The pros know there's a right way to climb

Credit: Adam Pretty/Allsport
Many recreational off-road cyclists do not look forward to climbing, especially those long climbs that seem like there is no top in sight.

There's a satisfaction, however, that comes with topping out a tough climb: the big reward of descending.

Just as there's a proper way to set up your position on the bike, there's also a climbing stance that's most effective for most situations. Here are some tips the pros use to help them climb without wasting much energy during long rides.

  • Flex your elbows and bend forward at the hips, keeping your back straight. You should be leaning toward the handlebar, and your butt should be pushed back on the saddle a bit. This lowers your center of gravity, distributes your weight, and allows you to easily make the weight shifts and movements you'll need to maintain traction and power.

    Cyclists new to the sport usually don't bend toward the bar enough. Watch the pros on moderately steep climbs they have their nose 14 to 16 inches above the stem.

  • You need to maintain good traction. You do this by modifying your standard climbing position. As the hill steepens, lean more toward the bar (drop your nose closer). This puts more of your weight over the front and, at the same time, pushes your butt back to keep weight over the rear tire.

  • You need to bend forward until you find the angle of lean that keeps both wheels from losing traction. If your front wheel is loose, you have too little lean; if your back wheel is loose you have too much lean. At first you'll overshoot the sweet spot both ways before dialing in. The adjustments are more subtle than you expect.

  • Relax as much as possible. Like so much of mountain biking, staying loose is one of the best things you can do. It conserves energy, and if you're not riding tight you're less likely to lose control when you roll through loose sections or over obstacles. Concentrate on keeping your upper body loose. Think about not tightening up your shoulders or arm muscles. And remember, your jaw and hands also are good indicators if they're tight, the rest of your body probably is, too.

  • The wider your bars, the more stable your front wheel will be for steering. In fact, most bars are now as wide as they were in the dawn of mountain biking time.

  • Most mountain bikers do most of their climbing in the saddle. Standing feels powerful, but when you rise out of the saddle you use significantly more oxygen and raise your heart rate. Whatever the numbers, there's no doubt that standing is harder on your body. Standing requires more effort because your legs must both provide locomotion and support your weight.

    But if you never stand to climb, you're ignoring one of your most valuable skills. Done property, standing lets you deliver more power to the pedals while delaying fatigue by using muscles differently. It also lets you stretch during extended climbs.

    As with most things mountain bike, there are no rules dictating how often and how long you should stand. Most larger cyclists do better when they climb seated more often than they climb standing. The opposite applies to smaller or lighter cyclists. Most novices don't stand often enough and when they do they stand for too long.

    If you use a suspension fork, stay in the saddle as much as possible. The pedaling thrusts of standing and pedaling can make the fork bob and waste energy.

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