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.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Thoughts And Ponderings- April 2016

Man, I haven't written a blog post in a while...

Today is the first day in weeks that I actually have a little bit of downtime to collect my thoughts and put something down in print. I have been so busy as of late and will most likely continue to be busy throughout this year. There is a lot of things that I am currently planning for ( selling my rental home, planing vacations, repairing bicycles as a business, etc., etc). I have basically had to decide where to place my time best. Writing has taken a back seat behind repairing bicycles at this point. So rather than try to write a blog post with a specific subject in mind, I'm just going to write a collection of thoughts and ideas that I have had lately.

There should be a "L'Eroica" style race here in Texas: I have been thinking for years that this would be a great idea. It would be a bicycle race for vintage road bikes, with an added twist. All bikes must be bike boom bikes from the seventies and eighties, with stem shifters, platform pedals and center pull brakes. Bikes could also have downtube shifters and side pull brakes, but nothing ridiculously  high end from that period (ie: Cinelli, Masi, etc.). Just a race for the low to mid range bikes that the majority of people bought and rode back then (I'm thinking Schwinn bikes, Centurions, Peugeots, Nishiki and other Japanese brands). Also, no spandex allowed. This would be a great way to get a bunch of bike flippers, college kids and old, curmudgeon retro-grouches to do some exercise with  the bikes they already own. If anyone is interested in getting an event like this going, contact me and let's set something up.

I can't seem to sell my vintage bikes anymore: I can't seem to command a good price for my vintage bikes anymore. It seems that if a vintage bike is worth more than $200, people are hesistant to buy or will try and talk me down to the $200 price range. As with everything else, sometimes the price is the price. There are some bikes that I can't take less than $300 for because I would then be giving them away and taking a huge loss on the money that I invested on them. Yet because newer bikes are getting less and less expensive, people in general do not see the value of vintage bikes anymore. This is a trend that I predicted would happen and it has finally occurred. The vintage bicycle has become to the modern cyclist what Tulips are to Amsterdam. The flipping of old bikes is a bubble that has busted. To all my fellow bike flippers, we had a good run from 2007-2011. By 2014, bicycle reselling was on life support. By 2015, it had already keeled over and died. Oh well, I guess I'll be stuck with a few vintage bikes to donate to a museum one day.

Housing in North Texas is getting expensive: Texas was always the cheapest place to live for many years. Ever since I moved here in 1990, Texas has beat all other states in terms of affordability in housing, taxes, goods, services, etc. There is a rapid growth occurring in the number of people moving into DFW, so much so that some houses have appraised for 30% more than what they were worth only a year ago. I'm in the process of fixing up and selling my rental, but know that I won't even be able to buy a foreclosure in the area once I sell my property. Meanwhile, it's a great time to buy up beach front property in Puerto Rico, as the housing market has collapsed due to Puerto Rico defaulting on it's national debt and many Puerto Ricans selling their homes to move to the mainland U.S. 

Riding bikes is way more fun than fixing them: Since I have been so busy lately, I have had to prioritize the things that I do on my free time. If stuck between having time to ride my bike and finding another  project to work on, I always go with a bike ride. These days riding my bike is way more beneficial for me because it is an escape from the stresses of the day and is getting me in shape. I currently weigh what I weighed when I was 20 and single, which is a feat of it's own as a married 31 year old. This is because I have given exercising and eating healthy a priority over all the other stuff that I could be doing. There is very little time to sit around and think anymore. Every once in a while I will take a break to find my muse, draw something or play the piano. The truth is however, that I will neither host an art gallery exibition or be a concert pianist, because I will be too busy riding to do what it takes to become a professional artist or musician. I don't feel like I'm missing out on anything either, because I rather be a healthy adult than anything else at this point of my life.

It feels good to stay current: It feels good to stay current with all the trends that are occurring and all of the changes that are going on as I get older. Staying current not only applies to faddish things like music, pop-culture and hairstyles, it also applies to making life changes such as selling a rental property and simplifying my life. It applies to losing weight, becoming "mostly" a vegetarian and finding what I'm really good at and sticking with it. When I was younger I wanted to be in a hundred different places at once. Getting other people's approval was more important for me. Now I see things differently. Staying current to me also means to adjust my point of view when necessary and to not have such a hard-lined, staunch interpretation of things that I don't really know much about. I used to look down on fixed geared bikes, now I own one. I used to not like 29ers, now I also have a 29er. Sometimes our ideas and perceptions of things come down to our experience. No one should ever form a judgement on something if their experience in that given area is limited. As long as it is not illegal, unhealthy or immoral, people should be open to trying new things. That way we do not become old before our time and a burden on the younger generations that follow with our expired logic and outdated thinking. Sometimes we are quick to criticize the next tech advancement in cycling as a passing fad, such as new wheel sizes, electronic shifting and carbon fiber frames. If we are honest with ourselves, we realize that much of these criticisms stem from the fact that these technologies may be out of our reach, financially speaking or otherwise. It used to be everytime I walked into a bike shop and looked at a 29er or a carbon fiber road bike, I would walk out with sticker shock. Now, within reason, I entertain the idea of being able to walk into a bike shop and walk out with a brand new bike. There is nothing wrong with being able to keep up with friends on an old, beat up, mended up 26er. There is also nothing wrong with being able to keep up with friends on a 29er or whatever other wheel sizes are out there. The important thing is to have fun on a solid bike that won't unexpectedly break down on the trail. Bikes do wear out over time and when they do, there is nothing wrong with replacing them with the latest technology. Just like there is nothing wrong with getting a high fade pompadour, waxing your mustache and wearing V-neck T-shirts and RayBan sunglasses while drinking a craft beer. If you are that one guy still wearing a Smashing Pumpkins tee shirt under a plaid layer with a chili bowl hair cut, that's cool too. Just know that you are in the wrong decade and will stand out like a sore thumb. It's better to stay current, age with grace and be relatable to your kids when they become teenagers.