7 Perfect Climbing Songs

04.3.2007 | 9:26 am

Consider the conundrum that is climbing. You seek out the hill, knowing full well that it will hurt to go up it. As you climb, you look forward to nothing in the world quite so much as when the climb ends, even while you wilfully ignore the fact that nothing is keeping you from slowing down, or even from turning around and going the other direction.

And then — if you are me, at least — you add an additional layer to the complexity of being a climber: you listen to music to help you go faster up that hill, even though you know faster hurts more. Or, perhaps even more strangely, you listen to music to help you take your mind off the hill…you know, the one that you specifically sought out.

There’s probably a life lesson to be learned from all this. Some way in which climbing is a metaphor for life.

But to tell the truth, I don’t care. I just want to talk about the very best songs in the world to listen to while you’re climbing.

A Note About Methodology: I arrived at this list by going through my iPod’s “Ride” playlist and asking myself, “Is this an awesome song for climbing?” If the answer was yes, I put it in the preliminary list. I then stack-ranked the contenders by level of perfection. By the time I got to the final seven, the songs were all so perfect that I would not dare to call one better than the other (with one exception, which I will save for last, just to build suspense).

Beastie Boys: Shadrach
There are three things that make this a perfect climbing song: a beat that makes you pedal faster, awesome backing vocals, and exquisite lyrics you’d want to shout along to, if blood weren’t coming out of your ears (and if you could remember them). “We’re just three MCs and we’re on the go: Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego!”

Bonus Comment: Normally, I don’t care too much about videos, but this one’s a work of art. Watch it.

Kraftwerk: “Tour de France
This is, objectively speaking, the best song for climbing ever made. The rhythm is scientifically designed for an optimal cadence. Ride while listening to this song and you will inevitably find yourself both pedaling and breathing in time. And you will be going 2.3 KpH faster than you would have otherwise. I have both a short version and a twelve-minute version of this song on my iPod.

Linkin Park: “One Step Closer
Sometimes, the best way to climb is to climb angry. This song is plenty angry. When your heart rate’s at 187,  the words “brings me one step closer to the edge, and I’m about to break” take on a whole new meaning.

Devo: “Uncontrollable Urge
Some people think Devo was a bunch of highschool misfits in funny clothes playing beepy sounds on synthesizers. Turns out, though, they also had guitars. And this particular song drives you forward on your bike as mercilessly as if it were a whip (whip it good).

Joan Jett: “Bad Reputation
You’re riding along, listening to Joan Jett, and you’re thinking to yourself, “Joan Jett creates some of the best straight-ahead, blunt-force rock and roll in the world.”

And then you realize that if Joan Jett ever found out you’re listening to her while you’re wearing spandex, she’d come beat the tar out of you with her bare fists. And she’d be within her rights.

This does not discourage you, because the music’s that good.

Red Hot Chili Peppers: ”Love Rollercoaster“ / “Parallel Universe
True story. When Californication came out, I left it in my car’s CD player, playing over and over and over, for a period of about six months. Interesting musical fact: the baseline of “Parallel Universe” actually makes you 15 pounds lighter for the duration of the song — a phenomenon scientists are studying right this very second.

By sneaking in “Love Rollercoaster,” I’m cheating my list up to eight songs. My rationale is this: it’s my list, I’ll sneak it in if I want to. Besides, it really is a perfect climbing song, though it has the somewhat dangerous effect of making you want to sing and dance while on the bike. Well, it’s dangerous if you’re me, anyway. Which I am.

Social Distortion: “Reach for the Sky,” “Don’t Take Me for Granted,” “Nickels and Dimes,” “So Far Away,” “Let it Be Me,” “Sick Boys,” “Ring of Fire,” “She’s a Knockout,” “A Place in My Heart,” “Cold Feelings,” “Bye Bye Baby,” “King of Fools”
I have regrets in my life. One of my greatest regrets is that until last year, I did not own a single Social Distortion album, which means that I did not own anything by the group that has since risen into my Top 7 favorite groups, and is far and away my number one favorite cycling group. As for climbing music, no other group is even close.

Imagine that. This band has been around since I was in highschool, and I’m just now getting to know their music. It makes me think: what else have I missed?

