Road riding - part 3



No matter where you ride in the UK you will struggle to avoid hills altogether and whilst you might not enjoy climbing, for the casual cyclist, hills do earn cake quicker than flat rides and for the racing cyclist, well it can be where the race is won.


So, what you can do to make life easier for yourself?  Here are some things to think about before you get to where the road becomes gravitationally challenging.





Gears.  You will need to be in the right gear, try not to shift down too soon, as you will lose valuable momentum. Changing down too many gears at once, or too soon, can put you in a situation where you are suddenly spinning very fast and moving forwards at a slow speed. Of course, changing too late is not good either, as you will use a huge amount of energy grinding a big gear for any distance.


Your gear changes should allow you to maintain a fairly constant cadence that is comfortable for you. But what is the right cadence?  Well for climbing, around 60 RPM is a good guide, but there is no denying personal style or preference impacts this, so see what works best for you.


Standing and sitting.  Should you climb sitting in the saddle (think Ullrich) or standing on the pedals (think Armstrong)? If the hill is long, and assuming you are not a pro-rider, you will be unlikely to climb all of it out of the saddle, but if the hill is short, you might prefer to get out of the saddle and power over the top.


If it's a very long climb, you'll probably find that a mix of sitting and standing is best, as this will allow you to use different muscle groups and will ease the tension in your back, both of which will help you survive the climb. Try alternating the two every 20 or 50 pedal strokes, or when the gradient varies. In general terms, climbing in the saddle requires less energy but may be slower, especially as the slope gets steeper.






Tips for climbing in the saddle. Ride with your hands on the tops of the bars or on the brake hoods, the drops are an unlikely place for you to feel comfortable when you are climbing in the saddle. 


Concentrate on keeping your hands, arms and upper body nice and still, don't waver from side to side, save all your energy for your legs!  Your head should be up, so that you can look where you are going, and keep your chest open to give yourself the best opportunity to breathe deeply and efficiently.


Sliding back on your saddle will help you generate more force when pushing the pedals round, particularly as you come over the top of the pedal stroke.  Alternately, sliding forwards on your saddle will make it easier on the down stroke.


Experimenting with where you sit on the saddle and thinking about which leg muscles you are using in each position, will make you more aware of how your body works on the bike and give you the opportunity to think about using and resting specific muscle groups when you are struggling on a hard ride.


Climbing techniques out of the saddle. There is no escaping the need to get out of the saddle on some climbs, either the gradient will be so steep or the climb so long that you will be forced to do something different. For the racing cyclist, keeping the pressure on over the top of a climb can cause riders at the back of a group to drop off and for time trialists, pushing over the top of a hill will save vital seconds over the course.


It's a good idea to practice getting out of the saddle efficiently, beginners will naturally lose momentum as they rise out of the saddle, particularly for the first two pedal strokes.  This will appear like you've breaked to riders on your wheel and the loss of momentum will cause the group alarm. If you are aware of this you can give an extra push during standing to avoid affecting the group and also to keep your hard earned speed up.


Think about where your pedals are before you stand up and then get out of the saddle as you push down on your strongest foot.  You should be able to get out of the saddle on the down stroke of either foot, but this is a good tip to start with.


Typically you will find that you are comfortable pushing a slightly harder gear when you are out of the saddle, as you will have your entire body weight to assist with the down stroke, so think about changing up just before you stand up. And given that the down-stroke is now ‘gravity assisted’, if you are clipped onto your pedals, you should pay a more attention to the up stroke, as this will make the greatest difference to your speed now.


The position of your upper body will be determined by the gradient of the climb and the power you are putting down through the pedals. Out of the saddle, your weight is either on the pedals or bars, and to be most efficient you should ensure as much of your body weight is over the pedals.  So resist the temptation to lean too far forwards, as this will put more of your body weight on the bars and less on the pedals.


As with climbing in the saddle, keep your upper body, arms and hands quiet and still as much as possible, and think about keeping your chest open to assist your breathing. Whilst climbing out of the saddle will require a higher cadence than when seated, for both you need to find a cadence that allows you to pedal smoothly without bouncing.







They say what goes up must come down, and sometimes the downhills are all the sweeter for the price paid in reaching the top! However two things can go wrong if your descending technique is poor; either you get dropped by the group or even worse, you crash!  In competition, the loss of time could be critical, whilst in training there is always respect for a good descender and a bad crash can takes weeks to recover from.


Gears. Select a bigger gear as soon as you can and continue to shift up as you build up speed on the descent, so that when it flattens out and you need to pedal again you have something to push against. Being in too easy a gear can unbalance you, so get your gears sorted at the top.


Hands and upper body. On fast descents and especially those with corners to negotiate, you may find that you are more balanced and better able to use the brakes if you are on the drops. You'll be able to get a better grip of the bars and in a good position for braking if needed, plus your centre of gravity will be nice and low for a stable ride.


Keep your head up, look where you are going and if you can't see around the next corner, adjust your speed accordingly, it can take longer than you think to stop in the post climb exhilaration of speed!


Braking. Just like driving a car, you should brake in advance of a corner, so that you have moderated your speed before you start the turn.  You can of course continue to brake through out the corner, but if you have not got it about right before you go into the turn, things can get badly out of shape.


On really steep and tight corners you need to make sure your weight is well distributed across both wheels, and also remember to keep your outside leg extended, with the pedal at its lowest position. This is to weight the outside of the bike and keep good traction and grip on the road, and crucially your inside pedal will not touch down.


If you know you need to brake hard, be aware that your momentum will naturally push your body weight forward, so keep your arms strong and your weight back over the saddle.


Your Line. Think about taking corners so that you trace the widest arc possible and cut the corner at the apex.  It is what is known as the racing line and will give the widest, smoothest course.  You should never risk crossing into the lane of on-coming traffic. On an Alpine switchback, especially on the inside line, think about moving your weight back from the saddle and extend your arms out to help the bike round the corner, don't unweight the front wheel too much though. Your braking should have scrubbed off pretty much all of your speed before the corner but you'll still need to brake to avoid the bike running away down the steepest section of the switchback. You can let the bike drift wider out of the corner if it's safe to do so and allow the bike to pick up


Happy climbing and even happier descending! 


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