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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Thoughts About Climbing Hills

Something I said in the post regarding selecting routes for bicycle camping has left me pensive.  Basically I said our object as bicycle campers should be to pick relatively flat routes because climbing hills - even those of moderate steepness - is no easy thing when loaded down with camping gear.

I want to re-calibrate that philosophy.  There are at least 2 ways of reconsidering that statement.  

First, difficulty in climbing is partly a function of how much extra stuff you're carrying.  One option: carry less stuff.

Second, what is the physical configuration of your bicycle?  Does it facilitate or complicate the climbing of hills?

Carrying less stuff.  I'm impressed by this picture posted to the Rivendell site :

This purports to be a basic kit for a one-night camp out.  There appears to be fewer things than the "basic gear" I proposed in an earlier blog.  For one thing, I see no sleeping bag pad.  If there is a toiletries kit I'm not seeing it.  There's no sleeping bag liner.  No tarp for the tent.  And I'm having trouble finding a repair kit in this picture... I don't believe you should leave home without it.  I do, however, see a camera and tripod which, to my mind, is pure frivolity.  All in all, though, my basic kit is considerably more than the Rivendell basic kit.

I guess this picture raises the question: is everything I described as "basic gear" really necessary?  I'll let you be the judge.  I pack a lot of stuff - no getting around that.  And I suppose I could get by with less: I admit the tarp adds a lot of bulk; I also bring a Therm-A-Rest RidgeRunner sleeping bag pad that is very bulky in spite of weighing next to nothing.  But thus far my basic kit - extensive though it may seem - has worked well for me... except that it weights a bit and that hinders my progress up hills.

Are there a few things I could do without?  Maybe.

Physical configuration of the bike.  When I started this blog I was pretty adamant about riding in an upright position.  Thus, I outfitted my bike with upright handlebars.  I eschewed drop bars for two reasons: I believed the upright bars contributed to my laid-back riding style (make no mistake, they do) and my back and neck have a problem with drop bars.

The problem with upright bars, though, is they aren't optimal for hills: they don't allow you to really lean forward and dig into the pedals.  You maintain the same polite position going up a hill as you do riding flat terrain.  As a result, hills will really slow down your progress when traveling with upright bars.

Drop bars by comparison encourage an aggressive riding posture.  They do increase your speed somewhat when climbing a hill.  They will even make the hill seem "easier" than riding that same hill with upright bars.

Yesterday I put the original drop bars back on my Surly.  That involved replacing the cables for the brakes and shifters, re-installing the original brake levers, and taping the handlebars.  I got everything stitched up and running yesterday afternoon.  Already I can feel it in my neck (I have little cartilage left in my neck and the "heads up" position in riding drop bars aggravates that).  Tomorrow I take my first decent ride with them... about 30 miles.

Now here's a question, and it's a serious question.  What prohibits you from mounting mountain brake levers and barcon shifters on the top part of the drop bars?  Everything I've read says don't do it but, really, what's to prevent you?  Because in my case the easy access to the shifters and brakes might lessen the strain on my neck and back.

So maybe combining drop bars with mountain bike shifters and brake levers is the best of both worlds?  I haven't tried it yet but we shall see.  Stay tuned.

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