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On the relative merits of climbing singlespeed vs geared ...(16 posts)

On the relative merits of climbing singlespeed vs geared ...Humma Hah
Jan 2, 2003 6:00 PM
At the risk of repeating myself ...

So there I am, New Year's Eve, out for some base miles. I've been doing a lot of commuting, but rarely have done more than 12 miles at a time for a few months, so a week off work let me get in a series of 25-milers to get my legs back. I'm riding one of the worst possible climbing bikes, the Schwinn cruiser, rigged with commuting lights and fenders and tipping the scales around 42 lbs, with 46:18 singlespeed gearing, and 1 3/4" tires that could use a shot of air.

So I'm on the return leg, the ride half done, when I look in the Third Eye and see a MTB gaining on me. I pick up the pace slightly, but am not feeling especially competitive. He passes and says "Gotcha".

"'bout time you caught this cruiser," I reply with a ding of my bell.

"Well, I'm OLD," he says.

"I'm nearly 50. The BIKE is 31."

"Well, maybe not THAT old."

He pulls away slowly, and gets about a 1/4 mile lead on me as we reach the series of three dips in the parkway. These make climbs of about ... eh, 60-80 ft, 5% grade tops. As I come out of the bottom of the first dip, I look ahead, and his feet are going like a hamster in a squirrelcage, but not a whole heckuva bunch of climbing happening. He's escaped to granny.

I grin a little and put a little more coal on the fire, jacking myself up to my AT, the result of years of practice and conditioning at singlespeed climbs. I've been in this situation too many times to count -- I begin reeling him in. I fail to make up the whole distance on the first little climb, but nail him quickly on the second.

I ding my bell again as I catch him, and tease: "For a New Year's resolution, might I suggest that you disable your granny ring?"

These spinners! Whadda THEY know? Sure, Lance Armstrong is a spinner, tends to high RPM. Its pretty common among top racers. But I think the average cyclist would be amazed at the torque those guys produce at that RPM. Most cyclists today seem to think if the spin their feet around fast, they're doing the best they possibly can. Until they learn that its POWER, whatever combination of torque and RPM works best, that gets you up a hill, they're gonna keep getting embarrassed by old guys on overweight singlespeed bikes.
Lance spins bigger gears than granny gearsTig
Jan 2, 2003 7:37 PM
Yep, he can spin at high cadences, but when climbing he won't be in a granny gear like most recreational cyclists bail out to. Compared to power climbers like Ulrich or Pantani who climb with higher gears at lower cadence, he spins higher with relatively lower gears (39 x 20).

What Lance has developed is the ability to spin high without going overly anaerobic (like most of us would). As Chris Carmichael put it, Lance has so much power and physical flexiblity available to him, he was a natural to adapt it at higher cadences. Indurain used higher cadences successfully and suggested to Lance he should work on it. The rest is history.

High cadence alone means nothing. The ability to spin a higher gear at higher cadence and sustain it is what it is all about. I think some people are trying to emulate LA by spinning alone, but they don't see the whole picture.

That is where climbing with a single speed comes in. As we all well know, single speed climbing is how us mortals can gain climbing power beyond what we'd do if we had plenty of gears to fall back on. We are forced to keep the cadence high by attacking a climb in what is considered by most a too high gear. As long as the gearing isn't too high, we can gain climbing power and hopefully not have knee problems (Doug Sloan unfortunately knows all too well). In effect, Lance does the same thing that we do, but he has the incredible self-discipline, drive, and God given physical ability to do it on a lightweight 18 speed OCLV.

Lance knows his limits on spinning though. Remember when he lost that TT in this year's TDF? He was spinning a little too much for peak power. By using a cadence sensor for the next TT, he slowed the spinning slightly and blew everyone away.
Yes ....Humma Hah
Jan 3, 2003 6:44 AM
Nothing wrong with high cadence, as long as you do it two gears higher than the competition.

