike and tires, what finally helped was to emphasize high intensity interval training on hills. I mostly gave up on longer casual rides and since June focused on 10-20 mile rides on nearby hilly routes.

And we don't have much in the way of hills -- mostly 1%-2% grades up to a mile continuously. Some roller coasters with 6%-9% climbs for 50-100 yards, then plateaus, then another short steep climb, then a slight downhill, then another short steep climb, then a plateau... you get the idea. Nothing long and steep nearby. I need to ride 30 miles to the nearest place with something like a 4% climb that goes on for a mile or two.

But my immediate neighborhood has lots of half-mile long 2% grades, so I concentrate on sprinting those. And a little farther away is a 2.5 mile loop with half-mile 3%-5% overall grades that increase to 6% or so near the peak.

On days when I have only an hour to ride I hit those and repeat 'em until my legs and lungs are on fire.

Frankly, some days it's a little boring. Same stuff over and over. But where it pays off is when I do have time for 40-60 mile rides, including casual group rides with friends. On those rides, I can enjoy a 12-14 mph long ride and it feels relaxed. No gasping for breath on every little hill, or sprints across intersections to beat the light, or to catch up and close the gaps when a large group goes into the usual accordion mode.

After increasing my average speed from 14 mph to 16 mph after that interval training all summer, I'm plateaued again. So I've added more strength and flexibility training. Squats, legs, back and abs. Just another 5-15 minutes at home depending on time. It's helping a bit. I'm not faster yet, but my recovering time between sprints and climbs is decreasing. Instead of needing to stop and rest for a few minutes, I can just ease up a bit while pedaling and recover for another climb or sprint. That's a huge improvement over two years ago when I often needed 15 minutes to recover from asthma attacks after any high effort.
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Old 09-15-17, 08:43 PM
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I like 1Xs. Put a front single small ring that works with your 11-32 and just do it. Mix it up and stand sometimes and sit sometimes.

At 60 - I'm almost there, get a blood panel and see if you are missing anything. I know it is hard with time but a gym can make a difference.
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Old 09-15-17, 09:03 PM
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Forget age, forget what people have said about age. It means nothing. In ten years maybe, but not now. Lack of exercise, on the other hand, means everything. You're suffering from lack of exercise. Don't let age be a crutch.

You don't say if you're in the lowest gear attempting these hills. If not, there's no need to discuss lower gears yet. If you are, then something has to give:

- Lower gear ratios
- Less steep hill
- Increased fitness
- Less weight (you and/or your bike)

Gears you can buy, different hills you can find, fitness takes time, losing weight on the bike takes money, losing weight on your body takes time and discipline.

I'd say find hills you can climb, and just ride. Keep at it, and fitness will come. Lose some weight along the way, and things will change.
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Old 09-15-17, 09:12 PM
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Rule #1 DO NOT EXPECT TO GET STRONGER AT CYCLING FROM CYCLING.

As a longtime rider, and former racer, I strongly disagree with this statement, it is wrong.

Every year I get off the bike when winter comes. Like many others, I spend a lot of time indoors, eating too much, and not getting enough exercise. When the weather starts to get warm, I get back on the bike. The first weeks are the toughest, as I have to get used to the saddle, and am completely unconditioned.

The first climb on the first day is the worst. I run out of breath quickly, my heart hammers in my chest, and I grind my way up in the easiest gear. My first ride is always short, only 10k or so. In my first week, I do only three short rides.

But the second week I will notice that the climb is not as bad. I still run out of breath, my heart is still hammering, I am still in the granny gear. But I am not quite breathing as hard, and my heart is not hammering as much as on the first ride. I do the same three rides as I did the first week.

On the third week, the improvement is more noticeable. The climb is still difficult, but I might be able to move up one gear. On the third week I add an extra day of riding.

By week four, I have usually lost about 5 pounds. I start mixing in 20km rides, but other than the climbs, I don't push myself too hard.

