Want to be able to stand on the pedals selectively but I'm a terrible klutz!
Anonymous 10/25/2012 at 11:47pm #
Hi all, just started bike commuting from squirrel hill to downtown, literally, a week ago. It’s been a fun week and I found somewhat to my surprise that I could handle the climb back through the park, up the Greenfield Avenue sidewalk, up the Bates street sidewalk. But slowly… really, really slowly. I know I will get faster with time, but there was something in particular I wanted to ask about.
You see, as I get to the hill tops I crest the top super slow and what’s really galling is that can’t seem to get out of the granny gear for a little while from weariness and inertia. Would like engage some different muscles, finish stronger and accelerate back to a reasonable pace faster by standing on the pedals. And maybe this is a case of correlation not causation, but it seems that it’s only after the slow as molasses acceleration, when I start to resume more normal speed, that the burn really dissipates. So I’m hoping by cresting faster and being in a different position to pick up speed more easily not only can I go faster, but I can get my legs moving normally again more quickly and reduce the length of the burn.
Here’s the thing, I’m a ridiculous klutz with a poor sense of balance. I barely even learned to ride at all as a kid.
When I try to get my seat more than just a bit the pedal goes down too fast. I find myself with a death grip on the handlebars, a spiking heart rate, only the most fleeting speed gain and precisely zero confidence that I can repeat the maneuver with the other leg without falling over.
But when I try to up-shift when I’m already going kinda slow up a hill to lesson the problem of loosing my footing and balance, I find I don’t generally catch the gear without a little slip and the same spiking heart rate, lack of comfort in the position, and lack of rhythm means that I don’t last more than a few strokes before needing to sit my fat behind back in the saddle, substantially weaker for the experiment.
Maybe I just keep up the latter experiment until I stink at less and adrenaline surges go away, but if there are some techniques I can apply so I can stop stinking quicker, would be much appreciated.
if you’re slipping the gear when climbing, try shifting before the hill.
i’m one that likes to power thru a climb rather than granny gear it fast, but i’ve been riding a long time. it’s also a lot of upper body muscles with that, and you are essentially countering each pedal stroke with the opposite handlebar. one thing you’ll be surprised in how quickly your body adjusts and strengthens, so stick with it!
Anonymous 10/26/2012 at 3:24am #
Shifting before the hill isn’t really an option for me for these length climbs unless I want to exhaust myself very, very near the bottom. Would you suggest I do that anyway, or try in a different part of my commute first?
For instance, I could take this as an impetus to go the most direct route into downtown (instead of taking Bates down to the jail trail, continue to Craft and cut over to Fifth).
While overwhelmingly downhill there are couple spots on that route which are only very gentle rises, but are also places I know I need to get vastly more speed than I have now.
With better speed through those spots I it’s my fastest way in by a good bit, and I do enjoy the breeze going down fifth (especially when I don’t have to check it for a red light by the Birmingham Bridge).
I just debate, as a klutz and currently a slowpoke too, whether this is really something I ought to be doing. It is in the very early morning with minimal traffic and I have good lights and a day-glo yellow reflective vest (which I put on my backpack since that’s what shows anyways).
So, sorry for the overlong meandering response but more suggestions on peddling training on the route to/from downtown from squirrel hill and a sanity check on what I’m doing is appreciated.
Yes, shift before you start grinding. If it means shifting further downhill, then shift anyway.
I take Liberty up from Downtown everyday, at first I tried powering as far as I could get with just momentum. Now I’ve given that up. I downshift right at the bottom of the hill and take it pretty easy. Lets me enjoy the day more.
It is hard to shift going up a hill, it takes practice and you do need to ease up on the pedals a bit. When you say upshift you mean changing to a harder (faster) gear, right? I think there’s some confusion about that. I usually upshift 2 or 3 cogs when I stand up, it is definitely easier to pedal more slowly when standing, to a point.
