5 Surprising Tricks of Cycling’s Best Climbers


No matter your fitness level, climbing on a bike can be a struggle—but by mastering a few strategic riding tactics and mental tricks, you can push past your crew and set the pace uphill.

We rounded up a few of the top elite Canadian climbers—Ben Perry, Canada’s current criterium national champ; Robert Gutgesell, a Canadian elite road racer; and Peter Glassford, a mountain biker and coach who holds the Canadian Leadville record—to share a few lesser-known tricks to climbing success. Next group ride, you’ve got this.

Up, down, up, down.
Staying in one position for a climb could wreck your chance at success. Breakaways in big races often feature one guy standing and racing for all he’s worth, but to make it up a long climb, most of us mortals will climb mostly in a seated position. So many people think that once you stand, it’s because a) you’re at the final push, or b) you just can’t pedal seated anymore. But even when the going is good, a good climber will change position and stand up for a few pedal strokes to give muscle groups a break, release tension, and get some blood flow back in that butt!

Keep your upper body relaxed.
It’s instinctive to tighten up when we climb—especially when the climb seems to go on, and on, and on—but the less effort you put into tensing your arms, the more energy you have left for your legs. If your shoulders start to hunch, try relaxing your grip on the bar and dropping your shoulders to release tension in your upper back. That will help you take those deeper breaths that get you up a hill.

Don’t freak out (too much) about your cycling weight.
Everyone knows that the lighter you are, the faster you go up hills. But the truly strong climbers know that it’s not just about the scale, and that sacrificing energy and power for the sake of dropping half a pound simply isn’t worth it. It’s a difficult balance that all cyclists deal with, but climbers especially have to find that razor’s edge where they’re lean enough to climb fast, but aren’t starving themselves to get there. Riding with the tank low isn’t going to get you up a hill faster, no matter how many pounds you’ve dropped. If you want to lose weight to get faster, do it slowly and carefully—don’t try to do it all at once right before that hill climb you’ve been planning.

Spin it out.
Most ultra-fast climbers avoid grinding, especially early in a climb. When it’s possible, a good climber is spinning at around 80 rpm—whatever you normally do on the flats. It might feel weird to shift down so drastically, especially if you’re on a steep hill that starts pretty abruptly, but if you can keep your pedaling cadence constant, you’ll be a more efficient climber. Bottom line: If you can avoid your cadence dropping, avoid it. Only start that grind when you’re out of gears… and if you live in a really hilly area, no one will judge you if you swap in a compact road crankset. (You might even beat some of your fast buddies up the hill next time!)

While an extra pound of muscle is going to help you make your way up the hill, the unusable bits of that massive breakfast you had are just weighing you down. That’s one of the reasons the line at the port-a-potty is so long pre-race, especially when it’s a hilly course. Riders are all try to use the bathroom and get that extra weight out before it matters.

Going for a KOM? In addition to stopping at a bathroom at the base of the climb, consider emptying your bottles (leaving a few sips so you don’t dehydrate)—assuming you can refill when you hit the top of the climb. Getting rid of that extra water weight might give you the edge you need to snag the crown.

Garmin Vector 2 Review from Bike Radar

The Vector was the world’s first power meter pedal but it wasn’t perfect. For the revised version Garmin has added lots more analysis and changed the pods, which proved very robust.

Transferring between bikes isn’t as quick as with PowerTap’s P1s, but still takes only a few minutes. As well as having to mount the pods, you also need to torque the pedals correctly to 40Nm. That’s higher than normal and you can’t afford to get it wrong, as the Vectors will read incorrectly if not tightened to spec. Each pod takes a CR2032 battery.

The Vector 2 requires an ‘installation ride’ to teach the pods the precise angle they are set to in relation to the crank. This only takes about 30 seconds, then your computer asks you to confirm crank length and do a manual zero offset calibration.

The Vector 2 is also available in a single-sided Vector 2S as a more affordable entry point that can then be upgraded to a dual-sided system. You can also upgrade your original Vector pods to V2.