You know what? I’m going to set up my iPod shuffle to play this set of songs, in this order, for my B7 time trial this weekend. I think this will help me drop 15 seconds off my time.

Honorable Mentions
My “Ride” playlist — the playlist I always listen to when I’m on my bike — has 652 songs in it, every single one of which I’m happy to hear served up by the Shuffle. Here are a few extra songs I’m always extra-happy to have served up:

  • Prince / Age of Chance: “Kiss” – I went ahead and chained these two versions of this song together. I love both, and like it best when I hear the Age of Chance version right after the original.
  • Oingo Boingo: “Nothing to Fear (But Fear Itself)” – Imagine, if you can, the guilt I feel at my very favorite band in the whole world not making the 7 Perfect Climbing Songs list. It just goes to show how fairminded and objective I am.
  • Duran Duran: “The Reflex” – The fact that I’m willing to admit to loving “The Reflex” just goes to show how unafraid I am to embarass myself. Still, great riding song. I stand by that.
  • Falco: “Rock Me Amadeus” – Why do I like this song? I shouldn’t like this song. But I like this song. And when climbing, I really, really like this song.
  • Nirvana: “You Know You’re Right” – You know, Cobain doesn’t sound particularly happy in this song. I’ve often said that if I could’ve gotten to Cobain, he would never have killed himself. I’d have introduced him to biking, and soon he would have found balance and peace. Or, at the very least, he’d have been considering killing himself and would have thought, “If I kill myself today, I won’t be able to ride tomorrow.”
  • Steriogram: “Walkie Talkie Man,” “Fat and Proud” – I know, you Aussies and New Zealanders roll your eyes at this group. I don’t care. I love Walkie Talkie Man, and I love Fat and Proud. In fact, practically every song on Schmack! has enough energy in it to propel you up the steepest mountain, while riding a wheelie.

Hesitation to Publish
OK, I’ve put together my list. Now it’s time for me to publish it and see what everyone thinks. There’s a problem, though: Whereas I went into the Seven Perfect Foods list with plenty of confidence and bluster, I realize my taste in music is incredibly dated, and also that my taste in music may not have been all that great to begin with.

Ie, I fully expect to be made fun of a little bit.

Or a lot bit.

That’s fine, I can take it. But you’ve got to give me your own 7 Perfect Climbing Songs if you’re going to ridicule mine. Preferably with links to the music.

If you’ve got a good one, I’ll acknowledge it.

Rock on.

PS: Today’s weight: 161.0. Finally got my eating groove back, and I’m back to my lowest weight of the year. Time to start moving into the 150’s.


(Most) Bike Computers Are Evil, Stupid, and Stupidly Evil

04.2.2007 | 8:01 pm

Here’s a question I’m pretty confident nobody has ever answered “yes” to:

“Have you ever replaced the battery on a bike computer?”

I know I haven’t. Up until now, the reason has always been the same: bike computers self-destruct before even one battery runs out. And for this reason, I have learned to always buy cheap bike computers — the ones you can get for $12.00. I mean, the wires are going to break, or the contact points are going to rust/oxidize, or condensation is going to get between the LCD and the view window, or the buttons are going to stop working, regardless of how much you spend. So why spend $40, $50, or more on something that will last no longer than the $10 item?

That question was rhetorical.

I Get Stupid
Due to what I’d like to call a bout of serious-minded dedication compounded with a willful dismissal of facts I know to be true, however, last winter I went and bought a Polar CS200cad cyclocomputer. Here’s what this little beauty boasts:

  • Speed sensor
  • Cadence sensor
  • Heart Rate monitor
  • Wireless, wireless, wireless!

It was easy to set up. It was easy to use. It gave me massive quantities of data, which I have used to adhere to Coach Lofgran’s awesome training program as faithfully as I can.

You already see the problem, don’t you? Well, that’s because I am using effective foreshadowing techniques, but the fact remains: I should have seen it coming: Within a month, one of the batteries (the speed sensor) died. And then one time I forgot to turn off the main computer doohickey after a workout, and that pretty much killed the battery on the main computer.

I Get Angry
So, I should replace the batteries, right? Of course I should. And what does Polar have to say about how to do that? Well, they say I should ship the whole ball of wax back to their service center, where they’ll be happy to put new batteries in for me.

