Walking Your Bike

Walking Your Bike

When the terrain is incredibly steep or rough, cyclists tend to crank it out instead of walking. Walking might feel like defeat – they didn’t “clear” that section.
I have gotten to the point where I don’t mind walking when the terrain gets too steep or too rough. Walking stretches my legs, and generally is no slower than spinning in an ultra-low gear. Perhaps it’s from the days when I raced cyclocross, where you quickly learn that it’s faster to run up very steep slopes than it is to ride up them.
As a randonneur, I am not that much in a rush. I don’t run, but really focus on walking, on moving my legs differently, on the different posture in my back and shoulders. It gives me an opportunity to be aware and readjust. I probably even look around a little more.
During brevets, many will ride even the steepest bits, but they don’t arrive at the top more than a few bike lengths ahead. Whereas their legs will feel tired from the effort, my legs feel fresh after walking, and I quickly catch up. In fact, my fastest-ever 600 km brevet, ridden in 22:48 hours, included a walk up the steepest hill of the route.
Most routes are not that steep or rough, so I rarely walk. But a few times a year, usually on long rides, I get off the bike and walk a short way. My bike doesn’t have ultra-low gears, which I’d be carrying around all year, but use only once or twice.
What is your thought on walking with your bike?

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Comments (78)

  • RickH

    I’m happy to read that you walk occasionally too.
    There have been a few times I’ve looked at the grade ahead and know walking is easier and, as you say, refreshes the legs somewhat.
    I’ve also been asked by slowly passing riders weaving across the road if I’m ok. Realistically I am.
    If I have been thought of as being defeated by a hill then so be it. I still get to keep on riding without blowing up.

    August 17, 2013 at 7:00 am
  • Patrick Moore

    “What is your thought on walking with your bike?”
    I would rather walk up steep hills for lack of very low gears than discard other, more important gearing choices such as fine-tuned cruising gears in the middle of the cassette, or — for single speed gearing, a gear high enough to be pleasant on the flats and not too unpleasant downhill or with tailwinds.

    August 17, 2013 at 7:02 am
    • Iwasahighwayman

      What he said.

      August 17, 2013 at 7:48 pm
  • Ian Brett Cooper

    Walking with a bike takes more energy per mile than riding it, so I view it as just as valid as riding. If I’ve missed my chance to change down before a hill, I either do a loop so I can change, or I get off and walk – either way I’m still covering the ground under my own power: it’s not as if I’m taking the bus. In my view, elitism about refusing to get off the bike and push is stupid.

    August 17, 2013 at 7:16 am
    • Greg

      It has always been my understanding that at some (very low-speed) point, it becomes more energy-efficient overall to get off and walk the bike, vs. trying to stay on the bike and pedal, especially if you were weaving from side to side. (Does anyone have hard data to back this up)? I rarely walk, but will do so if necessary. However, I rarely ride on crazy-steep roads, so the issue almost never arises. It’s generally very flat here in the Midwestern USA….

      August 17, 2013 at 8:14 am
  • Andrew Joseph

    I go for a ‘ride’ not a walk, 😉
    I have a back/leg problem so even walking short distances is uncomfortable. Off the bike I need a walking stick.
    I do have to walk some sections, especially when out on my mtb, but it’s not an enjoyable experience.

    August 17, 2013 at 7:24 am
    • Don Genovese

      I have a similar problem with my back. It is far more difficult for me to walk than to ride but of course i will get off and walk if I can no longer pedal.

      August 18, 2013 at 6:58 pm
  • Lyle F. Bogart

    I often prefer a fixed gear for my longer rides, including mixed terrain and off-road. Of course, that necessitates walking from time to time and I always enjoy those times. As you note, there’s the change in body position which I feel is invigorating as well as increased time looking around. I find that, because of my time riding fixed, I’ll often walk up very steep sections when riding my multi-speed bike. Walking can be a very enjoyable part of a ride, just as sitting under a shade tree enjoying a snack can be.

    August 17, 2013 at 7:26 am
    • Patrick Moore

      This is a very civilized and reasonable way of looking at cycling!

