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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I'm a Clydesdale-I'm fit but neither skinny nor light at 5'11" and 220lbs.

For years, I've suspected that riders like me are at a serious disadvantage when climbing. My suspicion isn't based on science (just experience) but I think there may be science to back it up.

That disadvantage (my armchair theory) is that as you go up the rider weight scale, the amount of ENERGY required to climb the same hill (all other things besides weight being equal) goes up exponentially (or logarithmically?). It's not linear. Put differently, we don't all face the same level of difficulty when climbing (again assuming for the hypothesis that everything else is equal-that we're all in equal shape).

Like many, my level of conditioning has gone up and down over the years. But during "peak conditioning" times when I've been riding a lot (and climbing a lot), I've noticed repeatedly that I get dusted by riders on climbs (both male and female) who are skinny and weigh 50lbs less than I do (sometimes 75lbs less). And because I know some of these riders, I know they don't train any harder than I do and are (likely) in no better cardiovascular shape.

So I'm wondering (hence my call for mechanical engineers) if there is physics and science to prove this? Maybe it's a "no duh" thing? But I've never seen the curves plotted on a line graph.

It's something I've lived with for years...but it's also frustrating as hell, because in my case at least, it's got nothing to do with conditioning, diet, etc. I'm more active than many skinny MTBers I know who waltz up hills and barely seem to be breathing hard, while I have to HAMMER up the same hill and am almost at redline with my heartrate.

Of course there is a flip side, which is that I bomb down hills MUCH faster than my skinny friends-if I'm behind them, I'm almost always having to brake to keep from ramming them-and I'm not even pedaling! (But sometimes this can be a drag too because it results in red-hot, smoking brakes a lot.)

Why does any of this matter? Because we tend to be very egalitarian-we tend to want to believe that we're all equal, and the people who train harder are stronger and do better, period. But I think the reality is different: that some people are advantaged by birth and genetics to be faster climbers than others.

Scott
 

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Yes. Climbing is more difficult for big riders.

A couple of reasons.
1. Sustainable power output doesn't climb linearly with weight. A super fit 100kg rider might be able to maintain 450 watts, 4.5 watts/kg. Where as a super fit 70kg rider could do 420 watts, 7 watts/kg. And a super fit 60kg rider might be able to do 390 watts, 6.5 watts/kg. Climbing is all about watts/kg.

2. Size of the "radiator". Cooling is a massive factor in climbing ability and cooling ability depends on the ratio of surface area to mass. The ratio of surface area to mass is lower on heavier rider. Really hard for them to manage their thermal output.
 

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Climbing, unlike other aspects of riding is almost entirely determined by w/kg (watts per kilo). If you're climbing with your skinny friends you'll have to produce more power than they do to hang with them. How much more can easily be predicted by science, plug in different numbers on different percent grades with this calculator and you can see exactly how much more power you'll need or how much slower you'll go if you only produce the same amount as someone lighter.


Conversely you will descend faster at the same power than someone who is lighter.
 

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I am a mechanical engineer, but your question is physiological.

Just consider how much of your body is not being used to get you up those hills... it's all baggage if it's not a heart, lung, or quadriceps muscle.

The lighter folks have a lot less of that baggage.

-F
 

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watts per kilogram

VO2 max is about creating more watts

couldn't be simpler
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Thanks for the good info and reminder of power-to-weight. I posted about it partly (yes) to make myself feel better, LOL. But also because it's good to remind average, non-racing riders like me that comparative ability isn't all about discipline, training frequency, diet, etc. Yes—those things can impact a rider's performance...but there are genetic factors that place hard limits on the performance of heavier riders, period. (Some people are just bigger than others regardless of all other variables).

In today's world of social justice and equity, I find it fascinating that the world of sports is one of the most prejudiced out there—because it favors people who are genetically "superior" (for a particular application) than others. Yes, many local races have a Clydesdale class—which is great—but you don't see this at the highest levels of competition. At the highest levels, we worship the "blond-haired, blue-eyed racers" (e.g. the skinny ones) because they perform better, period.

In some cases, this can impact how well young people do in different sports. For example, I don't recall anyone when I was in middle- or high-school saying to me "You definitely should not be a runner or a bike racer because you just don't have the body type—and no matter how hard you work, you'll never overcome that." That would obviously be a harsh message to give a kid...but it's 100% true. (Hence my point about the world of high-level sports not being very equitable.)

Yeah, I know—I digress—indulge me! :)
Scott
 
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100%

there is a reason the best hill climbers in the world tour are 125 lbs.

Clydes make good time trialists and downhillers though!! While you may be slower to accelerate, you conserve momentum better.

I take it all in stride. my riding buddies know I'm a big dude, and I don't feel bad when they dust me on climbs. It's just physics after all, and I just happened to be born very tall and heavy!
 

