Tuesday, April 13, 2010

5 Tips: Climbing Hills

Whenever cyclists from outside our area visit our stores, one of the first things that they talk about is their amazement that Ohio could have so many hills! Whether it's the rolling open roads of Medina County, the winding Emerald Necklace of the Cleveland Metroparks, or of course, the steep ups and downs of the Cuyahoga Valley, Northeast Ohio provides no shortage of challenges to your pedaling power.

Seeing hills doesn't have to leave you shaking in your cycling shoes every time, though. Try these tips to attack those climbs with confidence and enjoy your rides more no matter where the terrain brings you.
  1. Don't downshift too soon. During the flatter approach to the hill, keep pedaling in your big gear to keep your speed going. If you shift into your small chainring (easier gear) too soon, you'll start to slow down and lose the momentum you've already worked hard to build, and your feet will be spinning and going nowhere fast. You'll tire yourself out before you even get to the worst part of the hill!
  2. Ride with your hands on the brake hoods. While going uphill, you won't be going fast enough for aerodynamics to play a big factor, so sit upright so that your chest and your gut can be more relaxed, allowing you to breathe more efficiently. If you've got a flat bar instead of a drop handlebar, use your bar-end extensions if you have them. Either way, it's not likely that you'll need to use your brakes while going uphill, so just try to relax. Don't squeeze a death-grip with your fingers, don't lock your elbows, and don't hunch your shoulders up.
  3. Soft-pedal as you shift into easier gears. You need to keep pedaling in order for your shifters to operate, but you don't want to have the full force of your weight on the pedals as you shift, because this increases the chance of a miss-shift, or even worse, a jammed chain or broken derailleur. Keep pedaling in a smooth circle, but ease up ever-so-slightly for a moment as you click the shift lever. Once the chain shifts successfully, continue pedaling with normal force.
  4. Keep one gear in reserve. As the hill gets steeper and you continue to shift into your easier gears, try to keep from using that very last, easiest gear. This will accomplish two things. First, if you try to fool yourself into thinking that the second-easier gear is your last remaining option, you'll try to keep pedaling in that gear. Later, if you reach a point where you think you absolutely can't go on any further, you'll be pleasantly surprised to find that you have one easier gear left to get you up through that final push of the climb. Before you know it, you'll realize that you are getting stronger than you think, and you may end up not needing that last gear at all in the future.
  5. Stay seated as long as you can. Your heart and lungs work more efficiently when you're seated, but eventually you may reach a point where you have to get out of the saddle to apply that extra power in your legs. Try to put off this moment as long as you can. When you do stand up, you may need to up-shift one or two gears harder to maintain a smooth cadence. Note to mountain bikers: when climbing on off-road dirt trails, you might need to stay in the saddle through the whole climb. Standing on the pedals takes some weight off of your rear wheel, which may cause your tire to spin out in the dirt, which then mean's you're walking for sure.
One more bonus tip for when you finally reach the top of that hill...don't wait too long before you up-shift back into your normal cruising gears. If you stay in your low climbing gears at the top, you experience that "going nowhere fast" phenomenon again, and you'll tire yourself out even more just from pedaling so much, in addition to the effort you just put in on the climb.


  1. AH-HA!!! I KNEW I wasn't the only one who plays the psychological trick of #4!!!! Some of the guys in my bike club told me I'm nuts--that they'd rather BE in that low gear. I actually get nervous if I find that I've shifted into that lowest gear too soon and I still know I have more, steeper grade ahead. I've found that holding out on that last gear is often more the comfort of knowing it's there, whether I really physically need it or not. Once you get to know the hills, you kind of start to figure out at what point on the hill you can use that last one... it's all about timing. At least for me!

    #3 I still struggle with... But dropping chains up a steep hill is NOT fun (exit pedals fast and dismount!). So I've had to learn to become more comfortable with easing up before shifting. It was scary at first--and still is sometimes--because you're going so slow up some of those hills, you feel as though interrupting your pedaling will make you fall over. You actually have more time than you think before you would fall sideways.

    Ahhh, how I love hills! (And I'm not being sarcastic!)

  2. I love uphill riding...but get completely freaked out going down hills. Maybe that could be next month's tip???

  3. Good idea! Thanks for the suggestion.