      August 17, 2013 at 8:38 am
    • Ben

      Matt Chester has a very similar philosophy.
      “Well, I ride one bike for everything and I find this to be the best compromise. Do I have to walk sometimes? Yep. Remember, even if you’re riding one gear you always have another gear. Your 24″ gear. Two feet. Remember the mantra: ‘Calm down.’ There’s no harm in walking sometimes. Pushing doesn’t make you a wuss or weakling, and your ego shouldn’t depend on getting up Hill X without putting a foot down. Have fun!”
      (taken from http://www.63xc.com/mattc/setup.htm – hope you don’t mind the link, Jan) Worth reading his articles on riding fixed off road on 63xc.com

      August 20, 2013 at 1:44 am
  • Jeremy Mott

    My first [completed] 200km brevet this spring included a very short but very steep incline about 3km before the finish. In the dark, cold drizzle I felt no shame hopping off and walking. Riders right around me were split about 50/50 walk vs slog it out on that section. Coming so near the end of a long day, I didn’t think of it so much as a stretch break as a last push.
    But–as in your experience–few of my routes are extremely steep or rough to warrant a walk. But I have and will when absolutely necessary. And dark, drizzly conditions obscuring my compact gearing ease the potential ego hit!

    August 17, 2013 at 7:28 am
  • ted kelly

    Though I don’t really mind walking, and certainly see no shame in it, I prefer to ride when possible. More from not liking to push the bike than just not wanting to walk.
    I think the real questions are how low a gear would it take to not walk (or walk less) and what would you have to give up to get it. So what do you consider “ultra-low gears”, what sort of steps do you prefer between gears (particularly in your cruising gears), and how high is high enough to prefer tucking and coasting over a higher gear? Would lower gears conflict with your preference in derailer or cage length?

    August 17, 2013 at 9:06 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I prefer to have relatively small steps between gears (typically 2 teeth between cogs), rather than have gears that I rarely or never use.

      August 17, 2013 at 1:27 pm
      • ted kelly

        The steps between cogs are frequently larger at the big end of the cassette. When you say you prefer 2 teeth between cogs is that throughout the range, or one tooth for the small to mid cogs and two between the big cogs, or …?

        August 18, 2013 at 10:54 am
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          I find that at the big end of the cogs, I need smaller steps. The step from 27 to 24 teeth on many cassettes is larger than I prefer. It all depends on the bike frame, too. Some frames work best if I keep the cadence in a very small range, on others, I can pedal a bit faster or slower without affecting power output of fatigue.

          August 18, 2013 at 12:39 pm
  • John Romeo Alpha

    One of my criteria for shoes for cycling is that they must be comfortable for a walk of a mile or more. I enjoy walking. Particularly along rocky mountain trails. But only in shoes that don’t feel totally counterproductive while on foot. With decent footwear, a few tens of minutes walking next to the bike can be refreshing. And rolling the bike along is generally pretty easy.

    August 17, 2013 at 9:34 am
    • Andy

      For long rides, I like shoes with a stiff sole, but unfortunately those are not well suited for walking so I tend to stay on the bike unless I truly can’t stay up. On shorter rides, especially when I’m exploring dirt roads, I expect to need to bushwack or hike a trail at some point, so I bring more flexible shoes that can handle a hike but still be okay for a medium length ride.

      August 19, 2013 at 10:12 am
  • Paul Glassen

    I ride an old French cyclocross bike sometimes. It doesn’t have anything like the low gearing of many mountain bikes or even many modern road bikes. So, like Jan, I was always used to getting off and walking occasionally. When I found myself riding in the company of mountain bike riders with their sub-1:1 gearing, I thought I would have to run to keep up. But no, I found a casual walk was fast enough if they were in that low a gear.
    I once saw an insightful cartoon in a bicycle magazine that showed the very low gearing of a mountain bike labelled, “North American low gear”. It was paired to a drawing of a peasant walking a single speed cycle with a hundred pound sack of rice over the top bar labelled, “low gear in the rest of the world”.

    August 17, 2013 at 10:22 am
  • Jim Vasapolli

    If I can’t ride faster than walking – I walk. Its nice to get out of the saddle, stretch and take a look around. Usually the steep spots are picturesque as well.