The new Cycling Dynamics features are interesting. Using a Garmin Edge 1000 you can see live displays of your left/right power, stroke efficiency (Power Phase) and seated/standing splits. Some of this is a bit gimmicky and only there because it’s possible, but the Power Phase feature is useful, especially if you’re a newer rider working to develop a smooth spin.

The Vector 2 performed well for lots of rides but also gave us a fair bit of grief. It’s sensitive to temperature and it also over-read sprint efforts of over 900W by as much as 30% compared to two other meters when it had tracked alongside them for the rest of the ride.

Then the left pedal started reading low, before cutting out completely. Swapping the batteries and pods didn’t fix it. Garmin said it was a ‘firmware issue’ but replaced the whole set with new ones. It should also be said that Garmin’s warranty backup is very good, and for the rest of our testing the second set performed without any problems, so maybe Garmin is ironing out some bugs.


Stevens sets new hour record mark

Evelyn Stevens rode 47.980km in a near perfect hour under the dome in Colorado Springs to topple Bridie O’Donnell’s current women’s world hour record by over a kilometer.

The two-time U.S. national time trial champion missed the all-time mark set by Jeannie Longo in 1996, who used “superman” position, by less than 200 meters, but now holds the official UCI hour record.

“It’s a huge honor to have this record, I thank Molly [Shaffer Van Houweling] and Bridie [O’Donnell] for doing it first,” Stevens said. “It takes a lot of guts to get out there, as I realized when you get closer.”

Stevens sat just under 25 seconds per lap of the 333-meter velodrome for the duration. A grimace crept onto her face in the final 15, as she tried to raise the pace past Longo’s mark. The capacity crowd began to pound on the infield boards as her shoulder’s rolled forward and a slight weave began to creep into her line through the corners. She raised the pace past Longo briefly, but fell back in the final minutes.

“For the first 45 minutes in I was just in the zone, saying ‘pedal, push, pedal, push,’ not thinking. With 15 minutes to go the plan was to try to squeeze, which I was able to do for a couple laps,” she said. “You don’t know your limit until you hit your limit. I think I found it today.

Stevens pacing was close to perfect, according to her coach, Neal Henderson.

“She was on the upper limit of what we knew she could do early on, not over paced,” Henderson said. “It was right that range of what knew she could do. She kept that until 45 [minutes], I asked her for a bit more. She did lift, and had a little difficulty. She was riding some very fast laps toward the end there.

“She started with a full cup of energy, and she was pouring the last drops out in the last laps.”

“I didn’t feel any acute pain, I felt just an overall fatigue, just trying to squeeze everything I physically had,” Stevens said. “I think a lot of the hour is staying present. That’s the hardest part for the first 45 minutes. Then the last 15 minutes was just trying to stay calm and push with everything I had.”


Increase your FTP quickly


Sweet spot training is a great way to increase your power at threshold, so if you want to improve your time trial performance or hang with the fast group ride, sweet sport training is worth doing.

The term ‘sweet spot’ refers to an intensity of training that is hard enough to elicit substantial physiological benefit but not so hard as to be unsustainable. It lies at around 90 percent of threshold power. Functional threshold power, or FTP, is typically defined as the highest output you can sustain for an hour.

If you don’t have a power meter (see why power measurement is important), this roughly equates to 95 percent of your threshold heart rate. Note that your functional threshold heart rate is not your maximum heart rate; as with FTP power, your FTP heart rate is the highest that you could hold for an hour time trial.

Training at this sweet spot is more sustainable than threshold work and less time consuming than endurance training, so cyclists can repeat it frequently and see real improvements.

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Power vs heart rate

Power meters are ubiquitous now at the pro level. By measuring wattage, riders and coaches can quantify not only their real-time output, but the training load for every interval, race, training week and more. Does this mean that training with a heart-rate monitor is outdated and less accurate? Well, that depends who you ask. We talked to several experts, from physiologists to to WorldTour team managers to elite coaches.

Q: Will a power meter improve my riding?

A: Used correctly, in most cases, the answer is yes. They can eliminate guesswork in your training, help you train more specifically and help track your performance over time. But a power meter is a tool, not a magic bullet.

In a perfect world, an investment in a nice power meter would make you go faster instantly. But unlike the latest state-of-the-art aero bike or lightweight carbon hoops, a power meter only offers only the potential for speed.

