# VWVortex

1. I'm unfamiliar with a lot of terminology in cycling so just looking for some information.

How are hills rated? I see people rate a hill with a percentage, so how is this calculated? And then I hear cyclist talking about cat 5, 4, 3 etc hills which seems to be more casual terminology and not really measurable. Any info?

Second, and the reason I need to know the above, I've been told there's a hill that's 18% out on a ride I plan on doing in the future. I ride this: http://www.khsbicycles.com/05_flite_900_08.htm ... Is the gearing going to cut it? I was out mountainbiking the other day and doing the first climb to the top and noted I was in the lowest gear and second to lowest possible (my MTB has three big rings). When I checked out mapmyride.com for that section, it rated the hill at 21%. Given the much larger ratios of my road bike I feel like I have no chance of getting up it at this point.

Finally, when shopping for a bike a friend told me to avoid bikes that had three rings on the front as it generally indicated a lower quality gear set and you'll never need the lowest cog anyway. I'm going to conquer the hill saturday so I guess I'll find out for myself what's needed. Just curious what gearing you guys are running and what kind of hills you are encountering with that.

Thoughts?

2. A triple ring setup is considered somewhat antiquated these days, but if you live in a very hilly area (unlike me) it's not out of the question to still run one.

quick google on the definition of hill cats:

http://www.bikeforums.net/archive/in.../t-143894.html

3. category climbs are somewhat arbitrary. they are more used to relate to each other than everywhere else. what i mean by that is that climb X in your town people may call a cat 3, which would be harder than climb Y which is cat 4... but that doesn't mean climb X that is called a cat 3 in your town is the same as climb Z the next state over that the locals call a cat 3 there.

as for your bike and it's gearing, you have a compact front crank... this is what almost all road bikes have moved to. they simply ditched the smallest ring and made the middle ring smaller to compensate for this. it was probably done mostly for weight savings, starting with the pros, who sure as hell don't need the small ring, and then everyone wants to "ride what lance rides." what you should look at in terms of your gearing is the rear cassette. it says on there that your range is 11-23. that means your smallest gear in the back has 11t and the largest has 23t. if you feel you can't make it, you might try changing it out for an 11-25 or even 27 if your deraileur can handle it (different derailleurs have different ranges they can accept based on the size of different parts)

really though, your BIKE can totally handle any climb, it's about whether your LEGS can handle it.

also, in relation to your note about mountain biking, was this 21% climb on the road or trail? you will have a much easier time pedaling a road bike up a smooth road than a MTB up a dirt trail. frankly, you will even have an easier time taking a road bike up a road than a MTB up a road, simply based on the smaller tires which give you less rolling resistance.

4. Thanks for the feedback. When I asked if the bike could do it I more meant was the gearing suited to a hill as steep as I mentioned. Obviously the big varying factor is the rider here. We'll find out saturday how it goes

And yeah, the mountain bike was a 32 pound Santa Cruz with double wide soft compound tires at low PSI on a dirt road, so I imagine it'll be easier on the road bike

5. Climbed 800ft in 3mi yesterday on my 1x9 Trek road bike..
Spinning classes have helped!

6. I've been doing a lot of hill riding in the past six months trying to train for a very hilly century (which, alas, was on Monday and an injury kept me out of it ).

Think of hill grades this way: zero percent is flat, 100 percent is vertical. Eighteen and 21 percent are very steep hills, but one of the keys is how long they remain at those grades. Around here there are a lot of hills that have varying pitches -- you might start out a hill at six percent and it will ramp up briefly to 18 or 20 percent. That's when you stand and power through it. But if it goes on for a while at that steeper pitch, then it can and will hurt a lot very quickly if you don't have small enough gearing.

The info sheet on your bike shows you to have a 53/39 crankset and an 11/23 cassette. Your smaller chainring (in front) is somewhat compact, but not very. A more common compact crankset size is 50/34.

Frankly, unless you have a great climbing motor, I think your gearing is going to be too tall to climb any extended pitches of 18 to 21 percent with any kind of comfort, which is to say your cadence will drop to a very slow pace and you will have to grind uphill. As a general rule, it's much more efficient (and much easier) to spin up hills with a higher cadence.

On my bike, I have a 50/34 compact crankset and I replaced my 11/25 cassette with a 12/27 specifically for hill climbing. A few weeks ago I encountered a three-mile hill whose last mile averaged over 11 percent, and even in my lowest gear (34-27, which is much lower than your lowest 39-23) I was hurting pretty badly. I'm no great climber by any means, but I'm not exactly weak, either.

