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Hill climbing gear?

I saw a road bike today at a shop in Houston that had 11 gears on the back axle and two in the front. Mine has ten in the back and two up front. every year I get into a situation going up a hill where I wish I had one more gear. Are 11 gears something new? Is that eleventh gear for climbing or for speed on the high end? I ask the fellow at the shop but he danced around the subject until another customer came in and he walked away from me to help the other person.

45 Replies

Fox Mulder, April 11, 2014 at 1:55 pm

I guess that the best gear that you can have for climbing hills is training. If you expect to do endless rollers and not get tired merely by changing around a few gears without putting in the roadwork then you are foolish. I personally like to climb hills in the highest gear that I can possibly manage….last year I did Springbrook with a 53/11. I can’t stand spinning up a hill at 500 rpms. I’d rather just stand on it and mash the hell out of it but to be able to do that you need to train on hills. You have to climb the steep ones, the long ones, the endless roller coaster….whatever. My brother did 2012 on a fixed gear track bike and never had any problem. Preparation is the key.

#751710

“Bicycle Bill”, April 11, 2014 at 2:37 pm

How old are you, Mulder?  Carrying any excess weight on your carcass?
I started riding seriously over 40 years ago, at the age of 18, in 1972 (no, I was not on the first RAGBRAI).  At that time too I was like most young people — you wanna go fast, you use the big gears.  But riding like this causes excessive and repetitive stress to the ligaments and tendons in the leg — expecially in the knee area — and the rules of human physiology will eventually prevail.  

When you are young you can get away with it for a while.  Depending on your strength and training level, you might even be able to keep riding that way up through your 30s and into your 40s.  But sooner or later there will come a time when your spirit may be willing but your body will rebel.  It starts with soreness in the knees or tendonitis.  You may find you need to take OTC NSAIDs or other anti-inflammatory medications.  In a worst-case scenario, it can affect your ability to even walk off-the-bike without pain or stiffness.

Or to put it another way — you want to carry 100 pounds of something up a ten-foot flight of stairs.  There’s ten steps in the staircase, meaning every step forward moves you one foot up the staircase.  Now wouldn’t it be easier if there were, say, sixteen steps to the top (meaning each step forward lifts you 7.5 inches up the staircase)?  Well, that’s what you’re doing when you gear down for a hill.  It’s going to take a certain amount of effort to get you and your bike to the top; by gearing down you are dividing that effort among more pedal strokes and making each pedal stroke a little less grueling.

So remember — gearing is your friend.  You paid for it when you bought the bike; you might as well use it to its best effect.

-“BB”-

#751711

SteveS, April 11, 2014 at 6:15 pm

jwsknk — Are you saying you would want a 32 in Iowa?

I’m trying to figure out what gearing to bring out there. Here in Marin and CA i typically run 50/34 and a 28 for training. The hills I typically ride on top out at about 23%, but average 7-10% over max about 10 miles. On big events i run a 32, mostly as a bailout gear (as well as some really really long steepies).

I was thinking of only bringing a 28…is that ill advised for my weak 48 year old legs?

#751718

Michrider !!!, April 12, 2014 at 5:34 am

SteveS: jwsknk — Are you saying you would want a 32 in Iowa?
I’m trying to figure out what gearing to bring out there. Here in Marin and CA i typically run 50/34 and a 28 for training. The hills I typically ride on top out at about 23%, but average 7-10% over max about 10 miles. On big events i run a 32, mostly as a bailout gear (as well as some really really long steepies).
I was thinking of only bringing a 28…is that ill advised for my weak 48 year old legs?

This year there will be less climbing than most other year (6,000+ ft less than last year). This is not the year to worry too about climbing. In my opinion, most people will do well with whatever gearing they have. The most climbing happens on Saturday, with over 27% of the week’s total.

#751723

rjjensenia, April 12, 2014 at 6:44 am

I have been riding seriously for a few years longer than BB (mid to late 60s), and no I was not on the original ragbrai either (my first year of many was ragbrai 3 in 1975). I have to agree with his observations. Early in my biking career I tended to use the biggest gears and just mashed away. That is very hard on the knees and will take its toll, if it is continued. Keeping your cadence up, in easier gears is a better way go to, IMHO.

