Advice for climbing
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  1. #1
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    Advice for climbing

    So I am a relatively new road bike rider (not new to biking). Based on my experience so far, I am going decent on flats and short climbs where I can hold good cadence and speed. I average about 16-17 mph overall on rides including elevation. But I believe what's holding me back are steep climbs where your average grade is around 5 to 7%. I have read and heard some riders use their big rings to power through the climbs while others just stay in their biggest gear in the back and spin like a hamster. I have employed both strategies and neither works. Being in the big ring kills the cadence but helps with the distance but I tap out before the climb finishes. If I stick with the small chainring and shift to the biggest, I keep spinning but don't cover much distance and then eventually tap out there too.

    I wonder how the majority of people here attack climbs and how many use their big chainrings.

    My current setup is a 50/34t crankset and a 11-28 cassette.

    Appreciate any suggestions to get better here. Thanks!

  2. #2
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    People are different so you'll get different answers on gearing. The one answer you'll get from everybody is that if you want to improve your climbing, climb more. Much more. However much (and how fast) you're doing now, you might look back on in a few months or year and scoff at.

    But how long (distance-wise), as an example, are some of these climbs you are talking about?
    Last edited by jetdog9; 3 Weeks Ago at 09:03 PM.

  3. #3
    tlg
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    There's no magic solution. There is no 'this method' or 'that method'. Do what works for you.

    If mashing doesn't work. And spinning doesn't work. You're pushing too hard. You're exceeding your fitness level.

    If I stick with the small chainring and shift to the biggest, I keep spinning but don't cover much distance and then eventually tap out there too.
    Then shift down to the 25 cog and lower your cadence a bit.
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    The most major mistake I see in beginning climbers is they tend to attack the climb as soon as they hit it. They hit it hard, way too hard.
    If it's a short climb, one can build up speed, use the big ring and just power over it. If you have the power.
    If it's a long climb, it's better to drop gears as soon as you start the climb, bring your heart rate up to about 90%, then control your HR at that level as you climb.
    Also look at the gradients, where it is steep is where you want to go the hardest. If this is at the beginning, keep it under control so you can complete the climb.
    Most long climbs I run 150 of 175max heart rate, about 60-80 cadence.
    It takes time to get the handle on this, just keep doing it.
    If your racing, forget everything I said, this is for beginners. Later you will know what you want to do based on the climb.
    I'm going to do a 9mile 1800ft climb right now, ..... minimum, we'll see when I get to the top of the mtn, if I want to go down the other side & back.
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    Quote Originally Posted by jetdog9 View Post
    People are different so you'll get different answers on gearing. The one answer you'll get from everybody is that if you want to improve your climbing, climb more. Much more. However much (and how fast) you're doing now, you might look back on in a few months or year and scoff at.

    But how long (distance-wise), as an example, are some of these climbs you are talking about?
    In particular there is this 1.2 mile long climb with an average grade of 5.4%. At its steepest part, the grade is like 14.7%. To add to that, its a narrow two-lane road with cars with no shoulder or bike path. So you have to be super focused to control your handlebars and not sway too much. The problem is that the steep part of the climb is not at the beginning (which wouldn't have been a problem) but at the middle after you have been grinding for like a half a mile already so there is no "ramp" to allow you to regain your speed and power before you attack the steep part. I can get out of the saddle and power through the steep part but can't continue non-stop and have to stop and catch my breath.

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    You are going too hard on the entry if you want to make it to the top without stopping. Or your low on power, 30 second intervals are your friend, until you've done a few.
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  7. #7
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    I'd say survive first, attack later... what Duriel mentions about keeping HR at ~90% for the entire climb may be a good thing to try for now. Some folks might tell you that power is a better way to manage your efforts but doesn't look like you're at a point where you want to spend lots of money (power meters are coming down in price but still far from cheap).

    Definitely figure out how hard you can go and make it to the top without stopping rather than worrying that you are going too slow and trying to max out.

