I'm spending the last week of the year in Tahoe. Last year, I swore off writing anything this time of the year because I was playing in pow-pow up to my unmentionables, but this year, Tahoe is pathetically dry (so far). I knew the conditions were not ideal for skiing, so I brought two bikes: my cyclocross bike for some potential trail riding and my Jack Kane equipped with PowerCranks.
On Saturday and Sunday I went to do some skiing and finished off the days with an hour and half hour, respectively, on the trainer spinning PCs. The sets were really clicking and I hardly ever had to think about how my legs should be moving.
On Monday, I decided that I'd get bored very quickly if I continued to ski the same few open runs, so I deiced to make it a day on the bike. I mapped out a route on Strava and figured I'd hit Donner Pass summit first, and finish the day off with a near-seven-mile slog up Alder Creek/Skislope back home. Now I had to decide whether I wanted to ride PCs, or ride my CX bike. The difference between the smallest gears is one gearinch, so that wasn't really a factor. But I didn't want to ride 35s on the road because of how heavy they felt, so I decided to ride PCs.
I've previously never ridden this far on PCs or climbed that much, so I had no idea what would happen to me. I asked my usual question: "What's the worst that could happen?" I figured that if it really got to be too much, I'd just turn around and head back.
I rolled out of the house and headed toward Donner Pass summit through the first few flat miles. The first thing I noticed was how smooth my pedal stroke was. I didn't even have to think about what I had to do, my legs just knew it. I think having spent some trainer time on PCs the two previous days definitely helped.
Then I hit Donner Pass - a 3.2-mile climb that rises about 1000 feet - the pedal stroke remained smooth, but I definitely felt that I wasn't on my regular cranks. I didn't have any issues going up the climb, even when it pitched up, but I did notice that my legs were in a greater amount of pain than they should have been for the watts I was seeing. At the top, I flipped myself around and descended back down toward Donner Lake. I figured on the way back, I'd go around the lake on the other side, but for those of you trying that in the future, don't do that in December. There was about a 70-meter stretch of snow/ice that I had to hike my bike over, which could have been avoided had I gone back the same way I came.
My legs were feeling relatively good after coming down from Donner, so I decided to proceed to do the other major climb in the area - Alden Creek/Skislope. Strava has this at 6.8 miles (my Garmin measures it at 7.5 miles) and rising about 1500 feet; however, a good chunk of that elevation is gained in the last 2.5 miles, so if you feel like you're flying for the first four miles, don't worry, you'll pay for it soon enough.
That was roughly my experience, as the first four miles of the climb came and went relatively painlessly, but once I hit the last 2.5-mile stretch, the really hard climbing began and my legs were definitely in a lot of pain. The one good thing about reaching the summit of that climb was that from that point, it's a downhill shot back to the house, so I knew that once I was done with the climb, I was done!
Yesterday, I decided to go ride once again, and see if can better my time on Alder Creek. I rolled form the house up to Skislope and began climbing the road I descended earlier in the week. It's a 2.1-mile climb that goes up about 700 feet and it really hurts near the top as the pitches go higher and over 10%. It's especially unpleasant when you hit it 10 minutes into your ride without enough time to thoroughly warm-up. But once that was over, I knew I had a seven-mile descent down to the start of the main climb of the day.
I hit the climb hard and took about five minutes off Monday's time, though I managed to lose about 30 seconds when I dropped a bottle and stopped to pick it up.
Both rides above were done on Power Cranks. So how did they feel in comparison to riding regular cranks? There are at least three different aspects of riding you work while riding PCs. First and foremost, they force you to work on syncing your pedal stroke, otherwise you end up in a galop. Having never ridden PCs before September of this year, I've been on them for about three months now, and I no longer have syncing issues while riding them. From my experience, I feel that anyone who's willing to put in at least 2-3 hours a week riding PCs (on trainer first then outdoors), can get their legs consistently in sync in one to two months. Obviously, more time on PCs, yields faster results, but 2-3 hours is what I've been doing.
The second wrinkle PCs help iron out is leg power disparity. I don't suffer from this to a great extent, but traditionally my left leg has been stronger, and on some climbs, I have noticed that my right is in just a little more pain than the left. Hopefully, with time on PCs, that will even itself out.
The last, and in my opinion, largest issue is engaging muscles in your pedal stroke you never knew you had, or knew you had but didn't know you could use them to propel yourself on a bike. The need to engage the hip flexors and hamstrings definitely makes climbing harder - it almost feels like I'm riding with a heavy backpack. However, at the same time I realize that it's harder simply because those muscles were not developed enough in comparison to my glutes and quads which are likely more engaged when I'm on standard cranks. As the muscles strengthen, with time this third issue should go away, but in the meantime, I definitely feel it helping me when I jump back on my regular bike and head uphill.