Blog, Training, Uncategorized

The Art of Climbing – Unlock your best

I have dedicated the last 15 years of my life to help people improve their cycling, and climbing is almost always at the top of their lists of challenges.  Every rider I work with needs to improve their Climbing, from Century rides, Gravel Grinders, Cyclocross to RAMROD to STP, it is the focus for most riders.  I was lucky to learn to climb early when I moved to Colorado and began racing road in the mountains, everyone who races there is a great climber.  My 2nd race was the Mt. Evans hillclimb (highest paved road in US over 14,000ft) and when I was a pro mountain biker I won a WorldCup medal for 3rd place with the best in the world racing up Mammoth Mountain, so climbing has been my cycling “thesis” and major area of study since 1987.

Climbing requires more than just fitness, I have coached some of the fittest riders around and often is is more subtle techniques like mental “fueling”, pedal stroke or fueling correctly that makes the biggest difference.  Climbing will test you and *can* bring out the best in you, it can also allow you to find ways to give up early.  

If you are trying to unlock your best climber, start with where you are with your fitness now and accept your ability and limitations as starting points.  You have a pattern of how you climb, and if you want to improve there are a number of things you can look at BESIDES your training/fitness level to be sure you are climbing as well as you can:

1.  Pedal stroke optimization

2.  Breathing techniques for steady and hard climbing

3.  Posture and hand position

4.  Bike fit to allow full power

5.  Pacing tools to fit terrain

6.  Shifting smooth transitions and cadence

7.  Standing skills, recovery and full-gas

8.  Fueling precision 

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Blog, Coach Articles, Dean's Letter, Uncategorized

You have something you are really good at…DO THAT!

I have been coaching racers for a long time to great success, but I have had a couple clients who didn’t respond to my coaching because they were trying to race events that didn’t suit their talents. This story is about one such racer, and Cycle U  as a bike shop and how we had been experiencing mediocre results because we didn’t listen to our coaches and focus 100% on what we were born to do, create better bike riders.  On October 1st that all changed as we launched Cycle U 2.0 and partnered with Westside Bicycle.

Coach Craig with Junior at old Huling Brothers location West Seattle 2010

Back in 98 I was coaching a young racer, I’ll call him “Greg”, and as part of a coaching package along with a bike fit we also did our normal performance test.  This consists of a hard hilly 10k simulation on the computrainer followed by a 30 second “all out” effort that begins with a full sprint.  From this we measure average wattage, peak wattage, heart rate and then prescribe training.  He came to me because he loved the idea of long road races like in the Tour de France with epic climbs, long breakaways and all the spectacle of road racing.  When I tested him something became immediatly apparent…he was a Sprinter, not a road racer.  His max wattage was the highest I had ever tested, and his watts/kilo “climbing predictor” was so low it would take a miracle for him to finish tough hilly road races.  

We spent the next few years trying to get good finishes in the road races he loved and dreamed about, but to no avail, it ended in frustration and mediocre results despite hard training and effort.  If he would have just focused on track sprinting at the outset as I had suggested, he would have been an amazing racer and who knows how far he would have gone, but he followed his dream and learned it was much harder than he had imagined.  
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Blog, Tips and Tricks, Uncategorized

BAM! how to shift your bike like a pro

One of the joys of riding a bicycle is using this machine to get exactly the most amount of speed from the energy you put into it.  When we teach our hill climbing bootcamps or private lessons, one of the biggest things we teach people is how to shift correctly to maintain momentum, utilize all your cycling muscles at the right cadences and to be smooth so you don’t strain yourself with sudden changes.  This is the art of cycling.  Using the bicycle as a machine to propel you smoothly to go faster with less effort.

