How To Improve Your Uphill Riding: 10 Tips
How To Improve Your Uphill Riding: 10 Tips
For most beginner to intermediate cyclists, one of the most common challenges on the bike is cycling uphill. Struggling with building up the fitness and strength to conquer steep climbs is one of the most common struggles for new riders.
Cycling uphill doesn’t need to inhibit you from fully enjoying your cycling experience. Whether the climb grade is a moderate 3% or a killer 20%+ beast of a climb, riding uphill on a bicycle is often dreaded but seldom understood in a way to make it not only manageable, but also -dare we say -enjoyable.
In this article we discuss the basics of climbing hills on a bike, and offer five key tips to becoming a better hill climber!
Hills aren’t scary. Let’s break it down…
Becoming a better uphill cyclist starts with looking at the essential factors that determine a rider’s ability to tackle steeper grades.
Some of these factors have to do with the rider, others with the bike…
When it comes to the rider, attention should be paid to: Cadence, aerobic capacity, pacing, breathing and nutrition (or refueling on the bike)
Looking at bike setup, big hills can be made easier by choosing more appropriate gearing, making your bike lighter and making sure your bike fit is dialed.
Ten tips to become a better hill climber
- Spin faster: cadence is the number of pedal revolutions per minute. On flat roads, a good average cadence (for non-competitive cyclists) is between 75-90 rpm. A cadence of 60-75 rpm is good for climbs. Keep your pedal stroke smooth and consistent. To avoid disruptions to your balance which is easier to happen at slower climbing speeds on steeper climbs.
- Stay in the saddle: climbing out of the saddle is an advanced riding skill because you’re engaging larger muscle groups. Staying in the saddle allows you to conserve more energy by spinning a lower gear and maintain a regular breathing rhythm.
- Avoid going too hard too early: learn to have a pacing strategy based on your current level of fitness and endurance. Make sure you leave enough reserve energy to get you through the whole climb, especially on longer ones, or on a particularly hilly route. Once you hit the point of exhaustion, you might be forced to dismount and walk. That’s okay sometimes, too. Building the necessary fitness to climb big, steep hills takes time. On group rides, ride at your own pace and don’t get too carried away early.
- Power-to-weight ratio matters: The better your power-to-weight ratio, the stronger a cyclist you become. There are two ways to improve your power-to-weight ratio 1) Increase your power output by better training to increase your strength and aerobic capacity or 2) drop some weight. Ideally, you can work on both! A basic yet structured training plan, combined with good nutrition and sleep, can allow you to simultaneously improve your endurance and power while shedding extra weight.
- Shift before you have to: Learn to look ahead to anticipate changes in the road grade, then shift early to be in the right gear before it’s too late. If you hit the steepest section of the climb in the wrong gear, smooth gear changes become difficult and can disrupt your cadence.
- Check your bike fit and riding position: While we assume that you already ride a bike that fits you well, that may not always be the case. Invest in a professional bike fitting session with an experienced fitter which will enable you to adjust any issues in your position on the bike. You’ll be surprised how a difference of only a few millimeters can make a huge impact on your comfort and ability to deliver power to the cranks.
- Experiment with various hand positions on the handlebars: For example, use your handlebars hoods to sit in a more upright position and allow for more unrestricted breathing. Or tuck in low on the drops to decrease the effect of a stiff headwind.
- The body and mind work in tandem: While your aerobic fitness, power-to-weight ratio and endurance conditioning on the bike will play a major role in your hill climbing prowess, we should remember that psychology has a significant impact on physical efforts. Practice breaking down big efforts into smaller chunks to allow your mind to focus on one at a time.
- Having a route plan helps: Exploring new riding routes is one of the great things about cycling, but planning your ride before you go out helps you anticipate what lies ahead, and set your pacing strategy accordingly. Route planning also helps you carry adequate gear and nutrition. On mountain climbs, the weather can quickly change, and carrying an extra layer can mean the difference between enjoying a big day on the ride or shivering in misery the rest of the way home.
10. Finally, try to relax: Tensing up will cause you to expend more energy that would otherwise be best reserved to give you that extra boost in the final part of a tough climb. Maintain a light grip on the handlebars, bend at the elbows and keep your chest open for easier breathing. If you use a heart rate monitor, keep an eye on your heart rate and avoid hitting your anaerobic threshold, which is the point at which lactic acid builds up faster than your muscles can metabolize it.