What would you rate your climbing out of 10? If it's not 9 or above read on for our top tips to improve.
Most bike riders we know have a love-hate relationship with climbing. As much as going up a hill, or mountain, can be a struggle, the sense of achievement is always well worth it.
We’ve got 7 simple tips that can really help you master climbing on your bike, making it more enjoyable no matter the gradient.
1. PACE YOURSELF
Climb for yourself not for others.
Trying to keep up with your cycling companions is not a great idea when it comes to hills. Most group rides will operate under the unwritten rule of waiting at the top of the climb for everyone to regroup. And for good reason, going too hard to try and catch a mate is a surefire way to burn out quickly and going too slowly often isn’t any easier and can just be frustrating for you.
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. 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.
2. 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 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 by 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.
3. MONITOR YOUR HEART RATE Using a heart rate monitor to help you better understand how your body is performing, can be a great way to get the best out of yourself on climbs.
Knowing you are riding at a heart rate you can maintain, even if your legs are burning, can be a huge step to faster rides. 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.
4. CHOOSING THE RIGHT GEAR AND THE RIGHT CADENCE
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 10 rpm. Therefore, when your cadence gets to around 80 rpm we recommend changing into a lower (easier) gear to get your cadence back up to around 90 rpm.
Don’t “save” gears for the end of the climb, climb in the best gear for you at any given point in the climb. Holding gears back for the end can leave you working harder than needed.
Coach Tip: If your climb has a lot of turns it is also a good idea to lower your gear (make it 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.
5. SWEAT THE TECHNIQUE
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.
Focus on maintaining a steady cadence and avoid bouncing up and down in the saddle. Keep your upper body relaxed and try to stay seated for as long as possible. Only stand up when necessary.
Keep your eyes up: It's important to look ahead and anticipate changes in the gradient of the climb. This will allow you to prepare for any changes and adjust your effort (and gears) accordingly.
6. KNOW THE CLIMB
We’ve probably all had those moments when you get out of the saddle thinking you are at the top of a climb only to realise you’ve gone into the red and there’s a lot more to come around the corner.
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 big one 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 a tool like Strava. Creating this profile 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. For bigger climbs we stick this on our top tube so easy to see quickly.
7. EAT AND DRINK RIGHT
Fuelling up before a big climb is essential, it can take around 15 minutes for your body to take on fuel so plan ahead when tackling hills.
You can read our full guide to fuelling correctly here.
Don’t forget to eat and drink during the climbing too, taking on board food and electrolytes whilst riding uphill can take some practice but it's essential if you want to tackle longer climbs.
The only way to get better on a climb is to keep practising. Find a local climb near you and time yourself up it to get a benchmark. Use that as your guide and see how your time improves over the next few months.
Want to transform your climbing in just 8 weeks? Then you need to check out our next structured climbing programme. Find out more details here.
For more help on building up your climbing specific training, check out our 8,12 and 20 week climbing building plans in the Njinga Cycling Academy.