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12 Cycling Tips to Become an Expert Climber
Practice these twelve tips and tricks to become an expert when the road starts heading up.
Don't Ride Hard Before the Climb Begins
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The miles leading up to a big climb are just as important as the climb itself. If you go too hard before the climb begins, you risk not having enough energy to make it to the top. Instead, make sure you ride easy in the miles leading up to the base of the climb. If you're using a heart rate monitor, stay in Zone 1 or 2.
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It's a common mistake of cyclists to begin a climb faster than they should. If you make this mistake, you risk fatiguing before you reach the top—and the pain will set in long before you're forced to pull off to the side of the road. Remember, you can always go harder once you're near the top. Start easy and increase the pace if you're feeling up to it.
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Using big gears on a climb can fatigue your muscles quick. On a long climb or steep gradient, use a gear that will allow you to spin the pedals at 90 revolutions per minute (rpm) or faster. This will keep lactic acid from building up in your muscles as quickly and help you to conserve energy.
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Once you start to go uphill, the weight you're carrying makes a bigger difference. If you can afford to lose a few pounds, this is the most cost effective way to improve your performance. If you're already a lean, climbing machine, you can drop weight from your bike by purchasing a lighter frame and drivetrain. Of course, that could cost you a few thousand dollars, so be prepared.
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A standard crankset on a road bike is generally 53 x 39, which refers to the number of teeth on the large (53) and small (39) chainrings. If you find it hard to keep your cadence around 90 rpms on climbs, select either a compact crankset (50 x 34) or a triple crankset. This will make climbing easier by allowing you to spin the pedals more freely than you can with larger gearing options.
Practice Your Pedaling Technique
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Another way to speed up your cadence is to improve your pedaling efficiency. On steep gradients or as you begin to fatigue on long climbs, don't mash down on the pedals. Instead, try to pedal in circles. By working on your technique, you'll use more muscle groups instead of just relying on your quadriceps muscles for power. It'll also speed up your cadence and help you pedal harder for longer periods of time.
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When a climb gets tough, the natural 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. Staying seated is more efficient and will allow you to pace yourself more evenly for the duration of the climb.
Relax Your Face
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The key to conquering a long climb is conserving energy. This means relaxing all the muscles in your body that aren't powering the bike. An easy way to make sure that your shoulders and hands aren't tense is to relax the muscles of the face. The other muscles in your upper body will follow suit naturally.
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Having enough energy to conquer a climb begins with proper nutrition. Make sure you eat a good breakfast before you head out on the road. While you're on the bike, aim to eat 100 calories and drink 12 ounces of fluid for every hour of riding time you complete. Before you get to a climb, try to eat something at least 20 minutes before the effort begins. This is about how much time it will take for you to digest any carbohydrates you consume.
Ride Your Own Pace
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If you're riding in a group, don't let the pace of others influence how fast you begin a climb. Following another cyclist's wheel can make a pace that seems manageable at first turn into a daunting task halfway up. It's best to ride at your own pace from start to finish.
Break the Climb Up Into Segments
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Thinking about how long you've got to go before you get to the top of a long climb can be intimidating. If you break a 12-mile climb up into four parts, it'll make the effort seem more manageable and keep you from becoming discouraged. If that doesn't work, pick out a landmark on the side of the road and concentrate only on that point. Before you know it, you'll be at the top.
Improve Your Fitness
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Sometimes there aren't any tricks. If you want to get faster at climbing, you need to improve your fitness. Practicing hills more frequently and including hill repeats into your training will certainly help. But you don't need to ride hills to become more fit. Incorporating VO2 max intervals into your training will translate to improved performance on climbs too.