Friday, October 30, 2009

How to Climb Faster on the Bike - Loose Your Gears and Stand

Due to toe injury I sustained last December, I had to stop running completely to give the time it needed to heal. Thus, since then, all I have been doing is putting solid time in on the bike. This has been great as it gave me the time to really focus on my riding and I can honestly say that even though I haven't been racing, that I reached another level of fitness. I think a large reason for the improvement has been a change of my riding style which was forced upon myself when I decided to ditch the front derailleur and extra gears and run a 1x9 setup. I've been really into the idea of single-speeding as it doesn't take long to figure out that people who ride single-speeds are powerhouses! Think of Jeremy Grasby who consistently puts in the best mountain bike times at the Cumberland MOMAR and does so with only one gear.

As I don't have the current means to add another bike to the quiver, I first started to experiment by leaving my 3x9 setup in one gear and not shifting. At first, this was very hard to get use to but soon enough, I found myself moving to higher and higher gears.

Then, another thing happened to me. My XTR big ring hit too many rocks and became useless as the missing teeth would skip the chain off. So, I now had a useless big ring and a granny ring that I never used anyway. So, it just seemed natural at this point to drop the extra rings and go for a 1x9. However, instead of using the 32 tooth ring that was getting worn out, I picked up a sweet 36 tooth Surly steel ring (unramped and no pins) to boast my high end and I figured, if the low end is too high... deal with it.

I immediately liked this setup. It was simple, the front ring was super solid and gave me better purchase than on a 32 tooth ring. And for the high end, I was still getting close to a 44x15 gearing and since I'm riding a 29er, this would by closer to a 44x12 (on an outdated 26er) ;)

I setup my bike like this shortly before I came to Norway and at first, I found myself in the low gear a lot (36x34). Eventually though, my riding style started to change as steeper than steep climbs forced me out of the saddle much like single-speeding does. I've always been one to like standing but now, I was standing more than ever and once the body adapted to it, I found that my climbing ability grew tremendously. As my climbing got better, I also started to push bigger and bigger gears to the point where before, I would be riding a 36x34 and now, I would be riding a 36x23 or 36x20 up the same section.

How to do the Standing Climb
Contrary to popular cycling theory, I think the standing climb is a winner and if you want to go faster than maybe this is your ticket. The sit and spin methodology way work best for road riding most of the time but for mountain biking, where much more instantaneous power is required, standing is the bomb. There are a couple of things to remember though:

First off, standing on the bike is much more of a full body workout. You use your forearms, biceps, triceps, shoulders, back, lats, and most importantly your core much more than you do while seated. Yes, these are all smaller muscles then in your legs but when used efficiently together, I find I can continually stand for long long climbs and do not get as wore out and more importantly, do not get a sore lower back which I always suffer from when climbing seated.

Secondly, you really need some bars ends to change your hand position so that you can really yank on the bars. This will widen your grip and give you more power to the pedals. For bar ends, you don't need those huge multi-position ones, just a small stubby one or some light little ones like I use from Singletrack Solutions.

Lastly, you have to find the balance while standing. Most people put themselves way too far forward when standing which takes weight off the rear wheel and causes you to loose traction. Move farther back on the bike, stay fairly upright and rock the bike back and forth without turning the bars much (don't steer as you rock). If you climb like this, you should have about just as much traction as you could while seated. Experiment with this on not so steep climbs and soon enough, you should get the sweet spot.

I would highly recommend going to a 1x9 setup or simply getting a single-speed to supplement your riding. A single-speed is a no options machine. You either give it your all or walk. If you're not ready for that kind of commitment, a 1x9 can do wonders or even just try it out on your 3x9. You'll hate me at first but if you stick with it, you'll be riding up stuff faster than you ever thought possible!



Thursday, October 29, 2009

Stavanger... DAMN SKIPPY!!!!!! Kjerag and Preikestolen

Just as Kim and I settled in from getting back from three weeks in the South, we got the opportunity to head down to Stavanger, Norway to visit some of the most famous and visited places over here; Preikestolen (The Pulpit Rock) and Kjerag (The Hanging Rock). If you're from Victoria, or have been over to Victoria, you'll probably recognize Kjerag from the billborad advertisement for Robinson's Outdoor Store as you leave the ferry coming from Vancouver. All I can say is WOW! There is definitely a reason people come and visit these places. And what's better about both is that you have to hike at least 1.5 hours one way to visit either one (Kjerag is more like 2.5 hours). So, it makes them both that extra bit special and you also have to climb 600 or 900 meters to reach them. I'll let the photos do the talking!