But, overall I’m with joe, if I can stay in my seat I generally do – I save standing up for the really steep hills. I also think you’re looking for the wrong answer – if you’ve only been riding a week, then just keep riding and in a month or two it won’t be as much of an issue. That is going to matter a whole lot more than standing vs sitting. Also, having to recover at the top of a hill is 100% normal and I think as most people become stronger riders you use that strength to go faster up the hill, so you end up just as winded either way… but you will have the option to go slower and hold some energy in reserve.
Let me ask this, how comfortable are you standing up when riding on the level? If you are simultaneously trying to adapt to riding standing up, going uphill, and shifting up or down, in traffic, you’re just asking your body to adapt to too many things all at once.
When you have some free time, find an empty parking lot and just spend some time fiddling around like a kid would. Shift to your lowest gear and see how slow you can go and keep control, try it sitting and standing, do slow figure 8’s, try standing and stretching while coasting. Try coasting to a complete stop, and start up again right before you fall over. Just play around. A little bit of that and you’ll start to feel more comfortable quickly.
I’m very mobile on the bike, I stand up, sit down, turn half around to look at traffic, it’s just a matter of relaxation.
Anonymous 10/26/2012 at 12:49pm #
Not very comfortable standing up riding on the level. More comfortable than trying to do it uphill, but not peddling on a reasonable cadence. It’s more of a push with one foot, coast with feet level, push with the other foot, coast, sort of riding.
I still find I myself with the death grip… I think you’re very right that I need to relax. When I have some time, you’re joking right? I’ll try a little of that stuff (minus the figure 8s on the tail home today though).
On the whole question of whether to stand and mash or sit and spin, I think it’s maybe whatever makes you comfortable and fits your personality??
It feels to me like short hills and the top of hills are a the places I want to stand and mash for best possible speed… otherwise, probably not so much… I don’t see myself getting to a fitness level where I stand and mash my way up hundreds of feet… at least not any time soon. I do know that this is the only chance that I get to exercise (3 kids, youngest is 1), so I at least OUGHT to try and push my boundaries.
There are better ways to get from the jail trail to squirrel hill= try panther hollow and either cross the tracks by the lake and ride up the trail, or take boundary to cut through CMU and end up next to Flagstaff hill.
Anonymous 10/26/2012 at 1:25pm #
I know it’s been mentioned, but I think it’s worth repeating: don’t apply a lot of force to the pedals while shifting. Use you low (easy) gear to get a little momentum, then lay off and barely push the pedals while the chain is shifting. Once it’s solidly in the next gear, mash on the thing!
Also, I didn’t notice what sort of bike you are riding but some bike styles are more awkward for standing.
Keep riding, keep practicing. Your balance will get better and it will start to feel more natural.
yeah, def try to find a gear that you can sit down in for most of the climb. save the standing for the short quick bursts
+1 on sitting. When I climb, I shift before I start uphill. I spin for a little bit, but then gravity kicks in, and I’m in the right gear. As you crest the top, try making smaller incremental shifts. One gear at a time, and as you start downhill, you should be able to shift more easily.
Anonymous 10/26/2012 at 2:15pm #
I ride a Trek 700 hybrid. I’m very happy with it overall. I think the standing issues are really all me. Will keep in mind about the gear grinding… I’m cheap and would hate to have to replace components quickly.
Helen, I have done the by the lake route and it has its pluses (scenery), but it’s less direct, has some other minuses from my perspective and I don’t prefer to make it my daily ride. Going all the way up on Boundary street I’m sure is by far the most gradual way to do the climb, but it’s really indirect for me. I’m on the far western side of squirrel hill on Beacon street so I’d taking two legs instead of the hypotenuse, overshooting North, winding my way back to forbes, and then probably overshooting east because Wightman is a far better bet than Murdoch. Maybe I’ll give it a go, but I don’t foresee making that my daily ride either.
Anonymous 10/26/2012 at 2:51pm #
“(Training) doesn’t get easier; you just get faster”
Stick with it, do more as you are feeling comfortable. It will come in time.
