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Struggling with Hills

Old 08-30-19, 06:37 AM
  #1  
bygeorge
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Struggling with Hills

We are new riders and want advice as to weather we should consider lower gears or just a matter of not physically fit enough to do hills? I have counted the teeth on our bikes and hope to receive some advice.

George
Cassette 32 x 11. Rings. 48 x 36 x 26

Lois
Cassette 34 x 14 Rings 48 x 38 x 28
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Old 08-30-19, 06:47 AM
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Hills are something you have to work on. Your 28x34 gearing should be low enough. Practice is your friend.
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Old 08-30-19, 06:48 AM
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With a 26-32 and 28-34 low gear respectively, any hill climbing issues are fitness related. As I have told people in the past, the only way to get better at hills is to go up more of them. Keep climbing, you'll both improve.
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Old 08-30-19, 07:02 AM
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I doubt you'd see much benefit from going any lower than that. My expectation would be that you will find climbing easier after some more riding practice of any kind because any kind of riding is likely to increase your cardio fitness and your leg muscles. The most important thing at a beginning stage is to keep doing it and not get discouraged, so my advice is if you're finding hills discouraging right now, choose flatter rides now and come back to the hills later. They're not going away any time soon, and you don't have to make yourself miserable to have basic fitness gains.
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Old 08-30-19, 07:06 AM
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If you are new to cycling you are not yet fit. Once you have fitness, hills will be easier. And, if losing weight is a part of your path, you will find that to be significant too. Your gears are not your limitation. I would start by using your lowest gear and pace yourself. You will be able to tell if that low gear is too low. Just move up until you find the gearing that allows you to climb comfortably. Don't worry about time and mph. You want to get off the bike thinking that the ride was good and you're looking forward to the next one. The speed will come with time. Be patient. Fitness will take some time but it will come.
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Old 08-30-19, 07:39 AM
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Hills........gotta love nature's handiwork! Practice, practice and more practice will certainly improve your climbing ability but here are some things I do that help me a bit. I say a bit because in the end it's spinning the crank to turn the wheels until you reach the top.

1. Bike Fit: I'm no expert on the finer points of bike fitting but if you're not comfortable on your bike, it makes it harder to pedal efficiently. I often see new cyclists with their seats very low and they are unable to use much leg extension. This limits their ability to apply power to the pedals. This may not apply to you but I mention it since you wrote that you are new at bicycling.

2. Plan your route: If you're driving to where you start and finish your rides, seek out less challenging terrain. You can view
elevation changes over a route in Google maps. Sometimes you end up with hills in both directions but often one direction has less steep slopes. Plan your route to tackle the steeper slopes earlier in your ride, when you aren't as fatigued.

3. Spin, spin, spin: You can spin your way up a hill in a lower gear (smaller ring up front, bigger rings in the rear) or you can stand and mash your way up in somewhat higher gears. Most of my life I miserably mashed my way up steeper hills. Now I miserably spin my way up hills.

4. Maintain momentum: Where terrain and traffic allow, the build up of speed in the approach to a hill can give you a bit of a boost in getting to the top. You have to balance your energy expenditure in building momentum with the energy you're going to need to get to the top. If the hill is not too steep or too high, occasionally a run in will make a hill climb almost pleasant. You need to master shifting to lower gears while continuing to spin your gears as gravity grabs you and tries to keep you from reaching the top.

5. Heat hurts: Even if you're in good shape, warmer days make long hills that much more miserable. If your fitness level isn't great or you're older or you take medications for things like high blood pressure, try to avoid overheating. Walking up a hill is preferable to ending your ride in an ambulance.

6. Rides don't have to be races: I think that many of us, myself included, have a distorted view of speed and time. We see the fit roadie racing past us up hills while we struggle or see the cyclist far ahead of us but can't see that they're on a motorized e-bike. While there's lots to do, give yourself plenty of time for your rides. Ride the flats at a more leisurely pace to conserve some energy for the hills. The more you ride, the better you'll get.

My non-cycling friends and family don't understand that while the hills are miserable, they are still enjoyable parts of my rides. Hills add substance and accomplishment. The downhill sections, however short and fast, would be less sweet without the exertion to get to the top.

Safe journeys
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Old 08-30-19, 07:54 AM
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I'm still a beginner with climbing as well, since I lived on almost panflat terrain for most of my life before moving to a hilly city. There are really no tricks to hills, the only pitfall for beginners (it was for me, anyway) is not to attack the bottom of a hill. Maintain speed into it, sure, but otherwise, let the hill come to you.
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Old 08-30-19, 08:08 AM
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Climbing will always suck. It's just a matter of degree.
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Old 08-30-19, 08:10 AM
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I agree with all that's been said. Fitness, and learning what gear to use when first attacking the hill, how & when to shift on hills (you don't want to try to shift a chain under tension) all play a roll in getting up the hill. I ride occasionally with a person that is struggling before they try to shift-they are shifting too late for the benefit of a lower gear. When you feel yourself starting to put forth more effort than you should, shift to an easier gear--maybe a little before you THINK you need it. Eventually you'll learn when it is most beneficial for you to shift to get up the hill. It may take a while, but you'll get it. Keep at it, you'll be climbing up those hills before you realize it!!

