Can cycling beginner improve uphill performance?

Sep 22, 2020
6
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Hello,


I like cycling as a relaxed activity, being in the nature,riding through some beautiful landscape in your own pace, but boy those hills, I never liked them ,and
with age even less.
I ride bike not very often, mabe every year some very slow, family pace rides about 10 - 15 kmh in flat for maybe 15-20 km few times a year.
Few times every year I also ride uphill a local hill, about 200m uphil, few km long, about 5 - 6 % average . I don t have some mountain or road bike, just some ordinary "trekking" bike , Author Stratos, it has Shimano Alivo gear, I think 21 gears for example, about 14 kg? I have 80 kg, 50 years and yesterday
for the first time on bike this year I tried this hill and feeling miserably as before:
goal is just to survive and reach the top without stopping, even when I have it in the easiest gear it is a strugle, heart pulse very high, almos 90%, , legs hurting.
I checked on Strava this climb and my results:
it is 2,1 km long, 130m uphill, 6.1%, asphalt(kategory 4) and I needed for it 14:40 minutes, just 8,8 kmh average. I see there are tens of local riders needing 5 min to 5:30 min on this climb. So I am about 280 % worse .
The funny thing is that in last 5 years I am quite active in sport, especially in nordic walking, I can walk 21km in 2hours 30, 10 km in 1 hour7 minutes (15% behind european champion),I placed top 10 in 13km-600m uphil race. I walked at severac races, international and even won some local ones (ok the competion is much weaker than in cycling), and am quite competitive.From walking I am used to racing at 90% and more heart rate, endurance, feeling tired but this feeling on the bike uphil is much worse, helpless. I estimate I could nordic walk this same hill in 17-20 minutes.
Does anybody have any tips, how did they Improve their uphill performance , how much better it was then ? I doubt I will ever enjoy uphill on bike, but maybe it would help me in my main sport.
 
Not an expert in any fields it appeared to be an interesting problem. Based on the data and std assumptions, i calculate for u


PvAir resistanceGravitycadencePedal force
wattskm/hrwattswattsrpmNwatts/kg
153.855​
8.8​
3.133784​
148.7211​
49.12707​
175.9192​
1.923188​

The walking data shows much higher numbers. Assuming that cubic law holds good for walking and taking 6 w/kg for the champ, you would be ~ 3.5 w/kg for walking.
Quads are the muscle most required for cycling but for walking not so much. I would hazard a guess that ur body is designed to be more suited to walking or maybe running than cycling. Speculating, u have more well developed calf muscles compared to quads.
The bike gear ratio i considered is 1.7 (39/23) which gives cadence of ~ 50 rpm. U could lower to 30-40 for a more comfortable ride. Also i am assuming that ur doing seated. Out of saddle is especially difficult and consumes more energy.
Once a month is not good practice. To improve u will have to do 3 times in a week which i am sure u already know from walking. I think u simply donot have that much time. U could put in a 5-20 min cycling activity in ur schedule since ur only looking to improve in short duration only. It could give a 20-50% improvement but it might adversely affect ur walking times(tradeoff). I think u have to choose what u like and what ur good at.
Alternatively u could go for mountain bike gears it can give 44/32/22 in front and 11-32 for the cassette. U can get a gear ratio < 1 which should make the ride comfortable. PS I use a mountain bike and my cycling numbers are lower than yours.
Or reduce weight if excess for long term but again no idea how it would impact what u are already doing.
 
Reactions: lecko
I would climb in roughly same pace as you, but in walking you would drop me instantly. So I can see only a few possible reasons

  1. There is something badly wrong in your bike. 10 -15 kmh in flat doesn't match your walking pace either (if on tarmac and working bike). From the walking pace, I think you should quite easily ride 20 kmh or even a bit faster with almost any bike.
  2. Your body is not used to cycling. I can't see this having such a big effect, but if this is the reason it should improve quite quickly.
  3. Too low gear. Your bike sounds like it may have mountain bike gears (not 39/23 mentioned above). If the smallest front ring is significantly smaller than the largest rear ring, the gear is too low for 9 kmh, especially if your muscles are not used to spinning fast.
  4. Too high gear. If the lowest gear is indeed 39/23 or something like that, getting a bike with lower gears would at least make it more comfortable.
 
