How to climb hills
Our Cheddar Challenge is going to involve some hills, there’s no avoiding them! The Mendip Hills contain a lot of, er, hills, so we’re going to have to climb a few of them in June, but there are some things that you should know to make them that little bit easier.
Staying in the the saddle is the most efficient way of riding, spinning smoothly with a high cadence (80 – 90 rpm) in a low gear. Don’t push a big gear up the hill, turning the cranks slowly, as that’s a sure way to burn your legs out quickly. Getting out of the saddle and standing provides more power, but is best saved for the steeper sections and for short bursts to mix up your muscle use a little.
Don’t forget to use your gears wisely, change into a lower gear in anticipation of a gradient change (not once you’ve already started climbing it), and if you find that you are regularly running out of gears, considering swapping out your cassette for a bigger one to give yourself an easier gear or two to spin in.
It’s not a race!
Getting to the top is your main goal, so go at your own pace and don’t let stronger riders goad you into going faster than you can sustain. It’s far better to go at a slow pace at the beginning of the hill and have energy left near the top than attack it too fast, too early, and run out of legs before you’ve even got half way up as that just makes the remainder of the climb a misery.
Know your hills
Knowing how long and steep the hills are makes it much easier to pace yourself and not go out too hard. If you know all the steep stuff comes near the start then you can hit the hill a bit faster, but if the steep stuff is at the end, you don’t want to use everything up before you get there.
Climbing up hills is hard work, but it’s a rewarding challenge. Stay calm, take it slow, rather than waste energy holding the bars in a death grip and gritting your teeth, concentrate on keeping your upper body relaxed, opening up the chest to allow you to breathe more deeply.
Remember to fuel
If you hit the hill depleted of energy, then you will struggle, and your legs will feel like lead. Make sure you keep fueled and hydrated on your ride. Eating a little something 15 minutes or so before a climb will give time for the energy boost to kick in.
Lose the baggage
You are fighting against gravity when climbing, so every extra pound you carry up the hill is weighing you down. Is there excess weight attached to your bike? A heavier mountain bike frame will be much harder to push up the hill than an all carbon road bike frame. However, before you go out spending hundreds of pounds on the lightest components you can buy, the cheapest and most effective way to get faster at climbing is to lose weight from your own body. If you’re carrying a little extra than needed, then a combination of regular cycling and a sensible diet will shift those extra pounds quickly.
Keep on climbing
The best way to get better at climbing hills, is to climb hills. Find some routes that have a few climbs in, rather than searching out the flats and with regular training you will soon find yourself flying up them quicker than before. Start with shorter hills and build up to tackling some longer ones as you gain fitness and strength.
A lot of climbing hills is mental. If you believe you can climb it, then you probably will. If you can shut out the pain you will go much further. Setting yourself mini goals as you climb may make it easier. Rather than focusing on the daunting task of getting to the top, break it down into smaller chunks and focus on getting to the next lamppost, or the next tree, then when you get there aim for another target you can see. Before you know it, the top will be in sight and you can earn a well deserved view and a rest as you descend down the other side.