The gears on your bike are your friends when the gradient goes up and using them effectively will make all the difference to your climbing.
For the basics on how to change up and down the gears, we explained shifting on Shimano, SRAM and Campagnolo gear systems here.
Everyone climbs in their own way – some people like to stick to lower gears and spin their legs as much as possible, whilst others prefer to muscle it through the bigger gears. Lighter riders benefit more from getting out of the saddle whilst heavier riders will churn away in a seated position.
There are a few basic principles however that will help you – here are our tips...
Drop into the 'right' chainring early
Once the hill begins you’ll be putting extra power through the pedals, loading tension through the chain, which can make it hard for the derailleur to do its job.
If the hill is fairly shallow, you might want to climb in the big ring, but if you know you're going to need to lower the resistance, shift into the smaller one in anticipation, so you don’t have to force it to ‘clunk’ later on. You can maintain momentum by selecting a smaller, high geared cog on the cassette (note - not the HIGHEST - see the next page).
Avoid Crossing the Chain
Ragardless which chainring you decide to use, avoid crossing the chain. This means using the big chainring, and a big (low gear) cog on the cassette, or the small chainring, and a small (high gear) cog on the cassette. These gears put a lot of tension on the chain, and they’re inefficient – you’re effectively leaking power by using them.
Gain as much momentum as possible on a downhill approach
If the hill you are about to climb is preceded by a descent, you’re in luck – you might be able to build up some speed on the way down, then save your energy by coasting up the first portion.
Get up some speed by pushing the pedals in a higher gear, getting into the drops, keeping your back low and your elbows and knees in. If necessary, lift you bum out the saddle slightly and push back, to stabalise yourself as your speed increases.
Just before you begin to climb up the other side, make sure you’re in a reasonable climbing gear, then put in some fast cadence pedal strokes to power you up when the going is still fairly easy.
You're going to have to put some work in once the momentum fades, but you'll have saved some energy.
Drop gears and keep your legs spinning
Different riders have their own preferred cadence (speed of pedalling) for climbing. Generally, a faster cadence, in a lower gear, is regarded as the most efficient, as you aren’t forcing your muscles into fatigue.
On a shallow hill, try to stick to a cadence about 80rpm, dropping the gears so you can maintain this comfortably. If it’s steeper, you are probably going to have to slow the cadence down, but try not to ‘stomp’ a high resistance unless there is no choice.
Keep it smooth
Sometimes when you’re trying to get up a hill as quickly as possible, you find yourself floundering between the gears, clicking up and down in an attempt to find the ‘perfect’ gear.
You may even click up, trying to hold a higher gear, then find fatigue bites quickly, forcing you to change down.
Excessive gear changing is best avoided. Every time you change, you lose power for a few seconds, and you also lose your rhythm and your mindset. On a sustained hill, it’s usually faster to choose a lower gear, and keep tapping away, than it is to try to force a gear you can’t maintain.
Get out of the saddle on long climbs and at tough points
As beneficial as a steady rhythm is, over a long climb, perhaps over 10 minutes, you are actually likely to get a bit mentally bored and physically 'stiff'.
Keep your riding varied by getting out of the saddle every so often, giving your quads and hamstrings a break by recruiting the muscles in your upper back to pull you up the hill as you grasp the handlebars.
When you get out the saddle, click up a couple of gears, but not so many that you find yourself increasing the effort drastically and riding ‘into the red’.
Getting out of the saddle to power it over the steeper, tougher sections will help as well, as you'll be able to recruit more muscles in this position.
Be ready to shift up at the brow of the hill
You’re nearly there! Once the hill begins to flatten out, start to shift up in preparation for the beautiful flat plateau, or even better, the following descent – this will help you to power to the ‘finish line’ – wherever that may be.
Much of the battle when climbing is mental - check out these 15 tips to help you stay motivated.