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    I don't know if you are overweight since you didn't mention your height and weight. If you are overweight the easiest way to improve your climbing is to lose the excess weight.

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    In a different thread, OP reports he is 5-8 and ~153 pounds, so luckily weight is not likely a n issue for him.

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    Quote Originally Posted by smokersteve View Post
    I don't know if you are overweight since you didn't mention your height and weight. If you are overweight the easiest way to improve your climbing is to lose the excess weight.
    I am 5'8 and 157 lbs..run and lift regularly. Have muscle with only 13% body fat. Don't think fitness is the issue here. Like duriel said, maybe I am going too hard on the initial climb and need to back off a little bit. I am also convinced i am probably in not the most optimal gear combination which is why I asked how many people use their big rings for climbing vs just staying in the small chainring. I guess I will have to figure out with more experience.

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    Quote Originally Posted by gfz84 View Post
    I am 5'8 and 157 lbs..run and lift regularly. Have muscle with only 13% body fat. Don't think fitness is the issue here. Like duriel said, maybe I am going too hard on the initial climb and need to back off a little bit. I am also convinced i am probably in not the most optimal gear combination which is why I asked how many people use their big rings for climbing vs just staying in the small chainring. I guess I will have to figure out with more experience.
    This.

    There are a lot of gears between attacking in the 50 tooth big ring and the 34x28. Use that derailleur and find what gear works for you. Don't worry about what someone else uses, use what works for you. Change it up, shift to a larger gear till your legs start to ache then shift to a smaller gear and spin awhile. Get out of the saddle and stand on short steep gradients. Find what works for you and build on that, don't try and build on what works for the other guy.
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    There are TdF pros nowadays who will go with a compact and spin up hills in 34-28, at the same time there are still plenty who will pick a higher gear and do more out of the saddle, etc. It really comes down to what suits you (both preference and what you can push yourself to do).

    You sound like you're on the right track, experiment + manage your effort level at this point.

    Edit: Sorry this is basically what velodog said, I wrote it an hour ago and for some reason it took forever to post.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by velodog View Post
    This.

    There are a lot of gears between attacking in the 50 tooth big ring and the 34x28. Use that derailleur and find what gear works for you. Don't worry about what someone else uses, use what works for you. Change it up, shift to a larger gear till your legs start to ache then shift to a smaller gear and spin awhile. Get out of the saddle and stand on short steep gradients. Find what works for you and build on that, don't try and build on what works for the other guy.
    ^All this.

    At my size, I'll never ever be a great climber, but I plod along as best I can; my advice is to get up that hill any way you can.
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    tlg
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    Quote Originally Posted by gfz84 View Post
    I am 5'8 and 157 lbs..run and lift regularly. Have muscle with only 13% body fat. Don't think fitness is the issue here.
    It's EXACTLY a fitness issue. You're pushing yourself beyond your fitness level. Lifting weights and having muscle is irrelevant (actually it's a hinderance). Running is irrelevant.


    Like duriel said, maybe I am going too hard on the initial climb and need to back off a little bit.
    Yes. Because you don't have the fitness level to maintain that pace.
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    Quote Originally Posted by tlg View Post
    It's EXACTLY a fitness issue. You're pushing yourself beyond your fitness level. Lifting weights and having muscle is irrelevant (actually it's a hinderance). Running is irrelevant.


    Yes. Because you don't have the fitness level to maintain that pace.
    I generally respect your "opinion" around here but I have to disagree here. I have been popped on this climb by much older and heavy set guys with beer bellies and they do not look anything like Chris Froome. My longest ride so far has been a 50-miler with more than 2000 ft of elevation over which I averaged 16.5 mph. I believe climbing a steep grade is my weakness and apart from that, I am generally a decent B-pace rider.