“It’s easy to expect too much and it’s something we see relatively often,” says Elliot Lipski, physiologist and cycling coach at trainSharp. “At the end of the day, the only way to get better is to put in hard work. It’s up to the rider to produce the power themselves – unless, of course, you have a motor in the bike!”

Q: Are power meters essential to success in cycling in 2015?

A: It depends on who you ask. Among elite cyclists, those not using power meters are few and far between. However, they have both the access to the expensive devices through teams or sponsorships and, crucially, the coaching expertise necessary to analyse the data.

But as an aspirational amateur, do you need one? If you’re a racing cyclist, the answer is yes, according to Lipski. In training they can benefit everyone, he says, while in racing it’s more discipline-specific: vital in time trials, where success and failure depends on following pacing strategies; less so in a road race, where going with attacks might be necessary regardless of whether ‘computer says no’.

For coach Ben Wilson of Personal Best Cycling Services, power meters are a “valuable addition to an amateur cyclists’ toolkit”, but are by no means essential. “It’s easy to get caught up in technology but for most of my clients cycling is a hobby and, as such, should be fun,” he says. “There is no substitute for getting out on the road and riding a bike.”

Q: I have a heart rate monitor. Will that still help me?

A: There’s a popular belief that heart rate training is ‘old school’ and power training is ‘new school’. Lipski, for example, says that those using heart rate as opposed to power – assuming it’s not a financial decision – are likely to have an “old school mentality”, while coach Nick Thomas refers to heart rate as “dated training.”

In Hunter Allen and Andrew Coggan’s book ‘Training and Racing with a Power Meter’, they go as far to say that going off heart rate alone could easily “mislead you about your performance or even undermine your confidence”.

Since heart rate is influenced by so many other factors, such as hydration, stress and lack of sleep, they argue that sometimes you’re better off simply using perceived exertion, or “feel”.

But that old school tag is unfair, according to Dr Iñigo San Millán, an exercise physiology professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, who has tested riders on the Cannondale-Garmin pro team for the past six years. While an advocate of power meters, he says that without heart rate data to complement power data you’re not getting a true picture of the physiological cost of your training: “[A power meter] is a great tool, but I think people are going to the extreme by saying heart rate is old school. It’s not at all. You still see in sports like track and field, running and rowing athletes still training with heart rate in a very scientific manner. With heart rate you’re actually using a physiological parameter. Watts are the end product of the physiological and metabolic events [in the body].”


Group ride etiquette


A new year is underway and so is a new season of bike racing. For most of us, racing is still a ways away, but group rides are already heating up.

For some of us, that can present a problem. Group rides mean different things to different riders. Seasoned racers will be getting in base miles with an eye toward fitness for the first races, which may still be a few months away. Other riders see group rides as a race, and to ‘win’ the group ride is the goal, no matter the month. With these differing motivations, the group behavior can be a bit schizophrenic; this can be dangerous and leave a horrible impression especially with the non-cycling public.

What kind of group rider are you?

Back when I was racing, we would often start the preseason in the warmth of California, and riding with locals who were already in form and ready to race presented a few immediate challenges, which both had to do with self-control. The first was having the discipline not to go into full race mode — after all, I had to be at peak form in July, not January. The second challenge is what I write about now, the individual’s contribution to an unruly group ride.

Those early season group rides in winter sun quickly turned into races that completely ignored all rules of the road, and even if you were simply following wheels near the back, you would be part of group that was behaving like an unruly mob, having taken over the road. When motorists complained, they would be ignored or worse yet, flipped off.

Now that cycling is mainstream, group rides can be found everywhere in the country, and while a commendable number of these are law-abiding and controlled in their behavior, others continue to be a problem. Within the group, Seasoned riders may try to maintain some safe decorum, but with so many newbies with expensive bikes, athletic backgrounds, and egos to feed, the rides can be chaotic.

