For people that are new (and maybe also quite experienced) to the world of riding a bike the word, “hill” starts to sow the seeds of nervousness. Thoughts of being out of breath, burning thighs, lungs about to burst, heart pounding out of your chest make the idea of going up a few hills not particularly attractive. But it does not have to be like this, just a few key tips will make the whole process much more manageable.
The main secret to riding up hills is pace and choice of gear.
By pace, I mean going at a speed that you can comfortably sustain for the duration of the climb up. There is a temptation to start where it may be not so steep at a comfortable speed but as the gradient increases you try to keep the same speed; this obviously needs more power (or more puff). Try to ride all of the climb so your breathing is the same, this may mean slowing up at points, if you have a heart rate monitor keeping your heart rate at a steady rate also has the same effect. Remember that when you start to really work hard on the steeper parts it will take a few seconds before your breathing catches up with how hard you are working. For that reason, always give yourself some time before increasing your speed or maybe slow a bit as you get on a steeper part.
The other secret to riding hills is the choice of gear, just like you would in a car. It amazes me when I am riding around on my tours, the amount of people who are very slowly grinding the pedals around using a lot of strength. Much better to use a lower gear to pedal more quickly but not using so much force. It’s the same as trying to drive up a steep incline in the car in 5th gear, the car will labour and then likely stall. If you wish to get technical then between 60-70 whole pedal revolutions per minute is ideal. If you do this you will also notice your muscles are not so sore at the end of the day, it’s also a great cardio workout! At the end of a long hard day, a gentle walk in the evening is a great way to stretch out tired muscles.
As I’ve said pace and choice of gear are key, however having the right size of frame and correct saddle height will not only be more comfortable but make you more efficient as well. Go to your local bike shop and ask for a bike fit – they will set the height of your saddle, angle and height of your handlebars and other tricks as well. Comfortable clothing is also a must and enough fuel and liquid for longer climbs. The mental approach to anything is important, start with a positive “I can and will do this” mantra and sure enough you will, with long climbs break it down into bite-sized manageable pieces.
Finally, nothing can be a substitute to fitness, the more you do something the better you become, and riding up hills is no different, you never know hills may become something you enjoy!