Want to improve your hill-climbing? Read on as we share our top 5 climbing tips to help you climb faster.
Whether you are commuting to work, meeting friends for a weekly social ride, or taking your bike abroad, hills cannot be avoided. If you are tired of being dropped on climbs, struggle to keep up with the peloton as soon as the gradient increases or simply want to be able to ride uphill faster, check out our top 5 climbing tips below to help you become a faster climber.
1. Be Smart, Pace Yourself
Climb for yourself not for others. Trying to keep up with your cycling companions is not a great strategy when it comes to the hills. Ride at an intensity that you can maintain for the majority of the climb or build-up and finish with an acceleration to crest the top. Pacing is so important to ensure you don't blow up halfway up a climb.
If you have multiple climbs on a route don’t expect to climb them all at the same pace. This is where it is wise to know what to expect on your route and plan how you’re going to ride it.
We recommended trying to tap out a steady rhythm throughout the whole climb. A consistent and efficient effort will help prevent your legs from tiring as quickly.
Coach Tip: If you have a power metre on your bike, keep an eye on your power output and what zone you are working in. Knowing the power you can maintain for the duration of the climb will mean you can judge your effort better. Alternatively use a heart rate monitor to help you better understand how your body is performing.
Remember your heart rate lags so allow a few minutes when you start a climb for your heart rate to catch up with your effort. Don't push too early or you may find yourself in the red.
2. Gear selection
Changing gears at the right time on a climb is important to help maintain a steady rhythm and ensure you are not wasting any unnecessary energy.
When climbing, settle into a comfortable cadence. If the climb is not too steep this should be around 80-90 revolutions per minute (rpm). If you find your pedal stroke slowing as you climb onto higher gradients, this is the point where you will need to shift into a lower gear in order to maintain your cadence.
Timing is all-important. Try not to wait too long to change gear and let your cadence really slow down. This will get you out of a rhythm and will waste energy. Generally speaking, changing gear can change your cadence by around 10rpm. Therefore, when your cadence gets to around 80rpm we recommend changing into a lower (easier) gear to get your cadence back up to around 90rpm.
Coach Tip: If your climb has a lot of turns it is also a good idea to lower your gear (make easier) as you get to the hairpin curve and spin up your legs and accelerate around the bend. If you are going around any switchback we also recommend taking the corner wide as this is generally less steep.
3. Maintain a good cadence
Keep your cadence constant to avoid grinding the gears and wasting energy. Get into a comfortable cadence - ideally as close to a 90rpm cadence on the hills to avoid grinding, and think about your pedal technique - pushing your toes forward gives you more power. If you are going to push a bigger gear, we would recommend moving your weight back on the saddle to allow for more leverage.
On steeper climbs, you will struggle to keep your cadence around 90rpm. For these climbs, settle into a comfortable cadence - You will likely be in your easiest gear.
Coach Tip: If in doubt, always opt for lower (easier) gears than you think are necessary as this will help save energy.
4. Position yourself well in a group
You will often find when riding with others that groups spread out on climbs and as the road kicks up everyone's speed will drop. This is perfectly normal as everyone gets into their own rhythm when climbing.
You may not get as many aerodynamic benefits on being on someone's wheel compared to on flats, but if you can find someone's wheel who is riding at a comfortable pace for you we recommend tucking in to save energy. This may also give you a boost from pacing yourself off the rider in front.
Coach Tip: If you don't feel you are as strong climbing as your fellow riders, aim to approach the climb at the front of the group. This gives you space to move back through the group. If you start at the back and get dropped straight away, this can affect you mentally and lower your motivation to push yourself.
5. Know the climb
No one wants to be the rider who shoots off at the start of a climb, only to fade within 20 metres. Therefore, knowing a climb can really help you when it comes to pacing and technique. If you know where the steepest parts are, you can tone it down in preparation.
If you're targeting a well-known ascent - one of Britain's 100 climbs or a great in the Alps, then check out the total distance, and average gradients for each kilometre, so you know when you can back off and when to prepare for steeper sections.
Coach Tip: Before setting off on your ride, create a ride route profile - we'd recommend using software such as Strava. Creating this route will give you a good understanding of the gradient of the climbs, what challenges lay ahead, whether that be small roads, poor surfaces, or potentially technical descents. This in turn will help you pace your ride and fuel correctly.