  16. #16
    tlg
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    Quote Originally Posted by gfz84 View Post
    I generally respect your "opinion" around here but I have to disagree here. I have been popped on this climb by much older and heavy set guys with beer bellies and they do not look anything like Chris Froome.
    You can disagree but you're wrong. You're just not comprehending fitness. It isn't just how you 'look' or your age.
    Those older heavier guys have better fitness than you. You can change your pedaling technique all you want. It may help a bit, but it ain't gonna stop those guys from popping you on the climb.


    My longest ride so far has been a 50-miler with more than 2000 ft of elevation over which I averaged 16.5 mph.
    I know a guy who's 70, a beer belly, and would destroy you while riding his single speed. He rides upwards of 15,000mi/yr
    I'm not knocking you. I really don't care what level anyone rides at. I'm just pointing out that no amount of technique is going to make you as fast as someone with superior fitness. It's a major fail to judge someone's fitness based on appearance.
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    It's really simple. If you have to stop at the top of a step up and recover before continuing a climb. One is going too hard.
    You can run a marathon or dead lift 1000lbs, on a bike I'll beat u up a climb cause that's where I live & ride.
    You have to do it to get it!
    Did Contrador learn to climb over the summer? No, it took him years of dedicated training and a little help here and there.
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    Quote Originally Posted by tlg View Post
    You can disagree but you're wrong. You're just not comprehending fitness. It isn't just how you 'look' or your age.
    Those older heavier guys have better fitness than you. You can change your pedaling technique all you want. It may help a bit, but it ain't gonna stop those guys from popping you on the climb.


    I know a guy who's 70, a beer belly, and would destroy you while riding his single speed. He rides upwards of 15,000mi/yr
    I'm not knocking you. I really don't care what level anyone rides at. I'm just pointing out that no amount of technique is going to make you as fast as someone with superior fitness. It's a major fail to judge someone's fitness based on appearance.
    I am sure he can and so can a lot of other people I know. Am i looking to ride 15000 mi/year? No. Not even half. I understand I need to put in work to increase climb related fitness which I am happy to do. I just came here to see if there are any technical improvements I can make which will help. if the answer is no, its ok, I will continue to put in work. Thanks.

  19. #19
    tlg
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    Quote Originally Posted by gfz84 View Post
    I am sure he can and so can a lot of other people I know. Am i looking to ride 15000 mi/year? No. Not even half.
    That wasn't my point. You brought up getting popped by older fatter guys. I merely explained why.


    I understand I need to put in work to increase climb related fitness which I am happy to do. I just came here to see if there are any technical improvements I can make which will help. if the answer is no, its ok, I will continue to put in work.
    I think you've been given lots of good advice on techniques to try. They will help a bit. It's trial and error finding what works for you.


    But as duriel mentioned above, " If you have to stop at the top of a step up and recover before continuing a climb." That's purely riding above your fitness.
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  20. #20
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    It seemed like a bit of a semantics issue so I wasn't going to comment on it at first, but seeing how the thread has gone...

    OP, you are right that it's not a weight issue. Everybody else is right that it's a fitness issue (cycling fitness), or at least an experience issue.

    Eventually when these climbs are a mere blip to you down the line, I hope you come back and tie up this thread by letting us know what changed for you.

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by gfz84 View Post
    ...........I understand I need to put in work to increase climb related fitness which I am happy to do. I just came here to see if there are any technical improvements I can make which will help. if the answer is no, its ok, I will continue to put in work. Thanks.
    Don't sweat it!

    I have an old Nishiki "Comp" (1981) which served me well doing triathlons back in the mid 80s, for those I had 53/44 chain wheels. For the long hilly rides I had a 50/40 set. many years on, at the age of 75, I decided that more riding was in the cards ó automatic social distancing riding by myself.
    So on the Nishiki I changed the Shimano 600 front for a set of Sram 46/38 and the 13-23 cassette will be changed to a 13-27 (it's in the mail!) That's the changes I made to tackle the hills.
    AND I absorbed the advice given in
    Climb Like A Pro! by Rebecca Ramsay

    Slightly modified/adapted for my age.
    Hill climbs = I keep cranking at >60 rpm while shifting down,down,down and keep my eye on the "bpm". No red lining past 150!
    BTW the other item I bought back in the Spring: a Devinci Stellar Acera XC bike which with 27 speeds is a different story on the Rail Trail. standard trails or on the road.