#751724

Steve, April 12, 2014 at 7:41 am

Michrider: This year there will be less climbing than most other year (6,000+ ft less than last year). This is not the year to worry too about climbing. In my opinion, most people will do well with whatever gearing they have. The most climbing happens on Saturday, with over 27% of the week’s total.

There will be a lot less climbing *until the last day*. Most people will do well with whatever gearing they have *until the last day*. Then some of the people you say shouldn’t worry their little heads about gearing, with six days of riding already having worn them down, with deadlines to meet rides or planes out of town, will be unable to that last day quickly enough. Many will be walking hills but may will be cracking like eggs and sitting by the side of the road hoping a SAG wagon will come for them in time. I’d agree, this RAGBRAI is nothing to fear. But everybody should plan, equip, and train, realistically and according to their own abilities. I rode with a guy who was ill-equipped last year and he ended up sagging one day. He still regrets that, and wishes he had been prepared so he could say he did it all. If better gearing makes a difference, even only for one day, go for it.

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Fox Mulder, April 12, 2014 at 10:56 pm

I’ll be 50 in December. I’m just saying that the best preparation for hills is to climb hills on a daily basis. to many people ride only in optimal conditions and then get wiped out on Ragbrai when they have to ride on a day with wind, heat, rain or hills. If I hey up on a Saturday morning and the wind is blowing 40 mph the I still ride. The most important equipment on a bike is the rider.

#751735

Jack in VA, April 14, 2014 at 12:05 pm

…or you could just ride it on a fixed gear – don’t have to worry about those pesky calculations and ratios and things like that. Just sit down and start peddlin’ (and KEEP ON PEDDLIN’). I do swap out the rear gear to a bit larger gear – I run a 48/16 here in the flats of Virginia, and swap out for 18 fixed and freewheel gears for Iowa. Most of the flat days are no problems at all, but there are a few hills I’ve had to get off and walk. Snake Alley and Potters Hill come to mind.

That said – I may end up on the geared bike this summer – still working on getting my leg strength back after last years’ Achilles incident. We’ll see how it feels in July.

#751767

jwsknk, April 14, 2014 at 2:23 pm

the 32 on front was plenty small enough for me in Iowa, Big Sur, Sierra Nevada’s, Big Horn’s, and out east in Pennsylvania the 28 saw really nice to have.

#751769

GetAClue Blue, April 14, 2014 at 2:52 pm

Good luck with that Achilles. I’ll probably just go with what got me thru RAGBRAI 40 and 41 this year. I may look at changing gears for 2015 tho.

#751770

GetAClue Blue, April 14, 2014 at 2:56 pm

The more I ride , the more I’m thinking I may need one of those road bike look alikes that have a little bigger tires with some tread and maybe even fenders for the rain days. I’m not a speedster just enjoy taking in the sites. I do want to be able to negotiate the hills with as little pressure on the knees as possible.

#751772

Paul, April 14, 2014 at 3:12 pm

Hey Getaclueblue,

It sounds like you are describing a Trek 520. They roll nice. Check one out if able.

See you on the ride!

#751773

Michrider !!!, April 14, 2014 at 8:17 pm

Do you want to climb hills on RAGBRAI and have fun? Then, go out and climb hills now. We have 96 days until the ride. Go find some hills and climb over and over and over. Then, do it again!

#751791

kicks9, May 27, 2014 at 3:27 pm

I have a 32 on the back. Yes that is correct a 32 on the back. It is an 11 for the small ring and 32 for the big ring on the cassette. I love it especially for Ragbrai. 50-34 in the front so standard compact, but the 32 on the back is just for spinning all day up the hill, sometimes only at 1mph but it works.
http://www.trekbikes.com/us/en/bikes/2012/archive/trek/madone_3_1_apex_h2_compact/#/us/en/archive-model/details?url=us/en/bikes/2012/archive/trek/madone_3_1_apex_h2_compact

So I think it is a mixture of the front and back gearing. I dont know how to do all that math, but the 32 on the back is pretty easy to go up a hill.

#753024

Jack in VA, May 27, 2014 at 7:29 pm

THis will be my 4th trip across the state on a fixed gear bike (48 x 18)

“Gears! We Don’t Need no STINKIN’ GEARS”

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