Two Ways To Climb
I have recently noticed that, as a rule, there are two ways to climb on a bike.
First, there is the sit-and-spin method, much advocated by Touristes the world over, coaches, physical therapists, athletic trainers, and other People Who Make Sense And Have Fantastic Impulse Control.
This appears to be the more sensible way to climb (and, of course, it allows for bursts of out-of-saddle climbing as needed). Certainly, there is something to be said for popping the bike into a tiny gear and whirligigging your way to the summit. It is probably excellent cardiovascular training. It also does not asplode your knees, unless of course you’re overgeared.
Next, there are those of us who like to get out of the saddle and hammer. I don’t think there are actually very many what one might call advocates of this method … there are simply those of us who climb this way by nature and those who don’t.
Apparently, no matter how hard I’ve tried to overcome the tendency, I am a hard-wired member of the latter school. My natural method seems to be more “throw moments of sitting into longer periods of standing” than the reverse. Standing and Hammering is in my blood, though sometimes it results in Standing and Blowing Up instead, if I significantly underestimate the length of a given climb.
Thus far, it has yet to result in Standing and Throwing Up, which probably means (like the fact that I don’t get sore very often) that I’m not riding hard enough.
It turns out that there’s probably a good reason for this. I have pretty awesome legs, a strong heart, and fantastic recovery rate (hooray!). For me, the weak link is my lungs. They are a pair of unpredictable wankers that work brilliantly about 40% of the time, marginally another 40% of the time, badly about 10% of the time, and almost not at all for the remaining 10%.
Climbing in the saddle at a high cadence takes a lot of oxygen. Oxygen is where things fall apart for me. My lungs sometimes panic mid-ride and attempt to clutch themselves like a pair of fourth-graders on their very first rollercoaster ride. Exercise freaks them out sometimes, so it skews the weight of the scale towards “wanking” rather than “working” when I’m riding the bike, though I have learned to mitigate this effect to an extent through carefully-timed prophylactic administrations of albuterol and breathing techniques.
Climbing out of the saddle — that is, turning a bigger gear at a lower cadence — evidently allows you to sustain power for longer. At least it does according to some scholarly article referenced by another article on the internet, which — for all that — may be a zillion years out of date (oh, here). [Edit: YMMV. Alternate study here.]
Anyway, short story long, I appear to be one of those people who, by nature, like to climb out of the saddle.
This is good to know, because starting tomorrow (gulp!) I’ll be participating in Rapha’s “La Centième” challenge on Strava. Basically, the idea is that you find some hills, climb ’til you puke, then rinse your mouth out, and do it again. Or, well. They don’t quite put it that way, but … you know.
This is great, because as someone who is a decent climber by nature I tend to neglect training on the climbs. I would like to stop being a decent climber and transition through “pretty good climber” to “good climber” and then to “awesome climber.”
Coincidentally, this will mean riding a lot of hills, for which”La Centième” offers ample motivation. I would say that you don’t know how badly I want that woven roundel proclaiming me to be a Bona Fide Idiot, but you’re reading this blog, which probably means you’re a bike geek, which probably means that you do.
Perhaps this will also be good for my racing weight program, though right now it’s really hard to tell how that’s going. One of the downsides of being intersexed: in my case, wild hormonal fluctuations sometimes result in absolutely insane water retention … like, seriously, six or eight pounds’ worth … that’s like a gallon of extra water. No wonder I feel like I have cankles. It’s more like Camelbankles™. So I think I’m approaching my goal, but who the heck can tell?
Anyway, so that’s it. It turns out that my way of climbing isn’t actually horribly abnormal; there are other crazy people (like the guy I chased up Cherokee Park Overlook and the Hogan’s Fountain Stomp on Monday) who do it, too, and some of them (like that same guy) are darned good climbers.
I just hope my Camelbankles™ will resolve themselves by Monday, because frankly all this extra water weight is heavy (whinge!) and it makes my legs feel like they’re full of lead shot (moan!).
I know, I know. First world problems.
Keep the rubber side down, people!
Related articles (in case you want some actual advice about climbing):
- Real Advice: An Intro to Climbing (performancebike.com)