This is an area you will need to overcome one day, so why not embrace it and look for more.  Once you beat the hill’s you get to ride down them taking complete control.

Here’s a few tips on how I ride the hill’s I love so much.

trek
julie & del

When we first start to ride a bike after years of riding one as a child we think its just a case of jumping on one and peddling….well I was shocked at how bad I was.  Not at riding a bike but at going up hills, I thought I would be able to get on the bike and ride up the hill as though it was a gentle slope.

I’m sure you’ll remember the day you went out and came to your first big climb, or what might of felt big at the time, you can’t breath and you feel like your body going to give out on you.  Yes its that hill you drove up so many times but never really realised how steep it actually was.

It’s after this that a lot of cyclists will actually be afraid of riding up hills, so much so they will always look for rides that are on the level.  Then when they come across a hill you’ll hear phrases like “ I’m not feeling this hill today “ or “ I have the wrong gearing for this hill “ I could go on for ever but the fact of the matter is you need to ride a hill at some point unless you live in the Netherlands.

So on this this page I’ll try and help you over come that hill climb.  I’ll explain how I overcome the mental block we all get when we see a hill we know our rides taking us on. There’s nothing complicated in the process, but once you concur the hills every ride will be a pleasure to remember.

del
dragon ride

Getting out on the bike is the most important way of getting training in for the big ride, you could join the gym and go to spinning classes but you have to remember this is only going to help you shed a little weight and help build up your fitness.  It won’t however turn you into a mile munching cyclist, far from it in fact.  If you’re wanting to get sprinting as one of you’re strong points then it’ll be fine but it’s building the wrong muscle group for longer rides.  I’ve witnessed a cyclist who put in loads and loads of spinning sessions before taking part in a 300 mile ride.  Unfortunately they developed all kinds of injuries and subsequently really suffered during the ride.

So whats the secret, well there is no secret it’s more about how you train.  When I first started to ride my road bike I covered a few miles to get my core fitness up, I was doing around 10 miles every other night for about three weeks.  I then hit my first hill and it was on this hill I thought my lungs were going to explode, my head felt all dizzy and I could hear my heart beating through my ears ( I know a bit weird but true ).

It was after this that I knew I had to ride more hills, if I was to avoid them I would only suffer when it came to a sportive and a hill was part of the route.  If you’ve taken part in a sportive you’ll know theres always a big hill no matter which event it is you’ll have to get up one.  So I thought to myself if I can get a method to riding up hills then the flats will be easy, so I set out to find a way of riding the hills so many would avoid.

One thing I will say is you can set you’re bike up to ride hills better by simply putting a bigger cassette on bike.  You can find out the amount of teeth on your rear cassette by having a good look at it and you’ll see the amount of teeth stamped onto the ring.  What you’re looking for is the bigger the ring next to the spokes the easier the hill is going to be, if you have a 32 then you should be ok for the hills as this is the biggest you can get, (or I’ve seen).  I ride with a 28 and I can tell you now it’s hard work and on the steepest of hills it feels like I’m trying to pedal through treacle.

So getting the correct cassette is vital if you don’t have the strongest of legs, you can always move down to smaller cassettes if you want but this is a personal preference and one you need to be happy with.  Don’t feel like you need to get a 28 because your mate has one, then you struggle like hell on even the smallest of climbs.  In this case big is better and from my experience a lot easier.

del
del on hills

After a few attempts at hill climbing I noticed some key areas that would make it a lot easier, one of them was how you addressed the incline.  I don’t mean look at it and panic, far from it in fact when you see a hill and you know you’re rides going to take you up it have a good look at how steep it looks.

Just before you start your assent select the right gears for your climb, don’t feel like you have to hit the hill at maximum speed.   After a while you’ll get to grips with selecting the right gears as you reach that point go the hill where your speed drops and you know your about to start you’re climb.

One thing I have always said to friends when there riding up a hill is don’t get into your highest gear straight away, always leave one or even two spare.  This is your emergency gears if you really start to struggle, then as you get to that point of you need another gear you can drop it down and it’ll feel like you have a new lease of life to get you to the top. Once you feel like you’re able to pick some speed up change it down again and push on through.  Before you know it you’ll be at the top and enjoying the views.

Whilst it sounds easy changing gear whilst putting the chain under strain, is not the best sound in the world but if you can try and put a little extra power through the pedals when your just about to change gear and then ease off a bit as you change, then the chains not under strain and the gear change is nice and smooth. This isn’t essential but makes the gear change a lot smoother and after a bit of practice you’ll find is quicker.  It’ll also reduce the strain on the chain resulting in a longer chain and cassette life.