On week six, I am climbing another gear or two higher. The climb feels no easier than it did before, but I am doing it more quickly. I am riding 30 to 40km per day, and 50km on one or more days.

On week 8, my muscles and tendons are more or less strong enough to begin heavier training. I begin adding intervals and sprints, and I am able to ride 50km or more each day. By this time, I have lost perhaps 20 or 25 pounds, my resting pulse has dropped significantly, and I can keep up in a group ride of average riders.

In my racing days, I did well enough to get finish on the podium in numerous races, and even get a spot on European team. It wasn't until that time that I first stepped into a gym. I was the designated sprinter on our team, and there was an exercise routine I had to endure to improve upper body strength (sprinting requires using just about every muscle in your body). Though riders may benefit from spending time in the gym, you can get very strong at cycling by doing only cycling. I hate working out in gyms, I would much rather be out on my bike. Time spent lifting, pushing, or pulling weights is time I would rather use in the saddle.
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Old 09-15-17, 09:19 PM
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The main thing one needs to climb is fitness, which might be defined as the ability to keep going. Riding once or twice a week, particularly at your age, will result in a great loss of fitness between rides. Very hard to make any progress - 1 step forward, one step back.

What you do is really simple: get a trainer or better a set of resistance rollers. All you need is 1/2 - 1 hour of indoor riding 3 times a week and you'll make good progress. Time of day doesn't matter. Some do it early morning, some between work and dinner. I used to split it up and do 1/2 hour between coffee and breakfast and then another hour right after work. Or the other way 'round. You can do easy rides, steady state moderate efforts, or intervals, whatever feels good at the time. I've done this for many years in the PNW winters. Works great.

Eventually you'll outgrow the hybrid and want a real road bike with faster tires. But for now it's just training. Doesn't make any real difference.

Yes, you can get stronger just fine with cycling but only as long as you push yourself on the hills so that your legs hurt. I'm sure you're doing that now. Once you get so that you're riding well and don't have much limit to the distance you can do, you will benefit from gym work. But for now, you'll benefit most from aerobic and anaerobic work on the bike. The slowest thing to build is heart strength - increasing your heart's ejection fraction, capilarization of muscle tissue, that sort of thing. That takes years to reach a peak, so even at your age you'll get stronger and faster for years.
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Old 09-15-17, 10:32 PM
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Use your glutes to climb. Once I found out and understood > used them, it changed my life and appreciation of cycling.

It's untapped power for most.
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Old 09-16-17, 12:49 AM
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How long have you been back to riding? I'm 55 and got back into it. Took me 6 months riding 2 to 3 times a week until hills didn't totally suck. I also lost 20 pounds.

What tire pressures are you running?

I started on my old mountain bike running 1.5 inch Serfas Drifter City tires at 65psi. Went to 1.6 inch Schwalbe Marathon Supremes at 80psi and everything got easier. The Schwalbes are almost a slick.

The mountain bike has pretty low gearing. I now also have a 2013 Spesh Roubaix with 50-34 chainrings and a 11-34 cassette. It is a good climber.

My recommendation, patience and keep at it, get some good slickish tires (consult https://www.bicyclerollingresistance.com), a cadence sensor and perhaps some lower gearing.

ETA - I do like 80rpm on hills. I definitely notice when I get below 70rpm.

Last edited by Sunsetman; 09-16-17 at 12:53 AM.
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Old 09-16-17, 06:31 AM
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I would tell you to add more hills to your rides to build strength, which is what I do. But.. if you can only ride once or twice a week that probably isnt gonna work. So I'd try and add a couple more days of riding a week, so you can add those hills I mentioned. Also as others have said, if you're just getting back into riding, it will take some time to build strength.
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Old 09-16-17, 07:53 AM
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Originally Posted by Sangetsu View Post
Rule #1 DO NOT EXPECT TO GET STRONGER AT CYCLING FROM CYCLING.