    August 17, 2013 at 10:22 am
  • David Pearce

    I like your posts and great photos. I am not going to make the silly joke I was trying to craft about needing to walk my bike twice a day, à la a dog. I think I will just say thank you, and I also liked your 2010 entry about delivering your books to the bookstore, and that your wide tires handled the cobblestones well and the great rack was both useful and also stable and satisfying.
    Having the right tool for the job is a blessing.
    For all of those French bicycle newspaper deliverers, did I read it correctly that Le Velo had a daily circulation of 100,000? Can this have been true?

    August 17, 2013 at 10:32 am
  • David Pearce

    You can correct me. I see Wikipedia says Le Vélo had a daily circulation of 80,000. Amazing! At least amazing to me. But after all, we use social media a lot, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised at people’s thirst for information.

    August 17, 2013 at 10:53 am
  • azorch

    I feel no shame in walking when the need is called for. This morning, for instance, I had a rather long and unanticipated walk – not due to rugged or steep terrain, though: a chain link separated. And thus, recalling with some chagrin that I had loaned out my chain tool, I enjoyed an unexpected seven mile walk with my bike. 🙂

    August 17, 2013 at 10:58 am
  • Tim Evans

    When I started riding again, 8 years ago, I would feel sheepish about having to get off the bike and walk the steep parts of long rides. Not any more! The longer the ride, the steeper the grade, and the more tired I get, then the better it feels to get off and walk with the bike. It feels good. When I get back on the bike, I feel a bit refreshed.
    When I start thinking about walking, I know it is already time to do so!

    August 17, 2013 at 10:58 am
  • cody

    Out of curiosity Jan, what is your preferred gearing on your Rene Herse and your Grand Bois Urban Bike?

    August 17, 2013 at 11:34 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      The Rene Herse alternates between 46-30 and 48-32 in the front, and 14-22 in the back. The Grand Bois Urban Bike has a 42-28 in the front, with a 13-24 in the back. I do use all gears on both bikes…

      August 18, 2013 at 8:13 am
      • Andy

        Is alternating gearing more effective than having a range that covers both sets? I hope this isn’t a frequent alternating based on the ride du jour…

        August 19, 2013 at 10:28 am
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          The lower range is used only for exceedingly hilly rides, like the Raid Pyreneen. So far, I’ve changed the gearing only once on the bike. I don’t have time to mess with my bike on a daily or even weekly basis.

          August 22, 2013 at 5:15 pm
  • William Boyd

    Walking is the ultimate low gear, but I find it quickly exhausting, and difficult to get into a good walking position.

    August 17, 2013 at 12:09 pm
    • Andy

      Walking on steep terrain with loose footing while pulling 37lb of bike and gear isn’t very easy. I usually try to stay on until it’s clear that traction isn’t going to work out. I’ll traverse if I have to, or turn sideways and track stand briefly to catch my breath if it means I can then continue riding.

      August 19, 2013 at 10:30 am
  • MattS

    This is a great question, one that probes deeper into the psyche on the cyclist than one might think at first glance. I’m flexible when it comes to walking the bike. As a roder who grew up riding mountain bikes from the early 1990s, riding the bike up and over everything was a huge part of the fun. Essentially, or a lot of riders, MTB was like observed trials, but faster. The trials concept of ‘dabs,’ or foot placement on the ground, was in effect. The idea was to ride everything clean. Speed was not the concern as much as skilled plodding. At this time, our bikes were fully rigid, am our tires were too small or real speed on rough trails. As the technology advanced, speed became more the metric, over clean execution. Racing was now common, and cyclocross’s influence was creeping in; riders figured out that letting go of the dab-free approach liberated them to run up steep climbs, saving energy and time. I think this was a juncture where some
    took a stand, and said, ‘No, I don’t care
    about speed, I want to RIDE IT ALL.’ Others did what was fastest.
    Thus the trail rider / racer dichotomy was born.
    Having grown up amidst these developments, my perspective is not unique, but perhaps different than many reading this. I’ve yet to take
    take on a road/gravel ride that has seen me choose to walk over ride a
    climb. I’ve been stymied, for sure, but I always try. If I was
    doing a hard rando, I might behave differently. In contrast, in a racing context, I have, and will continue to walk/run climbs when that seems
    like the best tactic. It’s generally better to commit
    to that choice early enough to carry momentum. In cyclocross, it’s obviously part of racing for all. For MTb, it’s not forced, generally, but can be the smart move.
    That choice is part of what makes racing fun for me.
    I enjoy the change of effort when I jump off the bike for a climb, it tends to feel good. There is certainly no shame in using this method, and that cuts
    both ways. Deferent strokes for different folks.