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Pure climbers at the Tour de France often weigh down to 135 pounds or even lower. These days a TdF winner would generally weigh 155 lbs at most and usually ten pounds less than that. They need the extra mass over a climbing specialist for power during time trials, keeping position in the group, etc. Still they are skin and bones. You are talking about people who if they were not pros and were in what most people would consider really good shape with low body fat then they would walk around at 175 or 180lbs but as pros they weigh 150. That is not just loss of body fat; muscle tissue has been catabolized. Many are basically anorexic.

At 220 you have a massive climbing disadvantage over someone who weighs, say, 160. It is even worse on a mountain bike than a road bike because there is so many things that can hinder momentum that then requires you to accelerate body mass.
 

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Not a mechanical engineer but i do have real world experience. Back in my teens as a 117 pound racer, there was hardly anyone that could match my climbing in the initial climb of a race. I simply spin like mad and keep passing people. But usually those with endurance will pass me mid climb.

Now 30 pounds and few decades later, I have the muscle and endurance, but no longer the fly light weight. Without any data comparison to my former teenager self, I know no way I am as fast during the initial part of a long climb, especially where the trail just before was a downhill. I cant carry that momentum much like before.

The good news though as you pointed out, I am no longer slower by default and had to work extra hard or pedal fast on the downhill.
 

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I'm not a 'true Clyde' but I am 6'4" with a 38" inseam and 185-190lbs. There's other 'things' at play here too. We are forced to ride huge bikes that weigh more, that we still don't fit right, we sit up higher and aren't as aerodynamic (especially if a true Clyde). For me personally I've ridden over 1,600mi/200k ft vert on dirt so far this year. I'm strong and have done 30-40mi races. At XC races I get rekt on steep/long climbs and always destroy everyone back on the downhills. It's frustrating actually, I'm switching up my bike (ordered and waiting) and my training routines in hopes of doing better next season.
 

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Thanks for the good info and reminder of power-to-weight. I posted about it partly (yes) to make myself feel better, LOL. But also because it's good to remind average, non-racing riders like me that comparative ability isn't all about discipline, training frequency, diet, etc. Yes-those things can impact a rider's performance...but there are genetic factors that place hard limits on the performance of heavier riders, period. (Some people are just bigger than others regardless of all other variables).

In today's world of social justice and equity, I find it fascinating that the world of sports is one of the most prejudiced out there-because it favors people who are genetically "superior" (for a particular application) than others. Yes, many local races have a Clydesdale class-which is great-but you don't see this at the highest levels of competition. At the highest levels, we worship the "blond-haired, blue-eyed racers" (e.g. the skinny ones) because they perform better, period.

In some cases, this can impact how well young people do in different sports. For example, I don't recall anyone when I was in middle- or high-school saying to me "You definitely should not be a runner or a bike racer because you just don't have the body type-and no matter how hard you work, you'll never overcome that." That would obviously be a harsh message to give a kid...but it's 100% true. (Hence my point about the world of high-level sports not being very equitable.)

Yeah, I know-I digress-indulge me! :)
Scott
Prejudiced? Doesn't every sport favor particular genetics in one way or the other? @6'3"- 150# I don't think I could have ever played pro football, not that I would have wanted to.

And no offense but you're not genetically predisposed to weigh 220 @5"11", I'm, sure you could lose 20 pounds or so if you really wanted to. Also there are plenty of heavier pro cyclists but they race different disciplines, many ~200# riders do very well at crit & track races. Probably short track mtb too.
 

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There's a lot of bold in the original post... but anyway. If you are 5'11" and want to fly up the hills, get your weight down to around 150-160 lbs. Pretty sure the OP would be able to maintain a lot of his current power output if he dropped to that weight. Or just accept being slow, or get an ebike.

The power and energy required to climb the hills is proportional to weight, not exponential or weight squared or whatever.

Regarding genetics, I believe some people are predisposed to slow twitch fibers - these people gain power more easily than the fast twitchers (but tend to be worse at non-endurance sports that favor explosive power, like most of them).
 

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Thanks for the good info and reminder of power-to-weight. I posted about it partly (yes) to make myself feel better, LOL. But also because it's good to remind average, non-racing riders like me that comparative ability isn't all about discipline, training frequency, diet, etc. Yes-those things can impact a rider's performance...but there are genetic factors that place hard limits on the performance of heavier riders, period. (Some people are just bigger than others regardless of all other variables).

In today's world of social justice and equity, I find it fascinating that the world of sports is one of the most prejudiced out there-because it favors people who are genetically "superior" (for a particular application) than others. Yes, many local races have a Clydesdale class-which is great-but you don't see this at the highest levels of competition. At the highest levels, we worship the "blond-haired, blue-eyed racers" (e.g. the skinny ones) because they perform better, period.

In some cases, this can impact how well young people do in different sports. For example, I don't recall anyone when I was in middle- or high-school saying to me "You definitely should not be a runner or a bike racer because you just don't have the body type-and no matter how hard you work, you'll never overcome that." That would obviously be a harsh message to give a kid...but it's 100% true. (Hence my point about the world of high-level sports not being very equitable.)

