Many of us mastered hill-climbing long ago. Does that mean we like it?
Well, if I said yes, it would be a fib, because hill-climbing is one of those
things that just comes with being a complete cyclist, like headwinds ...
There are several keys to not hating hills.Your conditioning, attitude, knowledge,
and equipment can all combine to make hills easier.
"The only way to get in condition for hill-climbing is to climb hills." How many
times have you heard this? It is true to some extent, but there are other ways to
condition oneself for hill-climbing.
Your quadriceps and your heart are the major muscles used in climbing. Exercises
specific to the quads, usually done with machines or free weights, can prepare
these important muscles. I think we all know about heart exercise. it's what makes
us breathe heavily-aerobic. This means that many different activities can serve
for heart exercise. I combine exercises for my quads with aerobic by repeatedly
climbing the stairs in the building where I work (1 2 stories).
If you believe the hill is going to be too hard, then it will be. On the other hand,
if you believe you are well prepared, and that the hill is well within your capability,
then it won't be too hard. There's been much written about goal setting, visualization,
and similar mental techniques. They work. If you believe they will!
I teach a hill climbing technique called 'swisscheesing.' Mentally break the climb
into small 'pieces' by picking a sign, a curve, or a patch on the pavement, about
100 meters in front of you, then focus on riding to it. When you get there, mentally
celebrate, then set a new goal. Ride to it, and so on. Soon the entire hill will be
Knowledge of gear use, breathing, resting, lane position, eating and drinking is
important to being a successful hill climber. All these are found in Effective
Cyclingtm and are taught in Effective
Cyclingtm courses. I'll explain each
Choose a gear that lets you balance the work of climbing between your legs and your
lungs. Remember to take deep breaths rather than shallow ones, and periodically take
extra deep, 'cleansing' breaths (those who have had natural childbirth training will
know about cleansing breaths - I learned about them as a labor coach, many years ago).
If you must stop to rest, limit the stop to no more than two minutes, and simply straddle
the bike - don't get all the way 'off' your bicycle.
Ride closer to the pavement edge, since you are going so much slower. Also, be especially
aware of your lane position on hill crests and blind curves to the right.
Eat easily digestible snacks, very lightly, on long climbs; drink lightly, but regularly,
on all climbs. The knowledgeable cyclist has a much easier time than a cyclist who knows
Low gears are very helpful. I am a firm believer in sitting while climbing. This is
partially because in Arizona there are lots of big climbs that take anywhere from 20
minutes to several hours. You just don't stand that long! Even if I lived where climbs
are a lot shorter (western Pennsvlvania). I would still be a firm believer in sitting,
because the stresses that standing up to pedal while climbing places on your knees are
Other equipment that makes a difference includes rims, tires, and tubes. All other things
being equal, the lighter they are, the easier your climb will be. Remember though that really
light rims are more easily damaged, and really light tires/tubes are more easily
punctured; so your choice will generally be a compromise between lightness and durability.
Hill-climbing will never be easy, but it can be easier for you than it is now, if you
improve your conditioning, attitude, knowledge, and equipment.
Reprinted from "Bicycle USA", magazine of the League of American
Bicyclists, Jan/Feb 1998.
For more information about the League of American Bicyclists, visit
their web site, www.bikeleague.org,
or e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org.