Most commutes have at least one. No matter how hard you try, they’re nearly impossible to avoid. Hills have the power to inflict pain on cyclists of all levels. Want to reduce your commute time and learn to embrace the discomfort of bicycle hill climbing? Read on.
Remember to breathe. It’s a natural reaction to hold your breath or to breathe shallowly when you’re in a stressful or physically challenging situation. But your body needs all the oxygen it can get to power up a climb. Practice filling your belly with air and taking long, deep breaths instead of short, shallow ones. Keep your hands at a wide stance on the handlebars in order to open up the chest.
Get in gear. Unless you’re commuting on a fixie or singlespeed, you should have gearing options to help ease the uphill grind. Consider a triple crankset if you live in a hilly area and check with your local bike shop to be sure your gearing is low enough to tackle the terrain.
Take a seat. It’s easier to sustain a lower heart rate when you’re hill climbing in a seated position. While standing increases the power you’re able to generate, it does so at the cost of an elevated heart rate, which can mean a more painful climb, and expending more energy. Stand when you must, but otherwise stay seated and slide all the way back on your saddle. This position recruits the large and powerful gluteal muscles. Staying seated also allows you to save energy by recruiting your core muscles. To engage your core, resist the urge to sit upright during a climb. Instead lean forward, bending your elbows slightly while keeping a flat back. This lowers your center of gravity and gives your primary leg muscles a break.
Spin it. Many riders fall into the trap of spinning too low a gear, which quickly fatigues the legs and strains the knees. Instead, try to maintain a cadence of at least 85rpm. As you approach a hill, gradually shift down and work on maintaining a smooth, high cadence. If you drop into your lowest gear too early, you’ll risk spinning out and losing momentum. As you concentrate on cadence, keep taking deep breaths and focus on maintaining this rhythm as you climb.
Give yourself an advantage. It’s difficult for commuter bikes to reduce the weight of their bikes, which can be a big benefit on hills. But you can make small changes like using thinner tires or switching out knobbies for slicks if you’re primarily riding on pavement. Be sure to check your tires before every ride and keep them pumped up to the recommended PSI. And every rider can benefit from the power of mind over matter. Reinforce positive thoughts and visualize yourself pedaling confidently to the top.