I am a 48 year old man, 221 lbs. FTP = 210. I realize I have weight to lose.
I have a local Gran Fondo (122 km/73 miles, 1900 m/6200 ft elevation) that I have ridden several times. The problem is that my cadence gets too low and I end up using more of my muscle and less of my cardio.
I had taken my bike into the shop and they put in a larger cassette in the back (and a longer chain stay). My current bike ratio is 50/34 in front, 36/11 in the back.
I fully admit I know nothing about bike gearing. Or much about equipment in general.
According to the bike shop I can’t do anything more to make the up hill climb easier without spending a lot to also have to replace the gear shift handles.
Any thought/tips on how I can make my granny gear easier without shelling out hundreds?
Sweet spot training to raise power and muscle endurance? I’m 210 and almost a decade older, trained hard and within 7 months of buying a road bike did a handful of centuries with 8000-15,000’ of climbing. Nutrition and hydration are the other big factors. I climb 34 front and 32 rear quite a bit.
I fear that your bike shop are almost certainly right.
The only practical tip I can offer is to try to hold back on other sections of the course to allow you to do the steeper parts over threshold and/or out of the saddle. But depending on how long the steep sections are, that might not be possible.
Otherwise it’s either lose weight, gain watts, or spend the money to get a triple chainset. Sweet spot training as advised above seems like a good plan, maybe with some low cadence intervals thrown in.
Gears: Don’t think of it as ‘Granny’ gears - having a wider range of options at our age (I’m 47) is just smart.
Personally I’ve learned to enjoy climbing which has, over time, led to great improvements. My biggest tip is to use heart rate as a guide to not pushing to hard. Of course you can use power (which is far more reliable In terms of variability) but having done several all day events (including multiple mountain passes) I found that having a maximum hate rate in mind helped me mentally relax and not push any harder than my HR allows.
As the ride goes on you fatigue, obviously, and your HR goal might need to lower by 5-10 towards the end of the day.
I think the key is to find a sweet spot where you genuinely feel like you are in a rhythm that suits you and is sustainable. Ignore everyone else around you.
Also mixing cadence on long climbs can help. I’ve found that as my cadence drops, so does my HR. Of course there’s a trade off as lower cadence works the muscles differently.
Also practice to learn to transition super smoothly to standing and sitting, without surging. This takes practice! I can now comfortably stand for 1-2 mins at a time and ‘enjoy’ a small relief from sitting. Not so long ago 10-30sexonds was the most I could do.
You can absolutely go bigger at the back with a road link. I rode some French Alps including Joux Plan, alpe d’huez, and col de ramaz back to back with my dad in September. He is 68 FTP 185.
He had a 11-46 out back with a road link. At the front he had absolute black 30-46 rings. He never used 30,46 was mostly in 30,40 spinning at about 90rpm. I put a 11-40 on my bike so we could ride together, I was doing about 70-75 rpm about 180 watts average on all the climbs Im about 98kgs for reference. Can put up pics if helpful.
With a rear derailleur extender, you should be able to run much larger cassettes. In your situation I would recommend looking at a 11-42 mountain bike cassette. For that you would need the extender for the rear derailleur hanger, the 11-42 cassette (go for Shimano Deore SLX) and a new chain (because you need more chain links). That should cost $100-$200, I think.
In case you are willing to spend a bit more, you could replace your crank with smaller chain rings (46/30).
In the ideal world you would change things at the front first 30-46 as has been mentioned (you can go even lower but £££ and loss at top end), this is either new crank or some oval rings for a current shimano crank. That is the most expensive option but then means you can ride a tighter cassette.
I’ve tried a few cassette options, I was originally on a 11-32 and switched to a 11-36 to keep power down on hilly rides from sram. Hated that there was a huge gap in the middle, the shimano 11-40 seems to have far better spacing between cogs (well for me at least) as it drops the 12 cog to fill the gap the sram has.
If you do it all then as my dad found out in the alps you can ride up almost anything with whatever cadence you like and have a gear to spare.
At the bottom of the article are some links that with a few minutes of work you can work out the relationship between, power, cadence and slope to then work out the required gearing.