Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Yeah, But They Just Aren't Good On Hills..."

Well, I figured I should add a follow up the “Is that thing fast?” post to be fair and all. “Yeah, but they aren't good on hills.” Often after answering the speed question, a recumbent rider is then barraged with the inevitable climbing question. I will say, however, when most folks see that recumbent grin boasting the awesome speeds you can sustain, the climbing question is often just formatted as a statement.

"Just doesn't climb at all."
"Yeah, but they aren't good on hills"
“Well, those things can’t climb.”

Whaa? I always wonder why it is often put that way. “Can’t climb?” Why state it as fact? It’s beyond me, especially since I have been met with that statement at a rest area on an organized ride - a rest area at the top of a major climb. Can’t climb, eh? Well, I am here talking to you - and I am not dying for a lack of breath - so I must have made the climb just fine. It's simply hilarious to receive this comment when standing at the top of the mountain.

Lets be honest here - the “recumbents can’t climb - nanny nanny boo boo!” line is a last resort argument against recumbents and it’s just not true. Yes, recumbents have some disadvantage on the climbs. For instance, on my recumbents I cannot stand on the pedals, temporarily relieving a chaffed, creamy buttered bum from the torture of the wedgie seat. I can’t repeatedly pump my arms like doing sweaty pushups to throw my upper body weight around fighting for a bit more watts. Though from my reclined position those things are not missed at all anymore.

There are a few techniques a recumbent rider CAN do - like sitting up a bit in a crunch or arching the back, which has a similar effect as standing on the pedals on a DF. But really you can just spin to the top. It’s most comfortable no matter how long you are going to be doing it. On the recumbent platform - climbing is like having an easy chair with the world as your theater. When climbing via a recumbent, you put it into a gear that gets you the right cadence and spin. Just keep spinning. Relax. Enjoy.

Sometimes a spinning climb will be fast and sometimes slow. I have noticed many times while spinning up a mountain at 6 MPH getting passed by other riders who are going in the 8 - 10 MPH range. Many times they are much more winded than I am as they do the stand sit stand sit stand sit cycle. Many times as I continue my steady 6 MPH spin I round a corner and the same guys who passed me are stopped taking a breather or resting their nether regions, and I pass them forging on. Ten minutes later - repeat that process - and on and on it goes until we all reach the top within a relative handful of minutes and are all eating ‘lil cups full of vanilla wafers and bananas together. Rolling up to the top of a climb in the reclined comfort of a ‘bent is an awesome feeling, plain and simple and the difference in most climb speeds is not that great.

So, it is not that recumbents cannot climb. I am not saying that climbing on a recumbent is always a breeze. Far from it. Some of my first sustained climbs on 'bents I feared the grim reaper would leap from the trees and take my ass away. But it was not because the “recumbent can’t climb.” It was because "I had not climbed on a recumbent." The best way to get good at climbing is to do it - no matter the bike - and it takes a while to build the muscle. Nobody tries to tackle a steep hike and then yells “these hiking boots can’t climb!” Insanity.

When you get your recumbent legs you learn to enjoy the spin. The journey of the climb changes your paradigm - it becomes a relaxing experience. Now, some recumbent riders can climb as fast or faster than a typical road bike - it all depends on the riders abilities, their goal, and the bike. Yet even with a slower climb - when you even it out over the course of a long ride - those slower climb speeds are more than balanced out with the blazing downhills and higher than average speeds on the flats and rollers.

Anyone who has been on a larger organized ride knows that one guy - the “tortoise” guy - the one rider who you seem to pass over and over, but is always there in the ride no matter what. You wonder if that rider has even gotten off his bike to drink or pee or eat. He is just everywhere it seems. He is going and going and going and going. He looks happy all the time. Is he even working hard? He might even be wearing “ordinary” clothing. Crazy! Did that guy SAG half the ride? You remember passing that rider before the break at the top - he seemed slow and not very winded - but now you are passing him again? Huh? What? At the beer garden at the end of the ride you spy with your little eye that SAME plain clothes guy - he is already there with a beer in hand and smile on. What the heck? Did he ever need to stop? Are you in the Twilight Zone? Is Rod Serling hosting this ride?

I think not. That guy was probably on a recumbent.


  1. Great post. And I see you fixed your RSS feed. WOOHOO!

  2. Yes! Glad to hear that the feed is working now. It was the name change that did it and i had not redirected the feed. DOH!