CYCLING PERFORMANCE TIPS
Before I cover a few climbing tips, here is an interesting comment pertaining to the ideal physique of a competitive climber from a contributor in roadbikerider.com.
How Can a Small Guy Ride So Strongly?
Question: I began riding last year and recently met my first professional cyclist in person. He's a good climber on a U.S. pro team. I'm astonished at how small he is! He looks skinny, emaciated and weak. But I know he can ride circles around me even though I'm an athletic 6-footer and 190 pounds. How can such an unimposing person put out so much power? I want to climb like him! -- Bradley N.
Comment: When you're familiar with athletes in most conventional sports, it's a shock to see how small and thin top cyclists are. The rule for climbing prowess: You should weigh (in pounds) no more than twice your height in inches. So at 6 feet (72 inches) you'd need to weigh 144 pounds rather than 190. Pro cycling tends to select lean, light-bodied athletes in the same way that the profile of a mastodon is required for football linemen. Climbing ability is crucial in racing, and it depends on the power-to-weight ratio. A light rider doesn't need to generate as much power as his heavier competitor because he has less weight to propel up hills. In the 2005 Tour de France with 189 starters, here's the profile of the average rider:
Now on to the tips.
STAY SEATED AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE
Although you develop more power while standing (you are taking advantage of all your upper body
weight pushing down on the pedals), you also use 10 to 12% more energy as your pelvis isn't
in contact with the saddle which means more work for your core and back muscles as you pull
up on the unweighted pedal. The net effect is more energy used (less efficient) to climb
standing versus to climb seated.
On short climbs, the length of a football field or less, it makes little difference. But on longer climbs, stay in the saddle and spin at 80 - 85 RPM. This is particularly so if you are heavier as standing puts just that much more weight on your leg muscles, while sitting uses the seat to help take the extra upper body weight off your legs. Staying in the saddle will:
Want to train for climbing hills while seated?? Here is a drill you might consider. Go hard up short hills while seated. Find a climb that's moderately steep and takes about 30 seconds to crest. Hit it hard at the bottom in a fairly large gear. Beware of letting your cadence slow by the top. Use a gear that lets you pedal at 90 rpm or more all the way up. Start with two or three reps and increase as your strength improves.
That having been said, on long, fairly steep climbs, it may provide a break to alternate sitting and standing to employ different muscle groups. Just before you stand, shift to the next smaller cog, then shift back when you sit. These gear changes will help you maintain a steady pace during cadence changes.
And if you are going to stand, let the bike rock side to side under you - an arc of maybe 6 inches side to side. And don't lean too far forward. Stay back so that your weight is directly over the crank.
For out of the saddle climbing or aggressive climbs (where you are accelerating or attacking on the saddle) put your thumbs on the hoods and rest one or two fingers on the levers or wrapped around underneath. And when you get to that descent, most riders will go to the drops (keeping your wrists straight) for the aerodynamic advantages although others prefer the hoods for the feeling of control. But not the top of the bars as your hands will be too far from the brakes.
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:
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:
If you are going to be riding hills as part of an event or a tour, you might consider building up weekly climbing volume to around 125% of event climbing volume. If it is a one day event, aim to climb at least 60% of event elevation change volume on several rides. For example, if the event has 10,000 feet of climbing, you must climb 6,000 feet in training in one day, several times.
And don't foget to train for technique as well.
GROUP RIDING TECHNIQUES
One trick for weaker climbers in a group is to move near the front of the group near the
start of the climb and allow others to pass as the climb continues. In that way, you will
be near the back at the top but won't get dropped and have to fight back to close with
Save a little for a short sprint over the top of the hill -- shift up and stand to accelerate and make up some distance.
Answer: Al, I'm not sure I can give you the scientific answer. But here is my best guess.
The total amount of work to climb the hill should be proportional to the weight moved up the hill. Maybe a tad more with the bike as you are carrying an extra 20 - 25 pounds up the hill, but this assumes the weight of the athletes is equal. However, most of the world class bikers are small guys. Check the weight of the winning runners and the winning cyclists. If they are indeed lighter, total energy output (again based on total weight carried up the set altitude) to achieve the top may be less.
If the work done to reach the top is the same, the same total Calories expended should be the same. Since it is a hill, we don't need to worry about wind resistance.
Heart Rate and %VO2 max are related to energy output per unit of time and thus the rate at which the athlete climbs. I'd presume both groups are at their optimum (near 100 % V02max - just slightly sub anaerobic), so these should be equal in both groups.
The fact that after multiple attempts (many riders/runners in each group) the bikers are faster to the top would suggest that they (and biking versus running) are indeed slightly more efficient in terms of rate of climb attainable for equal level energy output.
Question:Why is it that time trialers seem to lose it in the mountains, and a good climber often gets beaten in a time trial on the flats? BM
Answer: The answer involves the interplay of body weight, power output and wind resistance. On the flats, resistance (which slows you down) is primarily related to the resistance created by a rider's bike and body as they move through the air. Big riders, in a low racing position, have a frontal surface area that is quite similar to that of smaller riders. But big riders tend to generate more power thanks to their larger muscle mass. That's why time trials and sprints on flat or rolling terrain favor the bigger, muscular riders.
However the resistance (that slows one down) on a hill is related to gravity. When a rider fights gravity while going uphill, the power-to-weight ratio, not total absolute power output is more important. The more Watts a rider can produce for his (or her) body weight, the faster that rider can climb. To improve climbing, you must either lose weight or increase your sustainable wattage -- or do both.
Here's an example. A big rider (let's say 85 kg or 187 lbs.) and can produce 425 Watts for 20 minutes (a standard test interval) and thus has a power-to-weight ratio of 5.0 Watts per kg. (Top climbers have a ratio of 6-7 Watts-per-kilo.) For comparison, a lighter rider, let's say 60-kg climber (or 132 lbs.) need only produce 360 Watts to achieve 6 Watts per kilo. In this scenario, the lighter rider will overcome the effects of gravity more easily (remember that it is the power per kg that is important in overcoming the resistance of gravity), but the bigger rider will do better on the flats where the wind resistance is relatively weight independent and thus equal for the light and heavier rider - thus the lighter rider is 65 Watts behind and will lose the sprint.