As a longtime rider, and former racer, I strongly disagree with this statement, it is wrong.
+1 = the best way to be a stronger rider is to ride. Of course weight/strength training helps, but miles on the bike is the best and quickest way to train for cycling. A structured cycling program based on your goals and after a review of your weaknesses is the way to go. There are some online coaching programs if you are serious. Or Joe Friel's book - Cycling Past 50. Pro cyclists do Zero weight training during the race season.

For climbing efficiency the 'equation' is about power to weight. At 225 pounds you are at a HUGE disadvantage. That's just life. If you were 5'6", 135# you would be a much better climber, given the same conditioning. You have to generate enormous power to overcome your weight. (at 200# and 66 years, i live it, too)

Your bike may be great but 40mm tires are also a drawback.
Do you run them at 110psi? Of course not.
Do they weight 300grams? Of course not.
Are they slicks or deeply treaded? Probably not smooth.

Just keep at it. And yes, you just have to practice those hills to get better at climbing.

The good news is that after the climb, us big boys have a chance to catch the littler guys on the descent.

edit: Welcome to the Forum.

Last edited by Wildwood; 09-16-17 at 08:10 AM.
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Old 09-16-17, 08:14 AM
  #18  
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With your setup (46/36 & 11-32) you now have, roughly, between 30 to 110 gear inches. Going to a 34-tooth chainring will only give you about 3 more gear inches on the lower end. Doubt you would notice that much.

The only way to get better at climbing is to climb.

Find a nice 6-7% grade that goes on for some distance; do it over and over again; then find something steeper and do that over and over again. Hill repeats are great training for this kind of thing. You'll be surprised at the progress you'll make. Once you feel yourself becoming somewhat adept, then mix it up with climbing out of the saddle as well as seated (especially once the climbs become really steep).

Stay off trainers--they'll bore you to death.
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Old 09-16-17, 09:39 AM
  #19  
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As many have said, i think you will notice a difference. I dind a 34t is easier than a 36t and changed by gravel bike to a 34t as a result.

You could look into buying a new crank, as mentioned. A 46/30 crank setup by FSA or Sugino. Or a 48/32 setup by Praxis. Thatll cost $200-350 depending on crank.

You could probably change the inner ring AND swap the cassette, if your drivetrain level has an 11-34 option.(10 speed or less). If its an 11speed driveteain, you could get an 11-36t cassette by SRAM like their 1170 model(i think). You may need a wolftooth roadlink, but thats easy to do and my 105 drivetrain handles an 11-36t cassette with the wolftooth. Thatd be my pick...since it is what i picked.
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Old 09-16-17, 10:11 AM
  #20  
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Climbing doesn't get easier; you just find steeper hills.
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Old 09-16-17, 10:54 AM
  #21  
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Originally Posted by Sangetsu View Post
Rule #1 DO NOT EXPECT TO GET STRONGER AT CYCLING FROM CYCLING.

As a longtime rider, and former racer, I strongly disagree with this statement, it is wrong.
I agree with you, in fact the gym is unlikely to be any help at all at this stage and almost the only way to get better at cycling is by cycling. We get better at hills by riding up hills.

On the topic of gearing, 5-6% doesn't sound like much but it helps, and in particular when it's so steep that your cadence cant really get any lower but it's still not slow enough, the easier gear is really nice to have.

Last edited by wphamilton; 09-16-17 at 10:58 AM.
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Old 09-16-17, 02:44 PM
  #22  
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Originally Posted by HTupolev View Post
I just tried it on Sheldon's page, and I got 7.3mph.

(If it was 11.8mph, that would make things a lot harder. Someone who can hold that pace on a 9% for 5 minutes is an absolute beast, possibly even thinking about going pro.)
Yeah, I goofed it up somewhere. I realized that while I was out riding today.