Insofar as doubles versus triples, there are a few ways to look at it. As a general rule, doubles are more precise shifting and weigh less, which is why roadies tend to prefer them (particularly since compacts can help you climb steeper hills pretty well). That said, if you're looking to do some really steep extended pitches and you do those kinds of rides regularly, then a triple is a perfectly valid option to help you keep your cadence up. Of course, roadies in particular tend to be guilty of fashion enforcement, and triples are strictly not fashionable.

Regarding categorizing climbs, I'm not sure what the formula is (if there really is one), but they take into account steepness and duration when rating the hills.

Hope this helps!

7. That was a brilliant reply, DTS. Thanks very much! How's your health anyway ?

I agree on gearing. 11/23 seems to be awfully high for anything over 6% (max 12%) over 5 kms or so.

My bike has 52/34 with 11/27 at the back and whilst I could go down to 25, I doubt it's a good idea unless it's strictly to show off in front of your riding mates.

8. Originally Posted by J-Tim
That was a brilliant reply, DTS. Thanks very much! How's your health anyway ?
Thank you -- glad to be of assistance!

And thanks for asking -- I've got an appointment with my doctor next week, but I'm feeling fine and haven't had any more episodes (thank goodness!). It seems I busted a blood vessel somewhere, but I really don't know much more than that right now. Lots of questions for my doc. I've been trying to take it easier, but testosterone being what it is, it's not so easy to keep the pace down.

Found myself another challenge since I couldn't do Mt. Mitchell: registered for the Savage Century yesterday, part of the Garrett County (Md.) Gran Fondo. 102 miles and 12,700 feet of climbing. Sufferfest!

9. Originally Posted by dts
Thank you -- glad to be of assistance!

And thanks for asking -- I've got an appointment with my doctor next week, but I'm feeling fine and haven't had any more episodes (thank goodness!). It seems I busted a blood vessel somewhere, but I really don't know much more than that right now. Lots of questions for my doc. I've been trying to take it easier, but testosterone being what it is, it's not so easy to keep the pace down.

Found myself another challenge since I couldn't do Mt. Mitchell: registered for the Savage Century yesterday, part of the Garrett County (Md.) Gran Fondo. 102 miles and 12,700 feet of climbing. Sufferfest!
One advise, careful with that one and be very persistent with your doctor. If in doubt, keep on asking. Plenty of cases where people would ignore early signs only to get hit with full force soon after... I hope you know what I mean.

10. dts - that's one of the more insightful and well thought out, incredibly informative posts I've seen on the vortex in years. Thanks for the info, I learned a lot!

I've definitely felt concerned with my current gearing. Just had no idea the variation I was riding was so tall, and figured I was meant to suffer. I do my best to keep my cadence up on the steep hills (North Vancouver) which has helped my fitness, but its nice to know it could be easier! Probably going to go shopping for some new gears, find they're incredibly expensive and continue to suffer. As for the 18%'r saturday... well, I'll start the psyche-out fest now.

I believe your Ultegra drivetrain will allow up to an 11/28 cassette, but I would double-check that with your LBS. Even going to an 11/25 would help you with the hills. As I said, I went for an 11/27, but I'm also in my mid-40s, just getting myself back into shape after a long layoff from any regular exercise, and seeking out long painful climbs. You also don't need to get a cassette from the same group -- you seem to have all Ultegra but you could easily save some money and get a 105 cassette and barely notice the difference.

Of course you could also turn your crankset into a true compact (50/34) but you lose a lot of top-end speed that way. Of course if you're not using that top end, it may be a good tradeoff.

One last thing: if you make any gearing changes, you may need to adjust your chain length. Again, consult with your LBS first.

EDIT: @ J-Tim - thanks for the advice. CT scan and chest x-rays came back negative for the scary things (cancer, pulmonary embolism). I've got another appointment next week with my doc. Fortunately, he's very thorough and has already put me through a battery of blood tests looking for possible inflammatory/progressive lung disorders, and they have all come back negative. Off to Vermont today and will try one of the mountain passes there, weather permitting!

12. Originally Posted by dts

I believe your Ultegra drivetrain will allow up to an 11/28 cassette, but I would double-check that with your LBS. Even going to an 11/25 would help you with the hills. As I said, I went for an 11/27, but I'm also in my mid-40s, just getting myself back into shape after a long layoff from any regular exercise, and seeking out long painful climbs. You also don't need to get a cassette from the same group -- you seem to have all Ultegra but you could easily save some money and get a 105 cassette and barely notice the difference.

