Leaping out of the saddle up a hill can be one of the most exhilarating parts of cycling. Stamping on the pedals, rocking the bike side to side is fun. But when it comes to performance in a time trial shound we sit or stand when climbing?
Resisting the urge to leave the saddle when the gradient increases and the pace slows can be difficult. It feels natural to get some weight over the pedals. However when we do so we are only factoring in one component of the resistance we are fighting against. The obvious one. The hill. It can be easy to forget the unseen enemy that we are always fighting against as soon as we start moving. The air.
Let’s run a test using the race comparison tool. For this test I’m going to use a the Beeley Moor hill climb. In this example we are always going up hill but the gradient varies. In the comparison I’m using the following:
I am keeping weight, rolling resistance and drive train loss the same. When climbing I can sustain a higher power when standing than seated. I’ve kept the power at roughly what I’d be able to sustain for each position for the time it takes to climb the hill ~10mins. The downside is the more powerful standing position comes at a aerodynamic cost. The numbers are estimates but are good enough to demonstration.
So to achieve the fastest time on this course should I stand or sit when climbing?
Above is the result of our experiment using the comparison tool (check it out and have a play). The graph shows us the accumulative time difference over the course between the two setups. Standing (orange line) from the start gets a head of the seated position (red line). By 1400 meters the standing is 5.3 seconds ahead. The gradient at the start of the course is sufficient enough for the scale to tilt in the favour of the rider standing.
We then have a change of fortune for the rider standing when the hill begins to lose some of it’s gradient. For 400 meters the seated rider gets some time back before yet again the standing rider makes a little more headway on the seated rider.
We are almost 6 seconds faster by 2400 meters standing. The tables turn yet again now when the gradient tapers further and air resistance becomes a large proportion of the forces against the rider. For the final kilometer 3.5 seconds of the 6 second advantage is lost by standing with higher power over the more aerodynamic lower powered seated position.
Optimum riding with a race plan
Let’s race smart with a race plan. From the above we can see when we should sit and when we should stand. We can create our own race plan from this information and execute the plan when racing up the hill.
The result a race plan that results in a 6.4 second time advantage.
Best laid schemes…
Not everything goes to plan though. Wind conditions pose the biggest challenge when making a race plan. The dynamics of wind can be unpredictable, especially on a hill side. Let’s see what happens when a small headwind of 3m/s is added to the model.
It’s a disaster to stand. Only an idiot would continue to stand in this scenario. The headwind completely destroys the advantage of our more powerful standing position which is a full 10 seconds slower. Tip: If you are racing into a headwind it is a rare circumstance that standing will be faster the hill has to be very steep.
What about a tailwind? The tables are turned. Now we would be silly to sit. The wind has reduced our drag considerably and we can put that extra power to good use at defeating the hill’s gradient. It is only in the final few hundred meters that we should sit and get aero.
So Sit or Stand?
It depends. How about run your own tests using the race comparison tool. One thing to work on is fatigue resistance when standing. A lot of people are inefficient when standing on the pedals and prematurely fatigue. Practice standing for extended periods because the next time there is a tailwind you’ll be glad you did.
In my next post I’ll write a little about what I’ve learned regarding the physiology of standing of sitting when cycling up hill.