The climber in a gorilla suit is a mysterious beast.

The climber in a gorilla suit is a mysterious beast.

The Climber in a Gorilla Suit

by / / 72 posts

There is a force upon this world which governs all manner of voodoo and wizardry. This force ensures the streak in your windshield wiper is always precisely at eye level. It ensures that the phone call goes to voicemail just as you touch the “answer” button. It ensures that a product which you endlessly encountered but did not need will vanish into oblivion the moment it becomes of use.

The more time I spend as a Cyclist, the more apparent it becomes to me that this force also controls which of us are to become good climbers or bad climbers. I will never be a good climber, however much I enjoy it; I am much too big for it. But I climb well enough for my weight because I enjoy the work and the suffering. I enjoy testing to see how far I can push myself.

I see small, powerful riders and I imagine they must go uphill like a whisper on the wind, but when the climb comes, they drift back in the group and disappear down the road the wrong way. The mysterious force has decreed that they shall not be a good climber, especially for their weight.

Most mysterious is the large rider who goes uphill like a beast; they are too big, too heavy, and too strong to defy gravity like the mountain goats do, with none of the grace and fluidity that the true grimpeur holds. Yet they go to the front and heap coals on the fire, sending everyone on their wheel deep into the pain cave. This rider is the Climber in a Gorilla Suit, and they are the sleeper agents of the peloton.

Look out; there likely is one lurking on the group ride tonight.

// La Vie Velominatus // Musings from the V-Bunker // Riding Ugly

  1. We call him ‘Bruce’ around here.

  2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RxTnLaH3gVA

  3. Brilliant stuff, Frank; Kudos.

    On top of the voodoo and wizardry governed by this force you so aptly describe, there’s the additional mystery of ‘the good leg day’. back in the 70’s and early 80’s, I rode lots of climbs in the company of two riders: one who was about my own size (1.90 m. and change, and around 80 kg at the time), and one short and sinewy lightweight who always, always streaked ahead on the climbs and left us in the dust…

    … except one day, when I followed him all the way up an Alpine climb. I asked him later whether he felt he had been climbing much worse than usual, but he claimed that wasn’t the case at all. For some odd reason, I had managed to don the gorilla suit that day. Never experienced this in quite the same way before or since. Felt good, though.

  4. @Justin Vincent

    Best example of this ever. Strong work.

  5. Very nice Frank, but i have a confession to make; i’ve yet to test myself on a real mountain. The rolling hills of PA has been the most challenging climbs i’ve faced, not to degrade them, in the roads that surround the beautiful Amish built homes and sculpted farms hides the Man with the Hammer. And Its not for lack of desire i haven’t done so yet, just lack of roads that point up. I’m forced to do hill repeats on bridges for training. On my to do list this summer is to drop the family at a camp site for a day, find a mountain i can’t see the top of and just go. Any suggestions for the mid atlantic area?

  6. @hudson

    Very nice Frank, but i have a confession to make; i’ve yet to test myself on a real mountain. The rolling hills of PA has been the most challenging climbs i’ve faced, not to degrade them, in the roads that surround the beautiful Amish built homes and sculpted farms hides the Man with the Hammer. And Its not for lack of desire i haven’t done so yet, just lack of roads that point up. I’m forced to do hill repeats on bridges for training. On my to do list this summer is to drop the family at a camp site for a day, find a mountain i can’t see the top of and just go. Any suggestions for the mid atlantic area?

    come over to Lancaster County and i’ll help you find some pretty decent climbs, up to Turkey Hill from either direction is one of the better climbs, or we can Head to Welsh Mountain or Mt. Gretna, not real euro mountains, but all pretty challenging

  7. Interesting comment from Luke Rowe in the context of a number of isolated large climbs vs a relentless onslaught of weather and terrain. We might not have many large mountains but our roads tend to go straight up what we have and we do have weather.

    Oddly Box Hill has a reputation for being challenging but it’s one of the few climbs that zig zags and there are at least 4 climbs in that vicinity that are far more difficult. Then again I guess that’s just why Box Hill has it’s reputation, most people can get up it without walking – and the view is pretty decent from the top.

    Anyway see here for Luke Rowe’s comment http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/the-uk-is-the-worlds-hardest-place-to-race-says-team-skys-luke-rowe/

  8. I’m about 3 years from peaking right now, but when I managed to hit the road regularly people commented on how long this rouleur body could hang with the grimpeurs – and there was always the descent if they managed to get clear from me. My wife was always on me to drop some pounds to be good. I reminded her that that would require ignoring work and family. Of course, the bike does come first.