There is also the staircase. When you go up Boundary and get to Joncaire, go up the 150-step staircase near that corner. It will place you near the Frick Fine Arts building, an easy ride to Forbes.
Climbing steps uses a different set of muscles from pedaling up a hill, and gets the hill out of the way much faster.
Worth considering, anyway.
Hi! I’m the resident granny gear advocate.
I bike most everywhere, don’t own a car. I’m old and I’ve never been athletic, but I’m active and generally fit.
I have a low enough low gear that I never need to stand. I occasionally do stand. But for sure I go up moderate streets like Boundary, Greenfield and Bates without standing. A few times a week, I’ll do a steep hill as well.
I looked at the Trek 700 on the interweebs.
Do you have the 7 speed? The lowest gear on that (42F 34R) is not very low. I believe that even the people here who like to mash would like a lower gear on a commuter.
I personally wouldn’t ride that (Although there are a lot of people here that would be OK with it.) If I didn’t have money to get a bike that handled hills better than that, I’d go to Free Ride to either change some stuff on the bike or trade it in for another bike.
You might want to consider a smaller chain ring (gear in front).
For reference, the setup that seems most common on inexpensive 3 chainring bikes (21 speeds and 24 speeds) has the lowest gear of 28F 32B. That’s about 24 gear-inches, where yours is 33 gear inches. Basically that means, two gears lower than your lowest.
In the bike I ride , I could downshift three times from your lowest gear – and I DO. Every day.
If a Trek 700 with those gears was all I had? I’d walk up Bates. I get plenty of exercise doing that. If I do it quickly, I’m definitely breathing hard.
There is not any sense at all in killing your knees out of some glorified idea of “fitness.” You probably want to be able to walk when you have grandkids and mashing now won’t help with that.
Anonymous 10/26/2012 at 8:06pm #
I don’t know if what I have there is original or not. Craigslist bike. My motor is pretty limited now, so I should really more about my transmission.
I do know that the true granny gear I have such a low forward speed even at a good cadence that I wind up doing S curves. That’s also partially the klutziness coming in, I’m just saying I’m not sure I want a lower gear.
I’m in the saddle at the moment anyway, but as for the knees, I guess I don’t understand why that seems to be an issue in what should be, on smooth terrain, a zero impact sport, no?? Someone clue me in on this.
Thanks for the pointer to Free Ride by the way, I’ll have to go there and check it out.
Byogman – You could count the teeth on the chainring for youself and figure it out.
If it is a stock Trek 700 (and I imagine it is) and you have trouble in teh granny gear, then maybe somethign else is involved.
Sometime, for example I see beginners with seats that are way low for their leg length. This wrecks you motor – no power, hard to get up to a good cadence, harder to balance the bike.
For a beginner, I think a good cadence is anything upwards of 65 revolutions per minute (unless you are, say cruising along the flats at 6 mph.)
Google will likely get you an OK guide to seat height. Top notch bikers fuss and argue about the details, but if you are, say, 6 inches too low, even the roughest guide will help immeasureably.
I can barely touch tiptoes to the ground on both sides. At least up until your ankle is really stretched with the balls of your feet barely touching ground.
High force at a low cadence will do bad things to your knees. I can’t really answer as to the biomechanics of it, but plenty here will attest to the truth of this. Some from personal experience.
I suspect this is far more if your seat is too low.
The natural cadence when walking is about 50 to 60 per minute (with two steps being one “revolution”). Since walking is what your legs evolved to do, this *IS* your natural cadence
Biking cadence is much faster than that and it’s hard – and counterintuitive – for beginner to get that.
Nice discussion. Some comments:
1) Going in from Squirrel hill / Beacon to downtown before rush hour: () -> Schenley Drive -> Fifth (in Oakland); only one trivial hill after the Birmingham Bridge.
