Archive for November 2010

Secret Hill Strength Weapon?

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

When I was a (considerably) younger cyclist and bike racer, the only area I could really excel in was going up or down a hill. Perhaps it was the hilly region I grew up in that gave those advantages. I couldn’t leave the parental castle without going up or down a fairly severe grade to get to other escape routes where the hills continued unabated for at least ten miles. The area of sprinting ability was and still is very desolate for me, as is/was hammering into a major head wind….a very non-aero shape I suppose.

I was one of those fortunate souls that could keep it on the big ring whilst rolling up a moderate incline while those more rapid finishers were searching for a lighter load on their pedals. If I could gap them enough, I’d beat them at the end. If I didn’t, they’d go by me so fast in the sprint I’d catch a cold from their draft.

Even though I have no aspirations of being a bike racer anymore, it’s really starting to bug me how gay my climbing has been in the last few years. Granted, one has to ride one’s bike to get better, but my speed uphill is out of sync with my flat land capabilities. I have to blame something.

So my latest theory is the gear ratios. It seems so ironic that in this day of very light, efficient bikes with crazy light wheels, that so many riders have these stupid low gears. 14-16 pound bikes with low gears of 34×25 or 27. Gears that are lower than the old 29 pound Peugeot gas pipe specials of the Seventies. Most of those old 10 speeds were 40×26 or 28. Not only were these bikes heavy, the frames had terrible response and those old Michelin tyres would blow off the steel rims at much more than 70psi.

From the time I was seventeen I, and all my peers, were hammering around on the ubiquitous ‘close ratio’ freewheels of the time. This means one tooth difference between cogs. Start at 13 for a low and end and 18 for a high (6 speed). The olde expression was, “if you couldn’t make it around the course on a close ratio, you had no business being in the race”. Plus, the smallest ring was 42 for a Campagnolo chainset….39 tooth Shimano was just for fringe freaks, not at all manly.

The thing was, we actually went pretty fast. In this soggy town of Vancouver, one of the standards of climbing for several decades has been the (mentioned in previous ramblings) hill up to the Cypress Bowl ski area. While in the scheme of a real Euro incline Cypress is not much beyond a sprinters hill, its what some of the fish in BC’s little pond strive for.

I found some newspaper clippings recently that my brother had put in his scrapbook sometime in the mid-Seventies with some Cypress hillclimb results. We were all 28-29 minute range. 22 pound steel bikes, wool shorts, and CLOSE RATIO cog sets. For myself, I knew that I couldn’t go lower than a 42×17 at any point on the hill if I was to be at the sharp end and I would need a 42x 15 in the flatter turns. This equates to (for those who understand it) a 67″ to 76″ gear.

Fast forwarding to September 2010, I’m having a physio session with BC’s legendary Olav Stana vis-a-vis my buggered pelvis, and we were talking about hills and in particular Cypress. Olav is legendary in most local cyclists books not only for his body fixing prowess (which I found very good) but also his TT and incredible climbing ability. At 55 years old he shattered the Cat 1/2 riders on the Cypress hill last summer. He already had his shirt changed by the time the next rider came in…and Olav was old enough to be his dad.

When we were yakking about the gears he used to do the time required to leave the wheezing kids behind, it turns out that although he uses a compact set (34-50) for hill climbing, he leaves it on the big ring. When combined with his selected 18-21 leaves his range at 65″-75″. His time of 30 minutes makes that right on the gear/time ratio of all those years ago.

People hear about the gears the pros use in the Tour and Giro (even harder hills) and they think they need them for hills like Cypress. Forget it!! Those Euro hills are really hard..and long. I would doubt if anyone in our town would drop our current World Champ Hushovd, on our little ramp to the ski hill…and the mighty Thor being known as a sprinter.

Many cyclists think climbing is all about the ability to be really fit and spin up like a madman. Guess what?…you still need power. Hill climbing power. Its a fine line between staying light enough to be efficient and strong enough to go fast, cranking a gear that will get you to the top quickly. The only way one can gain strength on hills is the same as gaining strength anywhere else…..resistance. Muscles respond to resistance. Train with some resistance. If you have two riders both weighing 150 pounds, both with a max VO2 of 75 but one can squat 225 pounds and the other only 135, guess who’s going to go faster up the hill?

In the last few weeks or so with all this in mind, I’ve been finding a few hills and have left it in a bigger gear and kept it going until I just fail. In spite of being something of an ectomorphic victim, my legs have gained noticeable size already. Yesterday’s bit of riding included a couple of half mile hills and I stayed 1 tooth smaller than I thought I could have. Resistance works, even for a fossilized soul like myself.

Having seen such immediate results, I’ve invested in a thing from my past, something that was part of my (only)semi-decent cycling past…a close ratio freewheel.

AVR bow 1167

I look at this thing and I get scared. Stay home, sell my bike, really get into computers, watch poker on TV, watch Dancing With the Stars, become a Britney Spears fan…..aaggghhh.

