Power on the hills ??

GSAstuto

Maximum Pace
Oct 11, 2009
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tokyo
www.roadfixie.com
#1
I've been observing some interesting phenomenon lately. And I'd like to get some feedback / comments / advise / experiences.

Here's how it goes ---

1) Oftentimes I'm riding with others that have strong performance on the flats and seem to be similar size / power, etc. Even as much as I'm personally pushing quite hard to keep up.

2) Then, when the incline starts, the other riders will suddenly drop pace - almost as if they've reached a magical 'barrier'.

So - what happened?? Is it pain aversion? High Cardio optimization? Low LAT ?

This doesn't seem to really be 'body specific' . Some larger riders I know have no issues at all in the hills, while some smaller riders I know really struggle.

I do notice (empirically) that the riders 'struggling' or really 'down pacing' seem to be hitting the small gears very quick and trying to keep a 90+ cadence. Personally I climb best at about 70-75rpm. More than that stresses my cardio system. I can drop to about 45-60rpm and still develop good torque without going into Oxygen debt or LAT shutdown.

Just tossing this out to garner opinion and discourse.
 
Sep 2, 2009
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#2
Going fast is a laugh and easy on the flat.

Slowing down to climb is an anti-climax and doesn't get the excitemen- juice going.
 

j-sworks

Maximum Pace
Feb 5, 2012
1,199
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Tokyo
#3
I've been observing some interesting phenomenon lately. And I'd like to get some feedback / comments / advise / experiences.

Here's how it goes ---

1) Oftentimes I'm riding with others that have strong performance on the flats and seem to be similar size / power, etc. Even as much as I'm personally pushing quite hard to keep up.

2) Then, when the incline starts, the other riders will suddenly drop pace - almost as if they've reached a magical 'barrier'.

So - what happened?? Is it pain aversion? High Cardio optimization? Low LAT ?

This doesn't seem to really be 'body specific' . Some larger riders I know have no issues at all in the hills, while some smaller riders I know really struggle.

I do notice (empirically) that the riders 'struggling' or really 'down pacing' seem to be hitting the small gears very quick and trying to keep a 90+ cadence. Personally I climb best at about 70-75rpm. More than that stresses my cardio system. I can drop to about 45-60rpm and still develop good torque without going into Oxygen debt or LAT shutdown.

Just tossing this out to garner opinion and discourse.
I've noticed this too, although I still have a long way to go in hills, and if I was going to hazard a guess I'd say that they saw or heard that this is best (and the pro's do something similar) on some blog or race commentary. I've heard this.

For me at this point I just ride within myself and pay little concern to HR or cadence, but I keep an eye on them to attempt effort regulation.
 

andywood

Maximum Pace
Apr 8, 2008
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#4
Races are won and lost on gear selection as the gradient changes. Staying in the big ring too long or dropping into the small ring too early.

For me I like to go 3 or so gears heavier on the back before dropping into the small ring. This keeps momentum going.

However, riding with Murayama san in the summer I saw class in action. Shifting up the rear cassette one cog at a time. One big kick before each gear change.

Regardless of gear technique and body build, I think those that will ease smoothly into a climb are those that have put time in building a cardiovascular base and then have practiced in the hills...

Andy


www.jyonnobitime.com/time
 
Sep 2, 2009
5
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#5
Yeah, gear selection indeed, and all that it entails.

I think a lot of it is psychological which leads to problems in the physical world; when the hills start, it is slower and more difficult than flying along, drafting, free-wheeling, having the full range of gears at your disposal, etc., but the physical sensation of speed still lingers so a mega fast spinning sense of power can be momentarily maintained by dropping down too low (the 'hey, this is still easy and I am still going fast' sensation) and spinning away to keep momentum.

If that makes any sense at all!
 

GSAstuto

Maximum Pace
Oct 11, 2009
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#6
So - you are saying the psychological impact is there? Personally I know if I just concentrate on the road ahead of me and not so much the grade, I can push harder and longer. I just wonder where did the power go? When I watch some riders. Are they bowing in to the sustained pain? This doesn't make sense, cause many are very good TT'ers and for sure that's sustained pain if there ever was.
 
