Whether training, racing, commuting, riding a sportive or going on a cycling holiday, much of what we do in cycling involves a hill or two. From the shorter, sharper (and sometimes cobbled) hills that you will find in Belgium to the long mountain passes and everything in between, in one form or another climbing is a big part of cycling. I am fortunate enough to have ridden some of the most famous climbs in the world from the Koppenberg in Belgium, the Tourmalet in France and the Stelvio in Italy to Mount Lemmon in the USA – to name but a few – and with the opportunities available to you now with Viva Velo, it’s something that you can also do.
Whether you relish the hills or detest them there are always ways to improve this area of your cycling, which is the aim of this months blog piece. Gearing is unquestionably important, right from having appropriate gearing on your bike to start with, to the gear you start the climb on and the gearing you use on the climb. Finding the optimum cadence for you is important, as is an optimum intensity. Though going “full gas” to get over the shorter sharper climbs may be appropriate, going into “the red” too early on the longer mountain passes may indeed make the rest of the climb slightly less pleasurable. Therefore also knowing a little about the climb in terms of length and gradient and gaging your effort and gearing accordingly is important. There is always debate whether in the saddle or out the saddle is best, but in my opinion it’s a personal thing. Look at some of the worlds best climbers and you’ll see a mixture of styles, yet all effectively propelling the rider up the climb, find what works best for you!
Something that also becomes a factor to some when climbing is the heat, especially on the longer climbs. This of course can be intensified depending on time of year and exactly where in the world you are climbing. The effort of climbing coupled by the naturally slower speeds and therefore less of a cooling effect from the air can see people heating up on the climbs pretty quickly. Staying hydrated is important, of course, as is using water as a cooling effect on the body. Unzipping your jersey provides a useful way to reduce your core temperature and help you feel a little cooler, as can removing sunglasses on the way up.
The good thing with climbing as all aspects of our cycling, is it is highly trainable. Like anything, practice makes perfect (or almost) and though it sounds obvious if you want to improve your climbing ability, then spending time on the hills will help. I know from my experience if I do this my climbing ability improves greatly. Of course if we go and spend 2 weeks in the mountains you will see a marked difference, but just riding any hill(s) more and more whether out training or competing or commuting will always help i.e. don’t avoid them! Like anything the more we do it the better we get and this certainly applies to climbing where factors like muscle memory come into play. The fitter and stronger we are will always help, so spend time climbing and it will naturally become more pleasurable through a training cycle or as we accumulate more and more hours on the bike. Likewise a core stability program will ensure a stable base, generating power and using this power in the most efficient way on the climb.
As someone that comes from Essex improvising when it comes to the home trainer can also see you improve your climbing. Rise the front end of your bike up, for example by putting some books/bricks/wooden blocks under the front wheel to simulate climbing. Position and the way power is put out can change when climbing so spend more time in this position putting out the power in this way and again muscle memory will see your climbing improve. As it goes for any aspect of cycling, looking at your bike position and fitting it appropriately can help greatly. Yet again it’s often a personal thing but even little tweaks to your position can certainly make a difference when it comes to your climbing performance.
Finally when it comes to climbing a lot of people will naturally become focused on the weight of the bike and its parts. Basic laws of physics dictate that this obviously effects how fast you go up hill, so there are always equipment choices to be made. However at the same time the fitter we become then weight savings can also be made through us as individuals, rather than having to own the very lightest bike out there. As with everything it’s finding a little bit of balance, but ultimately the fitter you are and the more time you spend on the hills trying to improve your climbing, then the more your climbing performance will improve.
Viva Velo run hill-climbing sessions with their charity partners Beating Bowel Cancer in the build up to the Ride London event. They also run regular monthly Club Viva Velo rides. Why not join them and learn from experienced ride leaders how to improve your climbing – as well as group riding skills? Check the Club page on the Viva Velo website for details.
Any questions whatsoever, please feel free to get in contact. Until next time, happy climbing! – Dan