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road bike
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Road Bike Climbing
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Road Bike Climbing

Hill Climbing Tips. Hill climbing for most beginner cyclists is probably the most daunting aspect of the sport, and I know many new cyclists plan their rides around avoiding hills. This is fine when you first start out, it fact it’s eminently sensible. But to be an all-round cyclist you must master the art of  road bike climbing. 

Lets start with the basics. Gears, if you have a newish bike, then chances are you have a 10 speed rear cassette. The biggest cog on your cassette, which is the easiest gear, should have a minimum of 25 teeth, and you may want to think about putting on a 27 tooth cog if you live in a particularly hilly area. Make sure your bike is set up is correctly for you, and if you’re not sure, then get a proper bike fit done by a professional. Hill climbing puts extra stresses on your legs and particularly your knees, and a wrong set up will exacerbate any problems.

So, to the hills. The key to successful hill climbing is to find your rhythm. Stay relaxed and loose, and don’t grip the handlebars too tightly. Sit slightly back on your saddle, this better engages the leg muscles used in climbing, place your hands wide on the bars too keep the chest open for better breathing, keep your upper body as still as possible and try and breathe in a nice and steady rhythm.

Start with hills that are not too steep, but rather longer ones with a steady incline. Change into an easier gear as you approach the base of the hill. If you’re in the big chainring, then drop down into the small chainring. Try and keep a reasonably quick cadence, (the speed of each leg revolution). If your legs are spinning really fast, then change to a harder gear, and conversely if your pedalling very slowly then change to an easier gear. Experiment with your gears and gear changing, and you’ll soon get a feel for this and discover that perfect gear for each hill.

Ride at your own pace and ignore everybody else with you. If you’re in a group ride they’ll wait for you at the top. Nothing will exhaust you quicker than trying to keep pace with a faster rider.

Sitting or Standing. If you watch the pro’s you’ll notice they stand up a lot when climbing. Standing does use up more energy, but it’s a good skill to learn. I would hill climb mainly sitting down when you first start, then incorporate more standing as you get better. Depending on the hill it is sometimes useful to stand as you crest the top of the climb. As you get more experienced, mix it up a bit. Sit on some hills and stand on others. If you’re out by yourself, then find a hill which takes 2-3 minutes to climb, and do repeats. Do one sitting, cruise back to the bottom and repeat the same hill standing.

When you do stand, the bike should rock slightly from side to side, as you push down on the opposing pedal. Don’t lean too far forward, your chin should be roughly inline with your handlebars. And again find that rhythm where you’re not fighting the bike, but rather become part of it. So that’s the very basics of hill climbing, there is plenty more to learn, but this will get you started.

I personally find hill climbing the most satisfying part of cycling, I enjoy the physical challenge and the joy of cresting the top of a difficult climb.

Hill climbing is never easy, but the more you do it then the better you’re able to cope. And hey one day you might actually learn to enjoy it. You’ll know that day has arrived when you look forward to hills, rather than dread them.


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