Thanks, Polar! That’s an awesome idea! But I admit to having some minor quibbles:

  • You’re going to charge me about $15 for each battery you replace. That’s $30 so far.
  • You’re going to charge me about $7.50 for shipping, plus I have to spend my own money and time to ship this, so now we’re up to about $45.
  • Once I ship it off, I have no bike computer at all until Polar gets mine back to me. I don’t find that inconvenient at all!

To recap: After having spent $160 on Polar’s bike computer and getting use of it for about a month, they’d now like me to pay them a bare minimum of $45 to get new batteries, even though the batteries didn’t last due to faulty design (ie, the stupid bike computer doesn’t realize it’s not receiving any information from any of the sensors, and therefore doesn’t get the clever idea of maybe shutting itself off).

Polar, in their Very Helpful Customer Service & Repair website page recommend I just go ahead and pre-authorize a service charge of up to $75, and they’ll just use as much of that as they need to.

Hey, Polar, I have a better idea: how about if instead of doing that, I get really disgusted at you for creating such a weak design — an electronic instrument that doesn’t know to turn itself off, is not rechargeable, and must be sent away to get new batteries — that I just accept my stupid purchase as a sunk cost, realize that any more money I spend on this lame cyclocomputer is throwing good money after bad, and vow to never buy anything from you ever again?

I Like My Garmin 301
I do have an exception to my general vitriol toward cyclocomputers, though: My Garmin 301. It’s a wrist-mounted GPS with a heart rate monitor. You can buy it at Amazon.com for $161.85. Here’s what I like about it:

  • No sensors, wireless or otherwise. You just strap it to your handlebar. My handy tip in this regard: buy a 6′ length of copper pipe insulation for $2.00 and cut off an inch-wide cross-section of it. Put that around your handlebar and it’s just right for the wrist-sized velcro strap mount the 301 comes with. Very easy to move from bike to bike that way.
  • Wait a second, I guess it does have a sensor. The HRM strap must have a battery, right? Well, that’s lasted about a year and doesn’t have any problems yet. Has anyone ever had to replace a battery in their HRM chest strap?
  • It’s rechargeable. In fact, the 301 recharges with a mini-USB jack, which I have plugged into both my home and work computers. So it’s not like you need to have a special recharger for it (although it does come with one, which I keep in my garage).
  • It lasts. The 301 claims to last 11 hours on a charge. That seems to be about right. Long enough for most big rides, or several 2-hour rides.
  • It has a big red button. That’s the start/stop button. It’s easy to find even when you’re riding. And all the buttons are easy enough to get to, even when you’re in motion and wearing gloves.
  • It has not conked out. Here’s an interesting feature other cycle computer manufacturers ought to take a look at: none of the other features matter if the stupid thing can’t handle being outdoors.
  • It works with MotionBased.com: Motionbased.com is a cool site where you can upload and show off your ride stats, for free. You can check mine out at http://eldennelson.motionbased.com.
  • Since it’s a GPS, you don’t have to do complex math. You don’t have to know your wheel circumference or anything like that, and you don’t have to change any settings when you move it from your road bike to your mountain bike. It’s doing speed and distance based on GPS data.

I Ponder Whether to Upgrade
The thing is, I would like to have cadence info, since I’m trying to be serious about the whole training thing this year. And it looks like I can do that with a Garmin Forerunner 305 with a cadence kit.

But I just don’t know.

Here’s my pro and con list.


  • I’ve had good luck with Garmin.
  • This should be about the same as my 301, but with cadence
  • If I have a 305 for the road bike, I can just leave the 301 on the MTB full-time.
  • Cadence-tastic.


  • Expensive
  • Wireless cadence sensor = potential battery hassles
  • People will call me a huge nerd for having not just one GPS bike computer, but two.

So, does anyone have the 305 setup with the cadence kit? Are you happy with it?

And, more importantly, is everyone as otherwise disgusted with cyclecomputers in general as I am?

Thanks for letting me vent. I feel much better. And my nasal passages have cleared.

PS: If anyone from Garmin is reading this and wants to send me a Forerunner 305 + a cadence kit, I will pimp it shamelessly (if I like it). Thank you.

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