The original article 9 Cycling Tips for Better Hill Climbing, by Tyrone Holmes can be found on Active.com.
If you ride a bike, sooner or later, you’re going to encounter a hill. For some of us, this is an exciting time. For others, it’s a moment we dread.
If climbing raises your anxiety, I have good news. You can improve your climbing ability. In fact, you can improve it so much you might even start to enjoy it. Just follow these nine tips and you’ll look forward to your next ascent.
The best way to become a better climber is to climb. If you race or participate in events on hilly terrain, get in the habit of doing a hill climb workout once a week. Hill climbing should be done at a moderate intensity so keep your heart rate between 85 percent and 95 percent of your lactate threshold. For a higher intensity workout, perform 5- to 10-minute hill climbs at or slightly above lactate threshold. Ride downhill to recover and then head up again for a total of three or four hard efforts.
Be as Light as You Can Be
Successful climbing is all about power-to-weight ratio, and weight easily trumps power. In other words, the lighter you are, the faster you will climb. As you get heavier, you must dramatically increase power to overcome the additional weight. If you want to climb better, you will need to approach your ideal performance weight, which is the confluence of your lowest possible weight at your highest level of athletic performance.
Simply stated, you want to be light but don’t drop so much weight you start to lose power.
Lighten Up Your Bike
Anything you can do to reduce the weight of your bike will help. To get the best results, try to reduce the weight of moving parts, notably the wheels, tires and pedals. However, reducing bodyweight is a far more effective approach than spending thousands of dollars to shave a few grams off a bicycle. Always remember the old adage: if your bike weighs less than 20 pounds and you still can’t climb, it’s not the bike!
Equip Your Bike With Large Sprockets and a Wide Range of Gears
Riding a hilly route requires a wide range of gears. Large sprockets (e.g., 26, 27 and 29) produce a small gear development (the distance a bike travels in one pedal revolution in a particular gear combination) and are much easier to spin. A wide range of gears allows for appropriate gear selection over diverse terrain.
Spin Small Gears at a Relatively High Cadence
As a coach, one of the most common mistakes I observe is mashing a relatively large gear while riding uphill. This will cause leg fatigue much more quickly than spinning a smaller gear at a higher cadence.
Stay Seated Most of the Time
Standing once in a while is fine, but most climbing should be done in a seated position, which reduces stress on the cardiovascular system (i.e., heart rate will be lower in a seated position). However, when you stand, you bring more force to the pedals so increase your gearing.
Stay Out of the Red Zone
Another big mistake you can make while climbing (especially long steady inclines) is to ride past your lactate threshold, which is the point at which lactic acid begins to accumulate in the bloodstream and forces you to reduce your effort. This will make the remainder of the climb very difficult. It is much better to take it easy the first half of the climb and then pick up the pace in the second half (known as a negative split).
Different hills require different strategies. A long steady climb requires a different approach than a shorter, steeper hill. Decide how you want to handle a particular climb in advance. For example, if you are approaching a short steep hill followed by a descent, you can ride at a higher intensity than you could on a long incline because you have an immediate opportunity to recover.
There is no doubt that some cyclists are better climbers than others; however, the difference often lies in the mental aspects of climbing. Simply stated, you will be a much better climber if you believe you can be a good climber.
There are several steps you can take to boost your climbing confidence. The first and most important step is to get out and climb. Your confidence will increase as you have more and more positive climbing experiences. Second, don’t bite off more than you can chew. Your confidence may erode if you attempt a major climb and fail. Increase your climbing distance in small increments. Finally, break long climbs into smaller portions. For example, think of a 10-mile ascent as four 2.5 mile ascents. Psychologically, this can make your climb easier to manage.
For more on better hill climbing:
- See the original article, “Tips for Better Hill Climbing,” on Active.com
- Gale Bernhardt of active.com has these “7 Hill Cycling Tips for Flatlanders.”
- “Mind Over Mountain: Mental Tips for Climbing,” an article on active.com by Josh Horowitz.
- For more on “Should You Sit or Stand When Riding Uphill?” check out Matt Fitzgerald’s Triathlete magazine article.
- For an educated comparison of “Sitting vs. Standing When Cycling Uphill,” see Dr. Stephen Cheung, Ph.D.’s article on active.com.
- Triathlon legend and six-time Ironman world champion Dave Scott breaks down the muscular economics of riding uphill and suggests riding positions specific to tri bikes in his video on Sitting versus standing.
- Delve deeper into gearing rations in Gear Talk.