4 Tips for Riding a Hilly Bike Leg

Triathlon or time trial bikes are built for one thing: straight-line speed on flat, fast roads. Due to this specificity, most triathletes spend the majority of their training on flat ground. This can lead to a disaster on race day if the course features hills.

Whether its a hilly bike course or the one surprise hill you didn't know existed, spending some time preparing for climbs on the bike can get you to the transition faster and with more energy in your reserve for the run.

More: Ask A Coach: Are Power Meters Worth It?

From choosing the right equipment to incorporating hill-specific workouts, use these tips to tackle the gnarliest of climbs with plan.

Choose Your Equipment Wisely

Unless the bike leg is littered with climbs, a triathlon bike will still be your best option because of the time-savings you'll get on the flats. What you'll want to think about is the other equipment--namely your cassette and wheels.

Going with a larger cassette with more teeth on the largest sprocket (such as a 12-28) will help you to spin in an easier gear, especially if the climbs on the course are steep gradients above 8 percent. By using an easier gear, you'll keep lactic acid from building up in your muscles, which will keep you from tiring quickly, so you can save your strength for the run.

Likewise, your wheel choice will make a big difference in your performance when the road goes up. While disc wheels or even aero wheels with 70 to 80mm of depth provide more aerodynamic advantages on the flats, they weigh more than most other options. And weight--especially rotational weight--plays an even larger role on climbs.

If you're expecting a hilly race or several sections of steep gradients, your best option is to go with a wheel that provides some aerodynamic benefits but is reasonably light--ideally rims with a depth between 40mm and 55mm.

Maintain an Even Effort

It's easy to get inspired when you see cyclists hammering up climbs in the Tour de France. But unlike in a cycling race, triathletes aren't racing in a peloton. A steady, even effort will get you to the finish fast and with more energy left for the run--regardless of the quantity or gradient of the hills you're climbing.

More: Wetsuit Basics for New Triathletes: Racing

Hammering up a climb to show your strength or slowing to a snail's pace to conserve energy is not the way to go. Instead, measure your effort by using your average heart rate or power numbers. Aim for no more than a 10-percent increase in heart rate or power, and make it your goal to maintain this pace just as you would on any other section of the course--regardless of your speed.

Work on Your Form

Instead of struggling up hills with a slow, torturous pedal stroke, utilize a higher rpm (revolutions per minute) to help maintain your effort more effectively without destroying your legs. Aim to maintain 90 to 100 rpms on uphill sections by concentrating on your upstroke and the transition phase (10 o'clock to 1 o'clock) of your pedal stroke. These are common dead spots where power is lost. Try to practice single-leg pedaling drills during your training, which will help you not only on hills, but on flat sections, too.

Other slight changes in your position will also help you maintain your power without huge spikes in your heart rate. These include:

Scooting back on your saddle to recruit more power from larger muscle groups such as your glutes and hamstrings
Moving to a more upright position, which will make it easier to breathe by expanding the lungs
Give yourself a break from the sitting position by alternating occasionally with 10 to 15 seconds of standing on climbs
Use your change in position and the decrease in speed as an opportunity to take in fluids and food--this will help you maintain your aero position on the flats

Incorporate Hill-Specific Workouts

Just like anything else, if you haven't practiced riding hills during training, there's little chance you'll master them during a race.

More: Training For a T1 Transition

To prep for an upcoming event, incorporate hill-specific intervals two to three months out. When doing these intervals, it's important to mimic the course as closely as possible. Do high repetitions of 30 seconds to two minutes for short climbs, and fewer repetitions of longer durations for sustained climbs. This will improve your endurance and help get your body used to the kind of efforts you can expect come race day.

About the Author

Marc Lindsay

Marc writes gear reviews, training, and injury prevention articles for Active.com. He is also a contributor to LAVA Magazine, Competitor Magazine, and Gear Patrol.com. He is a certified Physical Therapy Assistant (PTA) and earned his M.A. in Writing from Portland State University. Marc resides in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Marc writes gear reviews, training, and injury prevention articles for Active.com. He is also a contributor to LAVA Magazine, Competitor Magazine, and Gear Patrol.com. He is a certified Physical Therapy Assistant (PTA) and earned his M.A. in Writing from Portland State University. Marc resides in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Discuss This Article