Awesome job!!! Congratulations on powering through the pain and making the summit. Great write-up too. I can relate to the parts about being short of your goal and having to grapple with those “convenient opportunities” to call it quits. I ran into one this weekend on a long Coker ride, but unlike you I took the easy way out.
One technical note; I don’t think your issue is cadence, or at least, it’s not wheel size. A 29" unicycle is more or less equivalent to a bike in a “29 gear-inch” gear, which is quite low for a road bike. Most road bikes don’t even have a gear that low. The problem is that you’re not able to spin it fast enough. Partly that is conditioning, and partly it may be crank length; the KH29 probably ships with either 150mm or 125mm cranks, both of which are much shorter than typical bike cranks. I would probably ride 150mm cranks on a climb like that, but as you get up towards 10% grades, 170mm might even be appropriate.
The Mount Diablo Challenge, which is a similar race out here, has a unicycle prize category, and the fastest guys are on Cokers and 29ers. I’ve known a couple of guys who did it on 24" unicycles, but they’ve always been quite slow. Mount Diablo is not quite as steep as your ride on average, but it includes pitches of up to 14% grade.
Way to go Steveyo! I know what it feels like when you’re doing a climb and fighting for survival rather than being able to push yourself for sake of going faster.
A lot of climbing well is technique. How well can you minimize wasted energy. How well can you keep the pedals going in a circle rather than big surges of power on the down stroke with big let ups when the pedals are vertical. How to be smooth. Once you get the technique the climbing will be easier and you’ll be able to go faster with the same amount of energy.
Congratulations! A long steep climb is an accomplishment.
I’ve got two big local road climbs on my todo list. They’re not a race. Just big climbs that I want to be able to say I’ve done. Time to get training for them.
I don’t really get this. All the cyclists who passed me. and even those going approximately the same speed were pedaling MUCH faster than I was. Many of the racers were running gear ratios much lower than 1:1, i.e. less than a wheel rev per full pedal circle.
I really wonder what size wheel was used setting the 1991 Mt. Washington record of 2:18. I’d bet it was 24" or less.
If you look at Dura-Ace, Shimano’s top-end road components, the 10 speed rear cluster is available with a 12-21 tooth “corn cob” (favored by racers), and the largest rear cog on the largest cluster is a 27. The 9 speed tops out at a 25 tooth cog. The Dura-Ace double crank is available only in 53/39, and the Ultegra triple is 52/39/30.
So, the lowest gear you can get with decent Shimano road components (which is what almost all the road bikes you’ll see are using) is 30 teeth front, 27 teeth rear, which on a typical road tire is a little above 29 gear-inches. And that’s only the bikes with triples; the doubles are pushing a gear around equivalent to a Coker, or even higher.
You can get a bike with a lower than 1:1 gear ratio if you use mountain bike components. There are some road bikes which do this, mostly touring bikes and tandems, but the typical bikes you’ll see on the road have 105, Ultegra, or Dura Ace components, and I don’t think there is a gear lower than 1:1 available with those combinations.
I’m sure you’re right that the bikes that pass you are spinning faster than you, but that’s because they’re passing you! You should be able to push your setup at a comparable cadence, given sufficient training, practice, and sufficiently long cranks.
My anecdotal evidence is that I passed a number of bikes on the 14% section of Mount Diablo (right at the end of the climb); that was on a 29er with 150mm cranks. And I wasn’t one of the fastest unicyclists.
I’m sure you know what you’re talking about with the bike gear. All I know is I saw lots of high-end, superlight road bikes, maybe designed just for hillclimbs, with a 22 or 24 on the front and 28 in the back.
Several times I rode with someone at their same speed, and noticed them pedaling much faster. Those folks must be some with those lower geared setups.
My cranks are 150s. Do you think more training would allow me to double my cadence?
I rode Mt. Diablo once, on a 29er with 140mm cranks. Those cranks were a little too short. Diablo is a little less steep than your ride, at about 3300’ in about 10 miles. A few parts are even flat, and that 14% bit is only at the very top (ouch).