    August 17, 2013 at 12:42 pm
  • Rod Bruckdorfer

    We ride a tandem and have never found a hill we could not walk.

    August 17, 2013 at 1:08 pm
    • Tim Evans

      LOL! and ditto!

      August 18, 2013 at 11:57 am
    • David Pearce

      Touché pour le Bon Mot, et Bon Chance!

      August 19, 2013 at 5:19 am
  • Grego

    One does not improve either skill or endurance on steeps by getting off and walking. Therefore I only walk when I have to, and that’s not often because I prepare my bike with appropriately low gears so I can get up the hills. Occasionally it happens, and that’s just how it goes; I don’t use road cleats so there’s no penalty.

    August 17, 2013 at 1:31 pm
  • RosyRambler

    I consider walking and pushing the bike up a hill as a bit of cross training, and I don’t mean cyclocross. As was mentioned, it’s an opportunity to use different muscles in the body in a different way, which can be beneficial, except of course in cases such as Andrew Joseph’s.
    As individuals we are fortunate to be able to choose how we ride, what we ride, where we ride, and what we wear while riding. Anyone who may give, or has given me grief on any of those issues is completely missing the point of having fun. I live my life to suit myself, not impress anyone else.

    August 17, 2013 at 1:44 pm
  • Christopher Grande

    During a climb for me, there is point where the gradient is so steep that either my front wheel starts to rise off the ground from pulling up on the bars or the rear wheel starts to spin underneath me from leaning forward so much. That is usually the point I walk… I ride a 67cm-70cm frame so I wonder if it is more likely to happen with my center of gravity so high? Or maybe that just makes the bike more sensitive, I have no idea. In those case, walking can be great–as long as the distance is relatively short.

    August 17, 2013 at 2:19 pm
  • Leora Tozer

    I’m currently running a 26 tooth granny gear in front, and a 34 tooth big cog in the rear, and even then I occasionally have to get off and walk with some of the steep hills in my area (Bellingham). I recall one small mountain I climbed where I walked as much as a biked! I don’t see any shame in it, and I’m fully aware that I’m not a very stronger climber in the first place, so I’m not above hopping off the bike once in a while. It’s not common, but sometimes I have no other choice.

    August 17, 2013 at 3:51 pm
  • John Peltier

    I have always been very nervous around cyclists who decide the only way to keep pedalling on an extreme grade is to zig-zag/traverse, often across both lanes. And usually that happens where approaching cars from either direction have extremely limited “sight distance”. Safety can, and should be, the primary consideration in this situation.

    August 17, 2013 at 4:18 pm
  • Doug Peterson

    I’ve seen some wonderful scenery while walking my bike up steep hills. These views would have been missed had I been hunkered over the handlebars, pedaling at 3-4 MPH.

    August 17, 2013 at 6:16 pm
  • Preston Grant

    For the time being, I am fortunate to keep an old touring bike in France, which is used for supported rides in the Alps and Pyrenees, five rides so far. A low gear of 32×30 has enabled me to always pedal, and it feels better to me to stand up and pedal slowly than it does to walk, at least up to a 15 per cent grade, but most of the grades are less than that. The only time I found it necessary to walk was in the Pyrenees on the Col de Portet d’Aspet due to road paving. It was right at the spot where Fabio Casartelli had his fatal crash. I was annoyed that the road work made it necessary to walk, but seeing the plaque made me realize how silly it was to be upset about something as trivial as having to get off my bike.

