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  1. #1
    Big Damn Hero
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    Climbing Skills Question

    So about 2 months ago I got my new bike (KHS XC204) and have been loving every minute of it. It's my first full suspension bike and while it's taken a lot of miles to get it set up to my liking, I think I've finally dialed in the shock.

    The one issue that I'm having is that on steep climbs I'm spinning the back wheel quite a bit and occasionally lose enough momentum that I have to pop off the bike. On these steep climbs, I generally stand and lean a little forward. For most climbs I'm able to make it up without standing, but the issue only seems to occur when I stand up.

    I'm about 180lbs and have the rear shock set to about the same. I haven't tried fiddling with the tire pressure as I don't have tubeless and I'm afraid that if I lower the pressure too much, I'm likely to get a pinch flat given the heavy roots on the trails I regularly ride. I've tried changing my body position a little, keeping my weight back, but that doesn't seem to help either.

    Does anyone have any advice about things I should try? Does this sound like an issue with shock settings, body positioning, tire pressure... a combination of all three?

    Any advice would be appreciated...

  2. #2
    DynoDon
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    you didn't mention where you are with your air in the tire, lower pressure would help, I weigh 220 and run 30 rear, 35 front with tubes, the tire in the rear would make some difference, standing takes different gearing than sitting, you should be up a couple gears when standing, body possition is always important, sitting is best with your butt on the tip of your seat, make sure you keep even pressure on your peddles, 360 degree smooth power works for me with clipless, wide bars helped me, I'm up to 780mm and may go wider. good luck.

  3. #3
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    I think setup will only marginally affect this problem. I think the real issue is where the center of gravity is on the bike. I.e. where you are over the bike. The best method for climbing on a full suspension bike is to sit and spin, but there are those time where you need to stand and power up really steep/rough terrain. This should be temporary though. Back to your question, if your back tire is spinning lean back a little. If the front tire starts to lose ground contact lean forward a little. You should be walking a fine line on the really really steep stuff between the two. Now if that still doesn't get you up the trail then maybe it's time to fiddle with the setup.

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by ChainChain
    if your back tire is spinning lean back a little. If the front tire starts to lose ground contact lean forward a little. You should be walking a fine line on the really really steep stuff between the two.
    THIS...

    I found that when I'm standing and mashing like this I do not want to lean forward. If you lean forward you are shifting your weight from the tire that needs traction to the tire that doesn't so much. Then you slip. The higher the incline and the looser the trail the more leaning forward will impact you ability to muscle up the hill.

    I'll stand almost straight up and down and pedal using the bars to keep my balance but keeping my weight centered over the bottom bracket to keep as much weight on the rear end as possible.

  5. #5
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    Assuming you're relatively new to mountain biking (and the short, steep climbs that come with), this sounds like mainly a body position issue. Don't get me wrong, all the other things mentioned matter too, but weight distribution on the steep short climbs, especially on loose terrain, is key. Out of saddle climbing position on a mtb involves a learning curve, as well as a tremendous amount of energy, because, as you have witnessed, you can't simply stand up out of the saddle into a comfortable, weight-forward position without immediately losing traction. You have to find the sweet spot, which will be more of a hover-your-ass-over-the-nose-of-the-seat move. You'll find that spot after a few times, just pay attention to what point moving forward and up off the seat you lose traction, then back your hiney up just a tad.

    I guarantee you this - while this is an effective, proven climbing technique, it's not very comfortable, partly because you have the nose of the seat precariously close to your.....well, you know, and partly because of the leg strength this move requires due to not being able to stand completely. It does get a bit better and more natural-feeling as you gain strength.

    This truly is a mtb specific technique, and one of my favorites - because once you get it, and become strong enough to pull it off whenever needed, you quickly realize how much more technical and demanding mountain biking is compared to road biking.

  6. #6
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    I think the nose of the saddle right by your but position is not necessarily correct. It is close but your particular bike geometry will determine exactly where you need to be. Some bikes with longer forks necessitate really getting over the bars. Look for the "Sweet Spot," as Betarad said, the balance between steering and traction.

  7. #7
    Shaman
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    The other guys posting are right. Your goal with body position is to position yourself where you get as much traction to the rear wheel as you can while keeping the front wheel from lifting.

    Finding the ideal, centered position is tough while standing and takes a lot of core strength. I rode one of the loosest climbs in Arizona today (Alta trail at South Mountain)and was seated the entire way for that reason.