    Now I’d just like to ride more often. Ah, life.

  9. @Rusty Gramm

    i’m a sadist not a climber

    I find the steep hills just to feel the pain

    even when i’ve been dropped

    i like to see the elevation gain

    It does clear the mind, doesn’t it?

  10. @hudson

    Start with Hawk Mountain Road from either side, although the approach to the top is longer from the Kempton side, so maybe a little more difficult. The ride up from Drehersville isn’t long, but the grade near the summit is a killer (my car doesn’t like it). Or try Route 501 from Pine Grove to Bethel, its just a long grind.

    There are probably some other routes that are equally tough either to the west or east, but these are not too far from Lancaster County. I think that the Hawk Mountain route was included in the Tour Du Pont back when that race still existed.

  11. Gorilla in a Gorilla suit here. No fooling anyone on that. I just settle into my rhythm and I’m good to go for a long time. I don’t even really enjoy the climbs but living in CO does make it a bit difficult to avoid them.

    I recently traveled to Chicago and was very surprised that we tipped less than 200m of climbing on an 86 km ride. I think half of that came from riding up onto an overpass and an elevated train track converted to bike path . I don’t have many options from home where I can avoid that on the first 10 km of a ride.

  12. @frank you published this too early.
    It’s only May the Fourth be with you day today.

  13. I assumed this was going to be about Carlos Betancur

    In the first of Movistar’s winter training camps, Carlos Betancur didn’t look like a cyclist. “He was, how to say it, chubby”, said one member of staff….

    The kid had talent. He had proved himself as a sparkling climber in the Giro and as a powerful uphill finisher by putting two stages and the GC of the 2014 Paris-Nice under his (tight) belt, all while being 5kg above his ideal weight….

    “It takes guts to be like him”, one summarised. “He is hors de logique — beyond any logic — and we don’t quite understand him”, then-teammate Jean-Christophe Péraud said in an interview from last year.

    http://cyclingtips.com/2016/05/class-over-kilos-the-promising-return-of-carlos-betancur/

  14. @Rusty Gramm

    @Jay

    I believe there is an assumption that i live in PA, I freakin wish, beautiful state, love the hills too. I’m in DE (no hills). I was riding in PA on a weekend trip. However, next time i’m there i will be looking for those roads (and maybe some folks to suffer with).

  15. @hudson

    I hear Amish country and I usually assume PA or OH, not Delaware, but any time you need a tour guide in Lancaster, hit me up.

  16. @Erik

    @Rusty Gramm

    i’m a sadist not a climber

    I find the steep hills just to feel the pain

    even when i’ve been dropped

    i like to see the elevation gain

    It does clear the mind, doesn’t it?

    you can usually only think one of three thoughts: ‘why am i doing this’ or ‘just a little farther’ or ‘you can do this you fat lug’ but usually, no thoughts occur, just breathing and pain

  17. @GoldenGorilla

    Gorilla in a Gorilla suit here. No fooling anyone on that. I just settle into my rhythm and I’m good to go for a long time. I don’t even really enjoy the climbs but living in CO does make it a bit difficult to avoid them.

    I recently traveled to Chicago and was very surprised that we tipped less than 200m of climbing on an 86 km ride. I think half of that came from riding up onto an overpass and an elevated train track converted to bike path . I don’t have many options from home where I can avoid that on the first 10 km of a ride.

    Sounds about right. I go to Chicago regularly and overpasses would be about the biggest “hills” they have. Go to go to southern IL for the hills, but then you’re in southern IL . . . just head north to WI and all’s good!

  18. Dumoulin sprung to my mind too, especially after his terrific Vuelta effort last year.

    I walk a thin line between being a fairly good and not-great grimpeur, depending on what weight I’m at. In 2014, I was 1.78 m and 72 kg, but not training as much as I’d have liked. Then I got married and started training more (and riding to work, on my surprisingly heavy Boardman), and have shifted up to a concerning 85 kg. Some of that is definitely muscle mass, as my guns are in the best shape they’ve ever been, but equally my mid-section is carrying far more than 18 months ago.

    I think if I maintained the level of training I’m at now, and lost a bit of the belly, I could transition into this gorilla-suited climber Frank describes. There’s a target for me!

  19. @kixsand

    Love it!

