Kranking big gears : LUSENET : Mountain Bike Hash Forum : One Thread

I see many riders tend to smashing their cranks on the big chainring. I dont know why...Maybe it's fun to do this but the truth is that it is less efficient and u get tired very esily especially when climbing hills. And in the long run u r going to damage your knees. I try to advice people to spin and maintain a high cadence of 90-100rpm on the flat and 60-80rpm when climbing.

-- IceCube (, June 21, 2001


I am guilty. I am a big cranker (Cranker I state - can't you read?). Don't know why, but I seem to get tired more quickly spinning. Perhaps it is a case of practice, and I am trying to spin more these days. I know what you say is correct, as on climbs I usually get overtaken by the spinners, But never on down hills, so I shall persevere, and when I get it right, I will be a "hard act to follow".

-- RocketBoy (, June 25, 2001.

Yah, witness the change in Lance Armstrong's style, pre and post cancer. Before, he used to stand up a lot and mash a big gear. Good enough to win the 1993 World Championship, but got him nowhere in the major tours.

Post cancer, they worked on his climbing style. Now his cadence is much higher, and he stays seated throughout.

On the other hand, mashing a big gear is useful in training, I believe. It gets your quadriceps used to high levels of lactic acid, and allows you to accelerate away from rivals in spurts. Sometimes doing that can demoralise an opponent who is following you closely. Just make sure you have enough in reserve to sit back down and spin at the previous rate. This way, your chaser will have to work hard to reel you in again.

Just my unscientific opinion...

-- Joe Adnan (, June 26, 2001.

Well i guess it really depends on the trail/steepness of the hill or the condition. I'm a big cranker myself coz i have to keep up with this fast riders of Boon foo's place, thats an excuse but it does depends on the steepness, wether its plain training or leisure riding. Well the cadence you recommnded is good and it also depends on he rider/situation and trail. Its a all rounder..

p/s--sometimes i feel if i had a bigger chainrings on downhills would be good.=)

-- Jonny Monteiro (, June 29, 2001.

OppS guys sorry bout the typing was kinda in the dark at that time...

-- jonny monteiro (, June 29, 2001.

you actually noticed Lance's different pedalling techniques? phew!!

-- matt (, July 02, 2001.

Yes, when we watch professional races we like to observe their technique.

-- IceCube (, July 03, 2001.

i like watching them, in fact to observe them, but i can't tell much difference.

just another cycling fan.


-- Vincent (, July 04, 2001.

Have you read Lance's book "It's not the Bike"? An extremely brilliant book, and gives an insight on how he has matured with age and with cancer, and what really makes him tick. The paradox is that cancer made him a better cyclist. His change in pedalling style is well documented in the road-racing magazines like Cyclesports and Velonews, both of which is extremely difficult to come by here in Malaysia. He's also a lot leaner now, with less upper body mass (he was a former triathlete). The Tour starts this weekend, so let's see whether he can make it 3 in a row!

-- Joe (, July 04, 2001.

I think Joe Adnan's comments on climbing are generally sensible. However, his point on Lance needs slight modification. Lance does STAND alot. And when he does, he is still at about 90rpm. Sure he's in 39 x 21 or 39 x 23 but he spins high. Generally this is pretty inefficient but he is very strong. Even his coach said so sometime ago in a magazine. Lance likes to stand and its a bit of a bad habit. However, it does indicate that even if seated high rpm climbing is good, it should be adjusted to the individual rider.

Also worth noting is that Lance does alot of low cadence work ( 50-55rpm) in a very big gear to develop the muscles to spin at a higher cadence. Plus he does do under-geared high cadence work to train his muscle memory. Lastly, you need greater aerobic conditioning to climb like that. Ullrich is a power-man. He rides at 60-70rpm pushing a bigger gear and it works for him.

From a scientific view, Ullrich because he is heavier needs to exert more energy to put out the absolute watts necessary to match Lance. Thats why he is slower. My point: spinning is good but it might not be the ONLY way to climb. Just my opinion. Bear in mind weight, terrain, fitness etc. On the MTB spinning is better I think. However, I do know big powerful riders who blow everyone away standing on single-track because there is less loss of momentum. Again use your discretion.

-- R.Rueban (, July 20, 2001.

Good point Rueban. I was watching the stage to Alp D'Huez a couple of days ago, and was struck by the fluidity of his pedal strokes. Mmmm mmm. ;-) 13 minutes in the Pyrenees? I can't wait to see the race unfold!

On the point of training at a lower cadence, I used to run before I mountain biked, and used to do "fartleks" or interval training, to get the muscles used to high levels of exertion. Brilliant for the 400m. Taking the interval training technique over to mountain bikes, it just seemed logical that high lactate exercises like pushing a big gear would help build muscular endurance. But I also found that riding my road bike helps me build a more efficient pedalling technique, as you can concentrate a lot more on form. So that was what worked for me, mashing big gears occasionally, and road biking up hills like Awana, Genting Peres and the Gap.

-- Joe Adnan (, July 20, 2001.

Joe, Riding on road to improve MTB fitness is excellent. I have learned, in the last year or so, that riding the roadie is indispensable for several reasons. SO you are right on the nuts. Mainly its impossible to ' hold the power down' on the MTB because of the demands of terrain. I would even suggest that about 80% of riding for the MTB rider who wants to improve should be on road. Cadel Evans is an excellent example. He is recently even doing well racing on the road.

About muscular endurance. I have a question. Forgive my inquisitive mind, I am still learning and a newbie at least on the road. In your last installment, you mentioned fartleks. On the bike, that probably translates to efforts approaching anaerobic threshold coupled with a short recovery. I don't know if cranking big gears is necessary for this kind of workout since it is an aerobic workout.

