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Rolling versus flat route

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

Rolling versus flat route

Old 02-24-13, 11:01 PM
  #1  
deepakvrao
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Rolling versus flat route

A friend of mine, who is a very strong and knowledgeable rider, says that he is faster on a rolling route than a all flat.

I thought that would be impossible? I thought that the climbs kill your speed more [usually], and for longer time [always], than the descents?

I just see his answer as:

Why rolling is fast? Because I recover fast from efforts. Flats means I have to hold a consistent cadence that tires me. Over short hill/rolling I also get very good speed on downhills which I can carry over short hills and recover fast.

What's your guys experiences?
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Old 02-24-13, 11:11 PM
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Rolling is always slower because of the power-speed cube relationship. You can't recover time lost on a hill on the descent, just like an upwind/downwind route will always be slower than a windless route. Some people complain that they get tired from always using the same muscles on the flat. That's their problem, not mine. It's also hard for some people to maintain concentration on the flat and they drift off into slow riding. However, comparing the same total exertion, flat is always faster.
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Old 02-24-13, 11:45 PM
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This goes against the laws of physics. But if I were to play devils advocate I would say. Practice makes perfect. He likes rollers so he rides faster on rollers, If he got used to the flats he would be MUCH faster on the flats.

Once on a group ride this guy who is a mountain biker would pull away on the uphill and drop back on the down hill. At least 2 times I watched him slow down after cresting the rollers.
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Old 02-24-13, 11:46 PM
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Originally Posted by Carbonfiberboy View Post
Rolling is always slower because of the power-speed cube relationship. You can't recover time lost on a hill on the descent, just like an upwind/downwind route will always be slower than a windless route. Some people complain that they get tired from always using the same muscles on the flat. That's their problem, not mine. It's also hard for some people to maintain concentration on the flat and they drift off into slow riding. However, comparing the same total exertion, flat is always faster.
A couple things. While the math is right for most riders, you're assuming a bit about the rider's power profile and strategy. It's possible that a given rider mentally or physiologically does better with some variable intensity. Maybe they would be faster on a 20' flat route, but would burn out in an hour, and would do better with some rolling hills.

Lastly, you're assuming the rider mentioned in the OP is talking about raw speed. He might mean relative to other riders. Like he does better in rollers than most...
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Old 02-25-13, 05:53 AM
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Agree if power is same, flat is faster.

It could be psychology, maybe flats are boring while climbs and descents are exciting.
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Old 02-25-13, 06:01 AM
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Rolling terrain is the fastest terrain ... short rollers, that is. The type of hills you can fly down, coast almost to the top of the next one, give a couple good pedal strokes to get over the top, and fly down the other side ... and repeat. Great terrain ... so fast and so much fun.
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Old 02-25-13, 07:08 AM
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I am always faster running on rollers than flats because the gradual uphills remind me to push myself; I get stale and forget about speed when I'm on long stretches of flat. Your friend might be the same on a bike
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Old 02-25-13, 07:33 AM
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I love gentle rolling terrain for all the reasons stated by Machka. It seems as though I go faster overall however good data is lacking to support this conclusion.
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Old 02-25-13, 07:49 AM
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I rode a few centuries and other distance rides last year, a couple in the dead flat Red River Valley of the North (between MN and ND) and a few in the rolling hills of lakes country (some more "rolling" than others). To my surprise, my average speed over longer distances remained very close even when the rides featured fairly steep hills or long climbs (by Minnesota standards). It appears that it all averages out. I'm using Strava this year, so it will be interesting to check segment speeds on different terrains.
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Old 02-25-13, 10:51 AM
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Originally Posted by waterrockets View Post
A couple things. While the math is right for most riders, you're assuming a bit about the rider's power profile and strategy. It's possible that a given rider mentally or physiologically does better with some variable intensity. Maybe they would be faster on a 20' flat route, but would burn out in an hour, and would do better with some rolling hills.

Lastly, you're assuming the rider mentioned in the OP is talking about raw speed. He might mean relative to other riders. Like he does better in rollers than most...
Nice post!
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Old 02-25-13, 12:55 PM
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I've read a couple of interviews with pro and top amateur TT guys, and they all seem to espouse a similar philosophy of holding as steady a power as they can across the course assuming it's not really hilly one. They even practice the course before hand so they learn the correct shifts to keep that steady power profile. Seems to me it suggests that because of this, a flat course ridden at dead-steady power should be faster than a rolling course where your power might vary a bit more unless you intentionally flatten the power output by carefully monitoring it.
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Old 02-25-13, 01:21 PM
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If I pushing myself on flats, I will be faster than on rollers; but, flats bore me and I am more moviated to work harder on rollers.
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Old 02-25-13, 01:38 PM
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It seems to me that if he can tuck into a more aero position on the downhill than he could while producing a great deal of power, and compensates with stronger efforts on the uphill, it's possible that he is faster on the rolling course with the same overall power output as on the flat course.

Speaking only theoretically of course I'm slow either way.
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Old 02-25-13, 02:30 PM
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The worst to me and others in my club is this one road where basically you have 8 miles of 1-2% upgrade,, UGH I rather do some real hills like 3-8% with some breaks between than constant upgrade for miles
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Old 02-25-13, 02:40 PM
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Originally Posted by hhnngg1 View Post
I've read a couple of interviews with pro and top amateur TT guys, and they all seem to espouse a similar philosophy of holding as steady a power as they can across the course assuming it's not really hilly one. They even practice the course before hand so they learn the correct shifts to keep that steady power profile. Seems to me it suggests that because of this, a flat course ridden at dead-steady power should be faster than a rolling course where your power might vary a bit more unless you intentionally flatten the power output by carefully monitoring it.
Pro racers doing a TT (or their coaches) know that it's better to put more effort into hills and headwinds. Not a lot more, but it is a good investment to run that variability than to go steady. I have generated power files that clearly demonstrate this effect. With the same average power, I can save 15 seconds or more over a 5 minute course by hitting the steeps harder vs. holding steady.

Last edited by waterrockets; 02-25-13 at 04:27 PM. Reason: typo
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Old 02-25-13, 03:12 PM
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Originally Posted by waterrockets View Post
Pro racers doing a TT (or their coaches) know that it's better to put more effort into hills and headwinds. Not a lot more, but it is a good investment to run that variability than to go steady. If have generated power files that clearly demonstrate this effect. With the same average power, I can save 15 seconds or more over a 5 minute course by hitting the steeps harder vs. holding steady.
Very true, due to the power-speed equation. And it doesn't have to be a TT. I learned this on my first group ride, a 200k when I was just learning to ride effectively. I thought everyone else was nuts for the first 100k.
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Old 02-25-13, 05:37 PM
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Thanks guys. Lots of informative replies here. Having no flat road where I live, I really have no way to compare how I would do on a flat route versus rolling.
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Old 02-25-13, 06:24 PM
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Originally Posted by waterrockets View Post
Pro racers doing a TT (or their coaches) know that it's better to put more effort into hills and headwinds. Not a lot more, but it is a good investment to run that variability than to go steady. I have generated power files that clearly demonstrate this effect. With the same average power, I can save 15 seconds or more over a 5 minute course by hitting the steeps harder vs. holding steady.
Don't disagree with you, but it probably does depend on the course as well - that's the exact strategy I would use on a roller type course, but I actually doubt I"d be faster on that course with the minimal variations in power as compared to a dead-flat course where I just held one power dead-on the whole way assuming I knew with good accuracy what that power should be.
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Old 02-25-13, 06:28 PM
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The theme seems to be that if you are a strong rider and ride like a racer you will be very close in avg speed on both types of routes.
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