People often ask me why I’m such a good climber and what they can do to improve their climbing. Okay, actually they don’t ask me that. In fact, no one has ever asked me how to climb better, except one time. This is probably because I am a terrible climber.
We were out doing Wanky Super Power Loops (that’s a totally real and uber legit Strava segment, by the way) and this individual, whose internal organs were trying to become external, gaspingly asked me to slow down. “Slow down!” the person said unhappily.
“If I go any slower I will tip over,” I said friendlily.
“I think I’m going to die!” the person said deathily.
“You’re doing great!” I encouraged the person lyingly.
“This sucks!” the person said angrily.
“I’m sorry,” I said regretfully with a touch of fakingly.
We got to the “top” of Via la Selva and the person stopped and got off the person’s bike. “How can I climb better?” the person asked despairingly.
I observed numerous qualities about the person that indicated a complete lack of commitment to the cause. The person, after a cursory inquiry, did not appear to ride often, had not abandoned the person’s family, had not quit the person’s job, or taken any steps indicating a willingness to completely commit to the goal of Climb Like A Pro Or At Least A Profamateur.
So I offered up this tidbit, and said stonily, “If you want to climb better you need to climb more.” That person never spoke to me again, proving the old coaching adage (which is similar to the old prostitution adage, as the two are so closely related, “Don’t ever give it away for free.”)
Since I only have a few minutes before I have to begin Ch. 37 of Adventures in Shaving, I thought I would compile a quick list of ways to climb better. My lone subscriber Waldo has indicated that repeated lists will lead him to cancel his subscription, so this is the last list I will ever write. Of course you’ll never climb like a pro, or even like a bad amateur, but these tips will help you go faster uphill.
- Purchase all carbon super light everything that is made of pure carbon and is 100% carbon. Cf. Strava Jr.
- Lose more weight. Repeat.
- Ride hills. Repeat. But don’t do “repeats.” Those are stupid and will only make you angry. However, they sound cool to a select subgroup of idiots in the following context: “I did hill repeats yesterday.” To everyone else they sound like a bloody assassination of your finite, infinitely precious minutes on earth.
- Drop back on the climb. When you are approaching a climb that you’re sure to get shelled on, which is basically all of them, start the climb at or near the very front of the group. Rather than flailing hopelessly to keep from getting passed, drift back towards the rear as people go by. Then, once you reach the tail of the group, put in your effort to hang on. This will get you over the hump using less energy, and if you have to go all out to hang on, it will minimize the time you are going 100%. I’ve tried this a lot in hilly road races and it never works.
- Do intervals. This contradicts #3 above but don’t worry. Coaching advice is filled with contradictory imperatives that are impossible to follow.
- Ride with climbers. One reason you suck balls on hills is because you never ride with good climbers. You will learn more riding ten minutes with Wikstrom, Strava Jr., Roadchamp, or any of the other hill waifs than you will riding years with the donut-tummy pals on your local sausage fest. For example, I rode with Roadchamp last week and learned that if you want to go really fast uphill you need to make the bike go faster than everyone else and not eat for six months.
- Climb on the drops. Drop climbing allows you to use your arms, shoulders, and back to supplement the incredibly awesome power generated by your heroic legs. Drop climbing also gives you acceleration uphill when trying to catch attacks or pretend you aren’t being hideously dropped. If you have a power meter, which I don’t, drop climbing will confirm that more expensive equipment makes you feel more profamateur, which is always a good thing.
- Mix up your climbing distances. You know the normal hill intervals you do two times every time you ride, that 300-foot stretch of pavement at .002% called your “driveway”? Well, mix it up. Do some longer. Some shorter. Some steeper. Some undulating. Variety is the spice of life and climbing is life.
- Go down a cog. Cruddy climbers look for comfortable gearing. This is why we have 32-tooth rear cogs, and even bigger ones that look like you’re hauling around a Frisbee on your back hub. If you’re comfortable on a hill you’re not going fast, ever, unless of course you’re going downhill. Climbing means pain and the quickest path to misery is to go down a cog. Bigger gears go faster than little ones. Yes, there’s always a point at which the gearing bogs down your cadence so that it looks like you’re pedaling in freshly poured cement, but for the most part you are a ballsuck climber because you refuse to go down a gear. Here’s a simple flow chart: Does it hurt? No? Go down a gear. Yes? Keep pedaling.
- Do at least one ego-reducing hilly group ride each week. No matter how much you’re improving, it’s important to remember, as the old Billy Joel song said, “It’s just a fantasy. It’s not the real thing.” By the way, this is a really funny video of some horrible looking, pudgy 1980’s dude prank calling a woman from his motel room while a voyeur with a beard watches him. And yes, I owned that album.
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