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I’ve just done a 1500km ultra cycling event, the lowest gear setup are front 30t back 40t. Along the journey there are many very long climbs that have more than 10% gradient. To conserve power I always push the bike on 10%++ gradients. I can stand to ride the hill but it will hurt my leg and chest. Now there many participant who DNF’d because they over pushed, and hurt they leg chest etc. I am very lucky to finish without any problem at all. Of course for next year I want to be faster on the climbs (since I was pushing on climbs this year)

The question is: Is better to train more on climb or just increase/lower gearing?

I am not athelete, just regular desk worker. My only training time was on weekends, and commuting.

Since I can hacking my bike, and put 52t on back. Weight won’t be a problem, since I have to bring touring kit too.

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    On or off road, and what sort of surface? That's already low for road gearing, but perhaps a bit high for mountain bikes
    – Chris H
    Aug 27, 2023 at 7:21
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    Road, asphalt mostly. Most the hill are 10% gradient, maybe 60% in 1500km are hills. The rest of it are flat with crazy headwind
    – Heykal
    Aug 27, 2023 at 8:44
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    I think it's mainly that ultra distance is really hard. That's longer than what I've done, but perhaps comparable. I'll try to formulate an answer. Something else has occurred to me - how long did the 1500km take?
    – Chris H
    Aug 27, 2023 at 9:18
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    1500km take about 7 days. Start on Sunday finish on Saturday
    – Heykal
    Aug 27, 2023 at 10:09
  • I'd guess that you'll need to train for pacing/endurance rather than power, but its not anything I can do an answer on.
    – Criggie
    Aug 27, 2023 at 10:59

5 Answers 5

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On road, gears much less than 1:1 aren't really quicker than walking anyway. 4.8km/h is a realistic walking pace pushing a bike uphill. With 30:40 you'll ride this at a low - but not unreasonable grinding up a hill - cadence of about 50rpm. There even comes a point when balance is the limiting factor.

It may be that your comfortable cadence is rather high; then you would benefit from lower gearing than me (I'm happiest at around 80rpm, which is rather low). A higher cadence in the same gear means more power, so if you're at your upper power limit and your lower cadence limit, a lower gera would help . I think you've already got that with 30:40.

Some points of comparison

While I haven't done a 1500km ride, I've done 750-800km in 3 days a couple of times, with a light touring load. The bike I used for that has a lowest gear of 30:32, and the one I've used more recently for a hilly 600km in 2 days has 30:30. My friends who have just got back from Paris-Brest-Paris (1200km in 90 hours) have similar gearing, down to 30:34 in the lowest case I know of - and a few were on fixed gears.

I struggle with my back if I pull up on the bars too much, but find standing unreasonably tiring, so do sometimes walk the steepest bits (>15-20%), particularly if there's a lot of climbing to come the next day. You sound like standing to climb has even more of an effect on you than on me. But 10% should be sustainable seated, just standing for a few strokes if there's a sudden extra-steep bit.

Broader aspects of multiple long days

The difficulty with such long days back to back is that recovery time is very limited. So as the ride wears on, you're starting each day in a worse state than the one before. Even if you don't get much rest, plenty of food is a must, and food, a bit of sleep, then more food is a good way to do that.

The load and the headwind combine to really limit your on-bike rest opportunities (and off-bike, because you're in the saddle for longer). That led to me cutting short one trip. Aerobars help with the headwind flat sections, and a few people climb on them (not me).

Putting these together, if your reserves are depleted and you have to keep climbing, your power will be low, meaning a low climb rate, and a low speed

Training

The most training most of us can do for something like this is to get a whole weekend at the same or slightly higher daily distance. The odd longer weekend helps a lot.

Fasted training may also be beneficial here, as it improves your power output when nutrition (in the form of carbs) is lacking. That could be a stretched commute of 30km before breakfast, once a week. If I was training for something like this, after a weekend of 400-600km, going out fasted (or with a protein shake) on the Monday morning would be brutal but realistic training, also for the psychological challenge of getting going again.

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    I'm going to have to copy edit this when I'm on a screen big enough to see it all at once, but I'm out of time to polish it now
    – Chris H
    Aug 27, 2023 at 9:47
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    You are correct about recovery, every day is worse than yesterday. At the end, i sleep 8 hours just to push last 220km (at high speed). Also i am spinner type, my cadence are high. Maybe i will try to lower my gearing, thanks
    – Heykal
    Aug 27, 2023 at 15:12
  • Your cadence calculation is wrong - a 30:40 gear at 4.8 km/h gives just 51 rpm.
    – Marjan
    Aug 28, 2023 at 6:45
  • @Marjan good spot. bikecalc.com/speed_at_cadence was in mph for some reason when I used it on my phone. I'm sure it defaults to sensible units on my desktop
    – Chris H
    Aug 28, 2023 at 7:52
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Training is always good, but if your gears are too hard for a sustainable pace there is no way around changing your gears.

Of course reducing weight would also help on climbs.

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Since you want to be faster on climbs (as you clearly stated), you can't cheat physics (it's not meant as an elitist statement).

Lower gearing will just give you a comfortable cadence down to (s)low walking speeds but in order to actually get faster, there is no doubt that higher power (or power-to-weight) is the only way to achieve this. Your long rides and commuting probably build up some endurance capabilities but in order to bring up your sustainable power, you might want to consider some more focused (endurance/hill) workouts, if time and personal circumstances allow for it.

Of course, it gets way more complicated in an ultra cycling event because nutrition and recovery is limited, and headwinds may ruin your day more than it would on a cafè ride.

So, even using aero bars might also help, simply because you use less energy to the top of the next mountain, same goes for nutrition to a certain degree.

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  • Good point on the training goals. One thing I found helpful going from long single days to multi day was getting out for an extra day - that could be an extended (and quick) Monday morning commute after a full weekend of riding, for example. Conversely a short hard effort on a Friday night before a long day on the Saturday should be helpful too. Endurance training of course takes time, and there's no getting round that, but if you're used to long steady days, a faster-paced short ride of something like 100km with hills is good.
    – Chris H
    Aug 28, 2023 at 8:09
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    I've made the same experience, when I (again) started commuting to work last year, I had about 50k (low) Z2 riding for free, so especially during the week, I kept my workouts shorter but put in something more fun and intense. I just think, the OP should add some intensity to the mix, maybe even sacrificing some of those long weekend rides for climbs or higher-pace stuff since he's obviously used to long days in the saddle, anyway.
    – DoNuT
    Aug 28, 2023 at 8:18
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    If the commute is suitable (or can be made so with a detour) using it to do some intervals might be a good idea too
    – Chris H
    Aug 28, 2023 at 12:00
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As @Chris H answered - it's a (vigorous) walking pace. So my advice is: walk. Not only does this relieve the hands and palms of pressure and the spine of bending in a weird leaned position but most importantly it uses different muscles. So - in a way - while pushing the bike You are resting from riding! Don't forget to enjoy the scenary though.

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The hearth is not the only blood pump in the body, the muscles also do if they work. There are valves in veins. Due that climbing with slow gear takes some load from the hearth. Less problems with running out of breath.

I think this makes sense and better to train for a faster cadence.

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