When you ride in a group or you happen to be out with a few friends don’t feel like you have to be the first up the hill, it’s easy to get that competitive streak running through your veins and push yourself like a steam train to the top. All you’ll end up doing is either having an injury or using all the energy your body has in one go. Then after about five miles after you’ve cooled down a bit and your heart rates dropped back you’ll end up bonking. This is not a good feeling and is usually caused after you have exerted yourself for an extended period, along with not fuelling your body along the way.

In the “What to eat” page you’ll see that your body requires fuel to maintain the riding style you have developed, its not just about the gears there’s a whole load of elements that contribute to riding well.

wells hill

One question I get asked all the time is “Should I stay seated whilst climbing”.  Well the answer is simple….NO.  There is no specific method of riding a climb, some will say you must stay seated whilst others will say you must stand.  Well I have tried both styles and have come to the conclusion that there both correct.

By alternating between seated and standing you’ll find climbing easier, don’t get me wrong some people don’t like standing when they climb a hill.  From what I’ve found it’s better for your legs if you alternate between the two, this uses different muscle groups and isn’t putting all the strain on one group of muscles.

If you stay seated climbing even the steepest of hills you’ll find you may develop cramp or muscle pains, this is a result in over working those particular muscles.  If your able to change from sitting to standing you’re optimising on the muscles and will infect find you can climb a lot quicker.  Don’t feel like you have to go really quick just concentrate on every rotation of the pedal.  If you want to stay seated even moving back slightly or forward on the saddle will help your legs.  Go careful though because if you do a lot of hard hills you’ll notice your leg muscles getting bigger and after a ride they’ll ache.   Try and keep them massaged to relax the muscles or you’ll end up with tight feeling legs.

One really helpful tip I can give you is if your seated and you want to stand up just before you stand put a little extra effort into the next few rotations and then change down a couple of gears.  This way when you stand you’ll have a bit more resistance and won’t feel like your running on the spot.  Then when you want to sit back down you change back up and it feels a lot easier to pedal whilst sitting.

On really steep climbs you may not be able to change down and you’ll be standing up in the highest gears you have, don’t worry, just don’t try and pedal any quicker.  What you can do is slow it down a bit and concentrate on your breathing.  After all your body is like any engine and requires air, so slow it down and breath don’t look up just focus on the road in front the tyre and breath.

It’s the breathing that will make all the difference to you’re ability to climb well, if you’re a smoker this is going to be hard but will help after a while and may even inspire you to give up.   After all its on the hills where your breathing technique will come in to its own, once you’ve managed to get the gears and your position sorted you can then focus on the breathing.

trek
mio
sunset

As with any for of exercise breathing and how you breath is a huge part of it, from my days as a swimmer I was trained to breath a certain way making my stroke and my breathing seamless.   If you take part in a lot of triathlon or IronMan events swimming is often the area where most struggle.  I often get asked is there a way of being better in the water and the only response I can give is practice.

However breathing in a way that helps your body will make not only swimming but cycling a lot easier.   Runners often take shorter breaths, not being the greatest of runners i can’t compare with enough accuracy but if you try and breath the way a runner does you’ll end up hyperventilating gong dizzy and wanting to pass out.  Not the greatest of feelings, if you’ve ever been out whilst recovering from a cold (again not recommended) this is almost the same.

From research I’ve done and information I’ve read breathing technique is quite a big thing in the cycling world.  What you’ll also notice is the concentration that’s required to get in to the zone.  I’ll call it a zone because when you’re on the hill that seem’s to never end or is steeper than your stairs at home you won’t get up it by looking into thin air.

Breathing correctly is only part of it, getting into that zone is equally as important.  A friend keeps telling me “ You’re body will give up before your mind will “ which is true, if you can focus on where you want to get to and how you get there before you know it you’ll be there.  So how do I breath, well I started of on my hill climbs by trying different ways to breath, for a few weeks I would ride hills by taking really deep breaths.  I mean from the bottom of my lungs, I would exhale as much are as I could and then take a bigger breath. This was ok but I found it was hard to do on really steep hills, there’s a surprise but taking a deep breath was a key area that I later developed.

I then tried to slow the amount of breaths down for a few weeks but this was no good at all in fact it had a negative effect.  It was after looking trough some old magazines that I noticed a page torn slightly but an article on varying your breathing.  I was intrigued and looked into a completely different style of breathing, this was a lot harder than I originally expected but has rewarded me far greater than I had ever imagined.  I took breathing styles from a few different sports.   I would take the short breath like a runner, then the next breath would be like the swimmer slightly longer but almost like a normal day to day breath, then I would take a really deep breath exhaling all my air from the bottom of my stomach.  I say the stomach because this is where I wanted to breath from, the core of my body after all I’m trying to train myself how to breath again.

