“I hate hills,” is a common refrain among cyclists and no wonder. So often I see people struggling up even short hills. They’re in the wrong gear and angrily stomping on the pedals as they attack the hill. It’s a distressing sight because a few simple techniques make climbing hills so much easier.
The most important factor is gear selection. Your gears are designed to make it easier to pedal under all sorts of conditions. Gears are all about ratios. You’ll have two or three chain rings (big sprockets on the front) and up to ten sprockets on the back. The closer the size of your chain ring is to your rear sprocket the smaller the ratio between the two and the easier it is to spin your pedals.
Your **lowest** gear is the combination of small chain ring and biggest sprocket. Your **highest** gear is the combination of large chain ring and smallest sprocket. That’s the gear you don’t want to be in pedalling up a hill. Yet that’s exactly the gear so many strugglers have selected.
So what’s the right gear? There’s no prescription. It depends on your fitness and the steepness of the hill. You want to be able to spin your pedals comfortably – without stomping on the pedals and pulling violently on the handlebars – yet still produce enough power to keep your momentum. Experiment and you’ll soon find what’s comfortable.
The way you approach a hill is also important. It can be tempting to “attack” at the bottom in the hope your momentum will carry you up the hill. But gravity is rarely on your side. You use a lot of energy in that initial attack – energy that’s better used getting you up the hill comfortably. It’s much kinder to you to simply maintain a nice steady pedalling tempo.
Don’t panic and charge at the hill. Don’t drop into your lowest gear at the bottom so you lose all momentum and pedalling power. Keeping your cool is the key.
Relax. Sounds silly, but try just resting your hands on the horizontal part of your handlebars. Let your legs do the work, not your shoulders. If you find yourself bobbing up and down with each turn of the pedals, shift down a gear. You’re wasting a lot of energy “bobbing” that would be better applied to your pedals.
Conquering hills is all about getting into the right tempo that uses energy most efficiently.
See you on the road soon, God willing.