Start of hike to Kjerag from the end of Lysefjorden

I've been on a lot of windy roads in Norway and this one is right up there with the most turns. I believe there are 22 hairpins with over 1000 meters of climb right from sea level.

Moving up into the bedrock and snow dusted alpine

Uber windy. I'm talking over 20 meters/second kind of wind. If uncluched, our poles would go horizontal with the gusts of wind!

Lying down and getting a 1000 meter vertical drop view down to the fjord bottom below at Kjerag!


The barren but beautiful landscape of the Norwegien Alpine

Looking down at Lysebotn: A small village at the end of the fjord.

The hike to Preikestolen. Almost there!

A slightly wet and windy arrival at the Pulpit Rock!

Preikestolen - A ~650 meter high tower of rock with a flat top and overhangingly vertical walls that plummet to the fjord below!

A beautiful shot of Kim taking a look down with the restless but sublime Lysefjord in the background winding its way toward Kjerag.

Don't know what more to say!
Life is Beautiful


Monday, October 26, 2009

More Gaudi in Barcelona

One of the coolest things about Barcelona - along with the great atmosphere, warm weather and landscape - was the amazing architecture. In my last post I showed Gaudi's greatest work; La Sagrada Familia. However, he did many many more works in Barcelona and here are some highlights.

Detail of La Pedrera - It is, yes, an apartment building!

The impressive Casa Batllo

Park Guell - The main entrance
One of the most visited places in Barcelona.

One of the many walkways winding up underneath the elaborate road supports.

Road on top with two walkways below. Pretty Nuts.

Underneath the double walkway

While the architecture in this park was again amazing, overall it did fall a bit flat for me since, for me, a park should emphasize the natural flora of the landscape and should be a pleasant place to stroll through. Thus, my vision of a park doesn't include a road that winds up to a house and that the road is a prominent part of the park. Still, quite impressive nonetheless.

Looking out from the main entrance of Park Guell

From the top of Park Guell
The giant glass penis (called by the locals) and the Sagrada Familia under construction

If you ever get the chance to visit Barcelona - DO!
If you are heading to Europe, it is a city not to be missed.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Craziest Church On Planet Earth - La Sagrada Familia

La Sagrada Familia is just like no other church on Earth. Designed by the architectural genious Antoni Gaudi and considered his greatest masterpiece, it does not take one long to consider why. Under construction since 1883, and with a completion date around 2020, it has been a monumental undertaking. The construction is intricate with most concrete pieces being made from custom fiberglass molds. I'm not religious but I generally find churches to be very interesting and this one in particular takes the cake as the best for me. The gothic style and extreme intricate details in the design are bar none. I also love how Gaudi used patterns from nature and incorporated these concepts into his designs.
The Nativity Façade. The first and most intricate of all the entrances.

You can stare at this wall for a long time and still spot horses, reptiles, birds, etc that you didn't see at first. Very cool.

Columns designed after the trunks of Plane trees supporting the 'tree canopy'-like roof.

Spiral staircase in one of the Nativity towers.

Another view of the inner tree like columns.

More modern Passion Façade which mirrors the Nativity Façade with four large towers.

The even crazier thing about this church is that what people think of the church only vaguely match what it will look like form the outside. Still to be completed are the even larger inner towers (the Mary and Christ Tower) which will litterly tower over all the others. Definitely a must see if you have any interest in architecture at its best (or if your into God and stuff).

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Back from the South - France and Spain

Well, I've been gone away from Norway for a wedding, some fun and also, to get out of Norway and get some actual sunshine before the winter starts to fully come. The main reason for the whole visit was to attend Kim's sisters wedding but we also used the opportunity to spend some extra time exploring Provence and the south of France, along with the castle city of Carcassonne, and in and around Barcelona, Spain. It was three weeks of great fun and we absolutely fantastic weather EVERY SINGLE DAY!

We had three weeks of 25 plus degree weather which made me realize even more about how little sun on the skin you get living in the North. While Norway is such a beautiful Country, the weather, especially in the summer, really stinks. There are some nice days but they usually seem to be interspersed with cloudy and rainy ones. To be fair, we did have some really nice weather for a short time in July but since then... nada.

So, Kim and I definitely feel like we now had summer and this has made the 4 degree weather with snow at elevation a little easier to cope with. It is pretty crazy how one week you can be biking in shorts and a short sleeve shirt (in Barcelona) and the next, your cycling in tights, thick socks, a wool long sleeve, jersey, jacket, gloves and yes, a balaclava (today in Trondheim). The joys of modern times.

Still have tons of Photos to get through so instead of loaded everything all in one go, I'll give you snippets of the best of the best of the trip.