Love them or hate them, hills are an inevitable part of cycling. Sure, it’s no fun to struggle up an incline that’s so steep that you grind to an untimely halt …. but there is another way. If you can tackle hills armed with good technique and confidence, you should be able to get up almost anything – and maybe even learn to love the challenge.
Step 1: Don’t forget your gears
Using your gears correctly is absolutely essential. I’ve seen people treat changing gears like it’s admitting defeat, trying to push as big a gear as they possibly can. Some even say they can’t be bothered to change gear! I can only assume this is due to mental fatigue, because a quick flick of the fingers can save a lot of leg burn.
If you’re not sure how to use your gears, spend a few minutes on each ride just practising. Gears are designed to make life easier, allowing you to pedal more efficiently and use a consistent amount of effort, regardless of terrain. Changing gear early on a climb is usually a good idea, helping you to maintain a good pedaling speed (cadence).
Step 2: Move your (ahem) posterior!
Pedaling out of the saddle can be very useful for steeper sections. Again, this can be tricky for beginners, but practice makes perfect, and you can always try this on the flat before you use it on a hill. It is not as efficient as staying seated, though, so it may be best to use this technique sparingly.
Step 3: Give your legs some love
Fitness plays a huge role in cycling, especially when you’re trying to go faster, but everybody can also benefit from improving leg strength. This could simply be performing some bodyweight squats, or diving into a whole specific routine. Whichever route you choose, the muscle you add to your legs will help you get up those hills much more easily.
Step 4: Mind over matter
Here’s something that may give you the greatest improvement, and it works almost instantly: Mentality. Don’t be afraid of hills – they are hard, but they’re the same for everyone. Everyone else is suffering, too. When I realised this, it was a turning point for me. Whether it’s a weekend ride or a big race, if you’re struggling it’s a good bet that everyone else is in the same position – so why not go one better and learn to love the challenge?
And one last word: keep trying, because you will get better. As the now infamous saying goes, ‘It never gets easier, you just go faster.’