Hell’s bell’s, I’m only 8 pounds heavier than when I could use this thing damn near everywhere but, I AM a bunch of years older. What are the chances of actually gaining something for its use….especially as I’ll have to put it on some older and heavier bicycle? Slim to grim? I guess we’ll see. As luck would have it, my lovely female accomplice has abandoned that vintage Bianchi for another winter and it does have a 42 as a small ring. She’ll never be the wiser…too many good sales at the outlet stores of late.

Time for a bit of shorter hill resistance training, with lots of small ring, easy spinning on the flats to keep things loose and supple in this off season time of the year. I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

Other Projects….

Monday, November 1st, 2010

Without doubt, if there’s anything that I am…its a project guy. I think we have some old family films of me banging nails in Dad’s workshop when I was about three. It’s never ended for a second. I think its actually getting worse too.

The first thing I ever ‘hot-rodded’ was my first CCM single speed.  At eight years old, I took a perfectly good factory paint and painted it a gold sparkle, added dropped bars, sidepull brakes, took off the fenders, chainguard and put a bunch of electrical tape on the bars. I also blew the tyres off the rims a couple of times from putting too much air in them……the need for speed. Whatever I got into, I would muck with it.

I got into the slotcar craze off the late Sixties and thought I’d rewind the motor with less windings on the armature so as to make it spin faster. Did the full epoxy coating and balanced it but when I took it to the big pro type track in Vancouver, it did one quick lap and then sort of sputtered down the front straight and it just smoked up. ….poof! Being such an introverted kid I felt like a complete muppet and scurried to the bus stop to get home and hide.

To me, life has been about getting into things and trying to improve them. When I think about it, it holds true for all I’ve been around. For the most part, its worked pretty well too. The only sketchy area would be that of women. Somehow I’ve ended up with a bucket o’ project girls over the years and that never worked out.  As soon as I adopted John Lennon’s words of  “I can’t cure you, you cure you”, things improved rapidly. I’m lucky enough to have one fabulous gal now.

As regular readers here will know, the racing bicycle has occupied more of my years than most other stuff and likely, it’ll never subside. It remains the best of all feelings. While I’ve maintained that I live by the four B’s of life, “Boats, beer, bikes and broads”, the automobile has also devoured a lot of time and dough.

Having mucked about with dozens of cars over the years, from total beaters to Euro exotics, I’ve been trying to find something that would be suitable as a ‘Cunningham Promo/Team’ car. Had to be classic, French, Italian but probably English and it had to be diffrunt. Well after a couple of years of pondering, the Lord has provided. Check it out……


Perrrfect! Not only is it in Cunningham colours of red/black/white……but it was made in Scotland. For the unaware, it is a ‘64 Sunbeam (Hillman in most of the world) Imp. These things book around corners like they got sticky glue on the tyres, and will pull 9500rpm when sorted. The cool thing is, one of these tiny sleds was my second auto ever, a billion moons ago. I used to slide my bike through the lifting rear glass and head to races. We were at an apres cyclo-cross party at one point and I left the party house to find Mr Hayman & Co had picked up the little devil and put it at right angles to the road AND up on the sidewalk.

I’m now in the process of converting this little 875cc/1100 pound screamer back into something approaching road legal. I’ll be adding some Cunningham graphics and maybe some side windows and having her on the street by Christmas. Stand by for completed images.

This vehicle being outside my 4B thing philosophy, I should point out that the second biggest project in my life (bikes being first)  does fall into that category….big time…and that would be the boat classification. Actually being a boat it is female, so it sort of covers two in one.



Truly…a psycho project. Check out what I started with…wudda roach.July 2006

Maybe I saw too much McHale’s Navy as I kid but this ex-USN/AAF vessel simply represents so much of what I’m into. I love boats, beautiful things, working with wood and war history, particularly WW II. Also, I very much appreciate the sacrifices made by untold thousands that did what they could to allow us the freedom to do things as simple as ride our bikes in (relative) freedom. This vessel being the last of its type in the world in original military form, is a monument of that appreciation.

I chose cycle racing as a sport from an early age because to me it was a game of hard men giving it all…..far beyond what any other sport can do. When you are truly giving it your all on a hot hillside trying to hold the next wheel ahead, its hard… really hard. Yet that suffering is nothing compared to those that have served in battle with the ultimate price just waiting to be paid. So I can tell you it REALLY makes me nuts when I hear any of those highly paid pro-bikes whining about something like the cobbles or wet descents in the TdF. Fer cryin’ out loud, build a bridge and get over it and think about what happened in two hideous wars in that same neighbourhood. Maybe the race won’t feel so bad anymore.

Anyway, I can tell I’m getting into rambling mode so I’d better close the office.

In closing let me say that if cycling is your big project at the moment, don’t hold back. Do what you need to do because heaven knows….when the time comes, you’ll be dead along time, so go flat out now!

Check back for my next natter when I’ll admit I need to harden up and what the plan is.