    PS Any weight one sheds, one doesn't need to drag up the inclines.
    Cheers

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  22. #22
    JSR
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    Quote Originally Posted by gfz84 View Post
    I just came here to see if there are any technical improvements I can make which will help.
    Yes, there are technical details you can add once youíre on top of your game.

    Keep your hands on the bar tops, holding them lightly. Donít waste energy by squeezing hard.

    Rotate your hips forward, keeping your spine straight. The objective is to open your diaphragm to maximize air intake.

    Slide back in the saddle a little, sit bones right at the back of the saddle. Concentrate on pedaling from one oíclock to seven oíclock in order to apply power through the top of the arc with no dead spot.

    When you bog down and want to stand to regain your cadence, first shift to a harder gear, or even go up two. Shift back down once you sit again, or you might even find youíve found a new rhythm in the harder gear.

    A couple of exercises from Joe Frielís Training Bible:

    Hill repeats. On a six to eight percent hill climb for 30 to 40 seconds in a gear you can just hold at 70 rpm. Repeat 3 to 8 times with 2 to 4 minutes rest in between.

    Cruise intervals. On a 2 to 4 percent hill climb at anaerobic threshold for 6 to 12 minutes. Stay seated, concentrating on smooth pedal stroke and minimal upper body motion. Do 3 to 5 reps, resting for 25 percent of the previous intervalís time in between (i.e. if it was six minutes rest 90 seconds).

    You donít say whether you have a power meter or heart rate monitor. Power meters are expensive, but provide the best way to target your exercises.

    Heart rate monitors are not expensive and provide a very valuable way to work out. With a little bit of work (or $150 at the local university sports science lab) you can find your workout zones and youíll know for certain whether you have something left to give next time Mr. Beer Belly comes up along side.

    HTH

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by JSR View Post

    You donít say whether you have a power meter or heart rate monitor. Power meters are expensive, but provide the best way to target your exercises.
    I use my Garmin to broadcast my HR to my Wahoo and it's one of the display fields on my main screen. I honestly don't look at HR too much during the ride but only post ride wherein I usually average about 140ish overall. I have noticed the HR being around 170ish during climb segments but I don't think that's extraordinary. I sustain much higher HR during my runs but I don't get this feeling of "gassed out" that I do when I am on climbs.
    I don't have a power meter but I look to Strava's estimates (I know they are inaccurate) as I do the same routes/segments regularly to track how I am trending. Thankfully, it's trending in the right direction but it's the steep climbs which are my achilles heel right now.

  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by gfz84 View Post
    I use my Garmin to broadcast my HR to my Wahoo and it's one of the display fields on my main screen. I honestly don't look at HR too much during the ride but only post ride...
    I think youíve got the clue to improvement right there. I watch my HR like a hawk on key segments and donít spend much time doing post-ride analysis.

    Learning your anaerobic threshold and max HR, and thus defining your HR zones will provide a lot of depth to your training regimen. Intelligently training at threshold is super valuable for increasing your power and endurance in that region. Also, knowing when youíve gone above threshold and how far you are from max HR will enable you to gap Beer Guy if you need/want to go deep.

    I follow Joe Friel. Heís sort of The Godfather of the priodization technique for training. Trainingpeaks is an online source for training plans that many people like. Chris Carmichael has a number of useful books that donít include his Lance Armstrong special sauce. There are others.

    Enjoy the ride.

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    U should start with intervals about once every 2 to 4 weeks.
    Start watching your HR, remember that it doesn't track you effort like a PM, it lags your output by about 1 minute. ... so if your laying it down, your HR peak will be delayed, one needs to keep it a little low on initial increase in output, cause it's going up, how far is the question. If you hit your maximum, you are going to have to stop, soon!
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