    There was a big fella on the club ride on Saturday that was a pure marvel – guessing he would go 225lbs or so and he absolutely crushed hills with a cadence usually reserved for track riders and hummingbirds. Looked like he had a 32 on the back and as soon as the roads turned skyward his legs would start to blur and off he’d go!

    There was a young buck on the ride I’ve been doing on Saturdays who holds the same magical power. I’m a classic Rouleur but climb better for my weight than most of the other big fellas.

    Very annoying when a heavier rider drops me.

  20. @@1km2go

    The thought of stage 9, TdF 1995, when Indurain lit it up on his way to second place (behind Alex Zulle) and to hear Phil Ligget say, “is as if someone threw a bomb amongst the breakaway, and spread it all over La Plagne”. It just gives me goosebumps to think about it.

    Totally, right? What a race. Mig did a few really good climbs. Oh, how that man must have suffered. Gianni Bugno was another who could go well uphill for being too big to climb like that.

  21. I don’t have any mountains close by, but I do have Dartmoor. You learn a lot about yourself climbing on the moor!

  22. @frank

    @kixsand

    Love it!

    There was a big fella on the club ride on Saturday that was a pure marvel – guessing he would go 225lbs or so and he absolutely crushed hills with a cadence usually reserved for track riders and hummingbirds. Looked like he had a 32 on the back and as soon as the roads turned skyward his legs would start to blur and off he’d go!

    There was a young buck on the ride I’ve been doing on Saturdays who holds the same magical power. I’m a classic Rouleur but climb better for my weight than most of the other big fellas.

    Very annoying when a heavier rider drops me.

    Well I certainly wasn’t going to let the fat bastard drop me…just took a little longer to reel him in and slide past him before the top of the hill. I was however appreciative of the effort and was happy to provide him with a larger than normal draft so that he could get his shit together once over the hill.

  23. @hudson

    I did presume that you were from Lancaster. Depending on which area of Delaware that you reside I am sure that there are some beautiful rides, albeit, flat. Although, an almost completely flat century ride does have a certain appeal (can you say PR?).

  24. @gilly

    I don’t have any mountains close by, but I do have Dartmoor. You learn a lot about yourself climbing on the moor!

    You don’t need mountains then.

    I’m a pretty good climber because I can sit on a decent power number and hold a good pace. So when I went to visit my son at Exeter university last October and thought I’d take a spin around Dartmoor I mapped out a route and didn’t really look at the profile. OMG.

    Forget steady power, it was out-of-the-saddle maximum effort just to keep the bike moving. I can imagine doing those on a regularly basis would require considerable self-reflection.

  25. @gilly

    I don’t have any mountains close by, but I do have Dartmoor. You learn a lot about yourself climbing on the moor!

    One of the places I fancy doing a loop round. Used to be our CCF playground when I was at school in Taunton. Spent quite a few days tramping and camping around the moor (and the Quantocks) on CCF exercises firing of blanks at each other in .303 rifles. Never be allowed to do that with security these days. Bleeding freezing in winter in days before sewn in groundsheets in tents – and pretty indifferent sleeping bags.

  26. @Jay

    Yeah, not from PA, I’ve just been fortunate enough to ride there. Delaware does have some decent rides, but its really got nothing on PA unless your in love with the beach, which i’m not. But what i’d really like is to point my bike uphill and ride for a few hours, just to see how my body reacts. Inspired by @frank ride.

  27. @hudson

    @Jay

    Yeah, not from PA, I’ve just been fortunate enough to ride there. Delaware does have some decent rides, but its really got nothing on PA unless your in love with the beach, which i’m not. But what i’d really like is to point my bike uphill and ride for a few hours, just to see how my body reacts. Inspired by @frank ride.

    @hudson @Jay

    Maybe we can arrange a PA Cogal later this coming summer. I’ll be in Montana for the month of July (fly fishing and riding – life is tough), but I live in PA and would be game for a cogal in early August.

  28. @Sparty @hudson @jay i’d be game for a PA cogal, theres probably enough guys in the local club that would be interested to make it an interesting day

  29. @Rusty Gramm

    @Sparty

    @Jay

    I see whats happening here, “lets take the guy from delaware and drag him through the hills” …..sure, i’m down. Gonna need a fair bit of notice to make the trip happen though, I better start chatting up the boss now. Any luck and i can bring some other flatlanders with me.

