Riding up hills is the hardest part of bike riding. Whether you’re a Tour contender or looking to keep up with your mates on the clubrun – hills will always be the deciding factor. We all hear about different styles; Armstrong’s high cadence, Ullrich’s big gear mashing, Virenque’s bobbing style… Then there are the variations in the climbs themselves. Riding Alpe D’Huez is a very different proposition to riding the Koppenberg in the Tour of Flanders. FIT-FOR have come up with some tips to help your climbing. Enjoy.
Ride hills! You’d be amazed at how many people avoid hills out training and then complain at how poor their climbing is. Try taking that hilly way home or putting an extra climb into your ride. Simply spending time riding hills will dramatically improve your climbing.
By climbing out of the saddle you use approximately 10% more energy in comparison to staying seated. On short climbs this will make little or no difference, but on the longer climbs this is something to keep in mind. Staying seated is especially preferable for heavier riders as their body weight is supported by the saddle. When seated, try shifting your weight to the back of the saddle as this will increase your leverage on the pedals.
Ride hills at your own speed. It is important to ride at an even pace (something Kelly Holmes has made popular) on climbs. Trying to keep up with your mates and starting a climb too fast will produce an overload of lactic acid. By riding at your own rhythm you may well find you catch your over ambitious clubmates by the top.
Gear selection is crucial when climbing. You don’t want to hit a climb and change to a too low gear and lose momentum, but at the same time you don’t want to be stuck on the big ring approaching the steepest part of the climb. Always use a gear that leaves you somewhere to go. If you are on 53×21 (biggest ring and biggest size sprocket) and the climb suddenly gets steeper, you’re forced with a lot of gear changing to arrive at a comfortable gear. Look ahead, know what’s coming and use your gears accordingly.
If you are a weak climber or out riding with faster climbers, try starting the climb at the front of the group. As the climb progresses allow other riders to ease past you. By the top you’ll be near the back, but importantly you’re still in contact. Never start a climb at the back of a group. If you’re a good climber you have to weave your way through to the front and risk missing the fast riders attack. If you are a poor climber then you’ll quickly find yourself off the back.
On steeper climbs I have always used the method of counting my pedal strokes. Right leg one, left leg two, right leg three. right leg one, left leg two, right leg three. This keeps me in a rhythm and also gives me something to concentrate on (instead of looking at that steep bit 200 metres ahead).
Try to keep your cadence above 75RPM. Any less than this and you are overgeared. Everyone has an optimum cadence (Armstrong couldn’t pedal like Ullrich and vice-versa) so spend some time in the hills and find what you’re happiest doing.
It would be impossible to write anything about climbing without the issue of weight rearing its head. We are all aware that light riders climb faster than heavy riders and this is especially noticeable on longer climbs. However, in the UK there are very few long climbs, most of the hard hills are 3-5 minutes long and steep, such climbs require power (which is why Museeuw and Van Petegem win the Tour of Flanders instead of dainty Spanish climbers) so don’t despair if you’re 80kg! [how about if you’re over 80kg? – Ed.]
- If you’re still going backwards in the hills or would just like some practical advice then why not come along to one of the FIT-FOR training sessions? We will be only too happy to help.
- FIT-FOR are a RCUK training advice partner. They supply advice on coaching and technique for our readers. If you have any questions for them, please send us an e-mail.