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Cycling Climbing Tips To Get Over That Hill Faster

Updated on November 10, 2012
CyclingFitness profile image

Liam Hallam is a sports science graduate. A keen cyclist, runner, and obstacle racer, he ran his first ultra-marathon in 2016.

Some people are born to be climbers and the rest have to work hard to develop the ability to climb by bike

Whereas the rest of us really need to train hard to develop the ability to scale mountains quickly, or sprint to the top of that steep hill to breakaway from the bunch or simply win a race.

When a race or group ride hits the base of a challenging climb it becomes a bit like being back in the school playground- a psychological and physical battle for supremecy as climbs separate the strong from the weak on a bike.

Climbing By Bike- hard work!

Lance Armstrong (centre in blue behind guy in zebra print) climbing a hill out of the saddle- you can tell they're all working hard against gravity
Lance Armstrong (centre in blue behind guy in zebra print) climbing a hill out of the saddle- you can tell they're all working hard against gravity | Source

Do you want to be a better climber for Road Racing, Time Trials or Sportive Events?

The key figure to being a good climber on a bike is your Power to Weight Ratio.

No matter how powerful and explosive you are on a bike there is always going to be some mass keeping you from being faster. Therefore you seriously need to consider how much extra weight you might be carrying which could be lost to help improve your climbing ability. While climbing on a bike there is a dissociation between speed and power output.

Losing weight in the form of body fat is the most economical way of decreasing the mass of you and your bicycle. If you look at the key climbers in the Tour De France and other Professional Cycling races you'll notice that they are exceptionally lean and lightweight- their body mass is at its optimum level for efficient performance. You will also notice that a large proportion of professional cyclists (and a gross proportion of the specific climbers) are of less than the average height of the population.

Lose more weight by having an ultra lightweight bike

Want to have the potential to be able to climb even better? Faster with the climbs feeling easier?

Pimp your bike and make it as light as possible to improve your climbing ability. A set of lightweight climbing specific wheels is the anti-thesis to the current trend of deep section aerodynamic wheelsets which, while being fast on the flats seriously increase your workload going uphill!.

If you're still using a 70's steel stead then why not consider embracing the Carbon Fibre Age and purchasing a new lightweight bike. You'll wish you did it a long time ago!

Ultra Lightweight Carbon Road Bike for climbing

This Neil Pryde bike weighs less than 15 pounds so should be fantastic at helping you be a better climber. It'll be even quicker if you replace the wheels for something lighter
This Neil Pryde bike weighs less than 15 pounds so should be fantastic at helping you be a better climber. It'll be even quicker if you replace the wheels for something lighter | Source

Change the wheels to these and you'll feel you're rocket propelled (well almost)

Ultra lightweight 1,200 gram climbing wheelset- zipp 303
Ultra lightweight 1,200 gram climbing wheelset- zipp 303 | Source

Train heavy- compete light for faster climbing

You might know a few bike riders who have more than just one bike. They may well have a Summer/ Racing bike amd 'Winter' bike. Generally the winter/ commuting type bike will be heavier including extra weight for mud guards. It will also likely have heavier tyres to deal with rough roads which often lead to more punctures and heavier components like the frame, wheels and groupset which are less precious to the cyclist as winter can be very harsh on bike components.

Training on a heavier bike for a period of time forces a cyclists to climb on heavier machinary and therefore makes a particular climb harder for the athlete. During the winter months speed up a climb is not usually of importance to a cyclists however the extra weight can lead to a greater training effect as the cyclist becomes accustomed to lifting more weight up a hill. Once the bike rider swaps to their lighter race/summer use bike everything suddenly feels so much easier.

Many competitive cyclists also have a separate set of wheels they use for training and riding compared to what they use for racing. The mantra is simply

'Train heavy, race light'

Lance Armstrong Climbing

Training techniques for cyclists to improve their climbing

Apart from simply getting out there and riding (which we all like to do) there are a number of ways you can look at improving your climbing by bike and address your training.

Learn to spin your legs like Lance Armstrong on a climb

Have a look at the youtube video to the right of Lance Armstrong climbing which at the time exemplified Armstrong as a fighter on the bike and an exceptional climber.

Lance uses a very low gear and spins his legs at a higher than average rate. By using this technique he is relying on his heart and cardiovascular system more than the strength he has within his muscles. Have you ever felt that your muscles have tired before the rest of you on a climb?

You won't instantly be able to spin a high gear on climbs however you can develop your climbing ability over time and slowly improve your cadence for better climbing performance.

This type of climbing is exceptionally well suited to high mountain passes where the climbs seem to go on for ever- sometimes up to 40 km in length.

Try to stay in the saddle for as long as possible on a climb

Did you know that you actually produce less power on a bike when you climb out of the saddle?

Try to stay relaxed and pedal while sat on your saddle for as long as possible. You may occasionally need to get out of the saddle for a short while to let your legs have a break. Return to the saddle when your ready and keep aiming for the top of the climb.

Learn to climb different hills- head out on a training camp somewhere different

Many Brits and Europeans head out to Majorca in the spring to get in some warm weather cycling and climb the mountains of the Serra De Tramuntana
Many Brits and Europeans head out to Majorca in the spring to get in some warm weather cycling and climb the mountains of the Serra De Tramuntana | Source

Practice climbing different lengths of climbs by bike

When it comes to a sportive or race the climbs are in no way going to be uniform. If you're doing L'Etape Du Tour it's likely that they'll be like nothing you've ever done before. Don't be daunted- stay calm and trust your training.

Make a database in you head, on paper or your laptop of climbs near to you including details of their length and relative difficulty. Most places have a particular climb that riders hold in some reverence. If you live in a very hilly area or mountainous area then you are blessed in terms of training terrain. If not you can always tempt a few friends to a weekend away for some riding and bonding over a few drinks.

There are a huge number of companies that offer training camps and cycling holidays to allow you to head up Alpine High Passes on your bike if you like in a relatively flat area.

Now-go out and ride

And the final cycling climbing tip is

Get on your bike and improve your climbing



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    • CyclingFitness profile imageAUTHOR

      Liam Hallam 

      6 years ago from Nottingham UK

      Thanks capon. Most old school hand built wheels can be tuned but I wouldn't recommend it for many factory built sets. I took an old set of Ksyrium SL's to my lbs and he wouldn't dream of touching them as re-tension a taught wheel is likely to make it go 'pop'

    • capon profile image

      Tony Capon 

      6 years ago from Upminster, Essex, United Kingdom

      I would comment that a tune-up of spoked wheels are likely to make a substantial difference to all aspects of the handling of a bike, particularly climbing. The cost of which is free if you can do it for yourself, otherwise your local bike shop is likely to do a good job at a fraction of the costs of new wheels. This is very much dependent upon the quality of the wheels that you start off with!

    • CyclingFitness profile imageAUTHOR

      Liam Hallam 

      6 years ago from Nottingham UK

      Thanks Free2seethemoon- two grand can get you a fantastic bike. However you don't need to spend the earth. Ebay can be full of bargains if you're willing to look hard enough. It's not all about spending money although a bike when looked after well will be a sound investment

    • Free2seethemoon profile image


      6 years ago from Somewhere in the Pacific Ocean

      Another great hub! Wish I could afford to start cycling again, seems like all the decent bikes start at two grand!


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