Magnus Bäckstedt, 195cm, 90kg

Climbing Tips for the Non-Climber

Climbing Tips for the Non-Climber

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I’m a non-climber who enjoys climbing. I’d enjoy it more if I was good at it. And “enjoy” might be too strong a word, “tolerate” might be better. But dragging 89 kilos up a volcano gives one time to contemplate the cycling life .

Let us define non-climber. It’s someone either too fat, too big (gravitationally challenged) or a fast- twitching sprinter. Not liking to suffer does not make you a non-climber. As the moto camera drifts down the peloton on the Ventoux, it’s still the guys at the back who are dying the worst. Finishing within the time limit for the non-climber requires a trip deep into the cave-o-pain.

For the cyclist, the power-to-weight ratio (watts generated/body weight in kg) is king, especially when the road goes up. A large improvement in the power side of the formula is tough, we have already chosen our damn parents and cursed inheriting their vestigial hearts and lungs. Yes, this number should be honed to its finest edge, it can be nudged up but not a lot.

The weight side of the equation is completely changeable and under our control.

Lose some weight, you fat bastards. Yes, I’m talking to you. The most important thing to improve climbing, by far, is to lose some weight. Do you need dramatic proof? Put a known weight (2 liter bottles of water) into a knapsack and do a regular route. The hills will be bad, very bad. Now imagine losing that same two or four kilos. The difference can be just as impressive. When I’m at a decent riding weight, climbing out of the saddle for extended periods is not a problem. I’m still slow but gravity is not demanding I put my ass on the saddle. Losing body weight is free; one looks better on and off the bike. Your friends will hate you. What is the down side? Oh right, it takes self-control and not drinking as much alcohol as life requires.

Don’t carry extra weight on the bike. If you really don’t need a second large bidon, don’t carry that 0.8kg. That’s more than the difference between super-light climbing wheels and regular road wheels. For reasons I’ll never understand, a bike that is one kilo lighter seems noticeably faster than the one kilo saved from a bidon. So yes, N+1 can be invoked but it’s much cheaper to just leave that second bottle at home.

LeMan said the key to climbing was to relax…easy for him to say when he had the heart and lungs of three Velominati. But Rule #10 is Rule #10 so meditate on relaxing while dancing uphill. Find a little rhythm. Click up into a longer gear, pop out of the saddle, shift back down, park it back in the saddle.

Find a gear you can turn over comfortably. As we all know, Dr Ferrari was the one to get Lance to spin up climbs. It’s tough to know where the EPO stopped and the spinning started but it did seem to work for him. While some may argue for climbing in the big chainring, for us non-climbers, climbing in the saddle and spinning a gear will get us up faster and with less collateral damage.

The best part of climbing as a non-climber is that we are out there, doing it. The Stelvio, hell yeah, it’s going to take a little longer to get up there but we will do it. We don’t stop, we don’t put a foot down. We suffer like you-know-who on you-know-what but we still do it with a stupid smiles on our faces.

 

// Technique

  1. @Teocalli

    @ChrisO

    Well then there’s the difference between riding and racing, but I’m sure you’ll be fine, even with the hard men of Cornwall.

    Interesting comparison… in that race I mentioned, it was about 105km (3x35km laps) with 1200m climbing and an average speed of about 36km/h. I stayed with the lead bunch of about a dozen riders all the way. One of my team mates got dropped early on and did two laps pretty much on his own, finishing about 15 minutes after us.

    His normalised power for the ride was 290W, mine was 294W. Even allowing for some calibration differences it shows the difference between the race ability to do 7 or 8 W/kg for 20 seconds and then settle back to 4W/kg, as opposed to the training ability to steadily crank it out .

    He’s about the same weight too, so he’s made an almost identical effort with a massive difference in results.

    Interesting, without thinking too much into it, it would not have surprised me had the figures been the other way round. Given that riding in a bunch conserves energy vs getting dropped and riding solo but still staying at max pace vs going into cruise mode could end up using more power? Though it may well be that the difference is hidden by calibration and measurement accuracy.

    I’d regard the figures as effectively the same, definitely within margin of error.

    The difference is match-burning ability. We were in a bunch which was quite dynamic – at times we were steadily chasing down, and at times we were responding to sudden attacks or making them. They’re all matches which flare up – until you have none left.

    If you look at my power curve and zone distribution (sorry we’re getting all geeky) I had:

    • highs between 1’15” and 2’30” duration of  6.2W/kg down to 5.2W/kg
    • 70% of the whole ride was below 3.8W/kg (that’s about equal to the NP)
    • 12% (over 20 minutes) was above 5W/kg
    • 4% (about 7.5 mins) was above 6.3W/kg
    • in the final 10 seconds I was doing over 11W/kg (nearly 900W) and I still fucking lost by a tyre width.

    I love data.

  2. @ChrisO

    I love data.

    For those of us with all the geekiness but half the power, it is much appreciated.

  3. Biggest thing for me, riding with a bunch who are much faster up, is pacing. If I try too hard to keep a wheel, pushing a gear or two higher when near the base of a climb, I am bound to get too much of a burn going and pop in the bottom quarter, slogging the rest in granny.

