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Gopher Wheelmen
Contact:  Matthew Sterling
Website:  gopherwheelmen.org
 
Coulee Region Youth Cycling
Contact:  Larry Martin
Website:  www.teamborah.com
 
Sweet 'n Salty Cycling
Contact:  Terra James
Website:  Coming Soon
 

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Climbing basics

This is the first in a series of articles on climbing.  We can't make you love hills, but we can give you tools to tackle them.

Climbing is a power-to-weight activity. World-class climbers generally have less than 2 pounds of body weight per inch of height. (For example, if you're 70 inches tall (5-foot- 10), you would weigh less than 140 pounds.) Since achieving this weight is difficult for most of us, here are a few tips for hill climbing. If hills intimidate you, or are your weak link, take it easy. Go 5-10% easier than you think you can as you get into the climb. Conserve. You can always pick it up later.

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Climbing Position

Body position is an important element of comfortable, efficient climbing.  Here are a few things to consider as you work to improve your climbing:

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Standing While Climbing
If you must stand, remember it's hard to pull up because you aren't in contact with the saddle -- there's nothing to brace your hips to pull against -- and you will to power into BOTH the down and up strokes (12 to 5 o'clock on the down stroke and 7 to 10 o'clock on the upstroke). You should use your body weight to help you push down. Let the bike move fluidly under you. Don’t force it. The bike should rock rhythmically side to side in an arc of about 6 inches (judged by the movement of the handlebar stem). This gives each leg a direct push against its pedal and makes the best use of your weight. This will help to maintain a smooth stroke and your momentum. Don't lean too far forward. If the nose of your saddle is brushing the back of your thighs, you are just right. Farther forward and you will press the front tire into the pavement and lose power. Stay back a bit and find the front-to-back sweet spot. This helps center your weight over the crank to drive the pedals as described. And remember to shift up a gear or two just before you stand to take advantage of the extra power you gain from standing (but which you can’t maintain for any length of time).

Remember that if you are in a group, you need to consciously protect those behind you when you stand to climb. How you stand on a hill is very important - do it wrong and the guy behind might suddenly be on the pavement. The issue is the brief deceleration that can occur as you change from sitting to standing incorrectly, which, relative to other riders has the effect of sending your bike backwards and can cause the following rider's front wheel to hit your rear wheel.

On short, rolling hills, the trick is to click to the next higher gear (smaller cog), then stand and pedal over the top with a slightly slower cadence. This keeps quads from loading up with lactate because it helps you pedal with body weight. In fact, it can actually feel like you're stretching and refreshing your legs.

The correct way to stand:

  • It is good etiquette to announce "Standing!" a couple of pedal strokes before you do so.
  • Stand smoothly as one foot begins its downward power stroke - don't lunge, keep your effort constant.
  • As you come off the saddle, push your hands forward a bit. This helps to ensure that the bike won't lose ground.
  • When returning to the saddle, continue pedaling evenly and again push your hands forward to counteract any tendency to decelerate. This will gain several inches and put the seat right under you.

You can practice your technique with a friend during a training ride. They can ride behind and let you know when you've got the hang to it. That's when the gap between their front wheel and your rear wheel doesn't narrow each time you stand or sit.

 
Climbing - Keep It Regular

Climbing, especially over long distances, mandates a smooth and steady approach.  The smoother your climbing, the more efficient you will be.

FIND YOUR SPEED AND RHYTHM

Climbing should always be done in your comfort zone. Ride at your own pace - Know your limits and listen to your body. If you become anaerobic, you won't recover, so let faster riders go. It's a common mistake: Trying to keep up with better climbers on the lower slopes, then reaching your limits and losing big hunks of time. Take it a bit easier and you have a much better chance of catching them later. You don’t want to over exert and go anaerobic. If you're nearing your red line on that hill, slow slightly, breathe deeply and continue at a speed within your ability.

Use the right gears and shift early to balance the work of your muscles and aerobic system. New riders often make the mistake of pushing their muscles until they cannot push any more. When they decide to shift to an easier gear -- if they have one -- it is often too late. The muscles are exhausted and unable to continue.

KEEP THAT CADENCE UP

Think about this. If you ride up the hill in two minutes at 60 rpm, you've divided the total work into 120 pieces (consider each revolution of your pedals as a unit of work). But if you spin at 90, there would be 180. As you've done the same elevation gain, but now broken it into smaller bits, there will be less work (and strain on the knees) with each revolution. (And if you do have knee problems, take a break and stand during hills - which will change the biomechanics and give your knees a break).

Gear down before the hill. The goal is to avoid producing large quantities of lactic acid and then pedaling through the pain. You want a sustainable rhythm. Try to keep your cadence above 70 -- any slower puts excess stress on your knees. The optimum spin rates for efficient pedaling are somewhere between 70 and 80. One rider reported that he actually went faster as he increased his cadence in a lower gear. For example, he would maintain 6.5 mph at 50 rpm in one gear and then, as he geared down, he found he maintained 8 mph at 70 rpm without a perceived increase in effort. If you find that things are going well, you can always shift to a harder gear later.

Try to find the cadence that would let you "climb all day". You are pushing too hard if you can't keep a smooth pedal stroke or are panting or breathing irregularly.  Ride your own pace. The energy you save may help you catch someone who started too fast near the summit.

BREATHING

If you start to breathe irregularly, take a deep breath and hold it for a few pedal strokes. Try synchronizing your breathing with your pedal stroke - start by taking a breath every time one foot (your right one for example) reaches the bottom of a stroke. Then try 1 1/2, and finally every two strokes. You will actually deliver more oxygen to your system with a controlled rate than an irregular panting or gasping one.

Stay tuned for some training tips and workouts that can help improve your climbing.

 
Attacking

When a rider or riders suddenly sprint away from the group, it's called an "attack". These attacks are undertaken primarily to peel off weaker racers, or those not paying attention and to possibly stay away for a win. Sometimes, larger and more organized teams will attack repeatedly to wear down the peloton with two or more riders in reserve to ensure a win at the sprint.

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