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Road Cycling Skills

How to Change Bike Gear When Going Uphill

Not only do hills test your will-power, fitness, and true grit, there is also the all-important gear changes that you need to master to ensure a smooth climb.


Picture yourself on a road bike adventure through the breath-taking and rolling countryside. You’ve just enjoyed the pleasure of a long descent, and ahead of you is a great big hill.

You approach the gradient change, and start madly fiddling with your gears until you hear the dreaded clunk of your chain dropping off the chainring, causing you to stop. Not ideal.

In order to avoid this and to nail the uphill gear change, we asked Jim Styrin, qualified British Cycling coach and co-founder of On the Rivet, a luxury cycling retreat in Dorset. Here is Jim’s advice on gear change and a few other road bike climbing tips.

Look ahead, assess the climb

By assessing the climb way in advance you can prepare yourself and attack it with optimum results. Check whether the gradient is consistent or if it changes. Are there any obstacles, cars, and what kind of road surface it is? This is important as we don’t want to lose our momentum.

Keep cadence high

Try and maintain a fast cadence going into the ascent, (between 90-100 RPM) and if you do need to change gear don’t leave it too late as changing under chain pressure can drop the chain.

If you’re repeatedly suffering from a derailed chain, check the gears are properly indexed. You may also want to consider investing in a chain catcher. For less than £20 this clever little addition to your drive train will simply catch the pesky chain and pop it back in place, saving you from a sudden stop.

Avoid the chain cross

A common mistake is to ride in the lowest resistance gears (largest sprockets) on the rear cassette, and stay in the big ring too long as it feels comfortable. Eventually you will have to change into the small ring, losing all momentum in the change, so it is better to change off the big ring early.

When changing to the small ring, try to work into at least the middle of the rear cassette as quickly as possible. This avoids chain cross extremes – which are inefficient and can increase the likelihood of dropping the chain.

Save the legs

Once on the climb, pedalling smoothly in the saddle works really well up to 10% gradient, for 10% upwards, think about changing from seated to standing to rest muscle groups.

Your next holiday sorted; Cycling in the Pyrenees

Don’t look down

When climbing, avoid looking down at your pedals, always look ahead and keep the chest open. This is relevant in gear selection as by looking ahead you are anticipating changes and adjusting gears accordingly well in advance.

Enjoy it

Climbing is loved by some and hated by others. Learn to love it!

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