It is easy to see how cyclists literally get swept up into contributing to behavior that is abhorrent and out of character. Add to the mix self-interest and egos that need to be stroked, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Those who join a ride that ignores the rules of the road and violates the right-of-way of people in motor vehicles, on foot, or even also on a bike, should realize that they are contributing to a malady that can have permutations that extend well beyond short-sighted ambitions like making the front group, ‘beating’ a higher category rider, or ‘winning’ the group ride. These negative externalities include souring the public to our presence on the road, leading to retaliatory behavior, exposure to legal liability, and even legal assaults on our very right to the road.

This behavior creates an enormous pubic-relations problem for us with the general public and with their legislative representatives. We have a constitutional right to the road, as I established in my book “Bicycling & the Law.” However, that doesn’t stop various legislatures from passing anti-cycling laws, and the more egregious our behavior, the more legislators will hear from their constituents. And of course, being roadies, we are the most immediately identifiable of the various cycling tribes.

There is something about riding in a group that creates a dangerous dynamic. Instead of being one rider responsible for your own choices, you are but a single member of a group, and the ‘group’ has its own identity. While you may never choose to illegally sprint through a red light on your own, when you are in a group you are following a wheel, holding your position, maintaining the gap you worked so hard to establish. Typically, the riders making the critical decisions are those at the head of the group. Therefore the pace and style of the ride can be determined by whoever is feeling frisky, except in controlled group rides, which are becoming more common.

But what can you do as a single cyclist? If you drop off the ride will it change anything?

The combination of adrenaline, and operating a bicycle at speed while at maximum effort can lead to bad decisions, and this is without considering the effect of the group on the individual. Waiting until you are caught up in the mix is not the best time to consider who you are as a rider and your role in group scofflaw riding.

Instead, be like the pros who don’t allow themselves to get sucked into an ego-driven pre-season “race” on a training ride, and ask yourself some questions now, as the new season begins. Do you want to go with the pack even when it is breaking the law, endangering other road users, alienating the public and giving our sport and mode of transport a bad name? And if you answer in the negative, what can and should you do? Drop off the ride? Talk to the offenders? Attempt to curb the group’s behavior? These are all questions best asked when you are closer to base heart rate and not when at threshold. That’s when you can best think about what kind of group rider you are, and what kind you want to be.

Remember, while you personally may be able to avoid being ticketed for your part of a group ride that violates traffic laws (this isn’t always the case), individual riders on group rides that have injured pedestrians, other cyclists or caused a motor vehicles to lose control have personally been sued. Because the injured party in these actions can rarely specify who caused their injuries they will name, in their suit, any riders they can identify from the group. Under a different theory of law lawsuits in these cases will also seek to attach legal liability to clubs, shops and even racing teams that are, in some way, affiliated with the group ride. Not exactly the best way to attract and keep sponsorship for our sport.

To the extent you participate in out-of-control group rides you are a part of the problem and you unwittingly give ammunition to anti-cycling legislation and injure our public perception.

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The smartest upgrades for your road bike Read from Velo News

Ask a Mechanic: The smartest upgrades for your road bike


Trick the Trainer

If you were asked to visualize the perfect ride, you probably wouldn’t describe squirming atop a stationary trainer, trapped indoors and fighting off trainer boredom on a winter day. The perfect ride would take place outside, perhaps under the warm spring sun and out in the fresh air. But it would also involve feeling fit and going fast, which is why many of us put up with the miserable stationary trainer in the first place.

If you’re serious about cycling but are sometimes forced indoors by bad weather or darkness, riding the trainer is a necessary compromise. And, yes, it is a compromise—training to be the best cyclist possible means cultivating skills like bike handling and preserving momentum on varied terrain, not just the strength to pedal hard in a static environment.


5 Great Tires

This rubber is ready to meet any road.