Sep 2, 2009
5
0
0
#7
Well, as you know, I am the worst climber ever.

For me, it is a combination of both, to be honest. I probably go at the climbs expecting to be as fast as I am on the flat, then when I am inevitably not, it annoys me and I start to get that 'sod this' attitude, and only really look forward to the top, where I can melt it downhill again. This transfers to physical where I find every pedal stroke sucks because it is so different in sensation to mullering it along on the flat with a grin on my face.

I could just get fitter I suppose, or learn to settle in to the climb and accept my fate with a more tempered attitude.

Or all of the above. :)
 

AlanW

Maximum Pace
Jan 30, 2007
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Tokyo
#8
I recall reading some research wherein the conclusion was that lower cadence when climbing is sustainable and more efficient for many riders. Will see if I can find it again.
Anyway for me, the faster I can get up a hill, the sooner the pain will stop!
 

j-sworks

Maximum Pace
Feb 5, 2012
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Tokyo
#10
I recall reading some research wherein the conclusion was that lower cadence when climbing is sustainable and more efficient for many riders. Will see if I can find it again.
This makes sense from my experiences trying both a higher and lower cadence, and the lower cadence is more sustainable because my HR stays at a manageable rate.

I'm curious to know how the two impact power output and therefore ability to climb faster.
 

Aron B

Maximum Pace
Mar 24, 2012
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Nerima-ku, Tokyo
abeekman.nl
#11
Hi Tim,

I've been wondering and pondering about this myself for ages. My conclusion is that cycling is the weirdest of sports, where basic physical and physiological principles can be misleading or moreover simply not able to explain reality.

Let's consider professional riders so that equipment, training etc. are comparable (too many unknowns in us fools toying around). How come some strong TT riders fail miserably in the mountains, even in climbing TT? You'd think just push the Watts that you can, either against the wind or against gravity, at constant speed it should not matter.

I once did a simple calculation to see when (at what gradient) a lightweight climber with less muscle mass would outperform a stronger but heavier rider. Intuitively you'd expect an optimum, but I could not find it.
http://www.nereus.nl/oudesite/content/dut/roeien/media/fysicaWielrennen.pdf (in Dutch)

So I don't have a good or even any explanation, but both from watching TV and from personal experience, I would say that a certain combination of body factors, such as weight, lactate point, VO2 max, slow twitch/fast twitch ratio etc., just makes one more prone towards climbing or towards other kinds of riding. Conditioning helps a lot too, but what is that exactly? Also something I would describe as "recuperation ability", which is probably understudied since cycling is one of the few sports where you can recuperate within the race (by taking turns in the wind or after an ascent), I feel to be very important.
 

GSAstuto

Maximum Pace
Oct 11, 2009
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www.roadfixie.com
#12
Yes, exactly. This is the condundrum I'm mulling over. Somehow its not just about power... if that was the case, then I'd see alot of very strong TT riders blasting up the hills. But - I just don't see it.

I know for me, I tend to rotate muscle groups quite a bit in a climb. However in a TT situation, I'll tend to 'lock in' and basically deplete the only group doing the bulk work in favor of keeping 'quiet' as possible on the bike.

So - my power output - as pitiful as it is - is higher overall for a TT, but more recoverable on a climb.

But I still want to get to the crux of this ...


Hi Tim,

I've been wondering and pondering about this myself for ages. My conclusion is that cycling is the weirdest of sports, where basic physical and physiological principles can be misleading or moreover simply not able to explain reality.

Let's consider professional riders so that equipment, training etc. are comparable (too many unknowns in us fools toying around). How come some strong TT riders fail miserably in the mountains, even in climbing TT? You'd think just push the Watts that you can, either against the wind or against gravity, at constant speed it should not matter.