I also realized I have to take back the thing about me going up the 9+ percent grades on my bike. I rode that particular route and the hill is only a half mile of 6 to 7 percent. So until I get a chance to go over on the other side of the reservoir where there is a couple 9+percent grades, I'll have to stop saying the 36F/32R combo is adequate for that.
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Old 09-16-17, 04:50 PM
  #23  
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no offense to everyone else upthread, but most (not all) everyone got mired in gear, and gearing, and age......


this post really nailed it all down

Originally Posted by Carbonfiberboy View Post
The main thing one needs to climb is fitness, which might be defined as the ability to keep going. Riding once or twice a week, particularly at your age, will result in a great loss of fitness between rides. Very hard to make any progress - 1 step forward, one step back.

What you do is really simple: get a trainer or better a set of resistance rollers. All you need is 1/2 - 1 hour of indoor riding 3 times a week and you'll make good progress. Time of day doesn't matter. Some do it early morning, some between work and dinner. I used to split it up and do 1/2 hour between coffee and breakfast and then another hour right after work. Or the other way 'round. You can do easy rides, steady state moderate efforts, or intervals, whatever feels good at the time. I've done this for many years in the PNW winters. Works great.

Eventually you'll outgrow the hybrid and want a real road bike with faster tires. But for now it's just training. Doesn't make any real difference.

Yes, you can get stronger just fine with cycling but only as long as you push yourself on the hills so that your legs hurt. I'm sure you're doing that now. Once you get so that you're riding well and don't have much limit to the distance you can do, you will benefit from gym work. But for now, you'll benefit most from aerobic and anaerobic work on the bike. The slowest thing to build is heart strength - increasing your heart's ejection fraction, capilarization of muscle tissue, that sort of thing. That takes years to reach a peak, so even at your age you'll get stronger and faster for years.


im nowhere near the years, but i did take a huge hiatus from cycling. when i returned , i thought by virtue of age i would just jump back in form. didnt happen. rode once a week, or once every 2 weeks. took entire months off making excuses for weather, work, travel, etc. first 2 years on this lazy regime i really hit a low plateau.

last season i started committing myself to riding minimum once a week. and if im away for work ill replace the rides with sessions on the gym stationary bike mimicing a training routine. performance shot back up.


theres really no replacement for putting in the miles. but doing the right type of training (i.e. structured) on the turbo is a good shortcut/accelerator . and age has little to do with it
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Old 09-16-17, 05:35 PM
  #24  
jimincalif
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You really need to ride 3x per week, 4x is better.

Find a good hill or route for training, say 5-6%, ideally a couple miles. At least once a week do high intensity intervals, at least 3, with short recovery in between. You can find all sorts of different interval programs, find something that works for you. On another training ride do a long sustained effort on the hill, cadence in low 70s, as much gear as you can comfortably push without creating knee issues. When just riding around shoot for cadence of 90. You don't need to seek out 10-14% hills to train on, at least for now.

Use a heart rate monitor, you need to train your heart to beat a bit faster at max effort and train your brain to know what you can do and for how long. I just did a PR on a climb, cut my time from 10:02 to 8:52, my max heart rate hit 183, I backed off to 180 which I knew from training I could sustain for the few minutes left in the climb, and it was the last climb in a century ride so I didn't need to pace myself too much. Doing intervals I try to get it above 160. For reference I'm m 6'2", age 59 about 210# and back into riding 4 years now.

Lots of training info online, do some research, experiment and see what works for you, adjust all of the above as it suits you, but don't omit the intervals. You need to do them. Once I started I noticed some improvement in 3 weeks.

Change the chainring if you like, I run a 34x30 low gear, about the same as your 36x32.
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Old 09-17-17, 08:28 AM
  #25  
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I'd like to thank everyone for the thoughtful advice. Many great points and things for me to act on.

There were a couple of questions about tire pressure and gearing - I have been using 80 psi (max for my tires is 85) and during climbs that are difficult for me, I am using lowest gearing - 36/32.

Here are my takeaways from the thread:

1. No substitute for fitness - need to put in the time with hills/intervals, etc.
2. Fitness + weight loss will help improve cadence and climbing ability
3. No harm in swapping for the 34t small ring
4. If I can't ride during the week, try a trainer or rollers

Again, thanks to all for the input. I really appreciate it.
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