  30. There is a former team-mate of mine who fits this description very well. Im around 56kg & 1.70m and this SOB must have been 70kg+ and 1.75m but fuck me if he couldn’t make me work to keep up with him sometimes. I have seen it in soccer as well. The fucking bowling ball with an extra set of wheels that can run everybody off the God damn Pitch! They are just true athletes. Freaks of beautiful nature. My self well I should be a better climber but Im on the wrong side of 40 and spent too many years fucking off, but I still look fantastic for an old bastard.

    P.S. relocating to Seattle from Los Angeles and curios about long climbs in the area. I guess I am asking Frank this.

  31. @anthony

    There is a former team-mate of mine who fits this description very well. Im around 56kg & 1.70m and this SOB must have been 70kg+ and 1.75m but fuck me if he couldn’t make me work to keep up with him sometimes. I have seen it in soccer as well. The fucking bowling ball with an extra set of wheels that can run everybody off the God damn Pitch! They are just true athletes. Freaks of beautiful nature. My self well I should be a better climber but Im on the wrong side of 40 and spent too many years fucking off, but I still look fantastic for an old bastard.

    P.S. relocating to Seattle from Los Angeles and curios about long climbs in the area. I guess I am asking Frank this.

    Shit – not sure that 1.75 and 70Kg is really in the TFTC category! A Merckx though 56 KG, what do you eat, grass?

  32. @Teocalli

    @anthony

    There is a former team-mate of mine who fits this description very well. Im around 56kg & 1.70m and this SOB must have been 70kg+ and 1.75m but fuck me if he couldn’t make me work to keep up with him sometimes. I have seen it in soccer as well. The fucking bowling ball with an extra set of wheels that can run everybody off the God damn Pitch! They are just true athletes. Freaks of beautiful nature. My self well I should be a better climber but Im on the wrong side of 40 and spent too many years fucking off, but I still look fantastic for an old bastard.

    P.S. relocating to Seattle from Los Angeles and curios about long climbs in the area. I guess I am asking Frank this.

    Shit – not sure that 1.75 and 70Kg is really in the TFTC category! A Merckx though 56 KG, what do you eat, grass?

    This was exactly what I thought, being 1.74 and 70 kg I don´t consider myself a bowling ball on wheels. SOB then would probably nail it better.

    And I don´t think I´m TFTC but being mid-aged and just plain weak works good enough for me…

  33. @Teocalli

    @anthony

    There is a former team-mate of mine who fits this description very well. Im around 56kg & 1.70m and this SOB must have been 70kg+ and 1.75m but fuck me if he couldn’t make me work to keep up with him sometimes. I have seen it in soccer as well. The fucking bowling ball with an extra set of wheels that can run everybody off the God damn Pitch! They are just true athletes. Freaks of beautiful nature. My self well I should be a better climber but Im on the wrong side of 40 and spent too many years fucking off, but I still look fantastic for an old bastard.

    P.S. relocating to Seattle from Los Angeles and curios about long climbs in the area. I guess I am asking Frank this.

    Shit – not sure that 1.75 and 70Kg is really in the TFTC category! A Merckx though 56 KG, what do you eat, grass?

    Try hauling yourself up a mountain when you’re 85kg. Fortunately, I’m strong as fuck…

  34. @RobSandy

    I think the term you are after is “built like a brick shithouse”.

    @oligali

    Yeah at a spit under 170 and 67-68 kilo I don’t think I have excessive excess baggage that would be easy to shed. My problem is that I’m plain old.

    That has me thinking, when does one move from having “amazing muscle definition” to “wirey old man”?

  35. @Teocalli

    That has me thinking, when does one move from having “amazing muscle definition” to “wirey old man”?

    That, amongst other things, lies in the eye of the beholder, I´m afraid.

  36. @oligali

    My bad typo 80kgs not 70kgs sorry bout that boys! He is still fucking way faster than he should be.

    P.S i eat beer mostly

  37. @anthony

    @oligali

    My bad typo 80kgs not 70kgs sorry bout that boys! He is still fucking way faster than he should be.

    P.S i eat beer mostly

    Phew. I can look in a mirror again.

  38. @ChrisO

    @gilly

    I don’t have any mountains close by, but I do have Dartmoor. You learn a lot about yourself climbing on the moor!

    You don’t need mountains then.

    I’m a pretty good climber because I can sit on a decent power number and hold a good pace. So when I went to visit my son at Exeter university last October and thought I’d take a spin around Dartmoor I mapped out a route and didn’t really look at the profile. OMG.

    Forget steady power, it was out-of-the-saddle maximum effort just to keep the bike moving. I can imagine doing those on a regularly basis would require considerable self-reflection.

