Cadence for hill climbs?
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  1. #1
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    Cadence for hill climbs?

    I am thinking about trying a coupled of hill climbs next year, particularly Mt Ascutney, which is a 3.8 mile climb, at about 15% grade. The really fast guys do it in about 26 minutes.

    Recently, I did the climb in 34 minutes using a 39x28 setup. As you can see, though, my cadence was horrible, averaging under 60 rpm. It is really hard to get into a rhythm with my gearing. I'm thinking that a compact crank might be what I need to get my cadence up to around 80+ rpm. Before making the investment, I am just wondering whether there are any insights as to how much it would really help my times?
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    I ride a compact crank and in a hill climb TT I did this year my average cadence was 89rpm (one short climb, one short downhill, and a longer climb). The climb had 15%+ grades so I actually used an 11-28 cassette. I didn't use the 28 much, but it was great to have just in case I needed an easier gear in order to maintain a high cadence (which I did use on the 15% sections of the climb). The strategy worked out alright because I placed third overall and first in my age group.

    ...60 climbing cadence seems very low to me, and at that cadence in a race - answering attacks/accelerations and such would be very difficult. ...At least for someone with my low level of strength.

  3. #3
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    Is it your lungs or legs that are limiting you?

    60 sounds low enough that it is time to get out of the saddle, if your lungs can take it. Half an hour climbing is long enough that getting out of the saddle might be good for varying the load on the muscles too.

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    Imo, weight factors in a bit. Lighter riders tend to run lower rpms, although you being in the 28 means you're short of a bail gear (unless you have an xx-32, etc setup).

    A compact wouldn't help your times off the bat. I would say, though, that it could help in allowing you to continue improving your riding ability in general. Closer + smaller(lighter) gears = smaller increments in difficulty. You'll likely run the same pace, but probably be more rhythmic and less wiped.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by perttime
    Is it your lungs or legs that are limiting you?
    On this climb I had to stand on the steep parts, such as the switchbacks. Otherwise I sat in an effort to keep my heart rate down. I don't trust my average recorded heart rate since since there were some spurious highs, but I pretty much stayed at or over my AT the whole climb. The last half mile or so I got pretty anaerobic. My average power was 284W, which is higher than my ftp of 250W. I'm not sure whether I do more with a higher cadence. The race winner who is about my weight averaged about 320W.

    I guess it's a question of wanting to pedal the most efficiently for the climb. My bigger goal is to use the hill climb as a training event for the Mad River Road Race. This a 70 mile race that ends on App Gap, which is a 2 mile climb of similar grades to Ascutney. Of course, there is a big difference in doing App Gap after 68 miles of racing to doing a hill climb on fresh legs. But I definitely needed to spin more on App Gap than I could with my current setup (39/53 + 11/28).

  6. #6
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    I switched from a standard to a compact recently for the same reason as you, I wanted higher climbing cadence. I knew I wanted to rise cadence because I climb with higher RPM on the mtb. By switching to a compact, I gained about 15 RPM and a lot of comfort when climbing. I didn't gain any speed directly from the switch and don't expect it to work magic in that regards, it won't. I believe though that it's easier to improve climbing by having a decent cadence that you can push rather that powering a bigger gear.

    If you agree with the above, don't hesitate, get a compact. After all, you can always shift 2-3 gears to get the same ratio as with a standard if you want to work pure force.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ventruck
    Imo, weight factors in a bit. Lighter riders tend to run lower rpms, although you being in the 28 means you're short of a bail gear (unless you have an xx-32, etc setup).

    A compact wouldn't help your times off the bat. I would say, though, that it could help in allowing you to continue improving your riding ability in general. Closer + smaller(lighter) gears = smaller increments in difficulty. You'll likely run the same pace, but probably be more rhythmic and less wiped.
    I weigh 152lbs during the riding season. The 28 is the max I can go on my current SRAM Red setup, Generally, this is my bail gear!

    I have seen buddies switch to compacts, but they don't seem go any faster on the steep climbs. But your point about leg fatigue is well taken.

  8. #8
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    You should try a compact crank. See for yourself. I wouldn't expect any huge difference though.

