I’m curious why, at 70 years old, I am having inordinate difficulties with the 8% gradient on a local climb. Do others shy away from the steep and ride only the flats, or do they zoom up 12% climbs with ease? – Len W.
Coach Fred Matheny Replies:
I’m 6 months away from turning 70 and, yes, I think climbs get tougher as we get older. At least that’s the experience of most riders.
In my case, I used a low gear of 42×21 teeth 35 or 40 years ago for everything, even the Mount Evans Hillclimb. But now I’m happy with a compact crank offering a low gear of 34×28 or 30 teeth. I console myself by thinking that I spin faster now so my speed on the climb is the same. But of course that’s delusional!
I live in western Colorado, where climbs aren’t that steep. They usually average 5-8% on the passes but seem more difficult because they’re long and at high altitude.
I also spend quite a bit of time in the Seattle area, where climbs are shorter (usually a mile or so) but much steeper — maxing out at around 20%. The same gearing works in Seattle as in Colorado, but only because Seattle has shorter climbs and they’re at sea level.
A couple of exceptions to note about my own riding for which my regular road bike gearing just won’t work: First, I like to ride dirt roads here in Colorado, and they often have much steeper sections suitable for mountain bike gearing.
And just outside our town past the entrance to Black Canyon National Park, there’s the East Portal Road that climbs out of the canyon for 3 miles at an average of 16%. That’s a brute and definitely requires a triple crankset at this point in my life.
So gear up appropriately, and you should be good to go.
Coach Fred Matheny is an RBR co-founder who has four decades of road cycling and coaching experience. He has written 14 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach Fred Matheny, including the classic Complete Book of Road Bike Training, which includes 4 eBooks comprising 250 pages of timeless, detailed advice and training plans. The Complete Book is one of the many perks of an RBR Premium Membership. Click to read Fred’s full bio.