Climbing hills on the bike is definitely a skill that many cyclists don’t have if they live in a flat area and only ride flat rides. Here are my top tips on how to climb better with more efficiency and use different methods of climbing to get stronger. Safety is always first!
Mental Attitude: Your mental attitude toward the climb can affect everything. The best thing is not be in a hurry to get to the top unless you are in epic fitness and have been doing hill climbs for 4-6 weeks at all out intensity. I always say, let the hill or climb come to you. Tackle it one pedal stroke at a time, stay relaxed, and use even intensity/power and breathing. If you have a full day of climbing ahead of you, you need to pace yourself and give your legs a chance to survive the day, get stronger and not have to get off and walk!
Seated vs. Standing Climbs – you want to stay seated as much as possible because your heart rate stays in control and you can keep your momentum going. There are times however when you just have to stand up to get your cadence or RPMS going a little faster, or your butt hurts, or you are almost to the top and just need to eek it out. When you stand up, stay relaxed and use your upper body and the bike to help you rock back and forth and apply pressure with your whole body on the down stroke and then again on the next pedal stroke. Doing standing repeats is a great way to just get stronger climbing on the bike as well.
Too Steep– when it’s just too steep there is a last resort to getting off and walking up the hill. Try slaloming up. What that means is don’t take a straight path up. Ride on a diagonal to the incline for 5-6 feet and then switch back in the other direction to help reduce the steepness and allow you to get your pedals turning over. This works like a charm on the biggest climb we have in Florida, Sugar Loaf Mountain.
Gearing – It can be very helpful to have a bigger cassette or set of chain rings on the back wheel if you are going to be climbing a lot (a 12/28). Also knowing when to shift is important. If you do not have a ton of fitness on climbs and want to survive a long weekend of training, I suggest riding mostly in the small ring up front and keeping your cadence 90 or above, even on the climbs if you can. Climbing in the big ring up front definitely fatigues the legs faster but you definitely want to use the big ring on your descents to power over the top and take advantage of your downhill and recovery.
Downhill – riding down- hill is fun and can provide a much needed break from the uphill climbing. Please ride downhill with caution as your bike can get a little wobbly with speed. Hold you line, communicate with other cyclists you are passing. If you want to descend fast, go in the big ring pedal hard over the top and coast with feet parallel, and tuck at the waist and squeeze the top tube with your knees. IF you are being more cautious, stay upright in the saddle to catch more wind, keep one foot down with weight on it as if standing on it, keep your butt in the saddle and feather the brakes until you get to the bottom. If you get good at descending you can take advantage of getting momentum to climb the entire next hill
without much effort. AS you get toward the bottom of the hill, grab harder gears and start pedaling. As is starts to get harder, drop 1 gear at a time and keep pedaling with a high cadence and see how far your momentum can carry you.
Position in the saddle – Be sure when you are climbing to push back in the saddle and keep your heels down. This is so you can access all the muscled in your legs.
Drafting – getting close behind another rider who is of similar ability to you up a climb can actually help you pace yourself and stay consistent in your pedal stroke all the way up. But, if they are going to fast and you can’t keep up you can blow up. SO decide early if you are sticking with the pull up the hill or ask the rider in front to slow down just a bit to keep you together. Definitely worth the draft if you can keep it.
Eating and Drinking – plan these for the flats or the gentle downhills or breaks in the ride. Being able to ride with 1 hand to drink is very important so you don’t get dehydrated during the ride.
Regrouping after a climb– it’s always polite to wait for the cyclists that got dropped on the climb and pedaling slowly at the end of a series of hills can allow the group to get back together and finish strong together. Nothing worse than seeing the group you are riding with just 200 yards ahead and not being able to bridge the gap. Always look back for dropped athletes and get the group back together.