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.