Archimedes said, “Give me a lever long enough, and a fulcrum strong enough, and I could move the world.” Given that my understanding of physics is equaled only by my understanding of women’s shoes, I’ll take his word for it. I’m guessing that the same concept applies to climbing hills on a bike. Give me a rear cassette big enough and legs strong enough, and I can climb anything. Unfortunately, I seem to be short in one, or both, categories on my tri bike.
I bought my tri bike shortly before I moved to Florida a little over two years ago. It’s a machine built for Florida… gears made to go fast on flat terrain. I’ve hit speeds on flat surfaces while riding the tri bike that I’ve never seen on my road bike unless I was going downhill… with a tailwind. The thing likes to go fast. It does not like to climb.
Since I moved back to Little Rock (so named because the guy who found it hadn’t seen the part of the city where I live), I’ve done most of my riding on the indoor trainer or on my road bike, primarily because of the hill that leads back into my neighborhood. This hill is steep. Really steep. And long. And did I mention how steep it is? Really steep.
It took me a few months before I could successfully climb it on my road bike. And the road bike has a triple chain ring on the front and a climbing cassette on the back. But I did master it. A couple of weeks ago, I decided it was time to get the tri bike out again and start mixing up my rides. Knowing what I’d be facing if I started out from home, I loaded the bike into the SUV and drove to the nice, flat river trail.
Last Saturday I decided to face the hill head on. I started out for a 30 mile ride on the tri bike from the house, knowing I’d have to climb the hill to get home. The ride itself was tough… 30 miles isn’t that long, unless you’re not used to being in the “aero” position. I was well short of the entrance to my neighborhood and I was already sore, cramped, and tired. At that point, tho, there’s not much choice. Press on. Needless to say, I did not make the climb. I did the cyclists’ walk of shame up the hill, and pedaled the last section home.
Fast forward to this morning. The schedule called for another 30 mile ride. The big decision… tri bike or road bike. I knew I could easily complete the ride, and the final climb, on the road bike. But easy never got me anywhere worth being. So, out came the tri bike. I followed much of the same route from last week, and focused on making minor adjustments to find the right position . The ride went well, although I admit to being pretty spent by the time I hit the neighborhood entrance. I should mention that the last 3-4 miles back to the house are a gradual climb out of the river valley, capped off by the mega hill. After almost two years of being ridden only on the flats of Florida, the bike’s gears hit a lot of previously unexplored territory.
I’d love to say that I gritted it out and made the climb. Alas, it was not to be so. What I did, tho, was pick a spot about a third of the way up the hill and headed for that. I rarely stand to climb even on my road bike, and doing that on the tri bike can be really awkward because the geometry is so tight. But a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do, and I will eventually make that climb on the tri bike. So I stood in the pedals and gritted it out to the one third point. Did I mention this hill is really steep? Fortunately, I still had enough forward momentum to unclip one foot before I fell over, and I walked the rest of the hill. Not a walk of shame… a walk of progress. I’ll keep attacking the hill, and each week I’ll make it a bit farther. I’m not getting any more gears, so the solution is in the legs… and the mind. A little stronger every day. A little farther every week. I’ll let you know when I climb the hill.