I once did a simple calculation to see when (at what gradient) a lightweight climber with less muscle mass would outperform a stronger but heavier rider. Intuitively you'd expect an optimum, but I could not find it.
http://www.nereus.nl/oudesite/content/dut/roeien/media/fysicaWielrennen.pdf (in Dutch)

So I don't have a good or even any explanation, but both from watching TV and from personal experience, I would say that a certain combination of body factors, such as weight, lactate point, VO2 max, slow twitch/fast twitch ratio etc., just makes one more prone towards climbing or towards other kinds of riding. Conditioning helps a lot too, but what is that exactly? Also something I would describe as "recuperation ability", which is probably understudied since cycling is one of the few sports where you can recuperate within the race (by taking turns in the wind or after an ascent), I feel to be very important.
 
Dec 31, 2009
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Matsumoto
#13
My theory is that on flats your pedaling efficiency is not as touchy as when climbing. You can stream one mash to the next without losing much speed. Not so in the hills. If your pedal stroke is inefficient it shows through and every dead spot or wobble slows you down each pedal stroke. Obviously power to weight ratio and aerodynamics play a role (the later much less when climbing due to the speed) but the key that is hard to spot is pedaling efficiency. Just a thought. It also could be said that pedaling in complete circles (hitting 12 to 3) in your pedal stroke could actually not be worth it on flats due to the increase in muscle recruitment with little gain therefore coming at a higher metabolic cost. The same practice of pedaling in circles may be what sets to riders of similar stature apart in the hills. With this theory you could also then say that a person pedaling in circles in a TT would run out of gas faster than someone just stomping away.
 

andywood

Maximum Pace
Apr 8, 2008
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#14
Power : weight is what everyone talks about. But aerobic fitness is key.

How hard can you ride before going anaerobic? If you can sit at LT while the guy next to you is "in the red", there will only be one winner at the top.

From my own experience, with good base training, I can challenge the pure climbers in April and May. In the summer, when they're working on their "top end", it's much more difficult to follow accelerations on steep climbs...

Andy

www.jyonnobitime.com/time
 

GSAstuto

Maximum Pace
Oct 11, 2009
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#15
Both of these summaries are excellent input. But is it really anaerobic threshold that is the indicator? Or burning your muscles in inefficent pedaling? Maybe both?

OK - so . looking at purely a 'bigger' rider, they have to move more mass. And this includes the legs. They are in fact, almost the biggest mass in the body! So - in spite of concentrating more power - it also takes more power to lift. On the hills you are lifting these guns straight up and more. On the flats , just simply straight up. (One aspect).

But back to power - recruitment of muscles. I think ProMech is getting into the zone here. Cause - I know for myself, if I can recruit differing muscle groups in a rotatiom, then I'll have more stored energy to work with .

On-bike recovery is also important. So, the ability to transfer load to alternate set of muscles while you feed the other set is important. Then being able to recruit the fed muscles optimally.
 

Sikochi

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Sep 13, 2010
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#16
Assuming similar riders (same size, FTP, W/kg, CdA) and no issues relating to bike fit, technique, mental motivation, then I would be looking in the area of effective pedal force and cadence.

Changes in power (increase) are either due (when riding) to an increase in effective pedal force, increase in cadence, increase in both, or a decrease in one, but with a proportionately greater increase in the other. And vice versa for a decrease.

My guess (without going into a detailed explanation) is that uphill, you are increasing your effective pedal force and putting out more overall watts (even though cadence might be dropping) and the ones get dropped are decreasing their cadence as they don`t have low enough gearing to maintain their preferred cadence, but are unable to increase their effective pedal force to compensate.

Now, if you built up one of your powertap hubs from your shop, and took it out riding, that would answer the question.
 

GSAstuto

Maximum Pace
Oct 11, 2009
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www.roadfixie.com
#17
In theory it should answer the question, right? Because velocity will be directly proportional to average power. And if your average power on the flats is same as the hills - then it shouldn't matter either way.

I'm looking for something else - because I know from my own PT tests and personal riding style / habits, that I don't vary too much on my average power from flats to hills, except that on the hills I will tend to have more 'spikes' at higher levels due to short attacks or digs. On the flats , I will rarely attack or dig for short time because there is no requirement. And , in TT mode, that would be a suicide manouver anyway.

So - honestly, I think it lies more in the fit, technique, mental side of things. And quite a bit to do with the ability to tolerate (and recover) from VO Max conditions efficiently.

