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With the current stem and bars I have on my bike I have quite an upright position and get a falling back feeling while climbing. When I stand in the pedals to gain an extra bit of power in a climb I often end up spinning my back wheel and losing momentum. I'd like to have a more solid feeling when climbing so that I can exert more effort.

What can I do to improve my position so that my climbing improves?

The set up is standard on my Specialized Hardrock (I believe it is a 75mm stem with a 20 rise and a 680mm bar with 35mm rise and 8 backsweep). I tried some back of a fag packet trigonometry and guessing that my hand position (not taking into account the angle of the headtube) is currently about 23mm in front of the steerer and about 61mm above it.

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3 Answers

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I assume you have worked out the problem is your center of gravity is too far back, so there is not enough weight on the front wheel. This is a common problem, and I have found my new bike is worse than any other I have ridden- I went for a smallish frame for tight technical single track. I am still playing around to see what I can do.

I assume you have tried leading forward and getting you weight further forward.... On the track, try to slide forward to the front of the seat. Change down to a lower gear and higher cadence, you generate a smoother action and have more control over the torque lifting the front wheel.

Ultimate solution is usually a larger frame - more precisely, a longer wheelbase. Assuming you are not able to change you bike there are a couple of things you can do at no or low cost.

Slide you seat forward on the rails - this moves your weight forward, but shortens the cockpit. Get a longer seat, which gives you options of riding positions. Forward for hill climb, back for a a bigger cockpit and better fit.

Try a longer stem - 75mm is quite short and you should be able to go out to about 120mm. What I suggest is try several sizes and see if you can find a fit that works - talk to your LBS, they may be prepared to let you try on and swap it if it does not work. It's such a trivial job I have seen it done on the trail. Remember to play with seats rails as well.

Handlebar height. If you have packers on the steerer, lower the height of the bars by putting the packers on the top or the stem, and see how that feels.

As said, all these things are aimed at moving weight forward. Some will change the way you sit and ride, and the best position will need to be a compromise between uphill climbs and other riding. Often, by the time it is steep enough to be a problem, you are quicker to get off the bike.

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Thanks Matt helpful as ever. I have been planning on replacing stem and bars to move COG forward. I'll try moving the seat forward and lowering the stem by rearranging the packers in the mean time and hopefully this will make some difference. New bike out of the question in the forseeable future! –  DWGKNZ Jan 9 '13 at 23:57
    
Just to add to what @mattnz says a couple of years back I got a brilliant second-hand bike, but which didn't quite fit. Basically for the price the guy wanted the spec was awesome so I didn't want to let the opportunity pass. But just changing the stem (length) worked wonders in terms of my overall ride comfort - it is amazing the difference an inch can make. –  PeteH Jan 10 '13 at 16:45
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If you aren't riding clipless pedals, invest in them and a pair of shoes. It will be the single biggest improvement you'll ever make in how ride if you're riding XC- not only in terms of climbing but in terms of your whole riding experience.

Now, if you've already got that covered, before you go changing everything on your bike and possibly the bike itself, you need to work on positioning and technique. Here's three key things to work on to improve your climbing:

  1. Stay seated! Move your butt way forward so that you're basically sitting on the nose of the saddle. It's not at all comfortable but it moves your center of gravity forward which does two things- it helps keep your front wheel on the ground and helps your rear wheel keep traction.
    Don't slam your saddle forward because you're having trouble climbing. You don't want to compromise your normal riding position so that you're always ready to climb- the rest of your riding will suffer. Of the reasons for adjusting saddle position for XC riding, center of gravity is not one of them.

  2. Shift down a gear or two so that your cadence is higher than normal, but without being awkwardly high. Try to spin relatively smoothly up the hill. Once again, this aids in keeping traction with the rear wheel. Too high a gear and you'll stall, too low a gear and you'll find yourself losing your line.

  3. Drop your forearms to be parallel with the ground and pull back and down through your power stroke. This keeps your center of gravity lower and further forward while helping the rear wheel hold traction at the point when it's most likely to spin out. Don't be too forceful with this motion or else you'll just knock yourself off course on your ascent. This was probably the most useful piece of advice I was ever given to improve my climbing.

Again, practice these techniques before you go and make your bike all squirrely. Technique beats equipment any day. If you're truly concerned about your fit and positioning on the bike, find an LBS with someone trained on bike fit to help you.

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The problem is that you are standing up an your climb. That in turn is causing your center of gravity to change.

When you stand up to pedal going up hill your using your weight to help turn the cranks. Unless your a rather large guy this is a rather in efficient way to move energy into the bicycle. When you are engaged to the saddle you can use your thighs to move the energy instead of your calves.

The most important & likely most simple solution is to make sure the bicycle is as properly adjusted to you as can be. Assuming the frame is not too mismatched (that would be outside the scope of this answer).

If everything is adjusted right, I would recommend two things. One for the bicycle & one for you.

For the bicycle: Invest in some cages for your pedals, even cheap 10 speed cages are better then none, but I say if your going to bother go strap-less. The comfort & control are aces. The largest overall advantage being that you can pull up on the crank on the upstroke & even out your cadence.

For you: You may thing that your legs are strong from standing all day or running or other type of work out (if they are good for your!) but I find what really helps with energy transfer on a grade is as simple as doing low heal raises when ever your standing around. the little bit of added strength is really great for controlling the angle of your foot on the petal to really be able to follow through with your stroke from for hip, through your thigh, through your ankle, and out the ball of your foot & into the pedal.

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"In efficient"? took me a couple tries to read that correctly. Why is this different for larger riders than smaller riders? –  JFA Jan 26 at 19:48
    
@JFA Large riders have more weight. When they are standing on the drive they can either let there weight turn the cranks or use there upper body to pull the bicycle towards them, effectively your motive power is coming from gravity & your upper body. Smaller riders don't weigh as much so they don't have as much for gravity to grab on too 0o. When you are sitting on the saddle your hips back against the saddle & your legs are the source of the motive power on the drive. –  Don Graziano Feb 4 at 19:44
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