    August 17, 2013 at 10:02 pm
  • Frank

    Two weeks ago I went on a short hiking (sic!, no bicycle) tour in the Alps and I found, that cycling a lot had left my walking muscles seriously undertrained. The result was terrible knee pain on the third day from walking downhill and they still plague me a bit now. I have decided that I really need to do more “walking” type activities to train these muscles as well. Walking you bike from time to time may be a good start. 🙂

    August 18, 2013 at 12:57 am
  • Malcolm Rogers

    I’ve never felt self concious about walking a steep grade and as an Audax Ride Organiser I’ve always included ride notes in addition to my ride Cue Sheet advising the wearing of MTB shoes for walking steep grades during a long difficult randonnee. There are also times when wallking is helpful for getting rid of leg cramps and helping sore knees if you are unfortunate to develop either or both. In PBP 1995 I walked a total of 5 hours because of cramps and an inflamed knee and still finished in a reasonable time.

    August 18, 2013 at 3:17 am
  • blueride2

    I admit I have a psychological aversion to getting off my bike and walking up a hill. A misguided sense of quitting “when the going gets tough”. I got over it when I climbed a 3 mile mountain last June. Found it necessary to get off multiple times and walk. “I hung my head in shame”. 🙂

    August 18, 2013 at 4:01 am
  • Bruce the Bewildered

    As a longtime cyclist, I have never walked. That said, I’m just getting into the rando scene. The furthest I’ve done so far is (only) a 300K. Setting my sights on longer rides, there may come a day when I finally dismount and walk a stretch. And telling myself, “Well, heck — Jan does it!” might make the difference between feeling defeated and enjoying a short, rejuvenating stroll. Thanks!

    August 18, 2013 at 5:48 am
  • Trevor Parsons

    I don’t think there’s any shame in changing down to gear zero now and then!

    August 18, 2013 at 7:31 am
  • Bryan Willman

    My answer is weird and complicated. I do cyclocross, so by definition I walk and run with a bike, and wear (always) shoes suitable for this. But most cross races are at the severe upper limit for how far I can walk or run (at all.) I often end up using a cane for day after a race. I can ride several hours pretty comfortably, but cannot walk more than few a miles, and on pavement rather than grass or mud, not so far at all.
    So yes, of course, it’s perfectly sensible to walk in some conditions. And double yes to the folks who point to the merits of wearing the right shoes. And sadly, yes to the folks who report issues that limit walking while allowing cycling.

    August 18, 2013 at 8:16 am
  • kurtsperry

    The first time I bought a mountain bike twenty-odd years ago, I looked at the gearing with its 28-28 low and before I’d even ridden it I said to the sales guy in the shop, “I might as well be walking as riding that gear.” Well, I was probably right. Riding that slow you burn a lot unnecessary of energy balancing and keeping the front wheel on the ground on a steep slope in that low a gear means leaning way forward to hold it down on the ground. I guess if you use cycling specific shoes and click-in pedals that might change the calculus, but I’ve never liked wearing stiff soled cycling shoes or click-in pedals, so for me it’s pretty clear that walking under those circumstances is more efficient. You also use completely different muscle groups walking so you give your cycling muscles a nice breather that way.

    August 18, 2013 at 12:24 pm
    • Steve Palincsar

      28×28 is hardly a “low” gear. On long steep climbs I routinely use a 24×30 and have no difficulty keeping the front wheel on the ground. Some claim you can walk as fast as you ride pushing the bike, but in my experience this is not at all true, at least for those grades I can ride. I can climb in my 24×30 at around 4.0 – 4.5 mph. My walking speed on level terrain not pushing a bike is around 3 mph, slower going up an incline and even slower pushing a bike (much slower when the pedal comes around and bites me on the ankle).
      On that same climb Blueride2 walked in June, I rode up (my granny’s much lower than his). I had no trouble passing all those who walked up. I stopped twice in the shade and watched them come up, even let them get ahead, then got back on the bike and rode right away from them again.

