Are you a natural?: Good climbers often have a light frame and strong muscles that aren't bulky. They also have robust aerobic capacities, efficient form, and high power-to-weight ratios.
Self-test: See how you stack up to a database of riders of all levels on Strava.com, where you'll find premapped climbs in your area and times of others who've ridden them. Log your rides and use the site to track long-term improvements.
Lab test: A power meter can help you figure out your power-to-weight ratio. Check out this power-to-weight chart to view ranks power outputs from "untrained" to "world-class."
A VO2 max test can reveal your body's ability to process oxygen, a higher number suggests a greater capacity for climbing. If you want to know how much dead weight (fat) you're hauling up the hills, get a body-composition test.
Get better: Do threshold intervals on a 3 to 8 percent grade. Threshold is the hardest effort you can sustain for about an hour; you should be breathing hard but not panting. Add two 5- to 10-minute intervals (recover five minutes after each) to a ride once every seven to 10 days for a few weeks. Once that feels manageable, add another interval, building up to four.
Key skill: Practice shifting on the climb, aiming to change gears before the terrain rises. Shifting too late will sap your energy, and slow you down.
Are you a natural?: Riders who do well on this kind of terrain recover quickly from short bursts and punch it up small hills. But they don't tend to win sprints or be the first up a long climb.
Self-test: Try to stay at the front of a group on an undulating ride and hold your pace as the terrain changes. If you're always fighting to catch up, this type of riding may not be your strength.
Lab test: A lactate-threshold test can determine how quickly you recover from hard efforts and how high an effort you can sustain without blowing up. The quicker your recovery and higher your lactate threshold, the better suited you are for rolling hills. You can also have your VO2 max checked. A high value may be a better performance indicator than LT on terrain that requires intermittent efforts, says coach Dan Shelby.
Get better: Add 10- to 20-minute intervals at or near threshold on rolling terrain to one of your weekly rides. (If you can't maintain this intensity on downhills, that's okay.) Aim for 20 to 40 minutes at this effort in a single training session, resting 10 minutes between intervals. Try some Quick Workouts For Power and Endurance to improve in just one month.
Key skill: Accelerate over the top of hills. "A lot of riders decrease their effort when they get to the top, but to maintain your speed, you want to push rather than coast," says Neal Henderson, of Boulder Center for Sports Medicine.