Lots of people are reluctant to claw their way up hills during rides and races. With a little preparation, hills can be reduced from an energy-sapping limiting factor to a short and calculated interval, well within your limits. Your goal should be to crest each hill with enough energy to jump back in a brisk paceline, not soft-pedal while gasping for breath, with battery acid pumping through your legs.
Walk up to a doorway and push your hand against the top of it. Are you pushing upward with your hand? Try now, to push against the floor with your foot. Notice a difference? The feeling of flexing your core to connect your lower body to your upper body is crucial. You need this skill in order to climb more efficiently. When you are in a large (hard) gear on a steep climb and you are out of the saddle, you need to flex each side of your core on each pedal stroke, in order to crank on the handlebars without losing much energy. If you fail to connect your hands to your pedals, you will look like you are pedaling in squares and people will start passing you very quickly.
When you are out of the saddle, try not to bob your shoulders up and down. Keep your head up and shoulders square. As you crank on the pedals, rock the bike from side to side while steering as straight as possible and pay close attention to your upper body. By keeping your shoulders and head straight and steady, you put more energy where it matters – your drivetrain.
While seated, you still need to keep your upper body from bouncing up and down. Use a gear you can get on top of – that is, you shouldn’t be mashing downward on each pedal stroke. The gear you want is one which you can spin around in 360-degree pedal strokes without big dead spots. Be honest with yourself. Don’t try large gears, because your legs will melt after 1,000 feet of that punishment. Plus, heavier gears will slow down your recovery a bit, so you won’t be able to jam over the top of the climb as it levels off.
Do you notice that when you are starting up a kicker, the guys in front of you will drop into their small ring and jump to about 120 rpm, while cutting their speed approximately in half? Don’t do that. Not only is it annoying, but it’s dangerous at times. The whole pack will accordion at the base of the climb, throwing the whole pace off. Riding is about being smooth through transitions like this, so it doesn’t make sense to instantly change your speed/cadence/power. If you watch riders who do this instant downshift, you will see them bobbing up and down wildly in their saddle. Not cool.
Instead, pay attention to the grade and length of the upcoming hill and think about the gear you’d like to use. Don’t downshift yet! As you hit the hill and your speed starts to drop, just take about 10 good, hard pedal strokes in your current gear. This will shoot you forward through the slowing riders around you, putting you close to your eventual pace on the hill. Now, start downshifting as your speed drops and get to a gear you can stay on top of for the remainder of the climb. Downshift in dead spots in your pedal stroke when you are light on the pedals. This will prevent sudden loud shifts and abrupt changes in your speed.
Think about a steady 6% grade up a mountain pass. It’s an hour and a half of work at a very consistent grinding pace. You are going to want to stand up to rest and stretch out a bit, but you need to keep the pace up so you don’t get caught by the people behind you. Once you settle in with a gear you can consitently and efficiently pedal, shift up two gears and stand up. Use this heavier gear for about 20-30 seconds of climbing out of the saddle, then downshift, and sit back down. Settle in for a bit, then repeat when you need another stretch.
Drafting isn’t as important when you’re going slowly up a climb. Use this time to change up your hand positions and therefore your posture. Go from the hoods to the tops of your bars and back a few times. Climbs are punishing enough, you shouldn’t torture yourself by sitting in one bunched-up position the whole time. Sitting up for a bit and letting the wind hit you squarely in the chest will cool you off and switch things up a bit.
So, to wrap up:
Written by Bill Booth