I’ve discovered since moving to Ogden that I like to climb. I didn’t always. I grew up in Indiana and spent much of my adult life in places as flat as a pancake. When we came back to the Rockies, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew I’d have to go vertical or go home. Given that, the choice was easy.
Nowadays I climb a lot …over 250,000 feet year to date. Last week when I rode the Tour of the Moon in Colorado, I climbed almost 4,000 feet and discovered that I’m pretty good at it. Here’s what I look like when I have my climb in. If you haven’t tried this, you should. It’s a whole lot of fun.
So in spite of the fact that my approach has been mostly trial and error and there’s absolutely no science behind this at all, I thought I’d share what works for me. I call them the 5 Cs of climbing:
Channel Your Inner Cannibal
Eddy Merckx was the greatest cyclist of all time and when Eddy talks, serious cyclists listen. The Cannibal was fond of telling people to ride up grades instead of buying upgrades. Even so, local bike shops love him. Go figure. Maybe it’s because he also said to ride lots and if you ride lots you’re going to buy a lot of bikes. Works for me. If you want to be a good climber, climb lots. Ride up grades lots. Yes, it hurts at first but you can scream “Shut Up Legs” like Jens Voight and motorists will give you a little extra room because they’ll think you’re crazy. As with a lot of things, it eventually hurts less.
You’re probably not going to climb anywhere near as fast as you’re going to travel on the flats and if you do I want to speak with you. For the rest of us, we should focus on how fast our legs are turning instead of how fast we’re going. This is called cadence, and if you do it right it should be roughly the same as if you were on flat land. For some reason, lots of people freak out when they see a hill. They gear down and pedal furiously or they don’t gear down enough and then it’s too much work. When you focus on cadence instead of speed, it will feel right. You’ll be capable of climbing great distances without tiring.
Back in the day, I had this tendency to want to put the hammer down whenever I saw a hill coming up. If this is you, try to resist this urge. You end up tiring out pretty quickly…usually with a lot more hill to go. Instead, focus on staying under control. When you do, you’ll find that it’s easier to reach the crest now matter how far above you it may be. Once you’ve mastered climbing and know what you’re capable of, then you can put the hammer down if that’s what you want to do.
I know it’s sacrilege, but if you’re primarily a mountain biker, grab some lycra and clipless pedals and hit the road. If you’re a roadie, dress down and reach for the platforms. Cross over to the dark side and ride with the enemy. Here’s why. Mountain bikers climb short but outrageously steep grades. Roadies tend to climb easier grades but they go on forever. You need to master both if you want to be King or Queen of the Mountains.
Talk to yourself and be sure you’re saying nice things. The fact that you’re on a bike makes you special. The fact that you’re on a bike and riding uphill makes you a beast. A little happy talk is in order. Try it. It will make you a better climber.
Regardless of what you’ve been taught up until now, everyone looks better in polka dots. I never thought I could be a climber but now I am. You can be one, too. I want that for you. There’s no greater feeling in the world than finishing a long climb with your legs burning, looking back and muttering under your breath…Me One…Hill Zero.