2) Coming Home: Jail Trail -> Junction Trail -> CMU maintenance road (just pass the rail crossing) -> Frew -> Schenley Drive to home (by way of Darlington and Wightman). Jonquaire if you’re in a good mood, or Yarrow if you want to minimize sidewalk.
3) Standing up is for kids. Experienced riders know how to use their gears (previous comments give good advice). Despite being a masters-aged rider I sometimes find myself passing standing bikers, all the while riding comfortably on my seat.
It’s not a race; it’s a commute. And you don’t need to ride like Lance Pharmstrong. If you’ve ever been in a pack of roadies you’d notice that everyone downshifts before a hill, and slows down. There’s a reason.
Anonymous 10/28/2012 at 12:17am #
Thanks all, I’m impatient and I have time for no other exercise in my life now, so I am going to go for speed (or at least my version thereof) as it serves both goals.
Not sure whether that includes stand and mash at the top of hills or up short hills I want to keep speed on. I feel like I’ll only know until I give it a serious shot though.
If someone does have something to say about the bio-mechanics here I am curious. Pet theory at that lower cadence on stand and mash=lower pedal velocity=higher force required on the pedals required to deliver same power=more muscle strength=bad if not compensated for on opposing muscles??
Thanks for all the route suggestions and much more. Ahlir, I’ll give #2 a try here at some point.
Anonymous 10/28/2012 at 12:35am #
Will also check seat height, though I think its about on the tip toe standard. Will also check my gearing ratios so I’m informed.
One thing I neglected to mention, I did accidentally pop a wheelie once going up Bates on a hard push while otherwise sitting normally (or at least that’s the way it felt until the front wheel lifted).
So, that’s also part of my interest in getting out of the saddle. Not to do it again, but rather, to be able to lean as far forward as necessary so as NOT do it again no matter how steep a hill I try or how hard I push to get up it.
For saddle height, I have my leg *nearly straight while seated with the pedal in the down stroke and without shoes. Then, when I put shoes on my leg is slightly more bent and that seems about right. I ignore the “standover height” of the frame and just try to get the distance between seat and pedals right. Some day I will pay for a professional bike fitting….for now this formula seems to work for me.
I strongly disagree about standing being for kids. It’s been many decades since I was a kid.
bogeyman (sic), I think your instincts about standing to get over a small rise without shifting, or cresting a hill strongly, are spot on, and well worth working on. I thought about this during my ride yesterday. Going up Steuby Pike I transitioned from sitting to standing several times, exactly as you said, to engage different muscles, also to help blood flow, stretch the joints and ligaments, alter the center of gravity, all kinds of things. I couldn’t possibly sit with my ass like it was bolted to the seat for any length of time. I grew up riding in Ohio where you can sometimes ride without shifting for 30 miles, if you don’t do some on-bike yoga every so often, bad things happen.
On downhills I get my butt slightly off the seat so I can lift and float over potholes and cracks without swerving, also in traffic it’s ridiculously important to be able to lift over grates and expansion joints without changing your line. So keep working on it.
To transition when climbing, from sitting, right at the moment you want to stand, you have to allow the bike to slow for a moment and with your forward foot feel for feedback from the pedal so you don’t spin out like you described, when you feel the resistance, put your weight on that foot and roll up off the seat. Don’t worry about shifting up and down until you can do all that smoothly, find a comfortable pedaling speed by letting the speed of the bike vary.
edit; Also, I don’t if this is an option for you, but borrowing someones single speed for a day and riding around would have you up to speed in no time. Single speeds are excellent for riding skillz.
Anonymous 10/28/2012 at 2:49pm #
As a fellow klutz, I want to offer one bit of caution about the convergence of standing in the saddle and shifting. Last spring I was riding my new bike on the trail past Riverfront Park on the South Side–the combination of a roadier bike and beautiful weather had me flying along. I stood up to fly up a tiny little rise on the trail and my gear slipped (new bike=cables stretching, I guess).
