I have been improving my ability to ride my Coker uphill and have been given some tips by some world-class riders (Scot, Nathan, Mike). I’d like to know if any of you have some proven techniques that you would share with us?
For example, I would like to know of you other “uphill Coker riders”…
(a) Where do you put your hands during uphill descents? Right in front of the saddle?
(b) Is it best to try to keep both hands on the saddle and “pull” into the hill?
what I do is go really, really fast before and into the hill, and then you start going up and you can use the momentum/inertia to help carry you up it. keep pedalling smoothly, and it’ll be easy. if the hill is too long though, then eventually the momentum will start to decrease and you’ll slow down. make sure you hold the saddle with one hand, and hold the other out in front to keep your weight far forward. and try to keep pedaling smoooothly, very consistently. that’s very important.
Lean forward. Deeply. The steeper the hill the more you have to lean into it. The rest comes by itself; in order to keep yourself from falling on your nose you have to pedal like mad. If you get to an even steeper section lean forward even more. You will be up in no time. I keep one hand on the front handle and the other pointing ahead of me so I can fine tune the leaning angle.
Mark, it’s great to hear you’re cranking up the hills these days. We have been concentrating on climbing WAY more than distance as training for the Alps Tour. Just this evening when I got home from work, Beau and I went out for a 5.75mile ride that climbed over 800’ with grades up to 19%. With 125mm cranks, there were a couple of sections that neither of us could continuously crank. With a couple of dismounts, we rode every foot though. We plan to do the same little ride tomorrow night with 152mm cranks.
Anyway, here are my answers to your questions:
a) My left hand is firmly on my handle, cranking as little as possible, but one very steep climbs, it’s cranking hard. My right hand is out for balance (trying not to flail).
b) I get enough pull from just one hand and get extra balance having the other out. This is especially true on long steep hills where I am reduced to a slow speed. You need some kind of ergonomic handle for this to work well.
c) I guess the best time to get out of the saddle is when you want to. On long rides if I’m feeling sore I’ll stand up on almost any little hill just to get some blood flowing without stopping. But on a hill that gets steeper and steeper, I’ll come out of the saddle when my speed drops below some speed - I think that speed varies depending on several things like how strong I’m feeling at the time. In short it’s hard to say.
d) On a long but consistent steep climb (say 15% to 18%), there are two speeds for me. The higher one is where I am still spinning the cranks but slowly. The speed is 4-5mph. The slower one is when I’m tired, say climbing the last bit of Mt Diablo: 1/4 mile of 18% grade after 3300’ of climbing in 10.6 miles. In that case, I am going 1/2 turn at a time, always concentrating on getting one more half turn of the pedals. I think the speed here is about walking speed, 3mph. I’ve been improving to where I have to go into this mode later and not as often. It’s really more like Muni than normal road riding.
Crank length is really important if you’re climbing long steep hills. I am looking forward to tomorrow’s experiment to see how much easier it is.
The big thing when climbing is to make sure that you don’t lose your pedaling momentum in the dead spot when the cranks are vertical. That’s where you loose energy and make extra work for yourself.
Try to get through the dead spot as smoothly as possible and without letting the wheel slow down. This is easier to do when you’re sitting on the saddle and spinning. This is harder to do when standing on the pedals.
Concentrate on pointing the toes down at the bottom of the pedal stroke. And pull your foot back like you’re scraping mud off the sole of your shoe. The combination will help you get through the dead spot as smoothly as possible.
When standing up out of the saddle it becomes harder to get through the dead spot smoothly. You have to dance on the pedals to make it happen. Point the toes down, pull the foot back, and give a little bounce at the bottom of the pedal stroke (that bounce is the dance). Don’t forget to lift your foot on the backstroke instead of just letting the other foot push your leg around.
It takes practice. Once you get the motions down the climbing will become easier.
When dancing, it’s also important to hum a little tune to help you keep time. My favorite–which seems appropriate to the activity–is the Ray Bolger version of “If I Only Had a Brain”.
Nathan’s reply on “when to stand up” gave me a small revelation. I’ve been climbing more lately, and would have answered that same question with "when you need to, i.e. your body will know when it’s required to keep from falling. I’ve been trying to go steeper and longer before getting to that “need” point, but it hadn’t occured to me to use “voluntary” standing as a way to get some blood flow back w/o taking a break. It’s a good idea.
One thing I’ve been practicing is to reduce my dependence on pulling on the handle. I keep my right hand on the handle on any climb, but as much as possible I’m trying now to use it more for guidance purposes and to increase my feeling of connection to the unicycle, versus pulling on it because I need the leverage. I find I have to lean a little further forward to compensate for not pulling so hard, but the ROI for my energy level is substantial. I was finding that I was pulling so hard during my climbs that it was draining all my energy, and leaving my right arm and shoulder sore the next day. Not good.
The final recommend is just keep climbing. Other than the above reco on trying to reduce dependency on pulling, I’ve found the best teacher for my climbing technique (and distance riding technique overall) is simply more miles and more hills.