How should you ride a bike uphill? This article will help you to develop a good uphill riding technique. It doesn’t matter whether you cycle for fun, work, or competitively; you’re undoubtedly going to encounter many steep inclines in your cycling career. If you take the time to develop the pointers we suggest here, you will ride up hills more easily. Who knows, you may even begin to enjoy them.
Learning how to bike uphill without wiping yourself out will help you master hills without feeling spent. Understanding the basics of storing and conserving your energy is a good place to start. When you do, you will find you have reserves for the rest of the ride.
All of these tips were put into practice in the alps. Two members of Cyclxr tackled five of the toughest Tour De France climbs in five days. Alp’D Huez, Galibier, Izoard and two sides of Mont Ventoux (Salt and Bedoin) all featured on the challenge. Those riders are 54 years old and 64 years old respectively.
Check out Sean’s Strava record of the Ascent here
Below are the tips we believe will help you bike uphill more efficiently and faster. Let’s begin.
How to Bike Uphill – Top Tips
Road bike climbing- Planning and preperation
Much of your improvement will come from the planning and preparation you do before your ride. Think about how many climbs you face and wherein the ride you will encounter a climb. If you live in the flatlands of Norfolk, then you may need to seek the challenge of a hill, but in Devon, Cornwall or Scotland, ten thousand feet of climbing in a standard weekend ride is not uncommon. Look at this standard 65KM ride in Cornwall for example.
Make sure demanding climbs are hit after you have had a chance to warm up & properly hydrate and ensure you have taken enough calories the night before. While sugary sweets will you out of trouble, there is no substitute for fuelling correctly in the first place.
Ensure you always have water on hand and regularly hydrate throughout your ride. Some experts recommend that you should eat a high-carb snack around 90 minutes into your ride, then continue to fuel with an extra 125 calories every hour after that. What is critical is that you listen to your body. Attacking a big climb while feeling hungry, down on energy or without adequate reserves is asking for trouble.
Endurance & Strength Training
No pain, no gain. One of the best ways to improve your endurance and speed on steep inclines is to train for it. A mixture of endurance and strength training will give you the cardiovascular build-up and power to tackle any hill.
Don’t worry if you don’t have a gym membership. There are many great bodyweight exercises for cycling. All of which can fire up the primary muscle movers, including your glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves.
Remember to consult your doctor or physical training coach before embarking on any sustained exercise programme.
With consistent training, your muscles and core will become aerobically stronger and you’ll encounter less fatigue, especially late on in a ride. If you have access to a gym, look at light squats, leg extensions, leg curls, and seated leg presses as starting points.
Body Position & Technique
If you are a beginner, we have covered how to ride a road bike in a previous post however using the correct body position is especially important when learning to bike uphill efficiently.
Road bike climbing tip – Stay seated for as long as possible
When riding in the saddle, you use your large muscle groups (quads, hamstrings, and glutes). But, when you stand up, you engage pretty much your entire body. So, whilst standing up is a common reaction to a steep incline, it can lead to quick burnout. Standing up also increases the power delivery to the back wheel. That extra power can cause the rear wheel to spin up, especially on wet or loose surfaces.
Cadence & Pace
Having planned your route, you will have a good idea when the climb or climbs will be reached. Think ahead down the road. When you see the climb coming, start preparing yourself. Don’t attack the hill for all its worth. Starting too fast, and expecting that momentum to carry you the rest of the way is a sure way to burn out quickly. Far better to set a steady pace and maintain it to the top of the hill. Think ‘slow and steady wins the race’.
Road bike climbing cadence
We have written about cadence here. When climbing, aim to keep your cadence as high as you can manage. Grinding up a steep section will always have you struggling at some points. That is completely normal. You can see how hard a pro-cyclist will work here. Pick a gear that allows you to spin up and keep the pedals turing.
Keep an eye on your heart rate monitor too. If you are approaching the maximum threshold, back off a bit. The threshold will vary from person to person. While Sean can comfortably ride up Alp D Huez with a heart rate of 150 to 180bpm, Ben has a much lower heart rate. In fact, Ben would average just 125bpm and feel the same level of exertion as Sean.
Listen to your body. If you need help to ascertain your functional threshold then you might find it useful to engage a cycle trainer or training plan. We have an article which explains the basics of bike fitness here.
Correct Gear Selection
As a general rule of thumb, lower gears are used to help you cycle uphill much more effortlessly. However, this does largely depend on your skill level and power. If you are anything like us, you will be hitting the smallest front cog and the largest rear cog, more often than not. Here is a top tip. Keep a spare cog in the bank.
Knowing you have another cog you can call on is always good for the soul. A word of warning though; always change gear on a section of the climb where the terrain has leveled a little. If you try to change gear when you are under extreme duress, you may snap a chain. Pick your climbing gear before you hit the hill and pick your rescue gear when appropriate to do so.
Avoid any extra weight
Weight reduction improves your performance and ability on rides significantly to increase your speed whilst riding uphill. Always ride with the minimal amount of gear possible. Cyclists are all obsessed with saving weight and we are no different here at HQ.
Think about your gear carefully. Try to keep your system weight down as low as possible. By that, we mean the total weight of you, your bike, and the bits you carry. While carbon frames and wheels will help, aluminum frames are also great. We have hit a half a kilometer climb averaging 11% and peaking at 22% with a steel frame and to fully loaded panniers. It can be done.
Ride With a Group Or Partner
If you have ever competed in cycling or running, you probably have witnessed improvement in your times when competing with a group. Why? Cycling in a group is a great way to feed off each other’s positivity and momentum. As a result, you are more likely to conquer that hill with two riders setting the pace in front and five more behind you.
Other riders act as an accountability partner, and riding with friends is a great way to take your mind off the lactic acid burn in your quads and to increase your focus on the road ahead of you.
Always ride with people who are near your level of fitness. Riding too fast to keep up with fitter riders can be a big mistake. Equally, riding uphill too slow can put as much excess stress on you as riding too fast. Pick you numbers, (cadence, heart rate and gear) and maintain a steady output. If you drop a partner, then tag on to another group or rider. If you get dropped, don’t stop! Try to wait for another group to catch up with you.
How to road bike uphill – Final Words
Cycling uphill will always be one of the more demanding aspects of a bike ride. But, with proper preparation, training, fueling of your body, and a solid technique, hill climbing can be made much easier and (almost) enjoyable.
There is no substitute for hard work and hill training. But, remember, the more you do it, the easier it gets. Thankfully what goes up must come down! So usually, a long ascent is partnered with a nice descent which allows you to re-catch your breath and let those leg muscles rest.
Enjoy the ride!