Here is an example of what I am talking about.  As I was riding to work, going down a steep hill which led into an uphill, I had to keep it in my big ring and my cadence slowly dropped as I was going through the bottom of the hill, and starting to go upward.  I then started shifting with my right shifter 2 gears at a time to make it easier, pedaling as I went, with the goal of keeping my cadence around 80 rpm and applying pressure to the pedals to carry speed

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Blog, Coach Articles, Cycle U News, Dean's Letter, Training, Uncategorized

Dean’s Letter: Make Yourself Do It


I gave my 1000th racing class this week on a typical rainy Seattle day. I taught a few new guys the ropes, told them about protecting their front wheel, riding straight and predictable, looking before moving around. I described how the pack moves like an amoeba and explained how to save energy by drafting off your fellow riders. For almost an hour I gave them racing tips as we rolled over the course to get warmed up and scout out obstacles. Then it was time to decide whether to race or not.

In my class advertisements I say that I ride with my students, but I have a personal policy not to race in the rain at Pacific Raceways. Cars leave so much oil on the roadway that racing in the rain can get sketchy fast. But I made a commitment to ride, so I donned an extra layer and headed to the start line. I would race with my students, at least for a lap or two.

On the first lap I was yelling comments out to all the riders. This was a beginner race, so I had plenty of coaching to do. Road grit and water clung to my teeth, leaving a nasty taste in my mouth. I noticed one of our guys was fading fast so I drifted to the back of the pack, giving him a wheel to focus on catching. By the end of the circuit, he had pushed forward and rejoined the group.

The race gained intensity on the second lap and we split into two groups. I tried to glue the pack back together, encouraging my racers to work steadily so they didn’t overexert themselves early on.

Our third lap around, my straggler was barely hanging on. He was struggling to keep up but gritted his teeth and stayed with the group up the hills. The other riders were doing fine, so I stayed back to support him. As we were approaching the next big downhill I yelled for him to stay back, but he powered to the front. He was first on the descent, but he had ignored racing tip #74: Don’t attack on the downhill when you are tired. You will get chewed up in the ascent and spit out the back of the group. Sure enough, it was his last lap anywhere near the chase group.

One of the lighter riders in our group made similar mistakes. She was blown back on downhill stretches by heavier riders with more momentum, but climbed back to the front every time. I explained to her that on descents it is better to stay behind the rider you are following, even if you are 20 feet apart. The draft has a tail which helps you coast up into the bottom of the next hill, making it easier to climb. After giving her a few tips I moved on, coaching my way around the chase group.

Before I knew it, we were on the last lap and I had done the whole wet miserable race, loving every minute of it. I was reminded that the hardest part can be convincing yourself to just get out there and go for it. I am so glad I didn’t talk myself out of racing before I had a chance, and I hope you do the same. Putting your nose out there and going for it is the only way you will find out how much fun you would have missed.

C U on the Road,

Craig Undem





Blog, Dean's Letter, Uncategorized

Dean’s Letter: Step up to Fitness!

Spring has sprung and excitement for riding season is at its peak. This is the time of year when everything is possible. This year, you will set your personal record up Goat Hill. You will finally tackle that epic ride, your own personal Tour.  Whatever your goal or target is this season, now IS NOT the time to double down on your training.  Pushing yourself too hard this time of year is a recipe for poor performance and sickness later on.

It is very tempting to overwork yourself in the spring. Riders who want to improve over the summer season often feel  faced with two choices :

A.Vow to double down on their training in the next month so they quickly reach their goals or  B. map out the next 8 weeks with a step by step plan, building ride length and intensity with plenty of recovery riding in between.

Although it is natural to pick A, the correct choice is B. Pushing yourself  too hard early in the season can cause overuse injuries. To avoid over training, steadily build your training hours as the days get longer. Taking small steps will allow you to achieve your goals without causing injury.

The key to Plan B is  scheduling. If it isn’t in my schedule, it doesn’t get done.  When I started teaching two  noon classes each week, I realized that I needed to keep those rides as a part of my schedule year round. The foundation of my week is based on that two ride plan. I always make sure to complete two good rides during the week, then a bonus ride on the weekend. Working towards the cyclocross season in September, my training plan builds steadily in intensity.  Stepping  my way up to big events allows me to bring the heat without burning out.

C U on the trails!

Craig Undem