Irrespective of the type of cycling you do; climbs are an inevitable part of biking. In most cases, races are won on the climbs – hence, improving your bike climbing skills is essential whether you are racing against the clock or other riders.
If your goal is to ride hill climbs faster, you will need to focus on using the right approach, riding technique, and pacing. Ideal for those who enjoy mountain biking and cyclists who prefer on-road biking, the tips outlined in this guide should help you improve your bike hill climbing.
10 Bike Climbing Tips
1. Understand the Climb
Most bikers struggle with hill climbs because they shoot off at the beginning of the climb, only to fade within the first 20 meters. Understanding the climb can help you with riding technique and pacing. If you manage to figure out where the steepest parts are beforehand, you should be able to tone it down in preparation.
If the hill climb in question will be part of an approaching race, find some time and pre-ride the climb. If your target is a well-known hill, check the total distance and the average gradient per mile (or per kilometer) – this will help you know when to prepare for steep sections and when to back off.
2. Know Yourself
Understanding the power and heart rate you can maintain for the climb’s duration means that you will be able to judge your effort much better. While you do not want to blow up half-way to the hill’s summit, you wouldn’t want to get to the top and then realize you didn’t use your energy optimally.
As you have probably guessed, you will need to use a heart rate monitor or power monitor during your training sessions to get your numbers right. When using your bike trainer, keep in mind that power numbers respond immediately to the increased effort while the heart rate often takes time to accumulate.
For this reason, take a couple of minutes to reach your target zone. Do not push to get to the zone ASAP – if you push too much, you may find yourself too exhausted too early.
3. Determine When You Perform Optimally – Standing or Sitting
When it comes to riding on the MTB saddle or out of the saddle, the rider’s preferences vary. In most cases, the preferences have to do with the cyclist’s body composition. Generally, lighter cyclists find it much easier to climb out of the bike seat while heavier cyclists would rater remain seated.
However, to improve your bike hill climbing, it is essential that you practice climbs seated and standing. Compare your riding speed and heart rate to figure out what produces the best results for you.
4. Lose Weight
If you are carrying excess body fat, losing weight will produce a positive effect on your mountain bike climbing. The lack of inertia on hill climbs and the basic physics of gravity indicate that lighter riders will come off much better when riding their hardtail mountain bikes uphill.
During the off-season, focus on indoor cycling workouts – and other gym workouts – that can help you shed weight. However, do not forget about working at powering up on your bike during the cycling season – this will still be an efficient solution when you are still working on reducing your weight.
5. Focus on Cadence
When it comes to bike hill climbing, it is easy to allow the gradient to dictate your pedal strokes’ speed – this means that you will be gradually slowing down. A slow cycling cadence, while pushing the high resistance gear will use your fast-twitch muscle fibers – these are useful for short, hard, and explosive efforts. A fast cadence with lower resistance will use your slow-twitch muscle fibers – these are useful when it comes to endurance.
Since your fast-twitch muscles require more glycogen and fatigue more quickly, you should spin at a low gear but at a higher cadence on the long hill climbs. Save the short efforts for quick sprints on the undulating terrains. With a high-quality cadence sensor, tracking your pedaling speed on climbs should be possible.
6. Breathe Easy
In sustained climbs – especially those that require splits between the riding chums – can cause panic reactions. These can lead to short and sharp breaths.
Taking the shallow and quick breaths is basically a panic response. It can trick your body into thinking that you are in real trouble, leading to lower performance, and in extreme cases, panic attacks.
If you find that you are dropping off on your hill climb, try to ignore any sense of rising panic and concentrate on maintaining controlled and steady breathing. Fill your lungs with every intake.
7. Adjust Your Gearing
If you find yourself struggling to turn your mountain bike pedals when bike climbing, changing your gear set – going for a wider ratio cassette and smaller chainset – will allow you to spin more quickly.
Most double chainsets will have 2 chainrings – sized 53/39 – this represents the greatest resistance. Mid-compact chainsets are 52/36 while compact sets feature 50/34. The smallest option is generally the super compact, which comes with 48/32 or smaller.
In the back, a wide cassette – an 11-32, 11-34, or 11-36 – offers more gears at a much lower resistance. The only negative to using these cogs is that they are spaced at wider intervals – this makes it hard to find an ideal gear.
8. Avoid Stopping at the Brow of the Hill
During races, it is not uncommon for riders to get dropped on almost flat sections of the hill. This is because they congratulate themselves for surviving the hardest part of the climb and even relax and back off.
This split in their energy levels allows the more experienced riders to surge or attack. Always be ready to apply pressure on your pedals over the brow of the hill – otherwise, you will risk losing touch.
If you are at home on the flat roads or descents, be sure to use both to your advantage. They will help you gain a gap once your hill climb is out of the way.
9. Up Your Training
One of the best ways to boost your bike hill climbing is by adding hill climbs to your training. A good hill workout will involve riding out a local climb – this could be anywhere from thirty seconds to ten minutes – depending on your target. Ride up the hill as hard as possible, and then recover on your way down.
The increased resistance offered by the hill means that even the shortest climbs – say, 30-second climbs – provide a good muscular strength workout, perfect for improving your short burst power and sprinting. If your climbs are longer, you can look at 10-minute ascends, riding at approximately 80-90 maximum heart rate, with equal recoveries.
If you live in a pan flat region, focus on high gear efforts instead. The resistance will act as “ghost hill” and offer almost the same effect.
10. Have Enough Carbs in Your Bloodstream
On hard and short hill climbs, you will probably be going too hard to eat something. In such a case, take a few bites approximately 3 miles from the foot of your climb – this will give the carbs enough time to hit the bloodstream.
For longer climbs – which will burn a lot of calories – top up your energy reserves before you hit the early slopes. However, avoid eating too much or your cycling will suffer. If possible, carry some energy drinks in a water bottle and drink a little and often throughout the climb.
Q: How Can I Improve My Cycling Climbing?
Knowing the hill climb beforehand is one of the best ways to improve bike climbing. It will help you use optimum power to ride the entire climb without getting exhausted. You wouldn’t want to start at maximum effort, only to get tired after climbing just a small portion.
Q: Is Cycling Uphill Good for You?
Cycling uphill has a lot of health benefits. In addition to burning a lot of calories and helping you reduce weight, biking uphill at a fast pace allows you to lower your blood pressure, reducing the strain on your heart, which in turn reduces the risk for cardiovascular health complications.
Q: What is a Climbing Bike?
Climbing bikes are bicycles with features that make riding on highly inclined routes much easier. They are generally light and have a wider ratio cassette and smaller chainset to allow the rider to spin more quickly without struggling.
Q: What is the Hardest Climb in Cycling?
Two things make a climb hard – gradient and the climb’s distance. One of the hardest climbs is located in Spain – it is known as the Alto del Angliru. The 4,000-feet climb is 7.8 miles long and has an average gradient of 10%, with some extremely steep sections with a gradient of 20 to 24%.
Q: Why is Biking Uphill So Hard?
Biking up steep hills requires you to use maximum power consistently. This makes it extremely hard since you won’t have time to relax your limbs while on the slope.
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While riding uphill is not inherently easy, the right technique and pace can help you reach the summit without feeling overly exhausted. The bike climbing tips outlined above should boost your performance. However, keep in mind that the best way to become better at bike hill climbing is through regular practice.