      August 19, 2013 at 12:11 pm
      • Patrick Moore

        I’ve climbed a very steep, 4/10 mile hill with 45 lbs on the back in a 67″ gear (fixed) so slowly that the speedo was flickering below 5 mph. Four mph in a 67″ gear is about 22 rpm.
        I don’t recommend it unless you have something to prove, but I’ll race Steve up the Galibier any day. I did use the 30/23 (35″) briefly this evening on the steepest part of the climb back up the West Mesa, but this was the short dirt section.

        August 22, 2013 at 6:23 pm
  • David Pearce

    What about your shoes, Jan? I only see one comment I think about shoes. What kind of shoes do you use–that would be very important to me if I had to walk, and I certainly would walk if I wanted to.
    I used to be a clipless pedal snob and use Shimano mountain biking shoes and SPD pedals for all my bikes, so I could walk with those shoes, or even use them in more casual work environments.
    Now I like to make the transition from getting-somewhere to participating-in-it-when-I’m-there more seamless, so I have given up clipless pedals on all my bikes in favor of Grand Cru Sabot pedals or other VO urban pedals. You have no idea (or maybe you do) to know the great feeling of not having to remember, “did I take my clipless shoes?”, or the agony of “de feet” [sorry, can’t help it!] when I realized I had forgotten my clipless shoes and was in for an uncomfortable and inefficient ride home.
    I would never walk in modern road racing clipless shoes, that’s ridiculous to me. I might get clipless pedals for the randonneur I’m building, and use mountain bike clipless shoes, but probably not. I’ve got the urban VO pedals with the half-clips for my Brompton, and that’s very good for me. Your thoughts & preferences?

    August 18, 2013 at 7:55 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I use SPD-style pedals and shoes. Not ideal for touring – a bigger cleat interface would be better, and I don’t need the mud shedding – but the best available right now.

      August 18, 2013 at 11:23 pm
      • Andy

        SPD-style covers a huge variety. I have 2 styles – one is a firm racing shoe which I love for long distance but has no grip on the bottom. The other are “touring” shoes which have a recessed SPD cleat and are suitable for walking around. I’ve biked to a hike on them before too; they just aren’t as comfortable for century+ rides for me though.

        August 19, 2013 at 10:34 am
  • Paul Ahart

    I came to actually enjoy walking steep hills 17 years ago while on a 2 month cycle tour of the South Island of New Zealand, riding a 1983 Ritchey mountain bike set up for touring with 24-36-46X13-28 6spd gearing. Due to the fact that I was carrying way too much stuff, I often found walking to be the best way up some long and steep hills. I felt no shame in this.
    Today, nearing the end of a very long ride and facing a “killer hill,” I have no hesitation in dismoutinng and walking. This is also where SPD-type pedals and their recessed cleats really shine. Walking vs. waddling with road cleats.

    August 18, 2013 at 10:47 pm
  • Harry Harrison

    An old Gentleman of my acquaintance, sadly no longer with us, was a life long cyclist and described walking with his English 3 speed roadster as being in his “Twenty four inch gear”.
    24 inches being two feet.

    August 18, 2013 at 11:59 pm
  • Alexander

    I was very glad that at LEL (London-Edinburgh-London) recently there was a large segment of the crowd that admitted to have walked that 17% hill between Pocklington and Thirsk. Randonneuring is about energy management. So whatever saves energy is best. I remember Jan´s advice: whatevery you do: keep moving. So riding up a hill + having to rest afterwards seems inefficient. Walking up steep hills gives my back and feet a rest. 18 hrs + in the same position is no good. If I can plan ahead and find a hill that I will probably walk up I plan eating a sandwich while walking up (would not dare to ride one-handed on English lanes). Sure it is good to have appropriate shoes. No option to walk in Look. But since there is a Slovenian guy who did PBP in 72 hrs in Crocs
    I think you can wear any shoes you are comfortable with. I use light walking shoes, since my “catastrophic scenario” is to have a very bad mechanical during a cold night so I would have to walk all night to keep warm. Also don´t need additional shoes while touring. BTW in winter we MTB in sub 0 C temperatures. We jog up hills as part of the rountine to warm up feet. Works fine.