After a good couple of months of riding with this rather unusual breathing style I found I was able to ride a lot faster and for longer, not only that the hills I was going up before felt a lot easier.  Why was this had I stumbled on something new or was this just in the mind, I then looked into breathing techniques of pro cyclists.  It was here I found a few different cyclists mentioned they vary the breaths they take when riding competitively, the reason for this was because your lungs were able to work more efficiently taking different volumes of oxygen.  This meant the blood was getting a balanced level of oxygen meaning the muscles were able to preform at there optimal level.  Phew that got a bit complicated and deep for a minute, but it really does work.  If you can get in to the routine of adjusting the breaths you take you’ll find you can maintain a better pace and be able to climb the steepest of climbs.

So to recap Short breath, medium breath deep breath, this might sound a little…well mental but it really does work and after taking part in the Wiggle Dragon ride which is 90% mountains.  I was able to ride up these without over working myself and even on the last five miles maintain a speed of 27mph. Which was not to my friends liking who was with me at the time, this was after riding 95 miles of mostly mountains. Which I’ll be doing again in the future.  So next time you’re out having a ride try a different way of breathing, remember the more air your car gets the better it performs and your body’s the same.

hills
del

Once you have mastered the gear change along with your breathing technique and riding position, its just a case of practicing the climbs.   Go out and look for a few hills you don’t ever want to ride up and slowly work up to actually riding up them.  Once you find a style your happy with you’ll enjoy the hills and embrace them.   After all if it was easy you wouldn’t achieve anything.  All thats next is the descent which is by far the best thing about getting to the top.

Going down a hill is pretty simple and but there are a few things that can have an effect on how well you go down them, most of us want to get down them as quick as possible, this is great until the unimaginable happens.  Before I go into how I descend from a hill I want to stress the dangers of coming a cropper, at the speed of 25 mph it’ll take a second for the road to wear through your lycra and make a mess of your skin.  At 30mph you’ll end up with some serious road rash and worse still loss of most of your flesh that skids along the surface.   At 40+mph you need to understand this is going to have a life changing effect on your body, hospital will be your residence for a few months whilst what ever is left of your legs and hands can heal.   I know this sounds gruesome but its a fact and you need to be aware of it.

With these safety bits covered I’ll explain my method of descent, I know I’ve painted a nasty picture but I don’t even think of this.  I mean as soon as I get to a hill I know relatively well I’m off, gone like the wind and I mean I’m peddling as fast as my little legs will let me.   So whats my method, well firstly I don’t think about coming off.   I think only about getting to the next corner and how I’ll position myself.   Having confidence in you’re tyres is super important and they have a lot more grip than you would imagine.  The next thing you have to think about is your riding position, never and I mean never descend on the hoods, (on the top bat) always drop down to the drops with your fingers covering the brake levers.

Upon cornering your pedals should be at the opposite to the corner, so if your going round a right hand corner you should have the left pedal at the bottom (6 O’clock position) and the opposite for a left hand corner.   On approaching a corner always look at where you’ll exit it from, rule of thumb is “ where ever you look you’ll go” so if you see a shiny wet drain cover look to the side of it and you’ll go that way, if you look straight at it you’ll go over it.

Always adjust your speed before you start your turn, never try and brake whilst cornering, this will result in a potential accident.  If you feel like you’ve not slowed down enough for the corner have some faith in your tyres and body positioning and lean into the corner a little more.  Confidence is everything when you want to get down a hill quickly, that and stupidity or so I’m told.  Taking a corner is easier than you think, if the corner goes around to the left the best position to enter the corner would be as far right as possible, (making sure you don’t hit any cars, or you stay as close to the line as safety allows) then as you enter the corner you come in as close to the corner as possible (moving to the left side) not turning to tight and making your turn as smooth as possible, then as you go through the corner on your exit you move back out to the right side.  This you’ll probably know anyway but have faith in the tyres you have on your bike, also make sure the conditions are good i.e. dry roads, if there wet slow down its not worth it.

Once you’ve mastered the corners and you have a long straight road going down hill, stay on the drops get the pedals level and drop your head down, bringing your knees into the frame and hold on.  You’ll be surprised at the speed you can get up to with the right positioning, however at some point you may need to stop.  Should you need to do so apply the brakes carefully making sure you don’t  squeeze the levers to hard, this will result in the wheels locking and skidding.  It makes no difference if you have discs or rim brakes the steady force in which you apply the brakes will result  position you stop in.  It’ll be either vertical and shaken or horizontal and in a car/hedge.

mendips

Please please remember you’re safety is always priority and no KOM is worth an injury and damaged bike, I know I’m no good to preach about safety but you don’t need to be the fastest all the time.  Besides you won’t be the fastest if you end up in hospital, just remember try not to brake whilst cornering because this is the best time to fall off.  Gravity is a strong force and cornering is the prime position to experience it, so after that mammoth climb you did so well on sit back and enjoy the descent and the views, after all this is why we cycle up hills isn’t it.