    This year I just converted (again) to compact gearing. My hillclimb readouts looked similar to yours with my 39. I was getting dropped on climbs. Now I still get dropped on climbs often, but I think overall, I go uphill better...My legs feel better anyhow, but you still have to do the same work, of course.

    It takes some time to get familiar and comfortable using a compact after being on a traditional crankset. You may think you aren't going any quicker uphill...and you probably aren't..at least not by much...But I have found that I have more "kick" in me to respond when someone jumps. (and they always do, don't they?) When climbing maxed-out by your legs...You can send down for "more power" but they just won't respond. When you are spinning at max and limited by your heart/lungs...you can go into the "seeing black spots before your eyes" mode and make a short totally over the top effort...which is sometimes enough stick on or bust everyone's chops on a climb.

    Overall on an uphill TT..my times are close no matter what cadence...but on longer climbing days I find I have a bit more at the end, and I've been cramping less.

    I am going to keep my compact. I live in a climbing area..every ride has a climb. I use a 33-25(12) for my daily training. Easy days a 23 would work fine and for group rides I use an 11 high gear to keep up on fast descents.

    You can always NOT use your real low gears...turn a big slow cadence gear again on a climb with just a flick of your fingers....if you want.. But after a few thousand miles, I bet you won't do that much.

  9. #9
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    I've read that some of the skinny/lighter pro tour riders, like Saxo's Chris Sorensen, have developed a high RPM riding style to get their high power output (FTP high 300s watts)

    Power = Torque (pedal force) x RPM.

    If you don't have huge muscle strength, but do have a good cardio capability, then higher RPM climbing might suit you.

    I think you do have to "re-train" yourself to some extent, so 1-2 rides might not be enough to answer the question, for your physiology.

    I'm finding my best climbing is at 80-85 RPM ... I use compact 50-34 crank and usually 11-25 cassette. It takes conscious effort to adapt to higher RPM, and it's still not 'auto pilot' for me.

    Chris Carmichael, Lance's coach, is an advocate of higher RPM in his training books ... obviously worked well for his star athlete ;-)

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    Quote Originally Posted by tom_h
    If you don't have huge muscle strength, but do have a good cardio capability, then higher RPM climbing might suit you.
    Strength is pretty much irrelevant. The forces generated while climbing are so low (even on the steepest road climbs) that strength is never a limiter. Anyone who can walk up 3 or 4 steps (not flights) has adequate strength to climb at the pro level. It's all about aerobic power.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by asgelle
    Strength is pretty much irrelevant. The forces generated while climbing are so low (even on the steepest road climbs) that strength is never a limiter. Anyone who can walk up 3 or 4 steps (not flights) has adequate strength to climb at the pro level. It's all about aerobic power.
    I agree it's aerobic power , and by "muscular power" I should have been clearer -- I definitely don't mean weightlifter or competitive skier levels of strength.

    Specific example from one of my recent hill climbs --

    Peak 20min (236 watts):
    Duration: 20:00
    Distance: 4.242 mi
    Elevation Gain: 856 ft
    Grade: 3.9 % (865 ft)


    ............. Min Max Avg
    Power: .......45 . 390 . 236 watts
    Cadence: ...34 .162(?!). 86 rpm
    Crank Torque: 24 574.. 235 lb-in

    Speed:... 3.7 16.2 12.7 mph


    235 inch-lbs average torque on my 172.5mm crank arms => 34.6 lbs avg force on each pedal, on every "push down".

    20 min @ 86 rpm avg cadence => 1720 revolutions. Each leg does 1720 "push downs".

