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  Climbing and Descending

Climbing Basics

The most important thing to learn about climbing is the same thing you must learn for 100-mile must manage your effort. Your body is capable of working in several exercise "zones". Your goal is to learn, develop, and train in your endurance zone where you will use your cardio-vascular system to support your exercise load and where you will not go into the short burst of power zones that are associated with sudden, intense efforts*.

So, how do I know when I am going too hard?
The easiest way I know to manage your effort is to keep your effort at a level where you can talk easily or with only a little effort. You should not be breathing so hard that talking is very difficult or impossible. For most people this is a lower cardio-vascular effort than they are accustomed to during challenging parts of a ride. Practice it and get used to it; it is your essential key to developing and maintaining the kind of endurance you will need to complete your century. You should also climb any hill in a manner that will allow you to climb that hill even if it were twice as long. Remember, there is seldom such a thing as a one-climb ride and climbs often disappear around turns only to surprise you later. Your pace should carry you beyond the not try to beat a climb, work with it and enjoy it. The smart rider can climb all day.

To help you manage your effort and climb with efficiency, choose the right gear. Shift early and often when entering a climb or where a climb turns steeper. Use your gears to allow you to maintain the cadence (the speed your pedals are rotating) that you maintain on the flats. Don't worry if you run out of gears, on steeper climbs this will happen and your cadence will slow, the important thing is to minimize this. Remember that a relatively high cadence (80-90 RPM) will help you round out your pedal stroke, take advantage of the momentum through the pedal stroke, and allow your muscles to work all day long. There should be no silly pride that leads you to try to climb in a bigger gear, if you need a challenge, try a longer climb. Smart riders = strong riders.

You may find that it is more comfortable to vary your riding positions during a long ride or climb. You should not be climbing in the drops (deepest part of your handlebars on a road bike) but may move your hand among the brake hoods, the corners of the top bend in the bar, or the tops of the bars. A more upright riding position will allow your chest to remain more open and your lungs to open more easily. It also can help align your powerful muscles in your lower back and buttocks. Whatever position you choose, keep your eyes up! You should always be looking ahead for road hazards, changes in the climb's pitch, other riders/traffic, and to improve your balance and awareness.

Finally, it is very important that you ride safely when passing or being passed by other riders. If you are passing another rider, don't crowd them...make sure the lane is clear of cars or obstacles, announce your intention ("passing on your left"), and ride on by. You may re-enter your original line once you are safely and comfortably past the other rider. Use the bike lane and only enough road for you to pass, always remain in a safe position on the road. If another rider is passing you simply hold your line and your pace and allow them to pass...and stay smart! This is a very easy time to leave your plan and training behind and push harder. Don't be tempted. If you are a smart rider and continue to manage your effort, you will most likely pass the offending rider again later anyway...IF you have stayed within yourself all day. So, let them "blow up" if they want to but don't be caught chasing them. If the other rider is strong enough to pass you and stay ahead, you weren't going to stay with them anyway. Let them go and focus on your day. Centuries are events, not races, to be completed by smart, fit riders.

*Your body's capability to work in this zone is extremely limited because it must turn to burning glycogen which converts quickly but for which you have limited stores. If you try to climb in this zone, you will not have the energy to finish your century.

Descending Basics

You're climb is over and now comes the reward...the descent! A couple of simple things will help you descend safely and with confidence.

First, this is the time to move your hands to the drop position of your handlebars (if you are very comfortable braking, you may also use the hoods when descending at slower speeds). If you are riding a mountain bike or hybrid, keep you hand in the normal position where you can most effectively reach the brakes.

When braking, learn to use both of your brakes well. Your front brake produces over 70% of your braking power so get comfortable with it. Then develop a light touch on your brakes, apply the power you need to, when you need to. If you move your weight back by sliding back in your saddle, you can use your front brake with power, control, and safety. Use the rear brake for additional power and to add some finesse. As always, look ahead! When descending, your speed is much faster so you must look much further ahead to detect and respond to conditions.

When turning on a descent, always brake before you enter a turn. This will provide several advantages. You will have the control to enter the turn well, and the bike will handle better. When you brake in a turn, the bike will tend to straighten up and track straight, affecting you turn. If you brake before the turn, you can cut a smooth arc through the turn. If you get in trouble in a turn and need emergency braking let the bike go straight and apply your brakes at maximum effort without inducing a skid. Once you have your speed back under control, resume your turn without the brakes.

Your outside pedal should always be down when going through any turn. This will provide clearance on the inside of the bike and, if you weight the outside pedal slightly, will improve the bike's stability and handling through the turn. Practice this on every turn so it becomes second nature to you. Ex. Right pedal down in a left hand turn. Look ahead and around the turn. You want to continue to look where you want to go at all times. You should not be looking at the road, your wheel, or your brake levers/hands. Keep your weight back as you did on a straight descent, and HAVE FUN!

Finally, when passing on a descent, your speed is much higher and so is the wind noise. You should announce your intentions loudly and give the slower rider plenty of room. Never pass unless you know that you are not being overtaken by a car, truck, or another rider! If you are being passed, it is very important that you continue to ride the line you have established ("Hold your line") and allow the other rider to pass you. You should also alert the passing rider to any hazards that you may see near to you as the passing rider may not have seen them yet. You don't want a passing rider to crash in front of you, so help them out.

That's the basics! Have fun climbing and descending and be safe.

Delivered to the TNT Solvang Team at Pinole Valley High School
Roger Rintala (

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