Road Cycling

How To Cycle Up A Massive Stonker Of A Hill

There are just 7 things you need to know about climbing hills on a bike – and here they are

1. You don’t need to stand (but you can if you want, whatevs)

Geraint Thomas – Welsh Tour de France rider and a lynchpin of the mighty Team Sky – prefers to stay in the saddle while battling hills.

“I tend to naturally stay seated when climbing,” he says. “Maybe it’s from growing up on the track, as when you’re riding fixed-gear you rarely get out of the saddle. That’s generally the most efficient way to climb.

“I try and stay in the saddle, only standing to break up the rhythm, or on particularly steep sections. Make sure you’re not rocking and rolling on the bike; open your chest and concentrate on your breathing; keep your legs spinning. Make sure you keep turning your legs over in order to stay on top of the gear.”

Matt Clinton – former British Hill Climb Champion – says that leaving your saddle on a climb is all down to personal preference. “Climbing varies from person to person, hill to hill. Some riders may be able to push a big gear in the saddle, while others dance on the pedals.”

Climbs hurt everyone

And don’t forget, there’s no shame in feeling the pain. “Climbs hurt everyone,” affirms Matt. “It’s how riders deal with the pain that separates the fast guys from everyone else.”

Matt Clinton (PIC:

2. Pace yo’ self

As with everything in life, you need to know your limits and plan ahead accordingly. If you’re riding up a mega-hill with a group of friends and the pace quickens far above what you can comfortably maintain to reach the top, don’t do yourself a mischief keeping up. You can always speed up again later.

Don’t get carried away and start racing other people

“When you’re on a climb, don’t get carried away and start racing other people,” says Geraint Thomas. “Ride at your own tempo and know your limits. You’ll be grateful in the long run. Start slow and finish fast!”

Geraint Thomas (PIC:

3. Do a recce

If you’re planning on some serious uphill cycling over terrain you’re not familiar with, it’s worth familiarising yourself with the ascents beforehand. Nobody likes a scary-arse surprise.

Familiarise yourself with the ascents beforehand. Nobody likes a scary-arse surprise

“Knowing a climb helps you plan how to pace your effort,” says Geraint Thomas. “It helps psychologically, too, as you know where to pace it; where to back off and where to go for it.”

“Study maps or elevation profiles and see where the climbs are in succession to each other” agrees Matt Clinton. “Also, pay attention to the weather on the day, as pacing will be crucial if you have a headwind.”

4. Eat like a superpro

Little and often is the way forward. And while climbing epic hills on a bike requires a sizeable amount of energy, but you don’t want to go scoffing an energy bar just before you start ascending, or you risk doing a sick-up on yourself.

“Try and have an energy bar 15 or 20 minutes before you get to the climb,” says Geraint Thomas (again, this is where looking over your route beforehand is going to come in handy). “Gels are good for when you’re on the climb itself as they’re easy to digest.”

I’d advise going with 80% solid foods and 20% gels

“For a 100-mile event,” says Matt Clinton, “I’d advise going with 80% solid foods and 20% gels. Although gels are easier to consume on the go, they do leave you feeling rather hollow. and your stomach will always function better with some good solid foods in there.”

And don’t forget, of course, to keep your liquids topped up, particularly if you’re sweating like a speeding beast.

5. Dress for success

“Make sure you carry appropriate clothing with you,” says Matt Clinton. “I’d never ride in October without a rain jacket, for example. On a mid-summer ride, I’d probably still take a light shell for the descents.

“A gilet is essential: I’d urge everyone to have one, I rarely ride without wearing one. Just remember, conditions can change quickly in the hills, and after every climb comes a descent…”

6. Treat your bike nice

“Having your bike in top condition is crucial to an enjoyable ride,” advises Matt Clinton. “Make sure it’s clean, adjusted correctly and well lubricated.

“A good clean drivetrain will work far better than a grimy one. Inflate your tyres correctly, and check them for cuts. And make sure your brakes work, with plenty of brake-pad life and clean wheel rims.”

7. Practice (and practice, and practice) makes perfect

An obvious point but one worth making nonetheless: the more hills you climb, the better you’ll get at climbing hills.

Miles, miles and more miles! There’s no substitute for getting out there on the road

“Miles, miles and more miles!” says Matt Clinton. “There’s no substitute for getting out there on the road. Try and make it sociable: head to a café with your mates, take in some hills on the way. Build up your distance over several weeks with a combination of one long ride at the weekend and short-but-slightly-harder midweek ride.”

Matt urges you not to forget the most important tip of all, though: “The key is to enjoy it – that’s why you ride, after all!”


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