Training: Conquering hills on your bike
Training: Conquering hills on your bike

Get into gear

If you want to ride the hill at speed, you must decide on the gear that’s needed to tackle the incline before you start climbing it – and it’s best to opt for a gear that will enable you to pedal quite quickly, not a gear the causes you to pedal slowly and strain your legs. “Get prepared for the hill by choosing a low gear before you start the climb. It’s always better to choose a gear that is too low rather than too high as this will ensure you can pedal with ease,” says Purple Mountain Bike Centre instructor, Craig Woodcock. It will also stop you from having to shift gears mid-climb, which often results in a loss of speed. And, as long as it is safe to do so, approach the hill at speed. Craig agrees, “This will allow momentum to carry you further up the hill before you have to put effort into pedalling.”

Make your move
The gut reaction of any beginner cyclist is to stand up to pedal the moment the hill starts, but successful hill climbers know that remaining seated can conserve energy. The key then is to know when and how to get out of the saddle. Often you won’t need to come out of the saddle until the middle or end section of the hill. This is when the incline gets steep and your cadence (pedalling speed) starts to drop off. However, getting out of the saddle smoothly takes practice and beginner cyclists may be best perfecting the seated position first.
If you are going to make your move, make sure you are in the right gear and stand up when one leg is at the top of the pedal stroke. “As the incline changes, shifting your weight forward will help balance the bike,” says David Heath-Drury, Claud Butler Bicycle’s cycling expert. “Try to remove the pressure from the pedals mid-gear change, as heavy pressure puts tension on the chain and makes the gears more difficult to change.”

Target the terrain

Should you tackle a hill with pedal power or brute strength? Well, that not only depends on the gradient of the climb, but also the terrain you’re cycling on. “If you’re on the road, high cadence is always best until the gradient gets too steep and then muscle power will take you to the top,” reveals David. However, if you are cycling off-road and on a loose surface, it’s best to keep your bike in a gear that enables you to turn the pedals quickly. “This keeps the power delivery smooth and ensures constant contact between the tyre and the loose surface,” explains David. “Using brute force to climb up an off-road hill normally results in wheel spins and a loss of both traction and forward momentum.” Not good.

Perfect your position
Where you position your body on the bike is going to greatly depend on the gradient of the incline. If the hill is shallow, lean slightly forward in your seat because this will help keep the weight balanced between both front and rear wheels, ensuring maximum traction is gained. “A good tip to help get the position right is to roll your wrists down,” says Craig. “This will bring the arms lower and body forward.” If you’re cycling on a steeper incline that requires you get out of the saddle, position your body further forward to prevent the front wheel lifting.

Master your mind
Go into every hill with a ‘can-do’ attitude. Yes, hills hurt but they’re also a great test of your mental and physical strength. “It’s important to be positive and see hills as a challenge,” agrees Craig. When the going gets tough, simply focus on the sense of success you’ll feel once you reach the top and start coasting down the other side. “Don’t focus on the top of the hill, concentrate on the 3-5 metres in front of your wheel,” adds David, “Before you know it, you will be over the top and on the descent.”

Practice, practice, practice
There is an oft-used phrase that ‘practice makes perfect’ – and this is certainly true when it comes to cycling hills. Find a hill in your local area and cycle it regularly. Each time you do, take note of the gear you are in and the average speed you are doing. Then gradually try to increase the time it takes you to conquer that hill by using a harder gear but keeping the cadence the same.





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