This had the effect of pitching me forward over the handlebars at speed as my left pedal smashed into the pavement (innate klutziness + a bike with a more horizontal riding position than I had been using previously).
Possibly because I grew up training horses (a few of whom tried to buck me off on occasion), I managed to reorient and get my feet on the ground, at which point I ended up “hopping” forward three or four times with the momentum, with my bike seat smashing into my back and my pedals smashing into my calves each time. It cost me for a tune up and replacement pedals, and I was pretty bruised up on top of that, but it could have been much worse. The guys sitting at a picnic table at the park were pretty entertained by the whole thing, once they saw that I was okay.
Anyway, it’s something to be aware of, especially if you’re trying to compensate for the wheelie. You’re going up a hill, not just a little rise on the trail, so it’s probably much less likely to happen in your case–but I shudder to think how that could play out in traffic, so I wanted to mention it.
YMMV, but I think sprinting on the level is very similar to climbing hills – you need to figure out how to change gears and expend increased pedal force without spinning out or bogging down. So one way to get better on hills is to practice sprinting for short distances on a level trail where you don’t have to worry about cars and balance and such. You can practice this while commuting, just make sure that the trail is mostly empty and straight so you don’t become a hazard to other trail users. I think this also helps to train your legs to continue working even when your brain is telling them to “stop that”.
Anonymous 10/29/2012 at 12:57am #
edmonds59, thanks for the suggestion to resist the urge to apply force until slowing down a bit. I haven’t tried that intentionally, but did indirectly validate that strategy just by starting off in to high a gear, and discovering that it felt natural, very briefly, not to get back into the saddle at all.
I then reverted… hands tightened, everything felt wrong again, descended to saddle, downshifted, slipped the gear, sputter, and then peddled off much more slowly. Yeah, whoops. But for a moment there.
Joanne, thanks for the warning. I don’t have the new bike problem, but I could have any number of old bike problems, and as alluded to, don’t do the right things to have clean shifts. Will try to minimize the number of things happening at once for a while.
Marko, my top gear is still reasonably ok peddling in the saddle on the level and very near level and so standing feels like overkill and the (not fast at all) pedal movement still feels a little too fast for my terrible balance.
That said, I think your strategy can work in the short term in terms of deliberately coasting to slow down and re-accelerating and maybe I can build from there.
Thanks all for all the advice, this is great stuff.
I don’t want to launch this thread onto a crazy tangent, but I’m just curious whether you guys have any particular tips for upper-body and core strengthening as it relates to standing/climbing (and other aspects of bike handling). I know this is a big weak point for me and is probably part of why I’m a slow climber and reluctant to stand for any length of time (and probably part of why my shoulders bother me on long rides, too). “Ride more” is the obvious answer and is always my plan, but I suspect some other cross-training would bring improvement faster. Halp? Where do I start?
@pearmask: Bicycling Magazine has off bike exercises once in awhile. Here is a link to some of their articles on core strength. http://www.bicycling.com/training-nutrition/training-fitness
Yeah, HV, I’m sure that’s part of it. I’ve been working on that, but I start to have a hard time maintaining it when I get tired, unsurprisingly. It’s gotten better with more riding, but I think it would get better faster if I targeted the relevant muscles with some kind of strength training.
Strengthening the muscles is the best way to go, but sometimes jsut putting the handlebars a little higher can help with similar problems.