My experience on that ride was that wheel size = speed. I was bringing up the rear with Mscalisi, who was on a Coker. The speed we were going was basically about as slow as we could pedal without becoming too unstable. Maybe 40-50 rpm or so. Any slower and you start slowing down on each pedal stroke, and/or falling off a lot. So that was like the minimum speed we could maintain for long stretches, which was the maximum our conditioning allowed us to go.
The Coker was faster. Mike would move faster than me. Then we switched cycles to see how the other would feel. The Coker was still faster.
My conclusion based on that is that if the steepness of the road exceeds your ability to ride above your own personal minimum speed, use the biggest wheel available (with long cranks! 170 or longer on a Coker). If your training allows you to go faster than that, only then should you consider something smaller. But I think I’d stick with at least the 29er. Maybe use longer cranks, and obviously train on similar rides.
Thanks for that great, inspiring story! Come on out and ride Mt. Diablo with us some time. The race is in October, but sometimes groups go there for “training” rides. My ride up last may was surely one of the hardest rides I’ve done, because it was followed by a ride back down. The downhill was what made me sore, and my 140mm cranks, with no brakes, were much too short for the dirt trails we took!
The lack of any letup on the Whiteface is a harsh mistress. I understand Mt Wash is even worse.
Also, I’m a bit of a flailer yet, (<1 yr riding), and so wasted plenty of energy with my unquiet upper body.
Yep, I was limited, by my conditioning, to barely above my minimum speed.
I’ll be attempting the Mt. Equinox ride on 8/6, which is 3200’ vertical in only 5 miles, making for 12% average grade. Since I barely mashed up Whiteface, with its 8% grade, by my reasoning, and I think your logic here agrees, that I should go for a smaller wheel or longer cranks on Equinox, as I wouldn’t be able to stay upright at any slower speed on my 29er as it is now.
Since I own a 24", and not longer cranks, that’ll be my option.
I really wish I knew what unicycle was used in setting the current Mt Wash record of 2:18.
Of course if you want to get up the hill fastest . . .
use a car.
My guess is that Kris Holm could have beaten you on a 20" and Gizmoduck could have beaten you on a 36".
From reading your original writeup, perhaps a smaller wheel WOULD have helped you. Perhaps it could have taken the stress off of your legs and put it in your heart. Maybe it would have allowed you to mount more easily and fall less on steep sections. Go ahead and try the smaller wheel - post your results. What may be the better wheel for others may not be for you. Even if a large wheel IS better - you can still choose to compete on (a 29" rather than a bike, a 24" rather than a 29", a 20" rather than a 24").
It’s not the size of the wheel in the heart,
it’s the size of the heart in the wheel.
The fastest guy on Diablo rode the whole thing on a Coker in 1:14. My fastest bike time up that hill is 1:13, and I’m a pretty strong bicyclist (though not a pure hill climber). His secret? He rode the whole thing every week all summer long.
I bet if you go back next week you’d do even better.
There are two aspects to the benefits of training; physical (musculature and cardiovascular improvements) and technical. You’ve noted a few times that you have been riding less than a year, and it’s quite remarkable that you managed to do a big ride like this as your first major exploit. But if you keep working on hill climbing and road riding, you’ll find that your body becomes better suited to it, and you use energy more efficiently. You’ll probably come back next year, do it in 1:45 and say “man, that was a lot easier than last year.”
Bill Rogers used to say about running that he was glad he could run a marathon in a little over 2 hours, because he didn’t think he could run for four hours straight.
In any case, congratulations again; there’s nothing better than accomplishing a significant goal for the first time.
Thanks again, and of course you’re quite right about the training and such.
My cardio is pretty solid from >20 yrs of competitive ultimate, and a lot of biking, running, hiking, etc. My leg muscles overall are strong from all that, too, but my exact uni pedaling muscles, and more specifically, uphill uni pedaling muscles probably need work.
My technical abilities, however, are far more lacking, and probably why this ride was so hard for me. Of course, it was a truly hard climb any way you slice it, but any wasted motion, i.e. flailing like a turbocharged windmill, just made it that much harder.
This may be another reason for me to try a smaller wheel, though, as it’s more controllable, and more cardio, less leg muscle.