10 Cycling Tips For Riding Hills

Updated: Nov 28, 2021

Hills can suck the fun of a ride 😫

As a roadie or mountain bike cyclist, hills can seem harsh and even overwhelming. But there's no need to avoid rides or cycling events that include a few climbs just because you may be a beginner, prefer flat rides or hills suck the life out of you. With the right knowledge, a little skill and practice, you might even begin to enjoy the challenge of riding uphill.

Check out these 10 cycling tips for hill climbing designed for beginners and seasoned riders looking to level up.

Road cyclist holding bike at top of hill
Image Credit: Cyclist & Triathlete Beth Clay

10 Cycling Tips For Riding Hills Effortlessly

1. Checkout the Route.

It helps to know what kind of hill you're about to climb, so plan ahead if possible. Different hills necessitate different approaches. Strava and Garmin both offer elevation profiles and hill gradients on segment and route maps.

You might ride up a short, steep hill differently than you would a long, gradual climb. Rollers, or small rolling hills, necessitate a different approach. So, if you know what kind of hill is coming up, you can plan your attack accordingly.

  • Hills that are difficult, fast, short, and steep

  • Long, gradual, slow ascents

  • Hills that roll (some call this rollers)

The more hills you ride, the more confident you'll feel when tackling a new climb because you will have a few tricks up your wheels. If you can't plan ahead of time and find yourself on an unfamiliar climb, take it easy if the hill is much longer and more difficult than you anticipated. It's preferable to arrive at the top with extra energy and momentum than to have to dismount and walk halfway up.

2. Begin Slowly.

A common hill-climbing mistake is to hit the hill too hard too soon. If you start too fast, you'll tire out before you get to the top. Avoid the dreaded feeling of your legs and lungs burning, leaving you gasping for air as your body tries to keep powering up the hill.

Pace yourself instead! Start slow and easy, and you'll have enough gas in the tank to push harder when you get close to the apex.

Don't be concerned if you see other riders speeding ahead at the bottom. If they are inexperienced hill climbers, they may be starting too quickly. If that's the case, you'll probably pass them halfway up as they tire.

Don't get caught up - it's fine if your friends are faster than you – everyone rides at their own pace up a hill.

Worried about getting dropped? We know it can be demoralizing for some - but take solace that when you're on a no-drop group ride, faster riders will probably just wait for everyone else at the top so riders can regroup and enjoy the descent together - this is what our group ride leaders are instructed to do.

You can get into a good groove by starting slowly. Focus on finding a comfortable cadence or pedaling speed. If you find yourself spinning the pedals too quickly, change to a higher gear for a little more oomph.

If you handle your climbs with good pacing, you will have plenty of energy for the rest of your ride.

3. Make Use of Your Momentum.

Build up some speed before the hill if possible and safe to do so. Building up some speed before the climb will provide you with some momentum to get you started up the ascent and will help save your legs!

If you have a flat section of road before your hill begins, start pedaling faster to get that momentum going. Then, just as you begin climbing the mountain, shift to a lower gear. This technique will assist you in carrying your speed and acceleration further up the hill. However, if you shift into a lower gear too soon, you will lose your momentum.

Of course, don't exhaust yourself by riding too fast before the hill. Save some of your energy for the actual ascent.

This technique is also effective when riding small rolling hills. Use the descent of one hill to gain speed and momentum as you fly over the next.

If possible, shift into a higher gear to allow you to pedal on the descent. Then shift to a lower gear to get up and over the hill. Once you get the hang of it, rollers can be a lot of fun!

4. Make Use of Your Equipment.

The most difficult aspect of climbing hills is determining which gears to use and when to use them. While there is no 'ideal' gear to use, if you keep practicing, you'll soon figure out what works for you.

It is smart to be cautious and find an easy gear to keep spinning your way to the top. It will make you go a little slower, but it will make it easier to get up that hill. The goal is to maintain a comfortable cadence so that your leg muscles do not tire too quickly (remember point #3).

On the other hand, if you use a gear that is too hard, you will burn out your legs before reaching the top. You might even fall if the gear you chose is too difficult to turn over while climbing.

Quite a few riders that have difficulty climbing hills may require different gearing on their bikes. Mountain bikes typically have a wider range of gears to choose from, as well as one very easy gear to help you spin your way up any steep hill.

If you're constantly running out of gears on your road bike, you may need to visit your local bike shop to see if you can swap out the gears for something that will help you get up those difficult hills.