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Climbing Technique

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

Ray, of the Bike Noob blog, posted a question about how to improve at climbing. I don’t consider myself an expert on the topic, or even a particularly good climber, but I have done a whole lot of climbing, especially since we moved to Pennsylvania.

I definitely agree with the comments on that post: you need to practice climbing hills to get better at riding them. Furthermore, I find that each hill becomes less daunting as I become more familiar with it and know what to expect. The first time I climb a hill is usually the worst.

Here are some other lessons I’ve learned; your mileage my vary, of course.

  1. Pace yourself. This can be hard to do if you don’t know how long a hill is, but try to save energy in case you need it later in the climb. Maybe you’re just getting started, and it gets steeper toward the top. You never know. I used to worry about trying to take as much momentum as possible into a climb, but I’ve found it’s better to save that energy for later in the climb.
  2. Spin in an easy gear. Keeping a high cadence in a low gear is easier and I’ve found I can climb for miles this way without stopping. Some cyclists act like there’s some shame in using the granny gear, but that’s just ridiculous. That’s what it’s there for!
  3. Be patient. Climbing a long hill takes time. Try to settle into a groove. You might even enjoy it! When necessary, I will sometimes stop during a climb. But rather than walk, I will stop long enough to catch my breath and then continue climbing on the bike. I don’t feel like I’ve “conquered” a hill until I have done it without stopping, but stopping doesn’t mean you have to walk.
  4. Reward yourself. Whether this means enjoying the view from the top, relishing the speedy descent, contemplating what you’ve just accomplished, or just having a snack, it’ll help you feel better and make the climb seem more worthwhile.
  5. Ride lots of hills. The more you do it, the better you become and the more fun you’ll have.

This is what works for me. Some people are great at “power climbing,” mashing up hills in a higher gear. This may be a viable option, depending on the hills, you, and your bike. I’ve learned that trying to climb this way on my Long Haul Trucker is not very effective, so I don’t do it very often, so I really can’t help you there.

What is your climbing technique?

5 Responses to “Climbing Technique”

  1. Jon Grinder Says:

    Well, obviously, that depends on whether I’m riding fixed-gear or multi-speed. On the road, I do find that I tend to climb in a higher gear than a lot of my friends, but I don’t necessarily go any faster.

    On the mountain bike, I tend to hit the granny early and often. But, I think that’s just because I started mountain biking when the granny gear was a 24 tooth chainring and a 28 tooth cog (not that low, compared to the 20/34 combos which are common, today), so it seems normal to hit the low gear.

  2. Bill Lambert Says:

    I don’t mean to be glib, but I try to avoid hills. Our very biggest hills here in NE Indiana are like speed bumps to you folks in the rest of the world. I did a climb in the Adirondacks in July and thought I might not survive to the top. I have been trying to do more hills, but I don’t know how I could ever survive a tour in the mountains (even in small mountains).

  3. bikinginla Says:

    I agree, the only way to learn to ride hills is to ride hills. One mistake a lot of riders make is to start in too low a gear; it’s a lot easier to maintain momentum that to build it. And once you start up, it’s hard to shift up.

    My standard technique is to attack a hill. As you approach it, shift up a gear or two from your standard cruising gear, and pick up your cadence a little. Then as it gets harder to maintain your pace, shift down to a more comfortable gear while trying to keep up as much momentum as possible. Sometimes you really have to dig deep, but I often find I can take a hill in a higher gear — and faster — than I think I can.

  4. Dave Says:

    Climbing long hills is also an excellent time to relax the grip on the bars and rest wrists, hands, and fingers. Many pros roll their wrists slightly backward on their grips when climbing to open up the chest and get a little more air…this is specific to mtb bars, but works the same if you’re on the top (not the hoods) of your road bars, I guess. I don’t road ride and don’t have road bars, but I do climb a lot of hills…

  5. Fixaholic Says:

    Great site. I agree with everything except that I don’t think fixed gear bikes are all that scary really. A little patience and anyone can get tha hang of it.

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