Remember - this discussion is not so much about HC vs Rouleurs, Punchers, Sprinters, etc ... but more about the wide variance a rider might have in pursuing hills vs flats.

And , if you feel you are weak in the hills, yet quick on the flats - I want to know why? And vice versa?

Assuming similar riders (same size, FTP, W/kg, CdA) and no issues relating to bike fit, technique, mental motivation, then I would be looking in the area of effective pedal force and cadence.

Changes in power are either due (when riding) to an increase in effective pedal force, increase in cadence, increase in both, or a decrease in one, but with a proportionately greater increase in the other.

My guess (without going into a detailed explanation) is that uphill, you are increasing your effective pedal force and putting out more overall watts (even though cadence might be dropping) and the ones get dropped are decreasing their cadence as they don`t have low enough gearing to maintain their preferred cadence, but are unable to increase their effective pedal force to compensate.

Now, if you built up one of your powertap hubs from your shop, and took it out riding, that would answer the question.
 
#18
A very intriguing question you are posing here Tim. I just wish I knew the answer.

One thing I know for sure is that I do not belong to that tribe of natural-born grimpeurs like my compatriot Lucien van Impe. No matter how hard I train (to try to improve peak oxygen uptake) or no matter how much weight I manage to shed (to try to improve power vs weight ratio), I just cannot make it to the top like I wish I could.

Maybe the answer can be found in the way our bodies are shaped (akin somewhat to bike frame geometry) and what they are composed of (frame material)? Just looking at my own physique, I have to accept that being fat-arsed and thick-boned is never going to help me power up those hills like Speedy Gonzales :cool:. 

There is of course also the importance of the mental factor!
 

knownone

Speeding Up
Aug 4, 2011
138
5
38
Tokyo
jeremyscofield.ca
#19
For me it is largely a function of my unproductive extra weight. As I have gained weight over the last few years my TT ability has stayed relatively un-affected but my ability to hill climb (which I used to be quite good at) has dropped off the chart.

Every kilo I lose seems to make a very large difference in my ability to climb well. When my legs where a much larger portion of my weight I actually had no problem climbing and even used to beat a lot of lightly built self-declared climbers up the inclines (I am 190cm tall and have fairly large legs). For me personally this points to the obvious weight to directional-force relationship as being quite important in climbing. I have to generate a much larger amount of power to push my increased mass up inclines, especially with my slower cadence pedaling style on climbs, and not being in really good condition I do not have the stamina to sustain the necessary power. Casual training over the last few years without bringing the weight down has caused me to continue to suffer on the hills even if improved conditioning has allowed me to build up TT ability.

My personal experience is that relative muscle mass and conditioning both play a roll in power on the hills more than sheer body size alone, but given a relative equality of these things the amount of unproductive weight one carries up the hills very greatly effects ones ability to power up the hills.

That being said, by the sound of this general discussion I will have to take the weight off before going on climbs with you lot come spring ;)
 

Sikochi

Maximum Pace
Sep 13, 2010
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#20
I'm looking for something else - because I know from my own PT tests and personal riding style / habits, that I don't vary too much on my average power from flats to hills, except that on the hills I will tend to have more 'spikes' at higher levels due to short attacks or digs.
Doesn`t this answer the question...if you are maintaining power, then the others are dropping power, which means they are either lowering their effective pedal force or lowering their cadence or both etc, as above.

If we are talking different riders, then I would be looking at the following, some of which others have already stated:-
different W/kg
different CdA
different endurance capabilities (less sustainable power in relation to time)
too much energy wasted before the road heads uphill (as you listed)
too high gearing meaning an inability to maintain optimal cadence combined with inability to raise pedal force to compensate
bad fit (too cramped on the bike)
bad technique - wasting energy on movements that don`t propel the bike forward, trying to pedal in circles instead of just focusing on downforce, hitting the bottom of the hill too hard e.g. anaerobic pace and then having to recover, too much standing
size - smaller riders are more efficient uphill
mental motivation - if you follow the central governor theory that all fatigue is mentally rather than physiologically based than how you view hills affects your performance
uphill allows no respite, no drafting benefit

I`m sure there are more, but that is just off the top off my head. And wheel weight has more of an effect uphill.