The real measure of climbing power is rate of climb. TdF cyclists typically climb at something around 120 feet per minute, and do it for an hour at a time. That's TRIPLE my typical sustained climb rate, and 50% higher than the best I've ever surveyed in this forum. They're not doing that without combining a huge amount of pedal force with flying feet. And, face it, its not just Armstrong ... after a couple of weeks of racing he's only about 6 minutes ahead of second place, with the peloton in close pursuit, so they're all pretty close in ability.

Armstrong rides fixed off-season. Most people think it is to work on his spin. I firmly believe he's also working on POWER.
I've learned to totally ignore folks that pass us.MB1
Jan 3, 2003 8:03 AM
There is little to be gained by comparing yourself to folks who pass you and then "slow down". Likely they were using you as a rabbit to pass and then they just ran out of motivation after they passed you.

It is amusing to have all sorts of folks pass us during the week when we are crusing around town since I know full well they would never ever be able to keep up with Miss M for a full weekend.

Now your insite about using granny gears is very true but you don't know how far or how long he has ridden before he passed you.

Could have been Keith finishing a 200 miler.
I chatted with him after I caught him ...Humma Hah
Jan 3, 2003 9:27 AM
... he was out for his weekly 10-miler and had just started when he passed me.

OTOH, I once felt pretty good about holding off a bike with tri-bars for the better part of 5 miles. The guy finally caught me, and commented how frustrating it was to have so much trouble putting away a cruiser. But I had done about 10 miles at that point, whereas he was finishing up a 112-mile training ride for a triathalon.

My best standard for comparison is in specific events where we all start at the same time, like centuries and 50-milers. In those, late in the ride I'm with people whose average speed is about the same as mine. I'll typically fall behind on shallow downhills and flats, but make it up on hills. This particular guy was in about that class ... faster in the flats but not much of a climber.

This does not apply when, for example, I'm riding with someone who totally outclasses me, rides 19,000 miles a year, and is holding back to a snail's pace to let me keep up. That rider will still climb like a bat out of heck when I'm off and pushing late in the ride. This has happened only once in my 43 years of riding, however.
re: On the relative merits of climbing singlespeed vs geared ...fixedgearhead
Jan 3, 2003 10:35 AM
There is a group of riders that ride with the local Bianchi Factory Sales Rep here in central Ohio about twice a week. They all ride High Zoot multi's and are frequently decked out with all the latest look riding gear. I usually come upon them about mid way thru one of my 75-mile rides after having done 20 some miles of rolling hills and another 15 miles of flats. I often come up behind them and pass them as they are going along at what I think of as full bore. It really makes one of the riders pissed off that he can't catch an old fart on a fixed gear bike after trying to for the remaining 10 miles or so of the bike trail until the end and I turn around. I stopped and talked to them for a few minutes at the end of the trail a couple of times and they said they couldn't understand how somebody could outpace them on a fixed gear bike. I told them it was just a matter of training and fitness not gears. I suppose that they could outclimb me on a long steep incline, but I think that over a lightly rolling,flat course a fixed gear is at least as fast and depending on the fittness of the rider faster than most multi's.

what about singlespeed.ishmael
Jan 5, 2003 10:33 AM
people often talk about the benefits of fixed but what about single speed? I used to ride fixed, and it's fun and I definately got a lot of power from riding it on the group hill rides, but its got drawbacks- sharp turns, steep down hills, and close curbs sneaking by cars. Not realy many drawbacks. but I've sold it am getting another that I plan to put brakes on the front and back and use with a freewheel. I spin all the time anyway and will probably only coast on turns and hills that are too steep. I dont think riding with a freewheel will erase the benefits normally associated with fixed and in a way it will be more fun.
Its easy enough to switch back and forth ..,Humma Hah
Jan 6, 2003 7:57 AM
If the bike has two brakes for singlespeed, it makes a nice enough fixie and the conversion takes about 2 minutes, less if you use a flip-flop hub.

