Simple tips for road biking uphill to help you get to the top climbs with more confidence.

5 Simple Tips for Biking Uphill for the Climbing Challenged

Road biking has been a lifelong love of mine. I grew up in the Western Mountains of Maine in a house on a hill above the center of town. Once I left the house on a bicycle, there was no way to get back without climbing. From the time I learned to ride a bike — a rattling old single speed with a flower-print banana seat — I had to learn to pedal uphill to get anywhere.

Graduating to a 3-speed — still, with a banana seat, this time silver — and then to a 1974 Schwinn Varsity 10-Speed, the distances I traveled on my bikes grew longer, and the hills I encountered more numerous and more extensive. Being competitive by nature, I did the best I could to never get off the bike and walk up those hills. I gradually realized that it was easier to ride a 40-pound Schwinn up a mountain than to push it. My journeys to the top were not always graceful, but I often got there without walking the bike.

When I moved to the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, I discovered a whole new realm of big hills, climbs that were not just a mile long but six or seven miles or even longer. What was surprising was that the tricks for dealing with climbs I had learned in my childhood still applied to the big mountains I was now riding.

5 Simple Tips for Climbing Hills on a Road Bike

I am not a bike racer or even a ‘hammer-head amateur. I am simply a person who likes to ride a road bike and who happens to live in the mountains. The tips I offer will not necessarily get you to the top of a hill first, but they will help you get there with more confidence.

1) Keep Pedaling: I know it sounds silly to call that a tip, but the fact is that if you are on your bike, the bike is pointed uphill, and you are still pedaling, you are moving uphill. You might be only moving a fraction of a mile an hour, but you are still on your bike and climbing. Don’t worry about the snails passing you in a blur; if the wheels are moving, no matter how slowly, you are climbing that hill.

2) Make Friends with Your Granny: The lowest gear on your bike is called the ‘Granny Gear.’ The lower the pack, the easier it is to pedal in that gear. Many people let their ego get involved and ‘push’ the most extensive equipment they can up a hill, stressing both knees and lungs. Yes, this can help build strength over time, but what is the point in working so hard that you can’t complete the climb or you hurt yourself? For the average person out for a fun ride, shifting way down, making things more manageable, and enjoying the day is much more important than pushing the ultimate physical limit. I ride a ‘triple,’ which means my bike has three front chainrings and offers a lovely selection of small gears that I make happy use in the mountains.

3) Set Yourself Mini-Goals: Look an eagle! Okay, so maybe that’s not what is perched in the tree 10 feet up the road, but if you can pedal until you are alongside that tree… Pick mini-goals — that tree, that mailbox, that fencepost, that clump of flowers — all the way up the climb. Pedal to your goal, then pick another. It does not require to be 100 yards ahead, only 10 feet. But when you make it, that’s 10 feet more you have climbed. Give yourself a series of mini-victories, and you’ll win your way to the top of the hill.

4) Look Where You Are Going: Again, this sounds like an obvious statement, but looking where you are going means more than staring at the road six inches ahead of the front tire. Look up at those mini-goals you have just created. A head-down position can make you feel defeated. Bringing your head and eyes up is not only a sign of determination and confidence; it also keeps your shoulders and chest open and makes breathing easier. Plus you can enjoy the view. The scenery can get interesting as you ride higher and higher. You have time to look around when you are climbing; enjoy it!

5) Don’t Weave: Aaaaahh! I know, that’s the most rigid tip to hear. When I was a child, I practiced tacking my bicycle back and forth across the road, trying to ease the angle of the climb. I did not realize I was doing three counter-productive things. First, I was all but doubling the actual time and distance of the rise. Second, I constantly threw myself off balance as I swapped direction, tiring myself even more as I corrected this problem. Third, I became a severe road hazard by taking up more roads than I needed and blocking traffic. So, keep the bike pointed uphill and don’t swerve back and forth in front of cars. Cars are big and dangerous, and drivers get even more nervous than usual at the sight of a cyclist weaving about in the lane.

Some of these tips may feel overly simple, but they work. Just thinking about the journey up a hill in a new way and not feeling forced or rushed can make a lot of difference. Enjoy the ride — all of it! Happy pedaling, and I’ll see you on the climbs.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here