Monday, January 29, 2007

Hill climbing cycling tips please

I need simple, easy to digest tips on how to approach hill climbing. I have the stamina and the will power - just don't have the technique yet. So... Mark K., Daddy, Colin B., Andy F. and Richard M... plus anyone who's reading this... please leave me some pointers and I'll go about implementing them. I'm thinking particularly of gearing and pedalling... standing up vs. sitting down... go on, throw it at me... I've got a big brain.

Instructions for posting are on the left side of the blog.


Bronzie said...

Hi Jevon

Good to see you out at the Harp Hilly ride yesterday and top marks for getting round in 4h15m - it's certainly no easy ride for your first organised bunch ride!

I'm probably the last person on earth that should give you tips on riding a bike up hills as I'm widely regarded by my club mates as having the climbing ability of a lead balloon! But here goes anyway..........

- try and stay in the saddle using smaller gears if necessary as it's generally more efficient than out of the saddle ("Honking") especially on long (ie Alpine) climbs.

- It's no bad thing to alternate periods of seated climbing with out of the saddle efforts as it uses different muscles and helps prevent fatigue and cramp.

- when climbing in the saddle grip your handlebars on the tops (ie the flat bit either side of the stem) and try to pull with your arms against your pedal stroke (ie left arm when pushing down with left leg, right arm with right leg)

- there is no substitute for practice - lots of hilly rides will make you climb better but ultimately the best climbers are born not made (I know, annoying isn't it!). Hill intervals (riding up and down the same climb say 10 times flat out) will also improve climbing power.

- gradually increasing the gearing you use when climbing will increase power, but careful not to overdo it otherwise it's easy to end up with knee injuries. Start with a gear that you can turn fairly easily and gradually over a period of weeks try using bigger gears that are more of a 'grind'.

- concentrate on pedalling technique when pedalling with a low cadence up hill - imagine scraping mud off the bottom of your shoe at the bottom of the pedal stroke - and remember to pull up with your other leg at the same time as pushing down with your first one - visualise pedalling a nice round circle with your feet rather than squares!

Can't think of anything else at the minute, but that's probably enough for now!

Cheers and see you out and about again soon no doubt - as I said you are welcome to join the CC Luton club runs - 9:30am Saturday (cafe stop) & Sunday (non stop training ride) from the roundabout on the A6 at the top of Barton Cutting.

Richard Mead

Jevon said...

Thanks Richard... exactly the kind of stuff I was looking for.

Daddy said...

Hi Jevon
Let's get the bad news out of the way first..... all the prolific hill climbers are and were small guys. Bill Bradley of Southport Road Club rode in the Milk Races/tour of Britain in the late 50's, Charley Gaul of Luxembourg a tiny guy left the Tour de France peleton for dead on every climb he came to in the late 50's (God, was it that long ago?!!) There are modern day climbers from countries we never thought would produce a racing cyclist who now dominate the big professional races. These wee fellas just sit there in the saddle and on the tops and twiddle their way up the hills (a twiddler is someone who trains and races and climbs on a low gear - ie more revolutions than your normal climber.) They only honk to relieve the monotony of a long climb, and also to relieve and stretch the latisimus dorsae muscles, the thigh and calf muscles and the arms.
Now comes the good news...... big boys like you do climb better than your average climber. They have a lot of weight to pull up the hill, but because of their strength, they push a bigger gear that your average climber. Two noteable examples are Ivan Basso and the big German, Jan Ullrich. Watch the latter climb, he pushes a big gear, when sitting down he's on the tops, pulling with his right arm as his right leg descends then his left as the left leg descends. The big difference between him and the 'twiddlers' is that he honks more - it replenishes his momemtum, but at the same time he honks for the same reason as the twiddler. Honking also frees up the blood supply through the buttocks thereby giving a surge of oxygen into the leg and thigh muscles.

Those are personal observations. My personal opinions are based upon the fact that at 5'9" (well, almost!) I was a twiddler and hills didn't cause too much of a problem for me (hey, but they do now!!)
Firstly, I always knew the hill I had to climb, consequently I knew which gear to select at which point. I never waited until my rhythm became slower - that meant I had left it too late to change gear. Try to think of going up a hill in a 'manual' car: you don't leave the gear change until the car slows to a virtual halt.... you change down because to stop the engine labouring and to keep up its momentum. If I couldn't go round the course or lap beforehand, I would look up the gradients on a local map. Gradients and the top of them is where all good 'breaks' from the bunch occur because the bunch is tired during the climb and at the top. You may think this doesn't concern you because you are not in a massed start race, but it does concern you - because at the top of any climb you too will be tired and so you must be mentally aware that that at the top of a climb you have a choice: slow up and think 'God that was hard but I'm over it now' or you should think 'This is my chance to keep pressing on and make up time on the guys who take it easy at the top of this climb'.

Whatever gear I chose, I always made a point of coming out it slowly once the climb was over - ie, I didn't change up to the biggest gear, I went through the gears until I reached my chosen gear. I did this over a distance of around quarter of a mile (unless there was an immediate descent - I then went into the biggest gear, honked and wound it up as fast as possible.)
Like Richard said, I always (climbing or not) turned up my heel at the bottom of a revolution. There ain't no point in one leg pushing the other leg up. Lifting the heel creates an involuntary pull on that leg, thereby subconciously increasing propulsion.

Every sport where rhthym is involved has to involve correct breathing. Climbing is based on rhthym. Watch the climbers on screen - you could almost sing a song to the rhthym of their pedals. You must set yourself a breathing rhthym and STICK TO IT. It may sound silly, but what worked for me was two short QUICK intakes of breath on the downstroke of my right leg and a SLIGHTLY longer expellation of breath on the downstroke of my left leg. If I changed to a higher gear then so my breathing rhthym was altered - in other words my legs and arms and breathing were all interlinked. REMEMBER, CLIMBING IS BASED ON RHTHYM. Do not, repeat do not take great gulps of air whilst climbing, you don't need it, it will spoil your rhthym and you can't get rid of the damn stuff.

When climbing, survey the road ahead with your eyes and keep your head down. Lifting the head tenses the shoulders.

I know you know that all honking is done with thumbs and fingers around the brake hoods. sitting and twiddling gives you a choice - on the tops or around the brake hoods, the latter usually works best for big boys like you. Never honk on a low gear - it is self-destructive and massively tiring to the legs and destroys all cohesion at the hip joints.
As you know, I've got numerous old videos on climbers so we'll have a look at them when you are up here in the North.

Jevon said...

Great advice... thanks Daddy. Looking forward to watching your honking videos!!

Andy Fulbrook said...

Hi Jevon
Some great pointers here, I would add that keeping the cadence up works for me so don't be afraid to move to the low gears early.
I have a hill near me around a mile climb, so four or five repeats were always good fun!

Jevon said...

Cheers Andy...