Doing good on hills, but badly on flats.. why?


New Member
May 29, 2005
Hi all,

When I climb hills with, I can say strong guys, I can follow them at the back, better than what most beginners can do(I'm a beginner too). But when it's time to ride on flats, I simply can't keep up with the pace. Especially on rolling hills. I can't even reach the speed of 45km/h and maintain.

I'm 5'8" and 57kg.

Can someone help me? What do I need to do to improve on the flats?

I have never acheived 45 kph, but a couple of ideas.

1) Body position. One difference between climbing and flats is aerodynamic. It doesn't matter as much during climbs as on flats/downhills.

2) Spinning. Practice at getting your pedal speed up. low pedal speed is common during climbs, but for efficiency in the flats, higher RPM seems to be beneficial.

3) Be patient. Don't expect to stay up with high level cyclists too soon.

Also, is drafting involved on the flats? If one is solo and trying to keep up with a group of riders in a pace line, one will be dropped quickly.
Maybe it is because you are small and light best suited to hills not flats, most flat guys are taller and strong.
You weigh 125 lb., and you can't generate as much power as the bigger riders. But the bigger riders have to drag that extra weight up the hills. You may find that your specialty is long climbs or steeper climbs. You can either use your power-to-weight ratio as your advantage, or put on some muscle, work on power, sacrifice some climbing, and hang on the flats. I bet you'll develop into a wicked climbing machine.
You actually answered your question indirectly. You're having a hard time maintaining a higher pace but are fine at a lower pace (albeit at a high power level). You'll need to master a couple things - drafting and speed. You can obviously maintain a high effort so withstanding pain is not a problem. Your bike is probably in good shape too, else you wouldn't feel okay on the climbs.

If you are not able to maintain 45 kph on the flats, you probably need to work on increasing your maximum speed and learning how to draft better.

Speed: Climbing allows you to hide a lack of speed but the flats will reveal it. If your max speed is, say, 50 kph, and your pack is going 45 kph, you'll be going 90% of your max speed. However, if your max speed is 70 kph, at 45 kph you'll be going 65% of your max. Which do you think will be easier?

To work on this, measure out about 200m of flat road which has a slight downhill just before it. When there is little wind (or a slight tailwind), sprint it a couple times using the downhill to help build your speed. Figure out your average "max speed". This is your baseline. You may find yourself at approx 50 kph. Your goal will be to attain 60-65 kph.

Then do some speedwork:
1. Alternate doing short (200m) sprints in high and lower gears (say 53x13, 53x15). On the second or third time in the 53x15, you'll find your legs struggling to go fast. This will help you when you're fatigued but still need to spin. Don't do this more than 2x a week.
2. Do (slight) downhill sprints. You need to get used to going fast so use gravity to help you a bit. Experiment with gears - you'll find yourself finetuning which gear you use and this will help you on those flat group rides.
3. If you spin a lot when you climb, then try using larger gears. A semi-pro instructed me to use a 53x12 steadily and smoothly for 10 minutes at a time, regardless of terrain. It was hard - sort of like weight lifting on the bike - but it built muscle mass and power. Don't do this more than 2x a week and not on consecutive days.

If your knees hurt then ease back on your efforts till they feel fine. It may take a few days. Work on your spin at that point.

Drafting: When climbing, drafting is not important. However, on the flats, it is *critical*. One Tour de France racer recorded an average of approx 100 watts for the day in a flat stage. That might equate pedaling along at 10 mph for you and me. But by drafting, he could maintain what was probably a 25 mph average pace using virtually no effort. This illustrates how much energy drafting can save.

When drafting, you'll need to ride as close as possible to the rider you're drafting. At first 50-100 cm distance is a reasonably tight goal. Later you'll be looking at 1-10 cm while drafting racers you trust. Drafting will save you lots of energy. I can barely break 32 kph on my own for an hour but I can maintain 40-45 kph in a pack.

Closeness is important in drafting but direction is critical. If the wind is coming from your left, drafting to the person's left won't help - you'll be absorbing a huge amount of wind force. Make sure you know how to tell wind direction and make sure a racer is there between you and the wind. Turn your head slightly side to side to get an idea of the exact wind direction. If your ear feels like someone is blowing on it your ear is facing the wind. If you turn your head to the right and suddenly the wind in your right ear stops and there is no wind in your left ear, you are looking at the source of the wind. Make sure a racer is there.

I would try working on drafting with a trusted training partner or sitting behind a smooth rider in the bunch. Usually an older more experienced racer is a good choice - he won't go galloping down the road after every insignificant little jump. They tend to hold a good line, pedal smoothly, and are not quite so hyper as the young'uns in the bunch.

Hope this helps
roger89 said:
I'm 5'8" and 57kg.

Can someone help me? What do I need to do to improve on the flats?
I'm afraid your answer is in the physics. On steep hills, your speed is almost exactly a function of power to weight ratio.

For example, if you weigh 60 kg and put out 240 watts (4 to 1), you will go up the hill at the same speed as someone who weighs 80 kg and puts out 320 watts (4 to 1).

A dead flat road, by comparison, depends on aerodynamics and power only. Weight is not a factor (OK, it affects rolling resistance slightly). Obviously someone who puts out 320 w is going to be faster than someone who puts out 240 w. (If aerodynamics is constant).

For a 60 kg cyclist to keep up with a 80 kg cyclist, side by side, he will have to have a power to weight ratio of 5.3 to 1. This is why 'heavy' climbers, such as Mr Armstrong and Mr Ullrich (weight in the mid 70's) are also good time trialists on the flat, where a lot of 'pure' climbers (weight in the lower 60's) are not.

As to how to solve your problem, there are a few options:

- Build more muscle to become a heavier, more powerful cyclist (difficult given your height).

- Pay close attention to aerodynamics at all times, especially on the flats and downs.

- Hide in the bunch and accept that tactics and hill top finishes are how you will win.

- On undulating roads, working in a paceline, try to lead up hills and follow down them. This allows you to put your effort in when you are strongest and can contribute the most.

I have the opposite problem to you. I'm a relatively heavy (75 kg) cyclist and have no trouble at all on the flats. When the road turns upwards however, all the little climbers who have been hiding from the wind rip past me :eek: .
check out lennard zinn's recent artical on this same subject."you do the math" at velonews .com. check lennard out in the tech report section.
roll on said:
check out lennard zinn's recent artical on this same subject."you do the math" at velonews .com. check lennard out in the tech report section.
I have the same problem as the OP, and I would like to read that article. I can't seem to find it, could you post a direct link to it? Thanks
roger89 said:
Hi all,...
G'day, R89. You're still riding around Ulu Klang, right? Plenty of good hills around there. I take it you ended up getting a road bike.
The other posters are correct. Brush up on your drafting abilities to get yourself to where you can at least hang on to a stronger bunch. Practice high speeds on the flat by time-trialling yourself, if you don't have anyone else to ride with.
Don't worry too much about your build - Ive ridden against plenty of smaller riders who could go harder on the flats than I could.
Your previous riding was on a mountain bike, so you're possibly not used to sustained high speed efforts that come with riding on the road on the flat. Get out there and push yourself.
Do you ride with with Joo Ngan's group at all? You can learn from some of those riders.
dannyyy said:
I have the same problem as the OP, and I would like to read that article. I can't seem to find it, could you post a direct link to it? Thanks
dannyyy, try lennnard has a tech section on this site..then check out she sure looks great on a bike! happy trails..

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