I got back into town last night after a week on the road, and was looking forward to a good long ride this morning. I originally planned to ride alone, as I usually do, but found out about a smaller group ride scheduled to go my planned distance at about the time I was planning on leaving… What the heck?
To say my start was a little disorganized would be giving me more credit than I’m due. I’d taken part of my “riding kit” with me to use on the tri bike in Florida, so I had stuff scattered in bags, briefcases… wherever I could cram it after my last minute ride on Thursday night and my swim on Friday morning before checking out of the hotel. I filled a couple water bottles and grabbed the bag I thought had my flat repair kit and other necessities. Since we were planning on a 45 mile ride, I stopped at the store enroute to pick up a couple of Clif bars, as well.
I felt pretty dumb when I started putting the whole thing together in the parking lot. The three other riders were already there, and had ridden together before. So here I am pulling Clif bars out of a Walmart bag and digging through other bags I’d pulled from my suitcase on the way out the door, looking for all the correct pieces and parts. The only major oversight was the flat pack… no spare tube and no CO2 canister in case of a flat. Given the roads we were planning to ride, that was a high risk proposition.
Speaking of the roads, I knew we were planning on riding about 45 miles, and about an 18-19 mph pace, both of which fit my schedule. I was a little surprised, though, to find that we were doing the Wye Mountain climb, one of the tougher routes in our area. I’d ridden Wye Mountain a few times last fall, while I was prepping for the Big Dam Bridge Century Ride. I’m no stranger to hills, since most of my Arkansas routes have a lot of them. But Wye Mountain is one of those climbs that makes the more amateur riders (like me) shudder. Wheee! Off we go.
The three other riders kept a good, steady pace, which made the unusual activity of riding in a group more enjoyable. I’ve only done two organized group rides in the 18 months I’ve been riding, and it adds another dimension to cycling. It reminds me a lot of flying formation. You can get so focused on the rider in front of you that you forget all about your surroundings. Not to be too melodramatic, but when you’re doing 20 mph about 12 inches from another rider’s back wheel, you don’t want to get distracted too easily.
We started to spread out a little as we hit a series of rolling hills. They were some tough climbs, and I didn’t want to hit them too hard, knowing we had Wye Mountain coming up. The two lead riders pulled ahead by quite a distance, which allowed me to focus much more on climbing the hills the way I do best. Hence, the title of this article. I can’t stand to climb. Let me explain.
I don’t mind climbing hills on a bike, but I am not a power climber. I carry a few extra pounds, certainly more than the other guys had this morning. That means I’m lugging more weight and fighting gravity a little more as I climb. I’ve found that the best climbing approach for me is to stay in the saddle, kick into a lower gear, and keep my cadence up. I may not hit the top of the hill first, but I will RIDE to the top of the hill. The only thought I have as I’m climbing is this… “Ride your own bike”. It may sound silly, but it makes sense to me. I might get passed by other riders as I’m climbing, but I have no idea what kind of gearing they have or how many other hills they’ve climbed, etc. All I know is the bike I’m on and the body I’m in. I can only ride my own bike, not theirs or the one I wish I had (feather-light and motorized, but that’s another story). Standing to climb does not work well for me. I can feel the lactic acid building pretty fast in my quads, and I run out of steam. I’m sure I could train that out, but it is what it is. So, while I don’t mind climbing, I can’t stand in the pedals to climb. I do almost all of my climbs sitting, using a low gear and a higher cadence. It works for me.
What I did find toward the end of the ride was that I wasn’t falling back on the hills nearly as much as I had earlier. That could have been the result of a number of factors. The other riders may have been more tired, I could have been acclimating to the hills, or the stronger guys may have been showing me mercy. Who knows? But in the end, we averaged almost 18 mph over a very hilly course with a number of very long climbs. That’s a fair amount faster than I would have done on my own, I’m certain. Just proves the proverb that “two are better than one”. Or, in this case, four.
Thanks for the ride guys.