    If I pace myself from the base, keep good tempo, maybe even ride one gear too easy just at the start, by the time I am in the top quarter of the climb I’m able to redline, pant, puff and puke the rest of the way, and gain back on them. I can also consistently push bigger gears throughout the climb, than if I’d blown up earlier.

    I find this strategy leads to faster results overall on known climbs.

    The biggest thing that has helped my climbing, is trying to keep up with those guys! It is tough keeping a positive mindset when you get dropped every ride, so make sure you do with a good bunch, or solo.

  4. @ChrisO

    Top geekery. Like you, I find it interesting and I’m learning more about using power to reveal strengths and weaknesses and to play to one and work on the other. I only jumped on the power bandwagon after the end of last season and the PM I have is not compatible with bike #1 (used for ‘proper’ road races), so I’ve just got to look at training data until bike #2 gets dragged out to the crits next month. It’ll be interesting to see how race data matches up with training. What I am already finding useful is the tracking of training load to figure out when my form is good. Today was forecast to be a day when the good legs came out, and dammit, it felt easy all day.

  5. @Chris

    @norm It’s going to be a bit different from last year when the temperature hovered around zero for the whole ride and the snow was being blown horizontally on the higher ground. Probably more reminiscent of the the London Cogal.

    Have a good one.

    I rode Hell of the Ashdown yesterday and it was pretty eventful. A lot of ice for the first hour and I came down hard after the descent of Toys Hill. Cut my knee pretty bad, sprained my wrist and bruised shoulder. Ripped the new rapha l/s jersey that I got for Christmas and destroyed a wool defeet knee warmer and glove.

    To top it off I checked my helmet this morning and that is also broken.


    Apart from that I had a good ride, not fast but solid enough considering.

  6. @norm

    @Chris

    @norm It’s going to be a bit different from last year when the temperature hovered around zero for the whole ride and the snow was being blown horizontally on the higher ground. Probably more reminiscent of the the London Cogal.

    Have a good one.

    I rode Hell of the Ashdown yesterday and it was pretty eventful. A lot of ice for the first hour and I came down hard after the descent of Toys Hill. Cut my knee pretty bad, sprained my wrist and bruised shoulder. Ripped the new rapha l/s jersey that I got for Christmas and destroyed a wool DeFeet knee warmer and glove.

    To top it off I checked my helmet this morning and that is also broken.

    Apart from that I had a good ride, not fast but solid enough considering.

    Ouch on so many levels… ripping a Rapha jersey is probably the most painful of all.

  7. @norm

    @Chris

    I rode Hell of the Ashdown yesterday and it was pretty eventful. A lot of ice for the first hour and I came down hard after the descent of Toys Hill. Blah, Blah, Blah

    Yes, but is the bike alright?

    In all seriousness though, it sounds like you looked to Rule #5 and carried on. Chapeau. Yesterday looked like a great day for a ride but the best I got was a quick nosey round the bike shop whilst my youngest was at rugby training.

    Shame about the kit but you’ll be able to test the Rapha repair service. Is the Morevelo kit any good?

  8. @norm Ice is just nasty, nasty shit.

    Shame about the jersey… The merino blend version, I assume, and so exempt from their repair service?  Annoying, though the broken helmet I would in some way be thankful for — the only accidents a helmet does much in, other than transferring an impact to your head, are the ones in which it absorbs energy by breaking.  That thing at least just paid for itself, in my book.

  9. @Chris 
    Took a decent chunk of the carbon trim off my Chorus rear mech but it’s still working perfectly and scraped my saddle. It could have been worse, the knuckle of my right hand stopped any impact on the shifter and that would have been expensive.        

    I decided to push on and see how I was, also I didn’t fancy going back over Toys Hill with the amount of the ice on road. Thankfully the rest of the ride was ice free and I felt ok.

     The worst bit was getting back to the car and having to peel off the knee warmer. It had made a great bandage but had fused to the cuts and was stuck firm.      

    The morvelo stuff is really decent for the price. I think its made by the same people who do the new V-kit in Poland.

    @andrew
    Ahh shit, I didn’t check the small print of the rapha repair policy. Oh well, tempted to stick it on ebay listed as damaged, someone will buy it.

    Agreed on the helmet. That Giro helmet is about £130 to replace but I can’t complain, it did its job and my head was fine.

  10. @xyxax

    @ChrisO

    I love data.

    For those of us with all the geekiness but half the power, it is much appreciated.

    I was thinking about this article when I came across this device. Not considering the issues of breathing at higher altitudes, is there a relative difference in weight as you get farther away from the centre of the earth? In other words, is your weigh different at sea level than it is at elevation?

  11. @Bespoke Yes, but the difference is pretty small. You’d be something like 0.1% lighter at 3,000 metres than at sea level. Gravity varies more by latitude as the earth is not quite spherical and centrifugal force from its rotation is greater at the equator.

  12. @KW

     

    @frank

     

    I don’t think Leinenkugel counts as beer?

    You are absolutely correct, and I never said that it did.If that is what you think our beer is, then my Wisconsin Velominati brethren and I have much to teach you.

