11 Climbing Tips for Cyclists
Choose Your Gearing Wisely
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The old-school rule is to not have a cassette ring with over 25 teeth. This is a macho tradition that you should ignore. Even today's pros have cogs with 27 teeth, and some use compact cranks in the front as well, especially if the climb is over 10 miles with sections that near 20 percent in gradient. In order to keep your cadence up, you should choose gearing that allows for you to pedal most of the climb at over 90 rpms. You'll be surprised at the difference higher gears and cadence make on steep pitches.
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Going into the red (anaerobic) at any point on a climb is a recipe for disaster. To keep a steady pace, break your climb into thirds and it should go like this:
First 1/3: Pedal easier than you have to. Even if you think you're going slow enough to make it to the top, chances are your fresh legs want to pedal slightly faster than they should be. Slow your pace and make this section easy.
Second 1/3: Steady. No need to go overboard. Conserve energy in this section and get into a rhythm. Be careful not let your heart rate climb to anaerobic levels at any point. Slow and steady wins the race.
Third 1/3: This is when things get difficult. Try to maintain your pace from the second phase, and as you near the top give it everything you have left.
Don't Push Before the Climb Starts
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Whether you're in a race or training, it's important to conserve energy before the climb starts. If you're hammering up to the base, you'll likely crack before you get to the top. If that's the case, why were you in such a hurry to start the climb? Get to the base fresh, relaxed and with lots of energy.
Efficient Pedal Strokes
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On long climbs, a high cadence can keep your muscles from fatiguing too quickly. Practice pedaling in circles, pulling up from bottom dead center and forward at top dead center. This will smooth the dead spots in your pedal stroke and keep your cadence up.
Slide Back on the Saddle
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When climbing, it's important to recruit from as many muscle groups as possible. By sliding back on the saddle, you'll recruit more from your hamstrings, gluteal muscles and core. These are some of the largest muscle groups in the body, and using them in conjunction with the quadriceps will help you get all of your power out to the pedals.
Reduce Your Weight
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If there's one time when the weight of your bike matters significantly, it's when you're climbing. Lighter wheels, frame and gear all make a difference, so use your lightest equipment and only carry what's absolutely necessary. Having three big water bottles full of liquid might seem like a good idea, but unless it's extremely hot and you plan on drinking them all, this weight can slow you down. Empty what you aren't going to use and refill at the top if possible. The same goes for other gear.
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The best time to get into the right gear is before the climb begins. If you wait until the ascent starts to shift, the sudden decrease in speed will kill any momentum that you may have.
It's also harder to shift when your chain is under load. Prevent dropping your chain or having your gears stick by shifting before pedaling becomes difficult.
Work on Core Strength
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Unfortunately, cycling requires a lot of core strength but doesn't help build it, no matter how much you ride. In order to power up a climb, a solid base is needed to counteract the push from your legs. An offseason focus on core strength will pay big dividends in your springtime climbing.
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When the gradient gets really steep, the reaction for a cyclist is to stand. While it's true that you can generate more power from this position, it also burns more energy and uses fewer muscle groups. Standing for long sections will likely wear you out more than it's worth.
Distribute Your Weight
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If you do decide to stand when you climb, make sure you distribute your weight. Leaning too far forward can cause your back wheel to lose traction, especially on wet roads or surfaces with a lot of gravel. Position your hips so that the back of your legs are close to the nose of the saddle.
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Savage Man Triathlon
As a last resort, weave your bike in a zigzag line to make things easier. Moving in a straight line requires you to work against the steepest gradient of the road. By weaving in and out, you lessen the gradient and give your legs a break. One word of caution: If you do use this technique, be wary of others on the road. You'll take up considerably more space using this technique, and it's your fault if an accident occurs. Cars won't be expecting you to take this line, and other cyclists might not either, so be careful.