Specialized S-Works Turbo 26mm
Fast race tire in an unusual width This minimalist tire is light and lively and offers great feedback—giving the rider plenty of time to pull back when approaching the limits of grip. Flat protection is admirable, too: Ours picked up a few stray pieces of metal, but no debris got through the belt. The trade-off: Don’t expect great mileage.
Price: $65

Continental Grand Prix 4-Season 28mm
Tough, all-season tire with a cushioned ride Two layers of puncture protection and sidewall reinforcement give this tire a cushioned, if somewhat sluggish, ride. But it’s really all about durability. One of our testers could find absolutely no visible damage to the tires even after taking them on long sections of rocky and unpaved roads.
Price: $75

VeloFlex Corsa 25
Simple, light, smooth, traditional This Italian clincher is handmade in the “open tubular” style, with a cotton casing, thin tread, and minimal flat protection. The result: a supersupple ride with excellent response. The trade-off: They don’t last long. Ours showed wear after 650 miles. Best bet: Treat yourself to this tire for a summer of riding on smooth roads.
Price: $70

Bontrager R3 TLR 25c
Tubeless tire that feels as good as a clincher We’ve been waiting for a tubeless tire that’s light, lively, and has great road feel. This one hits the mark by having a thinner casing, a compromise that means it’s not quite airtight and can’t be used without sealant—which almost all riders who use tubeless tires rely on anyway to automatically seal small punctures and cuts.
Price: $74

Challenge Triathlon 23
High-quality ride for low-quality roads Thicker tread rubber, a polyester casing, and belts with double puncture protection increase this tire’s rolling resistance and make it feel stiffer. But these details also mean you’ll flat less often and get more miles out of it than most. Despite the extra material, the feedback from the road’s surface is pleasant.
Price: $74


For the love of cycling, Ten Dam sets out for California

In recent years, there has been an increasing tendency for footballers from Europe’s top leagues to cross the Atlantic and seek one final, hefty pay day in Major League Soccer, but Laurens ten Dam can only smile when asked to compare his relocation to the United States in 2016 with those of Messrs. Pirlo, Gerrard et al.

Given that his original intention was to race simply on the perennially cash-strapped domestic circuit in the US, after all, financial considerations scarcely entered the equation as Ten Dam set about planning his American adventure.

“For the love of cycling, I wanted to get back to basics. Standing next to a car in my naked ass changing my bibs instead of being on a fancy bus doesn’t matter to me, you know, so that’s why I was ready to race for Jelly Belly or Bissell,” Ten Dam told Cyclingnews at the Giant-Alpecin presentation in Berlin last week.

Not that the love of a more rustic form of cycling was the primary reason for Ten Dam’s decision. When he reached Paris in a state of exhaustion at the end of last year’s Tour de France, the Dutchman counted backwards 100 days and realised that he had spent a total of ten nights at home with his wife and young family in that period. At 35 years of age and 13 years into his professional career, Ten Dam felt that something had to give. A training crash ten days after the Tour convinced him.

“After the Tour, man, I was done with Europe, because I wanted to balance my family life, and I decided I wanted to go to the US,” Ten Dam explained. “It was what I wanted ten years ago, and I’ve done everything in cycling that I wanted, and I wanted to just go and ride for a domestic team – and that’s certainly not for the money because a domestic team doesn’t pay much.”

Ten Dam’s agent Joao Correia was, rather understandably, reluctant for Ten Dam to slip quietly away from the European scene when a steady stream of WorldTour teams were still interested in paying a more competitive salary for his services, and he persuaded the Dutchman to give him time to broker a compromise solution.

“I phoned my manager and he said ‘Whoah, whoah, whoah – maybe you can combine,’” Ten Dam said. “Several teams didn’t take the bait, they probably thought that I had checked out a little bit, like you said about footballers going to Major League Soccer.”

LottoNL-Jumbo, where Ten Dam had raced since 2008, was ultimately prepared to accede to his desire to base himself across the Atlantic, but he ultimately opted for Giant-Alpecin, having raced with the squad at its humble beginnings as Shimano-Memory Corp back in 2005.

“I thought I was changing things anyway so I might as well change completely and I decided to come here,” Ten Dam said of the switch to Giant-Alpecin. “The first point I had in the negotiations was ‘I want to move to America’ because I didn’t want to talk bullshit with them, I wanted to be honest. So then we talked about the programme, and I knew we would have to decide early about when I was going to be in the US and when I was going to be in Europe to race.

“In the end, it’s all worked out nicely for me and the team. We’ll have to see at the end of the year in September if it’s been good or not. For now it’s ok and I’m looking forward to the year.”