Is it that hill on your cycle commute that fills you with dread every morning? Is it that climb at your trail centre that you just can’t face? Whatever you ride, hills are a challenge that every cyclist faces. If you are new to cycling, learning how to climb hills is a key skill.
We’ve put together some super quick beginners tips to help get you started.
Make sure you also read our Quick Beginners Cycling Tips: How to Use Your Gears, as this will help with hill climbing too.
1. Look up and anticipate
Make sure you keep an eye on the road ahead, so you spot the approaching hill in plenty of time.
2. On the approach
Drop down a few gears as you approach the hill. You want to drop to a gear that means your cadence (how fast you are pedaling) increases but where you are still putting some power through pedals and generating forward momentum. Dropping down a few gears at this point also means you will have fewer gears drop through when the climb starts.
3. On the incline
With the momentum you are carrying from your approach, drop down the through the gears quickly and smoothly.Try to drop through the gears one at a time, as dropping several at once can sometimes cause the chain to drop off the gears completely.
If the hill is steep or long, and you have a double or triple chainring set up, then use your left gear lever/shifter to drop to a smaller chainring. These are the gears at the front. Doing this will get you to a much lower, easier gear very quickly. You can then fine tune using the rear gears.
If the hill isn’t that steep or long, then you might be fine just shifting down a few gears using the right gear lever/shifter and the gears at the back.
4. Stand or sit?
Generally speaking, unless the hill is short and sharp or you want a work out, it’s better to drop to an easy gear and stay seated on your way up. You should be able to put minimal force through the pedals but generate enough forward momentum to keep you moving up. This means you don’t expend too much energy in one go, so you’ll have plenty of steam to get to the top.
If you are new to cycling, drop to your easiest gear. It’s much simpler to then go up a few gears if you feel you can put more force through the pedals than to find you are in too high a gear and rapidly running out of energy.
5. Gears not changing?
In too high a gear but can’t get the gears to shift down? It could be because the derailleurs, which physically move the chain between the different gear cogs, won’t work smoothly if the chain is under a lot of tension. You can try riding sideways along the contour of the hill, as this might relieve the tension enough to allow you to shift the gear.
6. Is there a ‘right’ gear?
In short, no. With experience you’ll find out what gears work for you when climbing, and you’ll be able to judge which one to drop into for the hill you are facing. Everyone is different, and which gear you find best for climbing will depend on lots of factors like the steepness and length of the climb, the bike you are riding, even how much you are carrying or how you are feeling that day.
7. Climb it in your head
Sometimes climbing a hill is as much a mental battle as a physical one. Hills can look pretty intimidating, and it’s often tempting to just get off and not try the climb. However, if you drop to your easiest gear and give it a go, you’ll probably surprise yourself how far you get. And there’s nothing like the feeling of accomplishment when you get to the top under your own pedal power.
8. If at first you don’t succeed
Everyone gets defeated by hills at some point, and climbing hills is hard work. Sometimes it’s just too long or too steep, sometimes you drop into the wrong gear and can’t keep up enough momentum. Don’t worry about it, there’s nothing wrong with walking up.
Keep trying, and before you know it that hill that’s your nemesis on your commute to work will become something you spin up with no bother at all.
Ready for the next level? Read Technique: How to Master Uphill Climbing on Your Bike.
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