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I am competing in a road bike challenge, which has considerably more elevation gains than I am used to. My problem is that I live in the plains and have no hills or other steep elevations to train.

How can I compensate for the elevation I will be experiencing in the race?
I'd prefer a solution I could do on one of my bikes while training for the challenge.

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I have asked another question related to this one with additional information. –  Baarn Apr 4 '13 at 12:10

3 Answers 3

I don't think you can fully compensate for elevation gains (climbing) without some actual climbing...

Are there any small hills, multi-story parking garages, or anything where you could do some climbing laps, at least? Off-road hills on a mountain-bike with bar-ends?

I think some combination of longer rides, intervals, sprints and/or added weight (pull a heavy trailer) should help you get the basic cardiovascular and leg components of hill-climbing. Some planks or other exercises to improve your ability to transfer power between arms and legs should help, too.

When going up a hill, it can be challenging to keep your effort level the same as when you were on the flat. If you increase your effort on the climbs, you're likely to tire quicker. At the very least, you may be exceeding the effort levels you were training at. Managing your effort levels on hills takes some experience that may be hard to acquire without some decent length climbs.

When you go up a hill the bike is tilted nose upward, and you have to compensate for that by moving your weight forward or pulling yourself in, or you lose a lot of power. If you get off the saddle to stand up to shift your weight forward, the bike shifts back as you stand and the bike moves forward/aft and laterally as you move. A stationary bike with the front up on blocks might help you with some of that, but a real bike moves under you and those gym "bikes" can't.

When you go up a steep hill you end up going a lot slower, and it's helpful to have practice with balancing at speeds barely above walking speed while putting a lot of effort into making the bike move forward. Balancing a bike that's going slowly without you working hard isn't nearly the same thing. Without that practice, you're more likely to have to get off and walk.

There's different variations of "shoelacing" or "switchbacking" you can use on hills when your lowest gear isn't quite low enough. Either taking a large zig-zag pattern to get a less steep (but longer) effective climb, or weaving the bike while your center of mass keeps to a relatively straight line so that the rear wheel takes a longer path and emulates a lower gear. I can't imagine practicing any of that without an actual hill.

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Happened to run into this today: youtube.com/watch?v=WgTFENouM7w –  freiheit Apr 7 '13 at 1:27
    
Since your power comes through the real wheel, I don't see how you lose power from being tilted nose up a little bit. You lose control though. I regularly climb a 30% hill which has my front wheel coming off the ground if I don't lean on it. The thrust isn't affected either way, though. –  Kaz Apr 7 '13 at 3:38

You could try towing a weight behind your bike, but you would need to do it off public roads.

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There's nothing magic in climbing. The ability to climb on a bike is mostly determined by the ratio of your power output to your total mass (total = you + bike + all your equipment). It's entirely possible to become a good climber while riding in non-hilly areas, or even indoors on a bicycle trainer -- it's easier and more fun to do it on actual hills but if you live in an area without hills it just means you'll have to focus on building up your sustainable power and minimizing the weight you have to carry up hill. These are things you can do on the flat.

One thing that is harder while training on the flat or indoors compared to training in hills is finding the right way to gauge your effort and pace during a long climb. Once again, it's possible for you to learn to do that in the absence of hills but one of the hardest aspects is that the crank inertial load you experience on the flat or on a trainer doesn't realistically mimic what you'll experience on a climb. You can think of crank inertial load as the feedback you get through the pedals that tells you how much momentum you lose as you pedal along. On the flat, or on most trainers, bike speed doesn't decrease much if you lighten up your pedal force during each revolution; on the other hand, on a very steep hill, the bike slows down quite a bit during the "off" phase of the pedal stroke. You cannot easily replicate this change in momentum on a trainer, no matter how many books you stick under your front wheel in order to change the angle of your bike. So, you'll just have to live with working on raising your power in an unrealistic crank inertial load environment. Many riders find it harder to pace evenly on the flat or on a trainer compared to on a hill but that can't be helped, and now you're aware of it. Increased power is the rising tide that lifts all boats, so if you raise your sustainable power you can get a larger margin of comfort during your climbs by riding steadily at a pace well below your sustainable maximum.

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