Wednesday, June 15, 2016

High Cadence Vs. High Power. How Do You Climb?

Which is the best way to climb?


This might surprise you, but there really is no right or wrong way to climb hills on a bike. Well, there are bad gearing choices and wrong positioning that can hinder a cyclist from climbing at their best. But this article relates to climbing efficiency based on proven techniques that many professionals use. There are two camps that have come out of this debate on which is better. High cadence (ie: Chris Froome, Lance Armstrong, Miguel Indurain) versus high power (ie: Alberto Contador, Nairo Quintana, Marco Pantani). So which is better, dancing or spinning on the bike? Both skills are equally important, as a well rounded and successful climber must be able to do both. This article will describe the best scenarios where it would be most beneficial to use one skill or the other.


Dancing On The Pedals: "Dancing" on the bike usually refers to pedaling off the saddle for a sustained period of time, kind of like a really long sprint uphill, but riding at tempo instead of all out. When the rider dances on the pedals, it should look like the are on a StairMaster instead of on a bike. The back should be straight, the arms relaxed and slightly bent, hands resting on the brake hoods. The arms and legs should be parallel to each other, nothing sticking out the sides or bowing out. The bike should sway from side to side with each turn of the cranks, the rider shouldn't have to rock their hips for propulsion. If you climb out of the saddle this way, you are doing it right. This is a technique worth practicing, as it is used by some of the best climbers in the world. Alberto Contador regularly goes on training rides where he will ride off the saddle for more than an hour, just to hone this technique. Keep in mind that this technique requires good endurance and power. It is good for uphill accelerations or for breaking away from a pack on sustained climbs. It also trains the legs to put more power down on a lower cadence.


Keep in mind when doing this technique that it is impossible to ride off the saddle for an entire climb. At a certain point, the legs will lose the ability to propel this way, especially as the grade gets steeper and the climb gets longer. The legs will eventually need to recharge and to flush the lactic acid that they have been accumulating. That is where the high spinning technique comes into play.


Spinning On The Bike: Two time Tour De France champion Chris Froome has used the high spin, high cadence climb to an art form. His ability to sprint from 90 to over 100rpm on very steep gradients of a given climb have gone unmatched and unrivaled by no other in the sport. The only rider in the past few years who can trade blows with him on the mountains is Nairo Quintana, the light framed climber from Colombia. Chris Froome's climb is his signature trademark. He never lets his cadence drop below 90rpm while he is climbing, no matter how steep the grade. He makes full use of the lower range of  his gearing, in order to keep spinning no matter what. His climbing style is reminiscent to that of Miguel Indurain, as it is mostly on the saddle as opposed to off the saddle. He doesn't freak out when his opponents attack him, rather he raises his cadence and closes the gap quickly. In addition, Chris Froome uses a power meter, so he knows when he is reaching his red line and hardly ever pedals beyond his power wattage threshold. He is exacting and calculating in the way he rides, which has become a point of contention with some cycling fans which want to see more spontaneity in cycling. Nevertheless it's a style he has been proven to be very effective for him, regardless of his critics.


The key to successful climbing is knowing when to use each of these techniques. It helps to know the climb and ride it beforehand. If it is a climb featured on one of your regular club rides, then you will have the upper hand on your friends if you can practice on it regularly. Some climbs are gradual ascents that get steeper towards the crest of the hill. Other climbs are broken up into sections where the climb will level off and then pitch up again. Other climbs are monsters that go continually upward without letup while the road winds up the mountain. If you have those kind of climbs in your area then consider yourself lucky; you have what you need to become a very good climber.


For rolling terrain I recommend an off the saddle, on the saddle approach. For sustained gradients it is best to stay on the saddle and only come off the saddle towards the crest of the climb. For climbs with switchbacks I recommend riding the switchbacks off the saddle towards the outside of the turn. Never attack on the climb early. Your speed should gradually increase as you ascend on the climb. Save your energy for the steepest sections. Climb at your rhythm, even if that means getting dropped the first few times. Stick to your game plan, refine it as you see necessary, but don't chase the wheel of a guy who attacks early. You can pace yourself back but you will end up blowing up if you give chase. Those are my tips on how to be a better climber.






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