    You’re not wrong. Aside from the terrain it’s got it’s’ own micro climate too so I generally dress for the worst of weathers even if I leave home in glorious sunshine

  39. @Teocalli

    Tents without sew ins? Jeez, no wonder they call it glamping now

  40. @Teocalli

    @anthony

    @oligali

    My bad typo 80kgs not 70kgs sorry bout that boys! He is still fucking way faster than he should be.

    P.S i eat beer mostly

    Phew. I can look in a mirror again.

    Ha yeah

    @Teocalli

    @anthony

    @oligali

    My bad typo 80kgs not 70kgs sorry bout that boys! He is still fucking way faster than he should be.

    P.S i eat beer mostly

    Phew. I can look in a mirror again.

    Ha! yeah I try to avoid the mirror at all cost, after 40 well I don’t need to see that

  41. @gilly

    As I remember it, it had it’s own macro climate. Can get really nasty down there, particularly in the winter.

    @anthony

    There comes a point when they come back into their own so you can check that you did actually manage to get up in the morning.

  42. @Teocalli

    @gilly

    As I remember it, it had it’s own macro climate. Can get really nasty down there, particularly in the winter.

    @anthony

    There comes a point when they come back into their own so you can check that you did actually manage to get up in the morning.

    Well said! Cheers.

  43. How does this – http://cyclingtips.com/news/just-enough-tools-jet-roll-iii-tool-roll-review/ – fit in with Rule #29?

  44. @xvckcvx

    How does this – http://cyclingtips.com/news/just-enough-tools-jet-roll-iii-tool-roll-review/ – fit in with Rule #29?

    Don’t no bout these boy’s but I think tool rolls, especially when fastened with a toe strap are completely awesome.

  45. @anthony

    @xvckcvx

    How does this – http://cyclingtips.com/news/just-enough-tools-jet-roll-iii-tool-roll-review/ – fit in with Rule #29?

    Don’t no bout these boy’s but I think tool rolls, especially when fastened with a toe strap are completely awesome.

    Still think it’s an EPMS. If it’s a tube, then you can use a toe strap.

  46. Shit! At 171cm and 68~70 kg I thought I was small, it turns out that I’m only “real world small” and that once over the border into Velominatiland I’m decidedly medium… Maybe verging on large…

    Still can’t climb worth a fuck, though…

  47. @dinosaurJR

    Shit! At 171cm and 68~70 kg I thought I was small, it turns out that I’m only “real world small” and that once over the border into Velominatiland I’m decidedly medium… Maybe verging on large…

    Still can’t climb worth a fuck, though…

    The funny part is that my cycling buddies want me to put on weight as I’m useless for drafting!

  48. @Teocalli

    Drafting… I read that the best times to be putting your nose in the wind is on full on climbs and full gas descents – never on the flat.

    On a related topic, I have a really short head tube on my main bike (I wouldn’t go as far to say my #1 bike, as I use her for commuting, but she does have a genuine gruppo, though… well, really a collection of some Italo-Romanian bits…) and the result is that if I get really down into the drops and give it my best Whale shark impersonation there is literally nothing for wheel suckers to draft…

    I might be medium-verging-on-large in Velominatiland, but a big diesel I most certainly ain’t.

  49. This photo by Graham Watson of Sean Yates is always the first one that pops into my mind when I think of someone being TFTC.

    Now Yates was strong as FUCK but I just love this photo. Just captures so much of the pain of racing the bike.

  50. Fantastic article – I was recently in Utah for a MTB trip, and at the end of the trip, bikes dropped off at the bike shop for shipping home, we went out for a non-bike activity which involved driving up the phenomenal Kolob Reservoir Rd just outside Springdale, Utah. The road goes into and out of Zion National park but it CLIMBS incessantly. Even in the car it’s shocking how long it goes. If you make it all the way to Kolob Reservoir it’s over 4000 feet of climbing. Sitting in the back of the truck on the drive down I just stared at the road and kept saying how much I wanted to ride it. Hit the bike shop, rented a road bike and did it. It hurt, but I had never done anything nearly that big and I just had to know what it was like to ride a climb so big the biomes change as the climb wears on. Desert at the start… then green fields… then pine forests. I didn’t make it to the reservoir, ran out of gas at 3000′ – but I’ll be back, and I’ll throw myself at the climb again, next time I’ll make it all the way. It won’t be pretty then, either.

    Your quote about never being a good climber but doing it anyway summed up so perfectly why I knew I had no choice and _had_ to ride that climb. Thank you.

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