Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Age, Treachery, Gravity

This morning (it was chilly, low 30s) I was 5-1/2 miles into the commute, at the end of a quarter-mile gentle downslope, and a young cyclist on a nice street bike just blew by me. He was in his late 20s, I reckon, and had generally good handling skills (he could set up and take a corner at speed quite well.) I'd been just moseying along, so I picked up the cadence a bit to see if I could keep up with him. He'd put half a block on me, but I noticed two things as I tried to keep up that suggested he hadn't been out much this season: first, he was rocking his head and shoulders quite a bit; and second, he was slowing down on even gentle rises in the road.

My favorite climb of the morning, an 0.6 mile 3% grade, was a half mile ahead, so I just kept pace and bided my time to see what would happen when we hit it. Sure enough, as soon as the upgrade began, he began having trouble finding the right gear. He shifted into too low a gear and began struggling. He must have had a mirror of some kind, because I never saw him look around, but he pulled over as I went around, about an eighth-mile into the climb. I never looked back, but had a great climb, cresting at about 13 mph.

Let me tell you, there's nothing that stokes your self-esteem like smoking a guy half your age on an uphill, early season or no. (I know, I know, I had the "unfair" advantage of having been riding all winter.)

This made me wonder, though, about what kind of advice was out there so I went to Google over the lunch hour and typed in "how to climb hills". The first page of links was all about cycling -- no surprise there. Right up top, I found:
  • Dr. Dick Rafoth's excellent Cycling Performance Tips website that has a host of scientific fact-based information;
  • A very good entry in the late, great Ken Kifer's Bicycle Pages website about the strategy of climbing;
  • A typically-un-informative entry from the eHow website. (I always find eHow unenlightening. It used to be a wiki-type cooperative editing environment, maybe still is, but the entries all seem so darned obvious. Tip number one: use cleats. Tip number two: use the proper gear. Duh.)
  • A quite good article on the REI web site on climbing. Funny, all the times I've ordered stuff from REI, I never looked at that little "expert advice" tab. They have a host of articles on cycling. Many of them are about the kind of stuff to buy (what did you expect, after all?) but this one was pure technique.
So there's a smattering of what's out there. Google it yourself if you want to really pursue this topic. It's funny, I was filling out a questionnaire the other day and one of the questions was, "What do you like about your daily commute?" I answered, "The hills." It seem like a strange answer, but I've really come to an understanding with the gravity part of my ride. I used to really dislike the hills, but now I really like the variety that hills provide, not only variety in the terrain, but also variety from day to day. They serve as a great gauge of how I'm feeling physically and help me to know more about myself. When you hit the hill just right, at just the right cadence, and load your legs just so, so they're "glowing" when you get to the top, but you've still got something left, man, that is a great feeling.


The re-awakening of an Athlete said...

"Glowing" interesting word to use for climbing hills. Perhaps I will try to incorporate that word into a future blog post of mine.


Judy H in NC said...

Oh, to have gears! Right now I am on a Walmart special street cruiser my ex bought my 18 year old for Christmas (she still can't figure that one out). No gears. Before I started riding again (back in the days of a huge white/pink Schwinn bike) I pooh-poohed gears. Of course that was in flat Texas. I'd kill for gears now.

But you are right about hills. When I first started commuting to/from work there were 2-3 hills where I had to get off and walk. First couple of times I was a little embarrassed. Now, I am down to 1 hill in each direction (most days) and if I hit areas when doing errands where the hill is bigger than I am, I walk with pride. At least I'm walking/riding!

Anonymous said...

Correction, Judy H:

Your bike has exactly one gear.