    I could have achieved same power with 30% more force (45 lbs) and 30% less cadence (60 RPM), but there's no way I could have sustained that force sitting down, for 1720 repetitions.
    Yes, 45 lbs is modest, but I can't do it.
    Out of saddle, of course, is different.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by tom_h
    I agree it's aerobic power , and by "muscular power" I should have been clearer ...
    So help me out because I've never understood this. What is the difference between good "muscular power" and good "cardio capability?" Specifically lets say there are two riders with the same functional threshold power, but one has better cardio capability and the other better muscular power. How will their physiological markers differ, e.g., VO2max, lactate threshold, AWC, and how will their performances be different. I ask because it seems to me that with the same functional threshold power, they should perform the same on a long aerobic effort.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by asgelle
    So help me out because I've never understood this. What is the difference between good "muscular power" and good "cardio capability?" Specifically lets say there are two riders with the same functional threshold power, but one has better cardio capability and the other better muscular power. How will their physiological markers differ, e.g., VO2max, lactate threshold, AWC, and how will their performances be different. I ask because it seems to me that with the same functional threshold power, they should perform the same on a long aerobic effort.
    yes, that statement is definitely true, almost by definition.

    I am not an exercise physiologist, so I won't speculate on the other questions about physiological markers. There are some hard-core types at the Wattage forum who could answer that, but be aware that forum often seems tart and snippy to newcomers.

    Among my riding friends, some appear to have higher cardiovascular capacity (vO2max) and others have higher torque in their legs. Allowing for power-weight ratio (single most important factor in hill climbing, I think), we can all get up a long hill competitvely with each other.

    My lower-cadence friend does suffer more in Crit racing -- he cannot "snap" out of a corner fast enough, and eventually gets spit out the back. But he excels at TT, and now focusses on that, a lot

    I think a lower-torque/high-cadence style Vs the opposite, depends on the individual's physiology and genetics. It may take experimentation to figure out what works best. Doing intervals from Carmichael's "Time Crunched training plan" on a trainer, with a powermeter , helped me figure out that I should favor higher cadence. Carmichael's approach in "Time Crunched" is to build up your power at vO2max, so many of the intervals are supposed to be done at high RPM, 90-95 and up is typical. This may not work optimally, for everyone.

  14. #14
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    Meaningful comparisons?

    Quote Originally Posted by tom_h
    I've read that some of the skinny/lighter pro tour riders, like Saxo's Chris Sorensen, have developed a high RPM riding style to get their high power output (FTP high 300s watts)

    Power = Torque (pedal force) x RPM.

    If you don't have huge muscle strength, but do have a good cardio capability, then higher RPM climbing might suit you.

    I think you do have to "re-train" yourself to some extent, so 1-2 rides might not be enough to answer the question, for your physiology.

    I'm finding my best climbing is at 80-85 RPM ... I use compact 50-34 crank and usually 11-25 cassette. It takes conscious effort to adapt to higher RPM, and it's still not 'auto pilot' for me.

    Chris Carmichael, Lance's coach, is an advocate of higher RPM in his training books ... obviously worked well for his star athlete ;-)
    http://nyvelocity.com/content/interv...rkin-interview


    Parkin Correct. Absolutely. And it really has changed the way that the...even if you compare the way the riders look now, compared to the way we looked in the '80's and before...back then the legs were bigger, and the guys looked more muscular. And now, the riders are looking more overall athletic, but yet smaller. The oxygen uptake is so much greater on those drugs that they can turn the pedals over faster. Back in the day...I always thought it was funny when you look at a rider like Jan Ullrich climb, compared to everyone else it looked like he was pedaling so slowly, and yet if you look at the way they pedaled in the Merckx era, the '80's...you look at Greg Lemond climb, he pedals slower than Ullrich ever did. So, it has changed the way races are written. Even the guys that don't or didn't partake of the EPO type drugs, they all had to learn how to pedal faster and to ride differently, so...

    Personally, once I disposed of the high cadence ideas, I started riding much more strongly.

    I ride bigger gears at a range of 70 to 90 rpm which isn't really all that slow.

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by blackjack
    http://nyvelocity.com/content/interv...rkin-interview
    Parkin Correct. Absolutely. And it really has changed the way that the...even if you compare the way the riders look now, compared to the way we looked in the '80's and before...back then the legs were bigger, and the guys looked more muscular. And now, the riders are looking more overall athletic, but yet smaller.....
    Partly supports my point, doesn't it? --- namely, that higher cadence can substitute for higher torque and "oversized" muscles.