    What would be the beer equivalent to the Pedalwan?

     

    Frank’s from Minnesota. Given his proximity to the Chippewa Valley, I think he was over-exposed to Leinies as a youth and it has permanently skewed his view of Wisconsin brews.

  13. @Bespoke

    @xyxax

    @ChrisO

    I love data.

    For those of us with all the geekiness but half the power, it is much appreciated.

    I was thinking about this article when I came across this device. Not considering the issues of breathing at higher altitudes, is there a relative difference in weight as you get farther away from the centre of the earth? In other words, is your weigh different at sea level than it is at elevation?

    I like the way you think.  We weigh less at the equator and at altitude (ignoring all confounding factors) by 100 gm or therabouts. I’d rather move to the Ecuadorian Andes than eat a salad.

    I hope that device now resides in your home.

  14. @KW

    @frank

    I don’t think Leinenkugel counts as beer?

    You are absolutely correct, and I never said that it did.If that is what you think our beer is, then my Wisconsin Velominati brethren and I have much to teach you.

    What would be the beer equivalent to the Pedalwan?

    Leinis? Only when there is no alternative except Bud or Miller products. Sprecher, New Glarus, Lakefront, Brenner Brewing. That’s the good stuff.

  15. I found a pre crash photo of non climber climbing from sunday.

    The spring collection / flandrian best is looking a bit box fresh, a few scuffs will soon take care of that.

  16. @norm

    Nice work norm. Looking fantastic helps the non-climber morale. White knee warmers, bold choice. They look killer until that first wet ride. All my white socks, shoes, white V-jerseys have a certain grey-scale about them now. But I still prefer white and keep wearing them.

  17. @Gianni cheers. if you can find it, or a USA equivalent, Napisan cleans whites so well with no bleaching. The DeFeet wool stuff comes much cleaner than you’d imagine with a bit of soaking.

  18. Not meaning to open up the old Compact- Standard cranks debate, but I have a question for any Velominati who have done 3-peaks in Victoria. I am currently going to be set-up with a std 53-39 and 27-12. I have done a reasonable amount of climbing over the summer (~ 1000km & 13,000m through Jan), but I am starting to panic and am wondering if I need to switch to a Compact. Is a Std set just too brutal at the end up to Falls? Any suggestions (and of course shit slinging) appreciated.

  19. @norm The most amazing thing lately is that the shot is in sunshine!

  20. Fascinating thread fellas. It is in the mind, although I couldn’t agree more that losing weight has a massive impact. I’ve only ever climbed the Sierra Mountains in Majorca and settling in for ninety minutes plus at 7-10% does require a shake up in the head. All the way up, my brain was in a constant battle between the “just put your foot down for 30seconds, you know you want to” and “Don’t you fucking dare, you’re a Velominatus, give it some 5″. I know I would have been bitterly disappointed if I’d succumbed, but mental strength got me up there that day, just as it has abandoned me in the past when I didn’t quite have enough. I was slow, dog slow. So slow that the same fly landed on my bars at least eight times before I managed a 10kph flat out spurt to get rid of it.

  21. @asyax I have no doubt about your ability; it’s the 9 km at  9% after 200 km that make us mere mortals (compactites) shudder.

  22. @asyax

    Not meaning to open up the old Compact- Standard cranks debate, but I have a question for any Velominati who have done 3-peaks in Victoria. I am currently going to be set-up with a std 53-39 and 27-12. I have done a reasonable amount of climbing over the summer (~ 1000km & 13,000m through Jan), but I am starting to panic and am wondering if I need to switch to a Compact. Is a Std set just too brutal at the end up to Falls? Any suggestions (and of course shit slinging) appreciated.

    Hey Scott, I’ve been up there, it’s brutal and I’d suggest a compact is a very good idea?

  23. @Daccordi Rider , xyxax- Found a second hand Record compact at the LBS – done deal. Butterflies have now settled a little – though hopefully not on my spokes.

  24. @Daccordi Rider

    @asyax

    Not meaning to open up the old Compact- Standard cranks debate, but I have a question for any Velominati who have done 3-peaks in Victoria. I am currently going to be set-up with a std 53-39 and 27-12. I have done a reasonable amount of climbing over the summer (~ 1000km & 13,000m through Jan), but I am starting to panic and am wondering if I need to switch to a Compact. Is a Std set just too brutal at the end up to Falls? Any suggestions (and of course shit slinging) appreciated.

    Hey Scott, I’ve been up there, it’s brutal and I’d suggest a compact is a very good idea?

    It is brutal. Very sustained pitch – like zero softening of the gradient. I had 39-27 and had to get off twice. I was weak then. I have unfinished business there. Like I said, I spent long blocks out of the saddle in that gear. The edges were lined with heroes walking expensive carbon. Get the compact. Its the lesser of two weevils.

  25. @asyax

    @Daccordi Rider , xyxax- Found a second hand Record compact at the LBS – done deal. Butterflies have now settled a little – though hopefully not on my spokes.

    Great. I see you’ve been working hard. How much weight have you lost?

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