Sep 22, 2020
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@IndianCyclist Than you very much for your detailed analysis. You asked about running. I also dont do too well at running. I dont run too often but my estimate is that I would run 10km in maybe 1 hour, not better. I am rather tall (1,85M), with quite skinny thighs, and they seem to be important for cycling . Yes I need to cycle more regularly, I thoink is good for body to have other muscles developed. Both you and Googolplex suggested different gear and that may be a good idea. My problem with hills and current bike ist that I am "forced" to go to high pulse, evne if I want to do just a good training. I would be ok to be even slower, but to reach the top at a bit lower pulse. What formulas you used for your calculations for walking ? They may be correct for runnig. But walking has different rules and biomechanic, as one foot must always be in contact with ground. Just recently I discovered official IAAF calculation tables comparing runs, throws, and also (race)walks and according to them, a run over 10km is worth as many points as almost twice slower (race)walk. These tables are used for example to select best result of athletics meeting. For example: Runtime of 41minutes over 10km equals walking time of 1 hour 8 minutes. https://scoringtablescalculator.com/calculator/?limit=all&lookup-value=effort&gender=men&season=outdoor&event=10km_W&effort=01:08:00&score=
 
Sep 22, 2020
6
2
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I would climb in roughly same pace as you, but in walking you would drop me instantly. So I can see only a few possible reasons

  1. There is something badly wrong in your bike. 10 -15 kmh in flat doesn't match your walking pace either (if on tarmac and working bike). From the walking pace, I think you should quite easily ride 20 kmh or even a bit faster with almost any bike.
Thank you . I guess my body is not that much used to cycling, as I do mybe 3 runs per year!
I think there is nothing wrong with my bike. I go 10-15kmh with my family, relaxed. If I try to go more full, I can reach 25, 30 kmh for few minutes in the right road. I just need to go to bike more often. And different gears would probably help too. Or e-bike, I tried once and no problems climbing there :)
 
Sep 27, 2020
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Good tips here.

Bike equipment is important but only gets you so far. Gearing, good chain, and tubes filled with air.

I live in Ile de France but come from Austria. I have no mountains now but many small hills. Those 1-2km hills are perfect to push you. Go all in into them and then survive. Important that your body knows how to suffer on those hills.

If you have some holidays, take the bike for a ride every single day. Even recovery rides help. Best thing would be to visit a cycling region with gorgeous scenery, like Tuscany. You will be tired every day, but after the holiday you should have proper form

Afterwards you keep regular routine and should try to go for a ride at least 1-2 times per week. Until the next cycling holidays.

Its not for nothing that even random people go on training camps in Mallorca in March.

As others mentioned you train other muscles in cycling than running or walking. In general cycling training helps me a lot to do endurance, so your long walking efforts should profit off this, too.

Good luck, it's worth it!
 
This is an interesting case. The wattage disproportion between your walking and biking is very large. There are two possible reasons:
  1. Biking 3 time a year is not enough to develop muscles appropriately, bike 2-3 times a week and you should improve significantly.
  2. Are you sure that your bike is ok? (possibly additional drag forces associated with some defect)
I also walk a lot (about 3500 km per year) and sometimes do 20 km in under 3h (could do it faster if I competed) but I bike rather regularly. Even after a winter break (4-5 months) I have no problems with maintaining 25+ kph on my ordinary bike (though the muscles feel fatigue after a few dozens of km). However, I noticed significant differences between walking and biking, esp. uphill. I trek a lot in the mountains and sometimes do a "rest day" for my feet and get on a bike for a change. I find cycling uphill (esp. on slopes > 7-8%) way harder than trekking uphill (even though I bike regularly compared to you). My thighs are more fatigued after a few km of steep road than after a few km of steep mountain path (which is waaaay steeper than any road) and my VAM is lower on a bike actually. Sometimes I do uphill biking and then start trekking uphill: the change is noticable - even when I'm fatigued after biking I feel much more comfortable walking uphill (which shows that different muscles are engaged and this is your room for improvement).
 
Last edited:
Reactions: lecko
Hm... I need to start with... I have no expertise at all.
All I have is my own experience. I suck so much at climbing... but not nearly as much as I used to in my youth.
These are the things that I would consider:
- Do you have a smartwatch or anything else to measure your pulse while riding? Because if the numbers are really suspicious you might want to see a doctor about it.
Otherwise:
  • You need to cycle more often, not at a high pace, no hard training, but two or three times a week 15 kilometers on flat terrain will probably do to improve.
  • Check your breathing, do you think you are breathing right?
  • I need a certain time to "get going". Often it's like I'm breaking through a wall at a certain point. After 60 minutes or a bit more a climb which would have been hard before is totally okay, I need to really have warmed up, with a good, but not too hard pace.
  • The right gear is really important if you're not good at climbing... try a few versions, and if the climb has different gradients, try using different gears on them.
  • Don't focus on the time you need, focus on your breath and your rhythm.
  • You could also do some (very) light intervall training (walking/ running) to start getting your body used to other efforts.
(- Are you sure your bike is the right size?)
 