    August 19, 2013 at 1:47 am
  • Peter

    I generally prefer to pedal at a low gear (Rohloff with 17×38, 16.1 gear inches) instead of walking. Much of this has to do with the fact that while walking is nice, pushing a loaded touring bicycle (45kg total weight) up a hill is not.
    That said, when it gets really steep (say 20% for more than a hundred yards) and/or the “road” conditions get very bad (lots of big rocks for example) I’ll walk. Even when it’s _down_ hill…

    August 19, 2013 at 5:17 am
  • Steve Palincsar

    “As a randonneur, I am not that much in a rush.” That’s pretty droll, coming from a man who was the first American to finish PBP a few years ago. I guess you don’t have to rush to be fast…

    August 19, 2013 at 5:41 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Even if I am doing PBP in 50 hours, I can afford to “waste” 30 seconds by walking, rather than running. In a 30-minute cyclocross race, it’s a different matter.

      August 22, 2013 at 5:09 pm
      • Steve Palincsar

        If you have to walk mile uphill pushing a bike at 2 mph compared to riding up that same hill at 4.5 mph you will have “wasted” a lot more than 30 seconds.

        August 23, 2013 at 1:11 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          Indeed. But I never walk a whole mile. Where I live, the ultra-steep bits simply aren’t that long. I walk 100-200 m at most, usually much less.

          August 23, 2013 at 2:05 pm
  • Matt

    I will walk a steep hill over riding any day. 25 years ago I went on a solo 100 mile ride and forgot my ID and cash, about half way through I stopped at a conveniecne store, and imagine my surprise. So, I had to push on, well the nice 60 deg morning with a nice breeze changed to upper 90’s and humid and no wind. With 20 miles to go I ran out of water while riding up a 20% grade in Souteast Minnesota, It was soo steep, the front wheel felt like it was going flip backwards when sitting and spinning, and the rear wheel spun out when standing. Well during my walk I saw a bald eagle (which was much rarer then), and a timber rattle snake (which I didn’t know exsisted in MN), and near the top I found $40 bucks. Stopped at truck stop and had the best tasting meal ever. So, sometimes It really pays to take a walk.

    August 19, 2013 at 6:52 am
  • Chris

    There’s certainly no shame in walking, but I have one bike that I learned to never walk. My longtail Yuba Mundo cargo bike is actually more difficult to walk than it is to soldier onward in the lowest (22×34) gear. The weight of the bike (often well over 100 pounds) combined with the tendency of the wide rear rack/jumbo pannier setup to bump the trailing leg of a weary stride make pushing it a bother. If I need a rest, I’ll simply pull over and take a break.

    August 19, 2013 at 7:31 am
  • Charles Nighbor architect

    Walking is fine if your not using clip in shoes where walking long stretches will wear out the clip in feature.
    when I know I will be walking a lot I wear non clip in shoes with the matching pedal installed on my bicycle

    August 19, 2013 at 7:57 am
  • Tobin Henderson

    My fiance always feels like a failure whenever she has to get off and walk…I do my best to reassure her. It’s very good to get off the bike and stretch the muscles, and what’s the difference anyways? You’re still ‘self-propelling’.

    August 19, 2013 at 10:05 am
  • mike cherney

    Walk when you have to, ride when you can but always do what makes for the most enjoyable experience.

    August 19, 2013 at 10:45 am
  • Andrew Squirrel

    I’ve never had the opportunity to walk a lightly loaded bicycle up a steep grade but I know when I’m carrying enough camping gear for an overnight or tour that walking is usually a bigger pain than just dropping into the granny gear, sitting back and slowly spinning up the slope. For some reason the added weight makes it much more challenging to balance and push, especially on the gravel sections. That is just my personal experience thus far.

