Monday, April 19, 2010

Outdoor Bike: Hill Clinic

Here's a quick summary of the tips we went over Saturday, which I hope to continue to practice--as with most things in life, you only get better with practice, and there's always room for improvement:
  1. PEDAL SMOOTH--IN CIRCLES (if you don't have clipless pedals, this won't apply so much). This means using your leg muscles all the way round the pedal stroke. The best way to get a feel for this is to find a flat area with no traffic and practice pedaling with one foot off the pedal, so that you have to move the other foot the full circumference of the stroke to keep yourself moving. Practice making this smooth with no jerks. Smooth pedaling will help you build speed & proper form in all aspects of riding, but is especially important in climbing. NOTE: Clip one foot out only after building some speed, do not try this from a standstill.
  2. KEEP THE PROPER CADENCE BY SELECTING THE RIGHT GEAR. When riding hills, you should be in a gear that is neither too easy (which will have you spinning too fast) nor too slow, which wastes energy and slows you down. Instead, let the proper gear keep your pedal speed (cadence) approximately the same as it would be on the flats. Of course on steeper hills you may be in the lowest gear and still not able to pedal in anything but a very slow cadence, but when at all possible keep up your momentum.
  3. KEEP MOMENTUM: SHIFT BEFORE YOU SLOW DOWN. Don't wait until you feel yourself barely able to spin to shift gears; it will be too late, you will put too much stress on your chain & chainring, and run the risk of slowing to a standstill, breaking the chain or the chain slipping on the ring, all of which can easily cause a crash. Instead, downshift just as you feel yourself slowing, or even just before a hill appears or gets steeper, so that you keep your momentum going.
  4. CLIMBING IN THE SADDLE IS MORE EFFICIENT. When you stand to climb, you are only pushing down on the pedals, so you don't have the opportunity to use other muscles to pull up on the upstroke. This will fatigue your muscles faster, resulting in you slowing down and losing momentum.
    • when you are on a very steep hill, you are in your lowest gear, and the only way to keep from coming to a standstill is to get out of the saddle and really pump your pedals.
    • when you feel yourself slowing too much and need/want to gain extra speed, get out of the saddle for a short burst, and when you get back down keep up with the momentum you gained while standing.
    • every once in a while on a ride (on the flats or climbing) to release numbness and pressure and to regain proper seating position.
  6. RIDE STRAIGHT. Everyone has a tendency to rock back and forth on the bike when pedaling hard (dropping shoulders, weaving the bike), especially when standing. Avoid this. When you shift your body weight to one side and the other, it takes extra energy to move the body back to center--energy that could/should be used in moving you forward. This rocking motion can be hard to avoid when you are on the very steeps (see first bullet point of #5 above), otherwise proper pedal strokes should eliminate this (#1 above).
  7. PREPARE FOR THE BIG HILL AHEAD. Most hills are directly preceded by a downhill or a long, flat section of road. Especially when you are approaching an uphill directly after a downhill, you will likely be in your middle or large front chainring. But to get up that big hill, you will likely need to be in a smaller front chainring, and switching between front rings during an ascent can be dangerous and puts a lot of stress on your bike. Instead, anticipate the hill by switching into a smaller front chainring BEFORE the hill. To keep approximately the same cadence when you make this transition, shift your front ring DOWN (easier) one gear, and your back ring UP (harder) 3-4 gears. Bike have different gear set-ups, but this rule of thumb will generally get you into the same ratio of gears, and hence same cadence as you were before. Now you'll be ready to start shifting down into successfully easier gears as the hill gets more difficult.
I was told there is nothing more satisfying in a race than to pass by someone on a hill that is in too high a gear and/or otherwise wasting their energy with poor form. If you can build up good momentum at the bottom of the hill, it will be that much easier to keep up a good pace going up the hill as you shift through the gears and keep your cadence up.

For those interested in practicing more hills, here's the route we did today:

And here's the other tough hill on Grant Road, with directions up Broad Branch from where we started out today:

No comments:

Post a Comment