Last edited by freeranger; 08-30-19 at 08:19 AM.
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Old 08-30-19, 08:18 AM
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What others have said is true. Once I couldn't, but got further up till I did! Now it is sometimes in the granny gear, but I don't mind.

I do a little anticipatory shifting on hills: Say it's the end or beginning hill at work.... I've gone through all the downhill gears and am coming back up. As mentioned above, the going starts to get slower, so I down the rear, usually two at a time: So: 3fd/9rd becomes 3/7, then I down the front as resistance increases: 2/7, 2/5 (this is usually my lowest need) but could continue 2/3, 1/3, 1/1 if necessary.... The trick is to get things to smoothly go as much as possible....
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Old 08-30-19, 08:33 AM
  #11  
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Originally Posted by bygeorge View Post
George
Cassette 32 x 11. Rings. 48 x 36 x 26
To amplify what others have said about fitness, I do fully loaded (camping and cooking gear and warm and cold weather clothing) touring in the hilly/mountainous west (and east) with a 46 x 36 x 24 and an 11-34 cassette. (Until a few years ago my smallest chainring was a 26.) So your gearing is already low for unladed riding. With that said, you should be able to drop to a 24 with little expense if you really want to. Same for Lois.
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Old 08-30-19, 08:42 AM
  #12  
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Originally Posted by Fahrenheit531 View Post
Climbing will always suck. It's just a matter of degree.
So true. Also note: It never gets easier, you just go faster.
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Old 08-30-19, 09:21 AM
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Originally Posted by caloso View Post
So true. Also note: It never gets easier, you just go faster.
Or farther.
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Old 08-30-19, 09:32 AM
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stand up, or as Phil says "dance on the pedals"
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Old 08-30-19, 09:50 AM
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Originally Posted by honcho View Post
Hills........gotta love nature's handiwork! Practice, practice and more practice will certainly improve your climbing ability but here are some things I do that help me a bit. I say a bit because in the end it's spinning the crank to turn the wheels until you reach the top.

1. Bike Fit: I'm no expert on the finer points of bike fitting but if you're not comfortable on your bike, it makes it harder to pedal efficiently. I often see new cyclists with their seats very low and they are unable to use much leg extension. This limits their ability to apply power to the pedals. This may not apply to you but I mention it since you wrote that you are new at bicycling.

2. Plan your route: If you're driving to where you start and finish your rides, seek out less challenging terrain. You can view
elevation changes over a route in Google maps. Sometimes you end up with hills in both directions but often one direction has less steep slopes. Plan your route to tackle the steeper slopes earlier in your ride, when you aren't as fatigued.

3. Spin, spin, spin: You can spin your way up a hill in a lower gear (smaller ring up front, bigger rings in the rear) or you can stand and mash your way up in somewhat higher gears. Most of my life I miserably mashed my way up steeper hills. Now I miserably spin my way up hills.

4. Maintain momentum: Where terrain and traffic allow, the build up of speed in the approach to a hill can give you a bit of a boost in getting to the top. You have to balance your energy expenditure in building momentum with the energy you're going to need to get to the top. If the hill is not too steep or too high, occasionally a run in will make a hill climb almost pleasant. You need to master shifting to lower gears while continuing to spin your gears as gravity grabs you and tries to keep you from reaching the top.

5. Heat hurts: Even if you're in good shape, warmer days make long hills that much more miserable. If your fitness level isn't great or you're older or you take medications for things like high blood pressure, try to avoid overheating. Walking up a hill is preferable to ending your ride in an ambulance.

6. Rides don't have to be races: I think that many of us, myself included, have a distorted view of speed and time. We see the fit roadie racing past us up hills while we struggle or see the cyclist far ahead of us but can't see that they're on a motorized e-bike. While there's lots to do, give yourself plenty of time for your rides. Ride the flats at a more leisurely pace to conserve some energy for the hills. The more you ride, the better you'll get.

My non-cycling friends and family don't understand that while the hills are miserable, they are still enjoyable parts of my rides. Hills add substance and accomplishment. The downhill sections, however short and fast, would be less sweet without the exertion to get to the top.

Safe journeys
I hate to quibble with such a fine post, but some actually find the mash approach to hills easier than the spin. I'd suggest some trial and error to figure out what works better for the OP, but probably after they work on their general fitness a bit.
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Old 08-30-19, 09:58 AM
  #16  
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Originally Posted by sheddle View Post
I'm still a beginner with climbing as well, since I lived on almost panflat terrain for most of my life before moving to a hilly city. There are really no tricks to hills, the only pitfall for beginners (it was for me, anyway) is not to attack the bottom of a hill. Maintain speed into it, sure, but otherwise, let the hill come to you.
Attacking comes later--one of the rewards of working out is that it's a lot of fun to do this when you can. Sucks to try it when you're not ready yet, though. Been there, worked out of it.