Reactions: lecko
@IndianCyclist Than you very much for your detailed analysis. You asked about running. I also dont do too well at running. I dont run too often but my estimate is that I would run 10km in maybe 1 hour, not better. I am rather tall (1,85M), with quite skinny thighs, and they seem to be important for cycling . Yes I need to cycle more regularly, I thoink is good for body to have other muscles developed. Both you and Googolplex suggested different gear and that may be a good idea. My problem with hills and current bike ist that I am "forced" to go to high pulse, evne if I want to do just a good training. I would be ok to be even slower, but to reach the top at a bit lower pulse. What formulas you used for your calculations for walking ? They may be correct for runnig. But walking has different rules and biomechanic, as one foot must always be in contact with ground. Just recently I discovered official IAAF calculation tables comparing runs, throws, and also (race)walks and according to them, a run over 10km is worth as many points as almost twice slower (race)walk. These tables are used for example to select best result of athletics meeting. For example: Runtime of 41minutes over 10km equals walking time of 1 hour 8 minutes. https://scoringtablescalculator.com/calculator/?limit=all&lookup-value=effort&gender=men&season=outdoor&event=10km_W&effort=01:08:00&score=
I had read an article that the walking power is proportional to Cube of the velocity due to the biomechanics involved. I donot know or have researched the walking related papers but for sure at the speeds that you are doing it is definitely not linear. Running tends to be linear with respect to velocity. For walking it is power per unit mass = constant * speed ^ factor where factor is between 2-3 maybe. For this calculation . i simply assumed the the Champ was at 6 w/kg. Since u were 15% behind the Champ, as an approx ur velocity is 0.85 of the champ. I assumed the cubic relationship as that would give lowest power numbers for you.
Relative velocityw/kgw/kgw/kg
Champ (Assumed Numbers
1​
6​
5​
4​
U
0.85​
3.68475​
3.070625​
2.4565​
I donot think 4 w/kg can win in competitive sports.
Also u gave the that equivalent running data for u. 10k in 41min is 14.6 kph. Running power is linearly related to the speed. As a thumb rule, the constant can be taken as 1 kcal/kg/kph. Based on this i calculate 1 * 80 kg * 14.6 kph = 1170 kCal. Power in watts = 1170/4 = 292 watts. W/kg = 292/80 = 3.65 w/kg similar to the previous numbers. I suspect u are 3.2-3.7 w/kg range for walking way beyond cycling.
 
Reactions: lecko
Aug 25, 2020
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Well of course you can improve your uphill performance, you can improve it a lot but to do that you will need to ride your bike a lot. It doesn't have to be focusing on hills all the time but you need to be riding the bike at least 3 or 4 days a week every week to see much improvement and perhaps one of those days a week should be hilly.
I can ride a bike uphill very well but that is because I am doing 300 - 400 kms a week and lots of hills.
If I decided to be a runner though I would be pretty useless unless I did lots of running.
 
Reactions: lecko
It's unfortunate,but lots of the elements of proficient climbing have to do with general fitness on the bike. The only solution to cycling specific things is..cycling specific.
if you are a generally fit person you have few bicycle climbing success options. Again back to fitness,you get a huge pie plate on the back,tiny in front or heaven forbid a triple chaining set up and w no urgency,select a ultra easy gear and churn up the hill or mountain. Instead of gauging your success on time,do like many..consider success that you don't feel that much more worked over at the top of the climb than you did at the bottom.
there is also a recent ala carte option in cycling..E-bikes..kind of a trainer, Angel and a counselor all in one,that fits invisible into the bike..you ride to your limit..when you get there..push a button..bike allows you to continue biking deleting,temporary or permanent whatever the limit was..sore back, heart beating through your shirt leg,knee pain..not enough air..it a solution for everything in most non racing riders..
if you like riding bikes but don't like hills, can't do something..the ebike helps
 
Walking 21km in 2hours 30 is impressive. As for improving your uphill cycling performance, as an ex triathlete I saw many guys who were fleet footed runners but climbing were (very) ordinary. I think its a lack of leg strength and stamina.

Obviously whilst both are primarily aerobic exercise cycling uses muscles differently to running. I would suggest ride hills more, specially longer hills (minimum 10 minutes of sustained climbing). This should be done at an uncomfortable pace that requires a fair bit of mental application to maintain. Hill repeats are ideal. Also getting into a rhythm is important.

Alternatively if you have a smart trainer Zwift has some good workouts with intervals at just over FTP that would be guaranteed to improve your climbing. If you can squeeze these kind of session in maybe twice per week amongst other riding then your climbing should improve.
 

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