Let me explain. I was under the impression that big-ring workouts were meant to develop/maintain strength. That is altogether different from a fartlek. I think the Old Genting Gap Rd is ideal for big ring work since its not too steep and long enough to prevent going down and back up ( unless u are super-masochistic!!!). You could probably do 4 blocks of 10 minute big-ring efforts. However, heart rate is unimportant because it is a strength workout. Recovery should be 5-7 minutes whereas in an aerobic interval, recovery time should be shorter (2 -3 minutes if you are pretty fit) ( adjust as necessary to get back to Zone 1 or HR that is < 65% of max). That is the difference to me. Big ring efforts are not about heart-rates whereas aerobic intervals are about jacking heart rate then short recovery, just as in a typical MTB race.

Anyway this was how I understood it. Muscular endurance should also come with long gradual climbs on long rides.

-- R. Rueban (, July 23, 2001.


I hesistate to categorically state that a climbing on a bike is an aerobic workout. Surely it must depend on your level of exertion? I frequently push the heart-rate beyond 90%max while climbing, then change down to recover. The fact that I can feel the lactic burn in the quads and calves suggests to me that I've gone beyond my AT. My heart rate profile when climbing is similar to when I'm running, except that maybe I can push my running heart rate 10-15bpm higher.

-- Joe (, July 24, 2001.


Firstly, thanks for engaging in the discussion. I am in the process of working out my training ideas. Perhaps you can help me to do so. In my last instalment, I was vague and misleading. Yes climbing on a bike can be an aerobic work-out or an anaerobic one. However, I do not think that a big-ring work-out should be regarded as a way of training an energy system unlike both of the work-outs mentioned above. I am not sure that you do either. It is a strength work-out like squats at the gym but it is sport specific. Moreover, its difficult to get your HR high if riding in a big-gear thus defeating the point of a fartlek or interval. Secondly, the too much riding at low cadences in a high-gear leads to potential overtraining and injury.

It is common for cyclists to use hills to train the anaerobic system. My view is to focus on heart rate and cadence. By trying to stay at the prescribed zone and trying to maintain 80-90rpm, one can focus on raising the AT as well as not blowing form when feeling flogged on a climb. Remember Lance in last year's Tour, when he bonked. He kept good form and only lost 2.5 minutes to Ullrich. You can almost hear Bruyneel telling him to stay calm and not to panic. In short: be smooth. Here is what I would think of doing for a good interval session. I'm open to suggestions.

a) Find a hill that allows you, for the most part, to maintain a good cadence (80-90rpm) over the bulk of duration of the interval session. Adjust steepness accordingly. b) Expect cadence to drop when performing the interval. When the lactic acid builds up, that is inevitable. Thus one might end up working through the gears toward the end of the session. I think this is acceptable but beginning an interval session on a hill in a high gear and low cadence is does not make sense if the aim is to work close to max. c) Intervals hurt! So aim for quality. Hence, lower gearing and a higher cadence to get the most out of the time spent suffering.

So in short, I would avoid cranking big gears when I am trying to elevate my AT. I would however, use them to develop muscle tension or strength. That would mean finding a moderately steep hill where I would focus purely on cadence (50-55rpm) and staying smooth and seated. I am still not sure if standing on this kind of work-out is a good idea. (Ideas anyone? ) However, since it is a strength work-out, heart rate is immaterial but it should not elevate too high due to slow leg-turnover.

What do you think? Cheers, Rueban

-- Rueban (, July 24, 2001.

I agree with your suggested method above on training aerobic and anaerobic. Regarding whether to stand or to remain seated on the saddle really depends on which part of the muscle groups that u want to workout, I think. When u r seated, the power mostly comes from your legs (quads, hamstrings, calves). But when u r standing the power mostly comes from your but.

-- IceCube (, July 26, 2001.


I've read your post several times. I think there is no disagreement. Perhaps if there is any differences, they relate to what we mean by mashing a big gear.

I don't really do strength training per se, just hill climbs to push my AT to a higher level. These tend to be either longish climbs (more than 5km) in which I would alternate being standing and seated, or short hill climbs (a few hundred metres, like in Damansara Heights or Keny Hills) where I would attack the hills with all I've got. I guess the latter counts as strength training. But since I was not training to be a sprinter, I didn't do this as part of any systematic training regime, just as part of my commute when I had limited time to exercise and so had to make the exercise as intense as possible.

However, I do think that a lot riders do not explore the limits of their own abilities enough. Sometimes when one climb hills with a cog or two higher than one normally does, there will be a quantum leap in performance, as the AT is pushed higher. But this doesn't apply to highly trained athletes, for whom improvements will be much more gradual.

To sum, I agree with the original principle as stated by Ice Cube that one should spin rather than mash. But this rule should not be followed slavishly as there are benefits to be gained from using a bigger gear than you would in a race. For example, I'd ride up Twin Peaks (Bukit Kiara) in the granny during a race, but if I were training I'd try to middle ring the middle section.

Anyway, I'm off to ride Kiara tomorrow.

Happy trails and on on! Joe

-- Joe (, July 27, 2001.

Thanks for the tips and advice. I will be sure to mull it over. At the moment I'm acclimatising and simply cruising. I hope to hook up for real sometime soon. I guess I have one last tip. For those who have not yet seen ' The Road to Paris'. Watch it. If you don't have it, we'll have to organise a screening. I have it on tape. ' If you want to be in front, then ride as if you are behind.'

cheers, Rubes

-- R.Rueban (, July 27, 2001.

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