The Machine

On this page you will find discussion of the bike itself and which setup is optimal for climbing.

Setup Number 1:  The Hacked Mountain Bike

This bike below was parked at the Death Ride Expo, 2008 in Markleeville, CA. Note that it’s a Litespeed mountain bike setup for road riding, which offers some benefits unavailable on a road bike, such as disk brakes, front suspension, and  smaller front chainrings for extra low gears.   Note also the titanium frame, triathlon wheels, and three position handlebars: flat, end clips and full-on aerodynamic extensions.  I don’t know how it rides but I’m really feeling this bike—it looks mean, lean, and purpose built, and its outside the box.  I especially dig the downtube mounted pump and its military “ordinance” vibe.  I’d rate it 5 stars but… that WTB saddle looks a little on the portly side, a nice all carbon shell saddle would look much faster.  Dual brake levers, a pair way out on the bow would improve functionality.  Lastly, his rear wheel skewer is on the wrong side, so I have to rate the bike 4.5 overall.  It still rocks!

all images 969

As we will see there are aspects of the mountain bike that are beneficial to our hill climbing efficiency, namely, lower gears.  Standard road bikes pretty much come with a compact gearset these days, which in most cases gives you a 34 ring on the front and a 26 on the rear.  This is a good setup for strong riders on steeper, longer  hills or average riders on milder, shorter hills.  The next step is a road bike with a triple setup—three chainrings in the front and standard 26 cassette in the rear, and really, for all the extra fuss, you only get on average 4 teeth lower gear ratio than a double compact.  However, the potential to exploit the triple setup is it’s real strength—when combined with mountain bike low gears in the rear you get truly easier to pedal gear ratios.  You might ask, why not then just tweak a mountain bike as the gentleman did above?   The main reason is weight, particularly the mountain bike’s wheels and suspension fork are heavy, and secondly, the geometry of the frame is different, the wheelbase is longer and the head angles slacker.  The cyclist who owns the bike above used an excellent light frame, replaced the wheels with lighter ones and fast tires, and addressed the lack of hand positions inherent in the MTB by bolting on extensions.  But I’m sure his bike still weighs more than a typical road model.

In the summer of 2007 I modified my Specialized Rockhopper for the road by mantleing slick tires onto the 26″ rims.  I figured the low, low MTB gears would be just the thing for some ultra steep roads in my area.  The experiment was mostly successful.  I found for rides of short distances, say under 25 miles, the bike worked great as a mountain goat.  For longer distances, the near 30 lb weight of the bike tired me out, especially when trying to keep up with my partners on road machines.  However, my crowning achievement on this bike was climbing Marin Ave. in Berkeley, a wickedly steep grade which cuts straight up the hill, with slopes in the 20%+ the whole way.  It’s a very weird feeling to be spinning the pedals, climbing 2 mph, and trying to keep the front wheel on the ground while avoiding falling over sideways.  That, my friends, is what we call extreme climbing!

My Rockhopper is now fully a mountain bike again, as I took the lessons learned from this experiment and set to lowering the gears on my triple chainring Lemond.  Using previously owned, but gently loved  parts obtained from my cycling buddies, I replaced the 9 speed 12×26 cassette with a 11×32 mountain cassette and the rear derailler with a Shimano Deore XT long cage model.  While I was at it, I replaced the standard 30 tooth chainring on the front with a 28.  These modifications give me a gear 8 teeth lower than my previous low gear—within 6 teeth of my Rockhopper.  It is indeed very low for a road bike.

Lemond rear setupLemond front chainrings

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