Monday, July 22, 2013

Spin or Stand

It's something I've mentioned in passing quite a bit, but let's go ahead and openly say it. Depending on where you are in the city, Austin is fucking hilly. It's a region known as the "Texas hill country," if that gives you an idea. While many parts of the city are quite level, if you venture about at all, there's a good change of running into a gigantic hill, something very steep, lots of rollers, or just the gradual kind of upward grade that wears you down over the course of miles.

In my group of friends, some of the hills have acquired names like "Big Grumpy,""Duval you huge pain in the ass," and "Oh god, SoCo?" As opposed to many other areas, the roads in Austin do not wind around these hills, or switchback - you're going straight up whether you like it or not. A few recent examples:

Friday evening ride to the movies and back.

4th of July to my friends' house. What I forgot to do was switch on Strava for the ride home. So, if you will, imagine this exact profile in reverse.
This is one-way to work.
Now, these are not tremendously large elevation changes by the number of feet, but please do note that they carry on for multiple miles. So on these rides, you're going uphill for miles at a time which begs the question of climbing style. What I mean is, do you sit and spin at a high cadence, or drop into a gear so you can stand up and just crank the hill out. For me, I employ a hybrid style.

My ride home from everywhere involves a long, shallow gradient because I live at the top of a watershed - everything is downhill from my house. So for those long stretches, I like to find a comfortable gear, chill out, and cruise at a high cadence. But for shorter stretches, especially anything fairly steep, I tend to find a gear that doesn't collapse under my weight and use that leverage to gut it out over the top.

There's a major functional difference between these two styles of climbing for most riders. The sit-and-spin method is superior for riders that have a long way to go because it creates less overall fatigue. It's slower, but it keeps you heart rate fairly level and takes advantage of gearing options available on most derailleur geared bikes.

Standing and cranking it out is certainly faster but will burn your legs out a lot faster, so it's only really useful for short stretches where you just want to get the fuck over the hill. You're utilizing leverage and body-weight to turn the pedals over. That being said, I was recently walking up the hill on South Lamar and was passed by a girl standing on her bike, steadily cranking up the hill. Half an hour later I was in my car driving towards Ben White (the highway across the south end of town), and there she was at the top of the hill, still cranking away. So depending on who you are and how your ride, your mileage may vary.

Questions of technique like this often cross my mind as I'm riding around our super-varied terrain. Any thoughts on climbing style from the other residents of hilly cities - color me intrigued and wanting your input.


  1. Like you, I also live on a hill. Any time I venture out its a downhill coast and then at least a mile of gradual to steep incline back home. I usually click into a spinning granny gear, effortlessly pedaling home. I do, however have a couple of ski-jump type hills on my commute to work. Those I also spin in the granny, but to crest the increasingly steep incline-- thus the ski-jump title -- I eventually resort to standing and grunt over the top. Short bursts also have the added benefit of relieving any fanny discomfort.

    1. Yeah, if you look at the second elevation profile - towards the beginning, those two sharp swings up and down? Those are the hills to get in and out of my neighborhood to the south where just about EVERYTHING is. Going to work is pretty much the same story.