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When cycling, my theory on hills is: Don’t fear them.
That said, every single “newbie” cyclist I’ve ridden with (including myself when I was just getting into cycling) has gotten so nervous and psyched out as they were approaching a hill that they usually weren’t able to pedal efficiently through the hill.
That’s how someone explained it to me once. When you see a hill in the distance, prepare to pedal through it — as if the hill isn’t even there and you’re just tunneling through the hill to the other side.
How do you do that?…
I have 2 hill-climbing strategies that get me through most every type of hill on a bike:
1. Focus on your pedaling motion, find a groove.
2. Switch gears a lot when pedaling up hills.
How To Pedal Through A Hill
Before the hill is upon you, try to build up some speed slowly. Just enough to find a “groove” — a momentum where your feet are in a distinct rhythm of pedaling.
You’re comfortable, you’re moving forward in a steady motion, and the hill is in the distance.
Then, as the hill is upon you… keep pedaling steadily through it. Try to think about nothing but your pedaling motion. Your goal is to just pedal as if the road is not even sloped upward. Pedal in that “groove” that you became comfortable with right before the incline of the hill even started.
With practice, you will learn to tune out every single thing about the hill itself and instead focus on your pedaling groove. Remember, you are pedaling through the hill — just pedaling to get to the other side. The fact that the road slopes uphill is merely a minor detail.
Once you quit thinking “oh no, there’s a huge hill… it’s gonna be hard… this is gonna hurt… I don’t know if I can do it… I’m not looking forward to this” and you instead tune out every single thing except for your pedaling motion and how you are pedaling through the hill itself, then you will have conquered your fear of hills!
Sometimes (rarely) I’ve zoned out so much that I don’t even realize I’ve reached the top of the hill. Those are fun moments… (“I did it?… Already?!”)
Switching Gears On Hills
Okay, the fact of the matter is, you cannot get “through” a hill in that same pedaling rhythm (or groove) that you started the hill in unless you switch gears several times throughout the hill.
Here’s how I do it:
When you’re building up your speed prior to the hill, you will probably be in your hardest gear, or maybe second hardest. Just know that you have anywhere from 10 to 20 more gears (depending on your bike) to “click down” to easier gears throughout the course of this particular hill.
That’s a lot of gears! So you can pretty much rest assured that you won’t “run out of gears” or “hit a wall” midway through the hill unless you refuse to click down to easier gears throughout the hill.
Now… don’t click down to the easiest gears right away! Instead, make those gears work for you, and get the most from each and every one of ’em.
Just remember… each time you click down to the next easiest gear, keep your pedaling groove going — smooth and steady at all times. The moment that you change that rhythm is the moment the hill conquers you, rather than you conquering the hill. No kidding. You need to maintain your groove in order to pedal through a hill!
So, as long as you’re giving it your best effort to remain smooth and steady, the moment you notice that your pedaling is becoming less smooth and less steady, then click down to the next easiest gear. Do this all throughout the hill — with all of the gears that you have.
You May Need To Visit Granny Once In Awhile
Chances are, you won’t even need to click down to those very bottom gears (or the bottom-most: Granny Gear) on most hills. But if you need to, then go for it! The more you practice, the longer you will comfortably ride in each gear before you “feel it” and need to swtich down to easier gears.
If you do find yourself in Granny Gear, but you’re not quite to the top of the hill yet… rest assured that Granny will get you through til the end. It’s such an easy gear that it should be reserved for just these moments (almost near the top of the hill, but not quite).
Trust me, there is no shame in Granny-Gearing it to the top. You just don’t want to be Granny-Gearing it from the middle of the hill all the way to the top — or you’d become exhausted in no time. That’s why it’s so important to “click down” through the gears slowly and methodically, and make each of those gears work for you as you progress up the hill.
- On hills, you should strive to keep your pedaling motions smooth and rhythmic.
- There is no shame in using the Granny Gear — especially on a very steep or very long hill.
To put things in perspective (since I’m not a Triathlete, just a long-distance cyclist), here are some photos of me cycling.
I represent the non-competitive cyclists, runners, and swimmers of the group. I mostly write about all the ways that biking, jogging, and swimming are fun when you're not a serious athlete.