    The rest of that Joe Parkin interview also included:
    Parkin: Even the guys that don't or didn't partake of the EPO type drugs, they all had to learn how to pedal faster and to ride differently, so...
    schmalz Yeah they had to match the style in order to be competitve.
    Parkin: Exactly.
    "Competitive" also includes ability to launch or respond to attacks, and I think that's a little easier when you're at a higher RPM. I don't mean crazy-high, like 140 rpm, but the benefit is noticeable when comparing 85 vs 70 rpm on an uphill.

  16. #16
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    That race calls for a compact. Even very for strong climbers suffer. I road Lincoln gap (next gap over with mile long section of 20% to 24% grade) and the approach to Apalacian gap (east to west, also called the baby gap) will have your legs cooked before you even start the gap proper. The last mile try not to look up. Seeing that wall before you can suck 50watts out of you in a heartbeat. Descending skills will make a big difference as well with some wicked switchbacks that come up on you fast. Good luck

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by homebrew
    That race calls for a compact. Even very for strong climbers suffer.
    I did manage to take a top 10 finish in the Citizen's 4/5 race, which I'm quite proud of. My time for Baby Gap was fine, but I sucked on App Gap. I was in the top 3 after Baby, and watched 4 or 5 guys pass me on App, and I was cramping up for half the climb. I was slower on App Gap than when I did it as part of a 4 gap ride in training. The difference lies in racing 68 miles before App Gap. I think a compact would help on App Gap as well as the pure hill climbs.

  18. #18
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    I did it. Compact Quarq, 50/34 with 11/28 cassette. Nowhere to go but up!
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  19. #19
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    Sweet setup.

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    Gents I have enjoyed reading this thread (2 times in fact) due to the feedback it has generated from different people..........which brings me to my question.

    I'm curious about the actual art of breathing when sustaining a 80-90rpm cadence for say a 3mi climb. Certainly everyone has a different technique accompanied with cardio fitness but in general is it inhale through the nose exhale mouth?? inhale/exhale through the mouth or just simply whatever it takes to get the job done?? are they quick repetitions that are timely with your cadence or something a but slower??

    TIA

  21. #21
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    Whatever it takes as far as I'm concerned. I try to control my breathing AFTER the climb though, just a couple of deep breaths to help get it back to its normal rate.

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    Quote Originally Posted by PissedOffCil
    I try to control my breathing AFTER the climb though, just a couple of deep breaths to help get it back to its normal rate.
    I certainly agree with this, i even get 4-5 deep ones in to settle it down but in general my RHR (recovery heart rate) is very good which is an indicator of good cardio fitness.

  23. #23
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    My opinion, for which I have only my own experience as evidence to support, is that on a climb where you are near your limit, you don't control your breathing - it pretty much takes care of itself. That usually means air is coming in and out of all places. If you can control your breathing then you're not going hard enough. Ok, ready for the link to the university paper that says just the opposite.

    Quote Originally Posted by orangeclymer
    Gents I have enjoyed reading this thread (2 times in fact) due to the feedback it has generated from different people..........which brings me to my question.

    I'm curious about the actual art of breathing when sustaining a 80-90rpm cadence for say a 3mi climb. Certainly everyone has a different technique accompanied with cardio fitness but in general is it inhale through the nose exhale mouth?? inhale/exhale through the mouth or just simply whatever it takes to get the job done?? are they quick repetitions that are timely with your cadence or something a but slower??

    TIA

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    Quote Originally Posted by dwgranda
    My opinion, for which I have only my own experience as evidence to support, is that on a climb where you are near your limit, you don't control your breathing - it pretty much takes care of itself. That usually means air is coming in and out of all places. If you can control your breathing then you're not going hard enough.
    My experience as well but i wanted to throw it out there for people to comment etc in the event i'm missing something.


    Ok, ready for the link to the university paper that says just the opposite.
    you funneeeeeee

  25. #25
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    I do try to control my breathing in the sense that I make an effort to breathe deeply (mouth and diaphragm open) and mentally relax while keeping my back straight and head up to open my airway so as to get the oxygen in and C02 out. I believe it helps keep things in perspective and expands general awareness as to potential, oncoming events. Tangentially, I've also experimented with exhausting heat by pumping my tongue in and out of my mouth like a dog. Results have not yet been compiled on that last bit.

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