Do you find that the new hilliness is having any effect on your riding abilities in the flat? I might expect that you're getting stronger.
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Old 08-30-19, 10:34 AM
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Originally Posted by livedarklions View Post
I hate to quibble with such a fine post, but some actually find the mash approach to hills easier than the spin. I'd suggest some trial and error to figure out what works better for the OP, but probably after they work on their general fitness a bit.
I used to be a masher. 3 knee surgeries ago. I am a spinner now.
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Old 08-30-19, 10:35 AM
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Hills are hard. That's why we ride up them! (or maybe it's just me) Keep your cadence up (how fast your feet are spinning) and keep a steady pace that you can maintain all the way up the hill.

You don't give much info about yourselves, fitness wise. It's fine if you don't want to share but age, athletic background, weight, etc all play into this of course. As long as you are healthy enough for the exertion, just keep climbing the hills you can get up and you'll get stronger.
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Old 08-30-19, 10:44 AM
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Originally Posted by Paul Barnard View Post
I used to be a masher. 3 knee surgeries ago. I am a spinner now.

There was a guy posting here about a year ago who said he used to spin, but started mashing because it was easier on his arthritic knees.
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Old 08-30-19, 10:44 AM
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Originally Posted by bygeorge View Post
We are new riders and want advice as to weather we should consider lower gears or just a matter of not physically fit enough to do hills?
Why not attack on both fronts? Lower gearing might make riding more fun while you work to build fitness. Are your bikes nine-speed? Then it might be an easy option to run 36-tooth rear cassettes. There are also 22-tooth granny rings that can be had in the front. Best would be to visit a bike shop and speak to a mechanic, because none of the options is quite as straightforward as one might think.

You might end up deciding to stand pat, but there's no harm in visiting a shop and talking through your options.
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Old 08-30-19, 10:47 AM
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To echo what others have said: your gearing is fine; just keep going up and eventually you'll get there. There is no shame in stopping and taking a break, or even walking part way up. Many of us have been there and done that.

Part of doing hills is psychological. If it's a longer climb, it can help to break it into small chunks rather than looking all the way to the top. This can also help for keeping track of where you run out of steam, which can help with pacing the next time.
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Old 08-30-19, 10:51 AM
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Originally Posted by livedarklions View Post
There was a guy posting here about a year ago who said he used to spin, but started mashing because it was easier on his arthritic knees.
You said it best when you suggested we just need to experiment and find what works best for us.
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Old 08-30-19, 10:51 AM
  #23  
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Originally Posted by bygeorge View Post
We are new riders and want advice as to weather we should consider lower gears or just a matter of not physically fit enough to do hills? I have counted the teeth on our bikes and hope to receive some advice.

George
Cassette 32 x 11. Rings. 48 x 36 x 26

Lois
Cassette 34 x 14 Rings 48 x 38 x 28
Both of those bikes are geared to tackle some pretty steep, long hills. So it's about training, or for us recreational cyclist's experience. And it goes beyond fitness. There are some fit people out there who haven't ridden a bike in 10 or more years that hills will be still be challenging.

You don't need to hit the gym 10 hours/week, or spend 12 hours a week on a bike. But an hour a days 3 - 4 days per week on a typical ride will go a long way towards making those hills doable in the proper gears after a month or two. Don't over do it, It will take the fun out of biking. But don't just coast along the entire route either.

Perhaps do some of it with good effort, then rest a bit, do some more harder peddling. Ride the bike in the lowest gear going up those hills and DON'T TRY GOING FAST. Try to maintain a minimum cadence of about 55 rpm though, That will be just over walking speed. That's fine until you feel strong and more confident. Then go from there.

I don't agree with the notion "Climbing sucks". If it bothers you that much, You're in the wrong sport. My bike has the same gearing as the OP's and at 62 and in average shape at best I hill climbing is just part of the adventure. And I love the descents. That energy is not lost climbing, Much of it we get back on the descent and my average speed is almost the same.



Happy trails.

Last edited by xroadcharlie; 08-30-19 at 11:57 AM.
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Old 08-30-19, 11:12 AM
  #24  
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Originally Posted by Paul Barnard View Post
You said it best when you suggested we just need to experiment and find what works best for us.
Thanks, agreed that this varies a lot for people. It's almost like we were walking on joints that were evolved for quadrupeds and fairly recently adapted to bipedalism. Weirdly arranged moving parts with a lot of potential failure points.

I appear to have been blessed with a pair of good knees, but have seen enough people struggle with the pain of bad ones that I don't take this for granted.
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Old 08-30-19, 11:32 AM
  #25  
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It takes time and effort to get into shape. Just start practicing going up the hills, and as your legs become more conditioned, you'll soon find yourself riding right up hills that once seemed formidable. If you're new to cycling, you can't expect to be in tip top cycling shape.
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