Top Cycling Climbing Tips – How to climb a mountain or two on a bike, and have more fun doing it.
This round up of our favorite cycling climbing tips will help any cyclist ride up hills better. Whether you’re just setting out as a cyclist or you’ve been riding for ages, there’s no need to be daunted by the prospect of those steep hills. These cycling techniques for climbing will help you conserve energy and enjoy the uphill ride a lot more. Please add your own favorite climbing tips in the comments.
How to learn to love climbing hills – the steeper the better!
Climbing is the hard part.
Hills, let alone mountains, are surely the number one obstacle for new cyclists, since they are associated with hard work and pain and all that.
This makes climbing hills one of the most daunting and challenging parts of riding a bicycle, especially for beginners who may try to avoid hills at all costs.
On the other hand, conquering difficult climbs on a bike gives you a sense of achievement and success that’s hard to equal any other way. Many times, you get the additional reward of incredible vistas that you feel you have truly earned.
In reality, the only way to get better at climbing hills on a bike is to “just do it!”
With the correct gearing, technique, and attitude, you can learn to love the hills — to seek them out, challenge them, defy them — because hills can be a vital part of your cardiovascular training program, and that feeling of accomplishment at the top of the climb can be addictive!
Regular training on hills will build your leg strength, your aerobic/anaerobic capacity, as well as the ability for your muscles to recover quickly from the hard effort. Early in your training, you’ll huff and puff up a hill, but after a month or two, you’ll be able to climb that same hill without getting nearly as winded.
How To Cycle Up Hills Better – First Things First
Cycling Climbing Tip #1 – Choose the right bike for the ride
For newcomers to cycling especially, the first and most basic tip is a prerequisite for happy cycling no matter where you ride: use a bike equipped for the terrain you want to ride on. If you are ready to head for the hills that means having a wide enough range of gears to climb hills. If your bike doesn’t have a low enough gear to switch to when you tackle a hill, you simply won’t be able to ride up it.
Cycling Climbing Tip #2 – Get clear on which gear is which
When we talk about low and high gears, we’re talking about the numbers used to compare one gear with another. Avoiding the technical aspects, a low gear means it takes more turns of the pedals to go a certain distance; a high gear means fewer turns. Pedaling at the same rate, you will go slower in a lower gear. That means less effort, and so in a lower gear you can go up a steeper hill. If it’s confusing, think of lower gears as easier gears.
Get a Jump With Your Gears
You do not need to fear hills. The secret is technique, and the most important one is to use your gears to your best advantage. Learning to change gears smoothly, and to anticipate which gear to be in for the road ahead, are two keys to cycling comfortably on all kinds of grades.
Cycling Climbing Tip #3 – Shift early, shift often
Most cyclists wait too long before shifting to a lower gear when approaching a hill. Think of a hill in three phases: the approach, the climb, and the crest. Whatever your pedal revolutions, as soon as your cadence begins to drop off from effort, however slightly, immediately downshift. You may spin briefly at what feels like an unnaturally high rpm. The hill will quickly bring you back to a comfortable rpm. Apply this rule of thumb throughout the climb.
Cycling Climbing Tip #4 – Take the pressure off the pedals
It’s much easier to change gears when there is less pressure on the pedals. The strain in the chain when you are heaving up a slope can make it tough to move it between the rings and sprockets to get to the gear you need. That’s another good reason to change gear a little ahead of when you really need it.
Get a Rhythm Going
Cycling Climbing Tip #5 – Breathe deeply and get into the groove of your climb
Coordinate your breathing with your cadence. For example, take one breath for every one and a half revolutions of your pedals. It’ll help you go faster and will help prevent hyperventilation. Consciously pull in a little extra air with each breath – the extra oxygen helps your muscles do more work.
Be sure to relax your arms, shoulders, and back on climbs. Let your legs do the work.
Out of the Saddle or Seated?
Whether one should be seated or out of the saddle during climbing has caused heated debate. Often the hill decides. Rule of thumb: If the grade is steady and not too steep, try to stay in the saddle. For shorter, steep bursts, get out of the saddle.
Cycling Climbing Tip #6 – Stay seated to conserve energy for a long climb
If you don’t need to climb fast, you can conserve energy by switching to a lower gear, finding a comfortable balance between your pace and effort, and staying seated.
Cycling Climbing Tip #7 – Stand to generate more power for a short climb
Standing on the pedals when climbing gives you the advantage of adding your body weight to the force of your legs. You can also pull against the handlebars more effectively, getting even more force onto the pedals. This lets you overcome a steeper grade faster than when climbing seated, but the trade off is it takes more energy to climb this way.
Keep in mind that climbing out of the saddle accelerates your heart rate to a higher level (requiring more oxygen) than if you stay seated. That holds true especially for heavier riders.
Cycling Climbing Tip #8 – How to Climb Out of the Saddle
When you do need to climb faster or get past a steep section: with road bike handlebars, rest the V of your hands on the brake hoods and wrap your thumbs and fingers around them. If you have straight handlebars, keep your hands either on the handlebars or on the bar ends, if you have them. As you push down with each pedal, pull up on the bar with the opposite hand. Let the bike rock beneath you, but no more than a foot off-center.
It’s awkward to pedal at high cadence when standing, so if you’re already at high pedal revs when you get ready to stand, shift up to the next smaller cog in the back. The slightly higher (harder) gear will make you more stable, and the extra power you generate will let you use that gear to your best advantage.
Hand Positions for Stronger Climbing
Cycling Climbing Tip #9 – Change your grip to give you more leverage or a rest
Road style handlebars give several options for hand position, and you may find that switching it up during a long climb helps reduce fatigue and avoid straining certain muscle groups.
- For long steady climbs, wrapping thumb and forefingers around the brake hoods gives you more leverage to pull against as you pedal, and can stretch the muscles in your upper back a little.
- Gripping the bars along the straight sections beside the stem, with elbows bent, can help you apply more force when the grade is steeper but you’re still in the saddle.
- The same hand position with elbows straight can relieve your lower back on less steep sections.
How to Get Better at Hill Climbing
Cycling Climbing Tip #10 – Try hill repeat workouts to improve climbing power
On one weekday ride each week, try doing a hill workout to improve your hill climbing ability and leg strength.
A hill repeat workout is shorter than a normal ride, but it’s very intense. Find a challenging hill that you can ride up in about 5 minutes. After warming up on the bike for about 10 minutes, ride up the hill at a moderate pace, then (carefully) turn around and ride back down. Pedal easy on flat ground for about 5 minutes or so, then ride up the hill again. Start off riding up the hill 2 times. You should be extremely tired when you’re done.
The next week, add one more trip up the hill to the workout, and so on each week until you can ride up the hill 5 times. Once you get to that point, it’s time to find a more challenging hill. Be sure to cool down by spending about 10 minutes riding easy on the bike after your hill workout.
But I Can’t Make It to the Top
Cycling Climbing Tip #11 – Break that hill into pieces
Most beginning cyclists will encounter hills that are too difficult to ride all the way up. Don’t make those hills an all-or-nothing proposition. Instead, break up the hill into tiny increments. The first time you ride up “killer hill,” take note of where you need to stop. Next time you ride that hill, make it a goal to go a little bit farther up the hill, even if it’s just another 10 feet up. Push yourself to keep riding to the next driveway, street sign, or whatever.
Do this each time you ride the hill, and before you know it, you’ll accomplish what you first thought was impossible. You’ll ride the whole way up!