Lets be honest, love them or hate them, (and I think love them is the correct term!) the hills are always going to be there. There is nothing like dragging yourself out of bed on a Saturday morning, heading out on a ride and letting the legs sing as you climb a huge hill in your local area! Unfortunately for us cyclists there are always going to be hills to climb, so if you're often wrought with dread whenever you see a sharp incline looming then fear no longer. You've come to exactly the right place because we're going to look at the 7 best techniques you can adopt to improve your hill climbing.
1. Use a Variety of Gears with Large Sprockets
Gear development refers to the distance your bike travels in one cycle or pedal revolution within any given combination of gears. This gear development can be reduced by using larger sprockets. What’s more, most hills do not feature a linear rate of ascent in terms of their incline so installing a wider variety of gears on your bike will enable you to more easily adjust according to the kind of terrain you are tackling. These adjustments to gear ratios are achieved in two main ways.
1) - Change your Rear Cassette
If you are new to cycling or have ever wondered what it means when a rear cassette is labelled "11-28" or "13-34" it refers to the ratio of the rear cassette. The first number refers to the number of teeth on the smallest (or fastest) gear, whilst the second number refers to the number of teeth on the largest (or slowest) gear. What this means for you is that if you are going to be doing lots of hill climbing, or you are wanting to make it easier to propel your bike up a hill, you should go for a bigger ratio, such as 32 or 34 on the largest cog. Whether you change your rear cassette to go up or down in ratio, trying different combinations will have a significant impact on your hill climbing ability.
2) - Change your Crankset
Another way that you can adjust the ratio of your bike is to change the crankset, which is the front set of gears. Most road bikes come standard with either 52/39 or 53/39 ratio on the crankset, which gives a good mix of low end and top end when combined with the right rear cassette ratio. These ratios refer to thw two chain rings on the crankset, with the larger ring have 53 teeth, and the smaller ring having 39.
A lot of entry level bikes now come with what is known as a compact crankset, and the ratio is 50/34. This gives more bottom end is a great option for either an entry level rider or a rider who is looking to commence more hill climbing, or even improving the hill climbing they are currently doing.
2. Lighten Up a Little!
Generally speaking, the lighter your bike is the easier it will be to take on monstrous hills. Lightweight bicycle components can obviously cost an absolute fortune, and not all of us have the budget to design our dream bike, but it certainly is well worth investing a little extra in a lightweight frame with light components where possible. It is also important to note that the majority of the weight you will be carrying up the hill is your own bodyweight, so perhaps this could serve as the motivation you need to shed those few extra pounds you’ve been meaning to drop!
Second to this also, and sometimes it is not practical but it should be exercised where possible, try not to carry anything that you don't need with you. It goes without saying that the weight you are carrying the harder the climb will be. Even removing unnecessary accessories like lights when riding during the day can give you that extra boost you are looking for.
3. Practice, Practice, Practice
They say that practice makes perfect, and this is especially true when it comes to improving hill climbing on a bicycle. Practicing hill climbs on a regular basis is obviously going to improve your physical stamina and endurance, but at the same time it will also enable you to hone your technique so that you can work around any physical limitations you may suffer from. Too often people are looking for a "magical pill" so to speak, or something that can help them drastically improve their hill climb. Unfortunately, it all comes down to hard work and practice. The more often you get out there and tackle the tough hills, the better you will be at it. That said, as mentioned in these tips here, there are other things that can give you the edge, so don't overlook them!
4. Gradually Build Your Intensity
As you approach a hill, make sure you don’t go ‘into the red’ too soon by standing up to pedal while you’re still near the bottom where the incline may not be as steep. Try to remain seated for as long as possible and only stand up to pedal more aggressively when it becomes absolutely necessary. This is important because generating too much intensity too soon will result in an excessive accumulation of lactic acid in your leg muscles, reducing your stamina and preventing you from being able to truly go all out when you need to. Make sure that you combine a steady pace, with energy conservation, so you can really turn on the after burners when you need that extra kick to keep moving.
5. March to Your Own Beat
If you are cycling with other people then avoid trying to match their pace by going either faster or slower; even the latter can make things more difficult if it compromises your control over your bicycle. Focus on the task at hand and remember that you are your own person with your own level of physical fitness, bodily proportions, and bicycle components. Maintaining this understanding will help you to march to your own beat, so to speak, and ensure that you keep your own pace rather than trying to stick with that of other people.
6. Know Thy Enemy
Before taking on a hill you should ensure you do your homework, meaning that you should know exactly what to expect from the terrain before trying to tackle it. Figure out the amount of time it will take you to reach the top of the hill and the severity of the incline, as well as the rate at which the incline increases. If you are feeling especially daunted by an upcoming hill climb then researching it beforehand will help you to plan out which gears you will need to use, when you will shift between gears, and when you expect you will need to stand up and really pedal your hardest to reach the peak.
7. Put Your Heart Into It
When you read about cycling or listen to people talking about hill cycling techniques, you’ll probably notice that mindset and attitude are neglected. Your mentality is one of, if not the most important factor in your success when it comes to climbing hills; remember that even the fittest, most seasoned veteran cyclist in the world will fail if he or she doesn’t possess the willpower to dig deep and push through when the going gets tough. Some people prefer to approach hill climbing with a stoic sense of calm and focus while others prefer to enter into a kind of berserker mode so that they can slam into the hill with everything they’ve got. This is a highly personal aspect of hill climbing so our advice would be to look inside yourself and find the approach that best suits your personality. Having said that, we’ve seen ordinarily calm and collected people go into a frenzy when it comes time to give it their all!
By applying these techniques on a consistent basis and never neglecting to practice, you will eventually find yourself gliding effortlessly up ghastly inclines that you previously thought would always remain unattainable to you.
When you really apply yourself you will be amazed by just how rapidly the progress can come, so with the right training and mindset you will be a top-notch hill climber in no time!
Share some of the techniques you have used to improve your hill climbing below so that we can continue to learn and receive great advice from each other!
Until next time, enjoy your ride!