Of course you could also turn your crankset into a true compact (50/34) but you lose a lot of top-end speed that way. Of course if you're not using that top end, it may be a good tradeoff.

One last thing: if you make any gearing changes, you may need to adjust your chain length. Again, consult with your LBS first.
I'm going to jump on the "great post, David" bandwagon! I seriously need to look into regearing my bike. It's 53/39 and 12/25. It's a bit too much for me. I think I'm just used to suffering.

Glad you're feeling better. Good luck at the Dr's.

13. And if you still want to look at how they figure out % of grad, you can do it yourself. The guy mentioned earlier:

800 ft in 3 miles. Just do RISE OVER RUN. just like building some steps of a deck. 3 miles is 5280 ft x 3 = 15840 ft.

800 / 15840 = 5 % grade. Hence the ability to get up it in that gear.

14. Just to follow up, that hill was redoculous. I had to switchback it up over two lanes of road (thankfully it is a very low traffic area) and puked halfway up. But got up eventually.

Definitely going to look at lower gearing.

15. Wow you guys turn some really big cogs.

Back when I was racing (Ontario, Quebec, NY/Vermont/Mass) I ran a 53/40 up front and a 12-19 and never had any issues on the hills. Granted, we don't have mountains where I raced for the most part, but still.

16. Sheldon Brown's gear inch calculator is a great tool for figuring this stuff out (gear equivalences, not so much how it will hurt going up a hill). Honestly, I'm a little surprised that any bike comes standard with an 11/23 at back - most of them will have something like a 12/25, 12/27 or 11/28, and the new 105 doesn't even come with an 11/23 any more.

I typically have a 53/39 up front and an 11-28 out back. I very rarely use the 28 when I'm in the 39. I climbed Alpe d'Huez, Galibier, Col de la Croix de Fer, etc. using a 53/38 (switched the 39 for a 38) and 11-28 combination, and the wife climbed Alpe d'Huez using a 53/39 12-27. She has a 650c road bike because she's tiny, and her derailleur chose that moment to not work so she wound up climbing Alpe d'Huez in a 39x24 which was roughly equivalent to my 38x25.

Alpe d'Huez has an average grade of 8.5% for 7.5 miles, and we both managed just fine with the gearing we had. That said, your 53/39 with an 11-23 would have been brutal for that (gear inch ratio of 44.6 for yours vs. 39.5 for mine), so going up an extended 12+% grade with those gears or any 18% segment would be murder, so the fact that you actually managed to get up it at all is pretty damned good.

17. Well.... I hardly managed it . The pile of bile on the road is my homage to suffering. It took me a long while, and killed the rest of my ride.

18. Originally Posted by theuean
Well.... I hardly managed it . The pile of bile on the road is my homage to suffering. It took me a long while, and killed the rest of my ride.
First of all, congrats on simply making it to the top without stopping or walking!

Frankly, with your gearing I'm not at all surprised you hurled on such a steep pitch -- it was a perfect combination to push you way the hell into your red zone, which obviously happened. No shame in it though -- I would say you should wear it as a badge of pride, but I think you really should go wash your jersey instead :-)

For contrast, today I rode 62 miles round trip to the top of the Appalachian Gap in Vermont. My Strava isn't uploading (grr...) so I can't see what the pitches were, but the final three miles were pretty damned vertical. Wikipedia mentions there are extended pitches of 15 percent and more -- I'm thinking the final 400 meters were at least 15 ramping up to 20 (mind you, this is after six miles of climbing). I was in my lowest gear and concentrating on going fast enough not to fall over.

Yeah, I was glad to have a compact today ....

19. Originally Posted by dts
First of all, congrats on simply making it to the top without stopping or walking!

Frankly, with your gearing I'm not at all surprised you hurled on such a steep pitch -- it was a perfect combination to push you way the hell into your red zone, which obviously happened. No shame in it though -- I would say you should wear it as a badge of pride, but I think you really should go wash your jersey instead :-)

For contrast, today I rode 62 miles round trip to the top of the Appalachian Gap in Vermont. My Strava isn't uploading (grr...) so I can't see what the pitches were, but the final three miles were pretty damned vertical. Wikipedia mentions there are extended pitches of 15 percent and more -- I'm thinking the final 400 meters were at least 15 ramping up to 20 (mind you, this is after six miles of climbing). I was in my lowest gear and concentrating on going fast enough not to fall over.

Yeah, I was glad to have a compact today ....