Yeah, I know-I digress-indulge me! :)
Scott
You miss a few issues. While different builds might perform better at different tasks (larger builds being better for raw strength than for something that favors strength/weight), there is value to doing something that you simply enjoy doing, whether you're especially good at it or not.

Sure, there's a segment of cycling that is oriented towards high level performance, but the bulk of it is not. Most ride bicycles because they enjoy it, or because it's a tool (and hopefully if you use your bicycle as a tool/basic transport, you also enjoy riding it). Who cares about anything else? Cycling is an athletic endeavor that you can consider a lifetime sport. So is running, and swimming, and a number of other things. Unlike many team sports. When it comes to kids, ideal build has very little to do with it.

You don't see ANY sport at the highest levels accept anyone other than the those who perform the best. But when you consider people just doing a thing because they enjoy it, why not make it inclusive so more people can enjoy that thing?

You want kids to enjoy whatever sports they choose to do, so hopefully they'll stick with it, whether they're good at it or not. My wife's father was so wrapped up in team sports to the exclusion of other things he didn't care whether my wife enjoyed those things as a kid. He actually forced her to play basketball. She came to hate team sports. The biggest factor for kids, honestly, is that they enjoy it, they gain some life experience, and they get some physical activity that they'll stick with. If a kid is showing some serious interest in sports and some innate abilities, then you might want to nurture that above and beyond the basics. Get them to try different sports to see what they like better, and what they might be better at. It's better for athletic kids to have broad experience than to specialize too early, anyway.

It gets even worse when it comes to things like the arts. If people aren't REALLY good at them, then they often don't pursue them at all. But if you enjoy playing an instrument, or drawing/painting, or sculpture, or whatever, then there's no real reason not to pursue those things for your own enjoyment. It's actually more socially acceptable to pursue sports throughout your life than to pursue the arts.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
Prejudiced? Doesn't every sport favor particular genetics in one way or the other? @6'3"- 150# I don't think I could have ever played pro football, not that I would have wanted to.

And no offense but you're not genetically predisposed to weigh 220 @5"11", I'm, sure you could lose 20 pounds or so if you really wanted to. Also there are plenty of heavier pro cyclists but they race different disciplines, many ~200# riders do very well at crit & track races. Probably short track mtb too.
Guilty as charged-if I really wanted to I could definitely lose 20lbs...but it would suck, LOL. I'm also heavier (and disadvantaged for climbing) because I've been a lifelong long-distance and whitewater kayaker (I paddle around 10-15 miles/week in my sea kayak just to train for multi-day ocean journeys). And I used to be a whitewater racer-all of which is to say I have HUGE shoulder and back muscle mass-which is pretty much dead weight when cycling, LOL.
 
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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
You miss a few issues. While different builds might perform better at different tasks (larger builds being better for raw strength than for something that favors strength/weight), there is value to doing something that you simply enjoy doing, whether you're especially good at it or not.

Sure, there's a segment of cycling that is oriented towards high level performance, but the bulk of it is not. Most ride bicycles because they enjoy it, or because it's a tool (and hopefully if you use your bicycle as a tool/basic transport, you also enjoy riding it). Who cares about anything else? Cycling is an athletic endeavor that you can consider a lifetime sport. So is running, and swimming, and a number of other things. Unlike many team sports. When it comes to kids, ideal build has very little to do with it.

You don't see ANY sport at the highest levels accept anyone other than the those who perform the best. But when you consider people just doing a thing because they enjoy it, why not make it inclusive so more people can enjoy that thing?

You want kids to enjoy whatever sports they choose to do, so hopefully they'll stick with it, whether they're good at it or not. My wife's father was so wrapped up in team sports to the exclusion of other things he didn't care whether my wife enjoyed those things as a kid. He actually forced her to play basketball. She came to hate team sports. The biggest factor for kids, honestly, is that they enjoy it, they gain some life experience, and they get some physical activity that they'll stick with. If a kid is showing some serious interest in sports and some innate abilities, then you might want to nurture that above and beyond the basics. Get them to try different sports to see what they like better, and what they might be better at. It's better for athletic kids to have broad experience than to specialize too early, anyway.

It gets even worse when it comes to things like the arts. If people aren't REALLY good at them, then they often don't pursue them at all. But if you enjoy playing an instrument, or drawing/painting, or sculpture, or whatever, then there's no real reason not to pursue those things for your own enjoyment. It's actually more socially acceptable to pursue sports throughout your life than to pursue the arts.
Thanks Harold-I agree 100% with all you said! I do accept that I'm slower and for that reason often ride alone. Because (alas) I've found in group rides I'm usually the heaviest guy, and can't help but feel like a burden on everyone else when climbing (they either wait around for 10mins for me to reach the top, or I get left far behind and end up riding alone anyway). The reality is that most people tend to be competitive-even if they're "casual" riders. It's just the nature of group activities. For proof, we only have to look at the value we place on "smoking a climb" or "bombing that downhill" or "cleaning that tech." That's all competitive language. I'm not griping about it-just making the observation. :)
 
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