Do you struggle to cycle uphill? Have you have watched the experts riding climbs with apparent ease and wondered how they do it?We suggest 12 tips for tackling the hills, long and steep, with greater efficiency.
1. Weighty matters
There is a basic fact that if you have a good strength-to-weight ratio you will find hills easier. Strong legs and core and less body fat will make the sheer physical act of propelling yourself and the bike up an incline easier.
No one wants to be told they need to lose weight but if you are a few kilograms – or more – overweight, shifting some of this will make cycling uphill easier.
2. Fitness facts
It will also help if you are cardiovascularly fit. Training to improve your heart and lung capacity over months and years will assist the more arduous task of riding uphill. While strong legs are important, so is the ability to keep going while spinning the pedals.
3. The bike in kgs
A lighter bike is easier to ride uphill. If you could shed a few kilograms yourself then that will be a cheaper option, but if you can also afford a lighter bike then there is no doubt this will be a bonus, too.
4. Top cadence
The best way to go uphill with greater efficiency is to spin the pedals at about 80-100rpm (revolutions per minute). It should be the same as on the flat. So, for easier hill climbing, you simply drop down the gears to find an easier ratio so that you can keep turning the pedals quickly even on uphills. Pushing a harder gear uphill is exhausting. For good cadence you need fitness, strength, endurance, resolve and generous gears (see below).
5. Good gearing
If you are blessed with super strong legs and a massive heart and lungs you will be able to ride uphill in a large gear. In fact, you’ll probably cope fine with a standard chainset, typically fitted with a 52/39 or 53/39 crank.
To explain, a 52/39 is two chain rings at the front. One with 52 teeth/sprockets and one with 39 teeth. The back cassette of chainrings will have between eight and 12 rings with a varying array of sizes.
For most mere mortals, however, the aim is to spin an easier gear. Many modern sportive-style bikes come with compact chainsets, usually with 50/34 gearing or a semi compact 52/36.
You can also add a granny cog or two to the rear cassette, such as a 28 sprocket ring or even a 32. Another option is a triple chainset – that’s three chainrings at the front rather than two for an even greater range of gears, especially at the easier end.
You will rarely regret having too many gears but you will regret struggling up a 30% incline when your legs are tired and you have to maintain an impossible cadence of 50rpm to stop that awful feeling of weaving all over the road.
6. Get out your seat
Studies have bee done to find out if it’s better to sit down or stand up while cycling uphills. It has been found that road cyclists generate the perfect level of power while conserving energy by remaining seated until the gradient hits 10%. Then, with your heart pumping hard, it’s time to stand.
However, when the incline becomes event steeper, let’s say more than 25%, it might seem like an impossible task to stay standing while still pedalling. Some people also find they need to sit down to keep the front wheel on the ground. Then again, it’s said to be 25% faster to ride standing up so that hard, steep section will be over much faster!
If you are a heavier cyclist, there could be more benefit if you stay sat down. Having a lower centre of gravity can help with general power to weight ratio.
You’ll need to try it for yourself and see what works best. Most amateur riders will find they do a mix of in the saddle and out of the saddle riding when cycling up long ascents.
7. Beat the burn
On steep or long hills it’s inevitable that you will feel the lactic burn in your legs as you power your muscles. As your speed drops and the lactic acid builds in your legs, you can slide back in the saddle a little to change the firing order of the muscles and leverage more force from the glutes and quads.
Also, try pointing your toes to bring the lower leg muscles into the pedal-firing pattern. This will add more push to the rear side of your stroke in hip flexion. Also, focus on lifting the pedal stroke to help with the pedal revolution.
8. Hold your position
It is all too easy to fall into the trap of sitting back of your bike with your arms straight, your back bent rounded and your heels pointing down as you pedal laboriously. The problem with this position is it doesn’t use your stabilising core muscles and can easily throw off the rhythm of your stroke.
Instead, the best hill climbing position is a flat back with bent elbows. Bend at the hips to achieve this. This has the advantage of lowering your centre of gravity. Making sure your chest is open thanks to a flat back will allow your lungs to work properly. If you are bent over your lungs will be compromised.
9. Great momentum
If you see a climb ahead use the flat or descending section before it to build up speed. Even if you are going faster than you normally feel comfortable with try to resist pulling the brakes (obviously, within the realms of safety!) and as you then begin the climb you’ll have the benefit of a short natural push upwards. Make sure you use the gears and pedals efficiently, as soon as you start to lose momentum.
10. Flatten the corners
If you are riding hairpin bends on steep climbs you should try to approach them at the flattest point. The best approach is on the outer edge of the corner, where it is usually flatter. Trying to ride the steeper inner curve of the corners might look shorter but it will be steeper.
11. Stay focused
Instead of worrying about falling off or not pedalling, imagine yourself at the top of the hill. Keep thinking about how you will feel when you get there. Stay focused, breath efficiently and keep turning the pedals as you ride uphill. Also, tell yourself you can do it. You will get there if you believe you can.
12. Practice makes perfect
The more you ride hills the better you will become. Find a range of hills, from long and shallow to short and steep, and try them all. Repeated one-minute efforts are good for improving your strength and aerobic capacity. Then, when you then take on a classic climb you’ll be in better shape.
Fancy taking on a climbs? We take a look at eight iconic climbs of the Lake District, to provide motivation for trying out some of these tips on some epic hill and mountain passes.