Oddly enough, I did the opposite (just by one spacer) recently under Matt Tinkey’s suggestion, and I put on a slightly longer stem as well, and it’s more comfortable that way. But then again I had essentially zero bar-to-saddle drop to begin with, and I still have very little. I don’t think it’s a bike fit thing at this point, especially since I’m luxuriously comfortable for any distance I could possibly have to ride for transportation. The shoulder issues only really start to show up somewhere past the 50-mile mark. And the other upper-body weakness shows up any time I try to get out of the saddle for any length of time (so normally I just stick to the Mick Method for climbing — tiny gear ratio, lots of spinning — but sometimes after x miles or y vertical feet I just need to be able to change my body position for a bit, much like what byogman was saying)
@sew, thanks for that link. I’ll have to dig through their website and see what I can find. It looks like there’s some good stuff there. One of these days I may just give in and look into doing some kind of structured thing if I can afford it (Pilates? CrossFit? IDK), but for now, anything that can show me stuff that I can do at home with little equipment is awesome
Anonymous 10/29/2012 at 9:00pm #
1st a route suggestion :
Greenfield ave (about 100yards) -> Sylvan -> Bigelow ST -> Hazelwood Ave
This reduces traffic you will have to deal with while climbing — a lot —
2nd – I haven’t read every single post, I skimmed them, but I didn’t see anyone reference the use of toeclips/clipless pedals.
THIS should help with your apparent nervousness of standing.
You can get a set of plastic toe clips from Kraynick’s for $6-$8. If you don’t want to use the straps – that’s OK – you can cut (or not) the strap portion of the clip away, this leaves a ‘mini clip’.
The mini clip, or full toe clip, helps you to retain your feet on the pedal. Mini clips, keep your feet from slipping forward, and full clips keep your feet on entirely.
Since you are commuting, I am not talking about clipless pedals and shoes for 2 reasons
1 – $$$ new pedals, additional shoes ($100+)
2 – commuting, using clipless pedals/shoes would require bringing an extra pair of shoes to work in.
As for gearing, you can as has been suggested reduce your gearing to make climbing easier, BUT, being that this is Pittsburgh, you will ALWAYS find a hill that is steeper
As for standing, standing **is** a good way to give one group of muscles a break while also engaging different ones. There is nothing wrong with standing, just get used to it
Anonymous 10/29/2012 at 11:39pm #
Been_there_done_that, Hazelwood avenue isn’t really all that close to home… to the point that I’m not sure what route you’re suggesting from there. I reduce the traffic that I have to deal with while climbing by riding on the sidewalk.
A little lame, but I face bad sidewalk mostly on the steep parts where that’s not really what’s slowing me down and smoother sidewalk on the shallower climbs, so that works ok-ish too especially since I’m still generally a little tired from the prior climbing.
I’ve thought about toe clips a little because I’m impatient and want to look at ways to go faster. I appreciate the pointer to how to get them on the cheap.
However, knowing me, I would have a number of falls before I got used to them. I did have a couple forward slips on the peddles when I started, but then switched to riding in my newer sneakers with better tread and it hasn’t really been a problem.
I still will probably try them at some point… on a longer trail ride. I’m thinking this spring when they finish the final section of the great allegheny passage.
Anonymous 10/29/2012 at 11:50pm #
@pearmask I highly recommend http://www.amazon.com/Core-Performance-Revolutionary-Workout-Transform/dp/1594861684/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1351554453&sr=1-3&keywords=core+strength — most of Bicycling Magazine advices are from this book.
Anonymous 10/30/2012 at 12:32am #
@pearmask “The shoulder issues only really start to show up somewhere past the 50-mile mark. “
You need to stretch your shoulders every so often, If you ride with PMTCC watch Matt, he does it on a regular basis.
Anonymous 10/30/2012 at 12:59am #
you mentioned, or at least I thought you mentioned, that you used Greenfield ave., hence the route suggestion.
If you take that route you end up on Hazlewood ave near the cemetery, if you were climbing all of Greenfield, these 2 points are not far apart.
You could put the mini clips on and start with an improved riding experience almost immediately.
Anonymous 10/30/2012 at 1:14am #
Been_there_done_that, sorry I wasn’t clear. I was talking about Greenfield Avenue up from the passage, but I wasn’t talking about going the whole way along Greenfield Avenue… only to the point near the Greenfield bridge, where I cut over into Schenley Park.
I will try the mini clips at some point, again, thanks for the recommendation on where to get started on the cheap.
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