    The one thing they have left out is you need to apply constant power to the rear wheel sudden bursts of power are more likely to spin the rear wheel. Too easy a gear (getting ahead of the pedal stroke) and too hard a gear (pulsing) can both cause your rear tire to spin even when in the perfect body position if the trail is loose enough.
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  8. #8
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    As well as adjusting front-rear weight position, getting low on the bike as you move your weight forward also helps (ie getting your chest/abdomen closer to the handlebars).

  9. #9
    Underskilled
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    I should also add it takes a lot of strength to move smoothly enough to not lose traction.
    So part of the answer is, the more you ride the better it will get.
    Why would I care about 150g of bike weight, I just ate 400g of cookies while reading this?

  10. #10
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    As said, you didn't mention actual tyre pressures you're running, you'd be surprised what you can run even in tubed tyres. I'm about 180-185lbs geared to ride and in a lot of my tyres (all above 2.1" on rims above 23mm wide) I can easily run down to as low as 28 PSI in the rear, which helps immensly in gaining traction on those sorts of climbs.

    Also, standing isn't bad, IF, you know how to do it. Sometimes a climb is so steep and/or loose that you can't just stand all the way up, legs fully extended, sometimes you have to be 1/2 standing, keeping the weight low to the bike and scooted back a bit over the saddle to keep weight on the rear tyre and then fully bent over to tkeep the front end down. I truly enjoy those sorts of climbs and It's technique and tyre pressure that gets you over those.
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  11. #11
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    These points have all been mentioned. While other techniques may work for other riders, let me summarize what I've had the most success with:

    1. Seated climbing, to keep the back end planted.

    2. Upper body forward and down to weight the front. The steeper it gets, the more forward and down your upper body goes, practically to the point of being able to kiss your stem. Pulling on the bars, paradoxically, is the way to keep the front end planted. As your upper body goes forward, your butt must follow, to the point of having the nose of the saddle squarely planted in your taint (taint what's in front, taint what's in back, it just taint). That why I like wider, or dropped, taint-friendly noses on my saddles.

    3. Smooth, even power.

    4. Knobbies!
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  12. #12
    No Clue Crew
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    Quote Originally Posted by BetterRide
    The one thing they have left out is you need to apply constant power to the rear wheel sudden bursts of power are more likely to spin the rear wheel.
    Quote Originally Posted by CaveGiant
    I should also add it takes a lot of strength to move smoothly enough to not lose traction.
    These two go hand in hand. If you don't have the strength to stand and crank smoothly you will spin out. I do it sometimes even while seated 'cause I'm climbing a hill whose top is my resting point so I'm usually right near exhaustion anyways.

  13. #13
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    Wow, thanks for all the feedback everyone.

    Based on the feedback here it seems like the biggest culprit is most likely my body positioning and pedaling 'rate'. I definitely lean over the front of the bike on the steep climbs, but being 6'4 it's sort of hard not too. I'll definitely work on keeping my body positioning back over the seat a bit more.

    In regards to pedaling inconsistently, I think that's an area I can work on by being a little better prepared with my gearing. The few big climbs that I have issues on are right after fast downhill blasts that require significantly different gearing. So the quick change in gears I think is causing me change my pedaling speed to drastically... partially causing the spinning.

    Since my tires feel great pretty much everywhere else, I'm going to work on these skills first and see what sort of improvements I can make before I start messing with tire pressures.

  14. #14
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    Always remember that if you have to drop more than a couple cogs out back, it's easier and faster to just drop a chainring. Definitely even application of power is key to MTBing and something lots of roadies just don't get as in general they don't have to fight for traction on the tarmac and lots just don't ride in the rain, so no reason.

    Quote Originally Posted by CBRsteve
    Wow, thanks for all the feedback everyone.

    Based on the feedback here it seems like the biggest culprit is most likely my body positioning and pedaling 'rate'. I definitely lean over the front of the bike on the steep climbs, but being 6'4 it's sort of hard not too. I'll definitely work on keeping my body positioning back over the seat a bit more.

    In regards to pedaling inconsistently, I think that's an area I can work on by being a little better prepared with my gearing. The few big climbs that I have issues on are right after fast downhill blasts that require significantly different gearing. So the quick change in gears I think is causing me change my pedaling speed to drastically... partially causing the spinning.

    Since my tires feel great pretty much everywhere else, I'm going to work on these skills first and see what sort of improvements I can make before I start messing with tire pressures.
    One day your life will flash before your eyes, will it be worth watching??

