10 Cycling Tips For Riding Hills
Updated: Aug 8
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.
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.
5. Change Gears Early.
Although newer bikes may have electronic shifting, and can shift under more tension than older bikes, you should still shift early.
Before you begin climbing, change to a lower gear for a smoother shift and an easier time getting up.
If you intend to stand up and climb, shift down one or two times into a higher gear just before you reach the hill. Then, as you begin your ascent, stand up smoothly.
If you wait too long to shift, you might not be able to get your bike into the desired gear. If your chain is too tight, your bike will not shift and you may even drop your chain. If you lose your chain, you'll have to come to a halt, get off your bike and repair it.
If you're on a steep climb, it may be difficult to restart once you've stopped. You can try riding across the road instead of up if the road is safe and there is plenty of room. Riding across or diagonally up the road may provide you with a little flat space to help you get back to pedaling. However, do not attempt this if there is traffic!
You may have to walk your bike until you find a flat enough spot to restart. Alternatively, if you don't accept defeat, turn around and ride down the hill until you can turn around and begin again.
6. Relax by Taking Deep Breaths.
When we focus on something difficult, our bodies do things we are unaware of. We tend to stiffen up and hold our breath, which wastes energy and slows us down. Instead, try to relax.
Keep your arms slightly bent and shoulders relaxed. Your heart rate will raise as you climb hard. Take deep, slow breaths to keep your pulse rate down and your leg muscles well-oxygenated.
You may be using too hard a gear if your breathing and pulse rate increase rapidly. Try a lower gear and deep breathing.
7. Standing Up to Climb.
Climbing out of the saddle can offer you a power boost. Standing up puts more weight on the pedals, allowing you to push harder.
On a steep climb, this might cause back wheel slippage. Then try shifting your weight to the back wheel for greater traction.
Stand when climbing when climbing to rest your back and legs on a long, slow climb. If your legs or back hurt, get out of the saddle for a minute to stretch. Sit back in the saddle.
Note: On wet or slick roads, standing up could be dangerous. Safer to spin it out and keep your weight evenly distributed over your wheels.
8. Spin to Conquer.
You may feel compelled to grind your way up the hill, but you will quickly tire, burnout and possibly bonk. You'll exhaust your legs, deplete your fuel, and possibly lose a lung huffing and puffing.
Choose a lower gear and spin up the hill faster. It's easier on the muscles. Low cadence causes fatigue, and the more hills you climb, the harder it is to recover. The more easy hills you can spin, the more hills you can ride in a single ride.
9. Pedal to the Pinnacle.
Keep pedaling until you reach the other side. Just keep pedaling up, over, and through the crest to get to the descent. Otherwise, you'll lose momentum as you approach the summit, where it flattens out a bit.
10. How Do You Actually Climb?
You can ride up hills easier by adjusting your posture and engaging your core.
It's difficult to climb with your hands on the drop bars. It is better to climb with your hands on the hoods or flat parts of your handlebars.
Putting your hands on the flat of the bars will help you breathe and engage your glutes. To climb, you'll need to put your hands back on the hoods.
When the going gets tough, you may need to use extra muscle to get up. Lean forward, tuck your elbows in, and relax. Push the power from your upper body to your feet by pulling up on the handlebars.
Secret Sauce: Think Positive Thoughts
When the going gets tough, it's easy to think "I can't do this." Your negative thoughts will only hold you back from digging deeper.
Instead, imagine yourself as strong and light, floating to the top. Some like to imagine butterflies, helium balloons, or soaring birds. Others remember loved ones who have inspired them.
Maybe you want to beat your hill-climbing buddies, or just get the pain and suffering over with! But avoid negative self-talk that will undermine your confidence and ability to climb the hill.
With practice, perseverance, and knowledge, you will discover what works for you. It helps to recall all of your successful hill climbs! How exciting it will be to fly down the other side.
Summary Tips For Riding Hills Easy
You will find that riding hills becomes more enjoyable with the correct knowledge, a little technique, and a lot of practice. When climbing hills, different tactics are required, thus it is best to plan ahead if at all possible.
When it comes to climbing hills, the more hills you ride, the more secure you'll feel when facing a new climb because you'll have learned a few strategies along the way. If you find yourself spinning the pedals too quickly, try shifting to a higher gear for a little extra power and acceleration. Utilize the momentum gained during the descent of one hill to propel you forward as you soar over the next.
We have many duathlons, triathlons and cycling events planned for 2022 and we want all riders to be prepared to win and feel comfortable when it comes to the rolling hills and big bertha's we have in our area.