When riding singlespeed with a group of fixed gear bikes, I have to keep tapping the brakes to keep from passing them on downhills. Singlespeed is also nice off-road, where the ability to coast for an instant to keep the pedals from hitting an obstacle is nice.

Fixed is supposed to be better at training you for a very smooth spin. Also, if I'm not mistaken, all really high world speed records on bikes, the 100mph+ stuff, have been done on fixed gear.
the geared bike can almost always be fasterDougSloan
Jan 6, 2003 1:51 PM
Unless you are in the perfect gear ratio on that single speed, a multi-geared bike can always be faster. The human engine has a fairly narrow efficient power band, about 70-100 rpms. Gears help to keep you where you are efficient. I have raced when I had the right gears and when I did not; I can tell you without a doubt the right gears if faster.

Now, I do believe you get much stronger in training if you push hard gears frequently. Even Lance pushes hard gears a lot, the spinning thing is just one aspect of his training. He does it all. I've looked at his training programs, and it's no where near "all spinning." Plus, as you point out, when he's spinning, he's probably putting out over 500 watts. That's not really spinning to me. That's just motoring hard.

Ever pedal 160 mph on a geared bike?Humma Hah
Jan 7, 2003 10:05 AM
Not that I'd want to try to pedal a bike geared 9:1 up a 20% grade (although YOU might try it), but I'm pretty sure all the 100+ mph speed records have been fixed gear.

I'll not dispute that gears make a difference, and geared bikes can go faster than any single rigged for all-purpose riding. Catch me at mile 80 in a century on the cruiser, and I'll offer to swap bikes with you. But from personal experience, I can testify that if I ride exclusively on a geared bike, I become a wimp. I'm faster on a geared bike if I spend most of my riding time on a single.
speed recordsfixedgearhead
Jan 7, 2003 11:27 AM
Here are a couple of urls with info on the various speed records that I could find for geared and fixed. I have seen the fixed bike at the museum. It is a truly impressive chainring.

I have not seen this bike but it looks impressive in the photos.

I would not ride either of them as they were ridden. Would You?

speed recordsfixedgearhead
Jan 7, 2003 11:32 AM
Second url should be:

Gotta watch that typing.

Heck no!Humma Hah
Jan 7, 2003 11:53 AM
Letourner's Paramount was impressive, and I've got a couple of books with pix of it. That's the first I've seen of it in color. When he was done with the speed record, the tires were melted onto the rims. He toured the country with it like that, and it sold a LOT of Schwinns.

Thinking what would happen if you ever went down like that would scare me witless. Imagine doing it on salt wearing cycling shorts! Yeooow! But asphalt or railroad tracks would probably be fatal!
Heck no!fixedgearhead
Jan 7, 2003 12:29 PM
The Paramount is a beautiful red color to see in person. I also think it is a replica. I don't know if it is the original one. The guy who owns that museum bought a lot of the stuff from the Schwinn company when they went bankrupt. They could have had a number of those bikes made at the time of the record to act as promotional items. I don't know if he wore any protection when he used it.
John Howard wore motorcycle racing leathers and helmet. I have known guys who raced motorcycles an fallen off at close to 100mph wearing leathers and while they suffered from the experience, the leathers took much of the punishment. I can't imagine what sliding along the salt at 100mph,leathers or no, would be like and I don't intend to find out. I would like to try riding that double reduction bike though. I think they had to tow it behind the vehicle at 60+ mph before he was able to pedal it.
This last summer I made the pilgrimage to that museum in New Bremen Ohio, and also the one in up state New York near Albany, It is well worth the trip if anybody is interested in the history of our sport.

I think they are towed up to speed nmDougSloan
Jan 7, 2003 12:31 PM
At least its certain that I'd need a tow ...Humma Hah
Jan 7, 2003 3:01 PM
... to get to anything CLOSE to those speeds!

I'll have to read up on that. I have a couple of accounts of those records in a couple of books by Pridemore and Hurd.