Did you by any chance do the Killington Stage Race? Sounds awfully like the end of stage 3 ...

20. Originally Posted by andycooper
Did you by any chance do the Killington Stage Race? Sounds awfully like the end of stage 3 ...
If you mean the Green Mountain Stage Race, yes -- I'm pretty sure that's the end of stage 3. There were lots of helpful signs stenciled onto the Tarmac, like "GMSR 2K", which were awfully helpful letting me know how much longer I had to keep it up!

21. I have used a compact crankset for 7 years now, I would never go back to a standard one. When the race has really steep hills I will run a 50/34 front and 11/25 rear. For everything else I run my 50/36 front and 11/23 rear. There is no need for standard front anymore unless you live in a really flat area and are sprinting at 45+ mph. I can do 40+ mph in my 50-11 setup. Go front compact and never look back.

Bill

22. Originally Posted by climbingcue
I have used a compact crankset for 7 years now, I would never go back to a standard one. When the race has really steep hills I will run a 50/34 front and 11/25 rear. For everything else I run my 50/36 front and 11/23 rear. There is no need for standard front anymore unless you live in a really flat area and are sprinting at 45+ mph. I can do 40+ mph in my 50-11 setup. Go front compact and never look back.

Bill
I would have never taken you for a compact user.

23. Originally Posted by climbingcue
I have used a compact crankset for 7 years now, I would never go back to a standard one. When the race has really steep hills I will run a 50/34 front and 11/25 rear. For everything else I run my 50/36 front and 11/23 rear. There is no need for standard front anymore unless you live in a really flat area and are sprinting at 45+ mph. I can do 40+ mph in my 50-11 setup. Go front compact and never look back.

Bill
With my exercise induced asthma... it greatly hinders my hill climbs.... so I have a compact crank up front (50/34) and changed the rear setup to:

SRAM PG-1070 11-32T
Shimano Deore XT M772 (Shadow mid-cage)
(and getting a new wheelset helps also)

sort of a botched together Shimano 105/XT version of the SRAM Apex noob set

24. Originally Posted by dts
If you mean the Green Mountain Stage Race, yes -- I'm pretty sure that's the end of stage 3. There were lots of helpful signs stenciled onto the Tarmac, like "GMSR 2K", which were awfully helpful letting me know how much longer I had to keep it up!
Ah, no - GMSR is a different stage race, but in a similar area. Killington Stage Race was this past weekend, and Stage 3 was yesterday. It is a 62 mile stage, with a 9 mile climb halfway through it and a 5 mile climb at the end that is unpleasant to say the least. I did it a couple of years ago and had a fun time, where "fun == I think I'm going to die" time coupled with getting stuck behind a crash and then a mechanical.

GMSR is another stupidly hard race - if you did the end of that, it's just as nasty as the end of the 3rd stage of KSR.

25. Originally Posted by andycooper

GMSR is another stupidly hard race - if you did the end of that, it's just as nasty as the end of the 3rd stage of KSR.
Gotcha -- we're talking two different races. There was no stage race on my route yesterday, but there were leftover pavement markings from the GMSR. Some quick research showed they do end a stage up there.

26. Originally Posted by dts
Think of hill grades this way: zero percent is flat, 100 percent is vertical.
100% is a 45 degree slope.

The % grade approaches infinity as you go vertical.

27. Originally Posted by F1_Fan
100% is a 45 degree slope.

The % grade approaches infinity as you go vertical.
Huh! Clearly I didn't know that. Thank you for the correction.

28. Consider throwing a mountain bike cassette on the rear to give you a closer to 1:1 ratio for climbing, or drop to a 3 ring setup on the crank.

I absolutely hate trying to climb anything in my 39/27, it's horrible, it's painful, and it makes me want to quit.

Gear the bike for your riding style, if you've got lots of hills and want to not puke going up them, get gears that let you do that. Get a triple or get a rear cassette with a ultra granny (seen a few older ones that jump from a 34 to a 27 so you can actually go up hills).

Ride for comfort and enjoyment. If there's one way to make riding a pain, it's to have the wrong gearing for the task at hand. If you're not an olympic athlete, don't be ashamed of using smaller gears. As you get better at cycling you will be better at climbing, but that takes time, and you won't get there if you get discouraged and simply can't do it.

29. Originally Posted by Outie5000

I absolutely hate trying to climb anything in my 39/27, it's horrible, it's painful, and it makes me want to quit.
I think if you replace the standard crank with a compact (50/34) you'll have a far easier time.

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