Camry Hybrid and Cycling


My wife recently purchased a Toyota Camry Hybrid. This blog is not about the car (even though it is awesome). It’s about the instrument panel and cycling . . . specifically climbing.

On the instrument panel, there is a gauge (pictured above) that shows the amount of effort the vehicle is exerting. The three categories on the gauges are PWR (power) white, ECO (economy) green, and CHG (charging) blue. As the vehicle moves down the highway, the needle stays in the green and cruises at around 44 miles per gallon on flat ground. Here’s where it gets interesting in relation to cycling:

Going downhill headed to a steep uphill

If I release the gas pedal and coast down the hill, the needle drops away from power and moves close to the charging mode . . . BUT at the bottom of the hill, to keep my speed, I must apply more gas to push the hill, moving the needle to power section and dropping my miles per gallon average (i.e. consuming more gas). Now, if I stay steady in the gas on the way down the hill, I have momentum and energy to slide right into the uphill movement without pressing hard on the gas and saving fuel, while gliding over the hill. The needle stays in the middle of the economy section because I am preserving fuel.

Flat ground headed to a steep uphill

If I wait until I am into the hill before increasing speed, the needle moves to the power section because I have to be into the gas to keep my speed, burning fuel and dropping my MPG average. However, if I slightly increase my speed on the flat ground as I enter the hill, I glide up the hill and keep the needle in the economy section and slip to the top and preserve fuel.

Rolling hills

To stay even on the gas, the vehicle shoots downhill and glides over coming hill, while the needle stays in even in the economy section. If I choose to coast downhill and take on the coming hill, it is a repeat of what I’ve already discussed in the way of burning more fuel and dropping my MPG average.

Taking this into a cycling mindset, I began to obviously equate calories with fuel and my effort relating to the gas pedal. Many new cyclists (and even more seasoned cyclists) tend to use the downhill ride as a time to freewheel and rest their legs; then as the hill sweeps up more effort is needed on the hill and more calories are burned. When the rider finally reaches the top of the hill, he is exhausted and blowing and coasts down the backside only to repeat the same problem.

During rolling hills, the same coasting and pedaling style of cycling wears on a the rider. More effort is put into the climb and the repetition of coasting and climbing increases and the problem of fuel consumption is heightened. It tends to be the same on flat stretches that move into a  hill, many cyclists shift waaaaaay too late and find themselves in the middle of the hill, exerting tons of energy and effort in the climb. While shifting early in preparation of the hill will allow the pedal cadence to increase and then move to a steady cadence  in the upswing with far less effort and fuel consumption.

Maybe this makes sense. I am still tweaking my shifting and effort, but it seems to be making a big difference. Watching this gauge has made difference in seeing how I’m burning fuel; after all, isn’t fuel consumption a key factor?


4 thoughts on “Camry Hybrid and Cycling

  1. Depends on your definition of a “Roller.” (a future blog post I have coming up). But yes, on small hills momentum is key.

  2. Great post again (a blog is the “whole”, the “post” is one article on the blog – or weblog).

    Now, for the most part, I agree with what you’ve written with one exception. There is call to ride a harder gear up a hill, out of the saddle, that doesn’t work with your hypothesis. When a cyclist is spinning away, especially after a long pull up front, we can overheat the engine. Call it running the motor lean. We can’t take in enough oxygen to mix with fuel so our breathing becomes erratic. This is the perfect time to push a heavier gear and rely on sheer muscle power to give our respiration a minute to cool down. Indeed, this has helped me out quite often on my club ride when I’m trying to keep pace with racers.

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