Improve Your Bike Climbing Skills

Climbing is funny: some ascents are smooth and effortless, while others make you feel as if you're wrestling an 800-pound walrus. The key, always, is rhythm. Here's how to find yours on any slope—from gentle rise to Alpe d'Huez.

Long, Steady Grades

On big climbs, effective climbing is about monitoring your effort so you never redline.

  1. Stay seated for prolonged periods. Slide back in the saddle a bit for leg extension and leverage. Relax your upper body and open your chest by pulling your shoulders back a bit. Hunching over inhibits breathing. Stand intermittently to give certain muscle groups (not to mention your butt) a break.
  2. Your cadence should be high (not below 70 rpm; 80 to 90 is ideal). Mashing gears fatigues you fast. Spinning—like a low-weight, high-rep weight workout—lets muscles recover faster. Amp up your effort for steeper pitches, then revert to a lower intensity.
  3. Keep it measured. Start by setting your pace roughly at what you think you can sustain, then back off a notch so you have some cushion if the grade steepens.

More: 3 Cycling Workouts to Help You Conquer Hills

Extra Credit

Stretch on the bike: Stand and push hips forward to help your low back; to loosen your shoulders, slide backward and round your back; pin shoulders back to lengthen your neck.

Rollers

You'll go fastest on rolling terrain if you maintain your gearing and cadence as much as possible

  1. Stay in the gear in which you began climbing for as long as possible. Shift down only to keep your cadence steady. When you can see over the crest, shift up a gear to power over the top.
  2. Try to spin at 70 to 90 rpm. If you drop too low, you'll get bogged down; but if you go too high, you'll unnecessarily lose momentum.
  3. Attack the bottom of the roller at the same intensity as on the flats—but gradually increase the effort as you ascend. The ensuing descent lets you recover while maintaining speed.
  4. Keep your hands on the hoods just as you would on the flats. Remain seated until your cadence drops by about five rpm, then stand; don't shift until your standing cadence drops another five rpm.

More: 7 Hill Cycling Tips for Flatlanders

Extra Credit

Training? Use rollers as unstructured intervals. Pushing to the limit on one roller only to have to recover quickly for another will give you the ability to respond to attacks or put in your own double kick.

Short and Steep

Sharp inclines are best tackled aggressively.

  1. Start in the same gear as on the flats, but be prepared to shift quickly and often to maintain cadence.
  2. Maintain a lower-than-normal cadence of 60 to 70 rpm. Spinning will cost you momentum on the steeps. You want to hammer the pedals.
  3. Go hard. Conquer these pitches as fast as possible.
  4. Stand in the attack position, hands on hoods, body crouched. If seated, put your hands on the bar tops to open your chest and slide back slightly in the seat for maximum pedaling leverage.
  5. Depending on the climb length, you'll either stand the whole time or alternate seated and standing. Stand when the gradient pitches up; sit when it backs off a notch, but keep the cadence consistent.

More: 9 Tips for Better Hill Climbing

Extra Credit

Don't pull a Schleck: When shifting, ease off the pedals a bit; the reduced tension will speed the shift and keep the chain in place.

More: 11 Climbing Tips for Cyclists

Active logoPractice your climbing skills at a cycling event.

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