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Tips for climbing on dirt/gravel road

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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

Tips for climbing on dirt/gravel road

Old 08-06-13, 04:12 PM
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robbyville
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Tips for climbing on dirt/gravel road

I started my training for a Fondo that takes place late September. It has about 11k ft of climbing and 9 miles of dirt road uphills. Apparently it also has some pitches of 20% or more. Today I rode about 5 miles on a pretty tough dirt and gravel road, probably in rougher shape than the ones the fondo will be on which I hear are pretty well traveled. Steepest pitch today was 13% and they all knocked me out. When I needed to stand on the pedals I wasted a ton of energy slipping, and I just didn't have the power or the gearing to sit the whole ride.

I know that I have a lot of training to do and plan to work hard at my climbing on both paved and dirt, cardio, etc. But any tips that you may have specific to resting at the right places, weight distribution, or advice in general would be greatly appreciated. My gearing is as low as I can go I believe with a 34-28, Dura Ace 9000 rear derailleur. I know that the new Ultegra will have a cassette that goes to 32 but not sure if it will work with my stuff or if it will be available by then.

FWIW, the new aluminum, and tubeless wheels worked out very well especially given the descent and my nervousness. perfectly true and ride comfort both up and down were actually pretty good!
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Old 08-06-13, 04:17 PM
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Not much you can do. Wider tires, lower tire pressure and move back when you stand. .. a smaller frame helps. Keep working seated and you'll get stronger.
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Old 08-06-13, 05:52 PM
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Yep.. low gear, weight back and keep smooth. either standing or sitting keeping a smooth cadence helps a lot. I grew up mountain biking and I had a hill near my house that i'd ride all the time and it was my goal forever to make it the whole way without clipping out. I finally worked up enough strength and technique to ride the steep part. you can also do some paper boy action (traverse side to side) if it gets too steep.

I say keep finding rides with dirt hills and work on it.
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Old 08-06-13, 06:08 PM
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20% grades are tough. You could try something radical like a 46-30 up front: https://store.velo-orange.com/index.p...-crankset.html
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Old 08-06-13, 07:29 PM
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On a road bike, your best bet is to not stand at all when climbing on gravel. If you aren't strong enough to make the climb seated and you slip too much to make forward progress standing, you have three options:

1. Walk up the hill. Unless you are mountain biking, hike a bike will generally earn you some ridicule from your riding buddies.
2. Train until you're strong enough to push your current gears while sitting on that climb.
3. Get lower gears so you can make it slowly at your current fitness level.
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Old 08-06-13, 07:35 PM
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Practice practice practice, i took to gravel pretty well but I still have my "oh sh*t" moments from time to time. I've found getting in a really low gear, keeping my weight back like previous posters advice and counter steering through turns helps a lot. When I start to lean into turns, or I stand up into really sandy parts I slip.

I find it helps to let the bike find the line it wants to take and don't fight it, unless it's taking you down an obviously dangerous line. I personally run about tires that combined with my wide HED rims measure out to 700x29 on my CAAD10 and it really helps. Also if you're going to hit patches of deep sand, sometimes it helps to get some extra speed and plow through them, that momentum will help guide your bike, if you slow or stop pedaling you'll often times bog down and eat it.

Lastly for the steep steep sections I found one thing works really well for me. We have a climb out where I'm at that my Garmin registered above 22%, it's pretty broken up and slippery. For that climb I get in my lowest gear and slide back on my saddle, I lead down and get my chest about 5 inches over the bars to put my torso's weight over the steering. This way most of my weight is above the rear wheel for traction but my center of gravity is low enough that my bars don't pop up.
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Old 08-07-13, 07:06 AM
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Weight balance helps a lot, as does an even pedal stroke.

There's also another option: run/walk. It may well be that for a short pitch of 20% on loose dirt/gravel you're actually going to be faster than running it than riding it.

Also, if it's 100 miles or so with only 9 miles of dirt, trying to use a wide knobby tire to deal with some steep dirt sections may cost you more in rolling resistence over the 90 miles of pavement than you'll save by not slipping on a mile or less of 20% grades.
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Old 08-07-13, 07:09 AM
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Originally Posted by RoadMike View Post
On a road bike, your best bet is to not stand at all when climbing on gravel. If you aren't strong enough to make the climb seated and you slip too much to make forward progress standing, you have three options:

1. Walk up the hill. Unless you are mountain biking, hike a bike will generally earn you some ridicule from your riding buddies.
2. Train until you're strong enough to push your current gears while sitting on that climb.
3. Get lower gears so you can make it slowly at your current fitness level.

20% plus on loose dirt/gravel is putting this in a different category. Almost like a cyclocross race. If you're walking because you just don't have the fitness to avoid it, that's one thing. If you're shouldering the bike because its the fastest option, and it allows you to run faster lighter equipment over the rest of the course its another.
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Old 08-07-13, 08:49 AM
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The key to loose soil is maintaining perfectly even pedal pressure. Standing only make things worse, since you slip when you weight transfer. You could try running a wider tire and dropping the air pressure to 50-60 psi, then using a CO2 cartridge to re-inflate at the end of the section.
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Old 08-07-13, 08:52 AM
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Thanks folks for all the great advice!

I definitely understand the weight distribution part of the equation. My biggest challenge was that I just didn't have the strength or cardio to stay seated. I think I have some good direction for training. I normally do between 4-5 rides each week between 15-40 miles and around 100 miles weekly. most of my rides have between 1500-2700 ft of climbing, but nothing as sustained as what I did yesterday and all paved. It was pretty humbling, especially since I was riding with a co-worker who was on his mountain bike spinning happily and fresh from the Trans-Alp race. I've never heard my heart rate monitor go so crazy on a ride

I'm thinking of incorporating at least two good climbing rides each week and making one of them on the dirt road from yesterday which by all accounts is in much worse shape than the ones in the fondo (I'm told that they are quite smooth). I'm also not sure if the 20% sections are paved or dirt.
I hope to be able to ride a few of the segments over the next month as well.

On the tire selection I think I'm pretty good. I bought new wheels specifically for this as well as to use for winter. They are a wider rim with a 25mm tire but compared to my 19mm rims with the same tire they look huge. I'm also running lower PSI and tubeless.

I found the course profile and have uploaded it to my Garmin for training
https://www.strava.com/activities/22178349
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Old 08-07-13, 09:02 AM
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Hill repeats until you can do the ride. Or pick the bike up and walk it.
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Old 08-07-13, 09:03 AM
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