    August 19, 2013 at 2:13 pm
  • kurtsperry

    Perhaps an interesting future topic might be a serious discussion of the upsides and downsides of biking using platform pedals with the feet unrestrained. I bought some relatively cheap MKS “butterfly” pattern platform pedals to try on my beater town bike and not having used pedals without clips/straps since I was a child aside from some time on a borrowed bike in Italy for runs into town, I am very pleasantly surprised how well they seem to work. At first it’s a bit disconcerting descending on rough road–it feels like your feet might slip off the pedals–but once you feel confident that won’t actually happen one can begin to appreciate not having your feet locked into a fixed position relative to the pedal spindles. Slight changes in foot position on the pedals seem to significantly change the biomechanics of pedaling–to the point where one can relieve discomfort and even to some degree fatigue by consciously moving one’s feet around on the pedals as one bikes. I know it flies in the face of almost everything we’ve been taught, but, again once one is acclimated, it doesn’t even subjectively feel less efficient to me. One can still pedal circles, it just requires different technique.

    August 19, 2013 at 2:36 pm
  • bfeltovi

    Pride is a terrible thing. I admit to riding hills I should’ve walked and to feeling shame when walking hills due to cramps or fatigue.

    August 20, 2013 at 6:47 am
  • 16incheswestofpeoria

    I tend to listen to the bicycle before contemplating a walk. The tandem, with its SPD pedals and 28 x 36 low, urges my stoker and I to stay awheel and enjoy its capabilities, whereas the coaster-brake machine suggests that I might enjoy a pedestrian’s perspective on the incline and reminds me that the baseball card will smack against the spokes whether I’m seated or not.

    August 20, 2013 at 9:29 am
  • Larry T.

    Put me firmly in the “never walk” camp, though I must admit considering the idea last month on the Passo Mortirolo in Italy! I’d guess my overall pace up this brute was not much better than a fellow could have walked, but I can say (again) that I RODE my bicycle up the famous climb. Telling someone I walked up the Mortirolo doesn’t quite sound the same, especially as part of a cycling tour.

    August 20, 2013 at 12:53 pm
    • Brian Feltovich

      I rode up the Mortirolo last summer and have never been so close to surrender. Hardest climb I’ve ever done. Wanted to stop but somehow couldn’t. Pride!

      August 22, 2013 at 9:32 pm
      • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

        I totally understand that, too. I probably would have done the same. I think if the Montirolo had been part of a longer ride with more passes afterward, I wouldn’t have minded walking.

        August 23, 2013 at 5:23 am
  • Mark in Beacon

    Huh. I’m surprised so many people are walkers. I don’t walk when road biking, though I have switched to compact and semi-sub compact cranks in the last few years. We have some steep hills in the Hudson Valley/Catskill region. If I rode the longer rando distances that some here do, or really rough, steep gravel roads with poor traction, I suppose I would consider walking on those rare occasions. Never say never. For posture breaks, I like to “walk” while riding.

    August 20, 2013 at 6:11 pm
  • Bruce Dance

    Whitt and Wilson’s book ‘bicycling science’ contains a section on walking vs pedalling on steep gradients. IIRC something like 25% gradient makes walking more efficient regardless of gearing, I think. I have no idea if this changes with loading, however.
    Traditional roadie shoes and cleats make walking a chore; I used to tour using sidi touring shoes which were good for walking in, up to a couple of miles, anyway. These days I use SPDs; not perfect as noted above, but very much the pragmatist’s choice.

    August 21, 2013 at 10:05 am
  • Daniel

    I have no problem walking when the need arises, or resting in lieu of walking in order to get the energy back. This works without extra weight on the bike. It doesn’t work in loaded touring. I needed the mechanical advantage to get me, the bike, and the gear up the steeper hills I encountered. OTOH some people might suggest that loaded touring should be avoided.

    August 22, 2013 at 6:52 pm
  • Stephen

    Generally I’m inclined to think riding is more efficient, unless things are super steep or the surface is very rocky or both. Sometimes it’s way easier to walk though. On paved surfaces I prefer to avoid walking, but once cadence gets below 50 rpm in the lowest gear walking is at least worth thinking about.
    FWIW, I vote for the Passo del Nivolet near Torino in Italy as the hardest paved climb seen to date. This is a dead end, despite us being told it wasn’t by a bike shop proprietor, so there’s no good reason to go there except curiosity, and Sunday tourist traffic is hellish. ~35rpm for several km is not fun!

    August 25, 2013 at 10:48 pm

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