  15. #15
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    Tire pressure can be key to traction. If it is too high the tire will tend to bounce off of things and not conform to the terrain and when it bounces you loose traction. Pressure varies quite a bit form tire to tire. On my FS SS with Michelin 2.5 tires I had to lower it down to 16psi front and 22psi rear before the tires would bite. I almost gave up on them until I tried extreme pressure and they are still rolling fine. I weigh 200lbs and ride rough rocky trails and even have tubes in these tires and have not gotten a flat. Right now I'm on a FS bike with a 2.35 front and a 2.1 rear and found that I have to go to 30psi front and 35psi rear or the tires feel mushy. I always run about 5psi more in the rear. The front can be steered around or lofted over things a lot easier than the rear. I don't think I have cut or pinch flatted a front tire ever in 30 years of mountain biking; it's always the rear if it's going to happen. Unless I'm on a bike with 700c x 35mm tires then it can be either end because there is so little margin for error.

    If the trail is really steep and technical and you have rear suspension seating with your but on the tip of the saddle is really the only way to go. If you stand and you hit something it tends to throw your body forward and you loose traction. With your but on the seat you can fine tune your center of gravity by pulling your arms in or sticking them out to walk the fine line between lofting the front and spinning the rear. It can take a while to get the feel for this. Of course if while climbing you come to a substantial ledge or big rock you have to get off the seat to lift your front tire up on the obstacle then unweight or lift the rear tire to get it up over the same. Then it is back to the tip of the saddle. If it's not so bad or you have enough momentum standing can work.

    Practice. Try the same hill 10 times until you get it. Sometimes it can take a whole season.
    Last edited by modifier; 01-31-2011 at 10:52 AM.
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  16. #16
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    Keep yo Butt planted, you will also notice as you get in better shape that losing traction no longer requires you to stop.

  17. #17
    Big Damn Hero
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    Thanks Modifier, that's some good stuff right there. I have found a local skills clinic that starts in a few weeks and as luck would have it, it's at the same set of trails that I'm having this climbing issue at. Hopefully I'll be able to work on some stuff to get it sorted. I also am having my buddy video tape me next time we go out, so I can 'see' what I'm going as opposed to just 'feel' what I'm doing.

    Blurr, it's more of a balance issue. My conditioning really isn't a concern for me, though as with even the elite riders I know it can improve. What really happens is that I'm already climbing at a slow pace and when I start to spin, naturally I slow down even further and it's at that point that I occasionally have to pop off.

  18. #18
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    There are some rooty uphill sections that I breeze through now that I used to spin my rear tire on every time. I made the following changes to manage the sections easily...

    Sometimes you can stay seated longer if you build speed before you hit a very technical section. The extra speed will allow you to stay sitting down where you can pedal smoothly which gives more traction and smoother power.

    Those were the only changes I needed to turn a spin-out into a smooth climb.

  19. #19
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    Try pulling back on your bars. Don't pull up (which would lift your front wheel) but imagine trying to pull your bars towards your saddle. This will help shift your body weight back towards the rear without having to actually think about body positioning.
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  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by Blurr
    Keep yo Butt planted, you will also notice as you get in better shape that losing traction no longer requires you to stop.
    Good point. Btw what is that bike in your avatar? Looks crazy. Hope it's real.
    No it never stops hurting, but if you keep at it you can go faster.

  21. #21
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    Front of seat in butt hole is the best piece of climbing advice I was ever given for really steep, loose stuff.
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  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by etuck
    Front of seat in butt hole is the best piece of climbing advice I was ever given for really steep, loose stuff.

    Hope you're using protection...

  23. #23
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    Etuck and a few other nailed it. Take it "Prisoner Style" and pull down on the bars while pressing your chest into the front of the bike and the hill. Best piece of advice I've ever gotten.

  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by Betarad
    Out of saddle climbing position on a mtb involves a learning curve, as well as a tremendous amount of energy, because, as you have witnessed, you can't simply stand up out of the saddle into a comfortable, weight-forward position without immediately losing traction. You have to find the sweet spot, which will be more of a hover-your-ass-over-the-nose-of-the-seat move. You'll find that spot after a few times, just pay attention to what point moving forward and up off the seat you lose traction, then back your hiney up just a tad.

    I guarantee you this - while this is an effective, proven climbing technique, it's not very comfortable, partly because you have the nose of the seat precariously close to your.....well, you know, and partly because of the leg strength this move requires due to not being able to stand completely. It does get a bit better and more natural-feeling as you gain strength.
    I try to stay seated as much as possible, but if I need to stand, Betarad's got it right. I call this "the hover".
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