Hill Climb Cycling | Our Top 5 Pieces of Advice

Climbing is a part of cycling that we cannot get away from. Whether it be a punchy Belgian berg or a beautiful alpine pass, testing slopes are an intrinsic aspect of our sport. Icons of the past and present have done battle with the very ramps we can all face ourselves, however climbing doesn’t always look the same for us as it does for the professionals.

For many, climbing is a necessary evil that has to be endured rather than enjoyed. This doesn’t need to be the case though, by improving your hill climbing, a tough ascent can be extremely rewarding. To show you why, we’re going to be providing you with five helpful tips on how to get better at climbing. It’s time to head for the hills.

So, what are our Hill Climb Cycling tips?

Repetition is the key to success

Like with any kind of training, repetition is one of the core principles to consider when it comes to climbing. Repetition of a task helps familiarise your body and mind with the challenge it’s being presented with, so it can begin to focus on improvement. The key is to identify the type of – or even the specific climb you want to take on and ride up it as many times as possible over a prolonged period of time.

While riding up a climb every day may seem like a good idea, the best way to see tangible improvement is to tackle it a few times a week. By doing this, you give your body time to recover from the effort and give yourself time to analyse what areas of your climbing technique need work. In time, you should start to feel fresher on the climb and will soon be stealing those KOM records from your clubmates.

An indoor training plan

Of course, it isn’t always possible for us to get out onto a climb. Whether it be the result of a sudden downpour or simply your location, everyone’s access to climbs varies. Even those with vast mountain ranges on their doorstep can struggle to find punchier climbs like those found in northern Europe. This is where forming an indoor training plan can be beneficial.

Applications such as Zwift make it easy to replicate the training you would traditionally be doing outside and bring it into your home (You can even take on Alpe d’Huez from your garage, if you’re brave enough).

Regardless of how you do it, the principles of training for hill climbs remain the same and indoor trainers can be a genuine help when you’re trying to replicate an authentic climbing experience. Most modern trainers will allow you to set the resistance to a specific level and some high-end models will even match the gradient of a climb to give you a sense of what it would be like to take it on for real.

Get your gearing right

When riding up a climb, it’s vital to ensure you’re using the right gears for the job. This isn’t to say you need to be on the lowest gear every time the road tilts upwards however, it’s merely about ploughing uphill at a level that is comfortable for you. If you ride on too high a gear, the chances are you’re burning energy unnecessarily and will eventually run out of steam towards the top.

If you want to make climbing as smooth as possible, it may be best to fine-tune your setup. While there is no definitive answer to which gear ratio is the best, many of the world’s top climbers use a 38x21 ratio on mountain stages as it allows for smoother transitions between gears. The smaller gap between each gear makes the jump between them less sudden, meaning the rider should be able to maintain a steady tempo while shifting.

Spin to win

This is a bit of maxim when it comes to tackling climbs. It’s nearly always better to be moving the pedals slightly faster than to be grinding slowly in a more ‘powerful’ feeling gear. This could seem counter-intuitive, but ‘spinning’ an easy gear rather than ‘grinding’ a big one should allow you to get to the top faster, and with more in the tank.

While the very best climbers can become experts at ignoring pain and keeping their legs moving, and even putting in attacks on killer gradients, for us average folk, maintaining a steady tempo on a long climb is all that really matters.

There are many things to take into account if you want to keep your pedals spinning, for instance fuelling and hydrating your body. A rider that’s hungry or thirsty is far more likely to suffer a collapse of form than a rider that’s managed their fuelling to perfection. In reality, climbing is all about finding a balance between a whole range of factors that can impact your performance – fitness, technique, and strength are just a few further examples.

To sit or to stand?

One of the most common quandaries climbing novices face is whether it’s better to tackle climbs in or out of the saddle. While there is plenty of science surrounding climbing these days, this issue comes down to preference in most cases as there isn’t much evidence to suggest either method is better than the other.

On long mountain climbs, it may be easier to stay seated as this allows for you to settle into a rhythm early in the effort, preventing you from erratic bursts of speed that could eventually result in you slowing down later in the ascension.

While this is true of lengthy climbs, getting out of the saddle can be an advantage on shorter, steeper pitches that require a higher level of power and less of a steady effort. Explosive riders such as Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig are experts at getting out of the saddle and laying down the hurt at the hardest moments, with some training you could be too.

Our Final Solution to Hill Climb Cycling

If you’ve already tried everything we’ve mentioned in this piece, it may be your bike that’s holding you back from climbing hills faster…

The Xelius SL 8.0 is the ideal machine for gliding up climbs with ease. Featuring a super-lightweight carbon frame and precision focussed Shimano Ultegra Di2 transmission, you’ll experience total control and pure efficiency while powering through the steepest sections of road. Check out Cecilie’s custom Xelius SL for a little bit of inspo.

Becoming a better climber is rarely something that happens overnight and will take months of hard training to master. Improvement can look very different for each rider, and while you may never be able to climb like Thibaut Pinot, we hope we’ve given you some helpful insight into how to boost your climbing prowess.

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