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end, I was still getting close to a 44x15 gearing and since I'm riding a 29er, this would by closer to a 44x12 (on an outdated 26er) ;)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!




mrC said...

interesting .. thanks for the tips

Kris Fitzgerald said...

Thanks Todd!

Great tips. I was trying this last spring on my 3x9 and it was great. It's really a matter of getting the strength up to maintain it. I need to do more and this is inspiring. Have you been out on the XC skis this season?