Coaching 101 – Climbing

While the weather hasn’t been perfect for our weekend rides I want to keep our ride theme going. This week I want to give you a few things to think about when you are climbing.

While riding a bike uphill doesn’t pose many challenges as the slower speed makes us less likely to fall and it is easier to corner, there are a number of elements to consider:

  • Chain rings and rear cassette/ cogs. To start with make sure you have a small enough gear to get up the hill. Chain rings refer to the two cogs attached to the cranks (some MTB and road bikes have 1 or 3) while the cassette refers to the gearing on the rear wheel. A cassette is typically made up of 9-12 cogs. The ratio between the front and the back determines the gear we are riding. The closer they are to 1:1 the easier it is to climb up a hill. In the old days we had a 53 and 39 as our two front cogs while today the trend is for more mid-compact 50/36. On the back again in the old days we had a 21 or 23 as our biggest but today they can increase to a 28, 30 and 32 rear cog. So work out what your easiest gear is (smallest on chain ring and largest cog on the back) and if it is not big enough then explore getting a bigger range on the rear cassette to start with.
  • Cadence, ideally spinning is winning, but mostly I want to see people holding an even power across a climb. The more spikes in power the more matches you burn. This means you constantly change gears to hold a gear ratio that allows you to maintain smooth pedal form and power. Ideally this will see your cadence remains within 5-10 rpm at all times. 
  • On rolling hills where you come out of a descent and go straight up it is important to change gears early so you are not caught in your big gear grinding (Tregarthen is a classic for this) when you approach the top. There is a real risk of dropping your chain as you move from the big to the small chain ring if you can’t maintain the tension. Also smooth out the power curve, use momentum to start the climb by going hard down the hill, then aim to spin up the back end, trying to avoid going over the red-line. As you rest the hill the aim is to put the bike into a harder gear and start to build the intensity over the top, so that you can continue to really press the intensity on the downslope.
  • Remember a hill doesn’t finish until you are down the other side.
  • Seated climbs are preferred for less steep and longer climbs that you are just riding however on steeper climbs or when you really want to up the power it may be necessary to get out of the saddle. You will find you can punch out a lot more watts compared to staying seated as you have your body weight also contributing to the down stroke. The things to consider are
    • Before getting out of the saddle you may have to move to a harder gear to allow for the increased power you put out otherwise you might slip backwards. If someone is on your wheel it can cause a chain reaction behind of people having to brake to avoid the wheel in front.
    • Consider how long you can sustain the position for. If it is a long day ahead climbing out of the saddle will chew through muscle glycogen stores a lot quicker than seated climbing
    • When climbing out of the saddle, remember it is the bike that moves side to side (so you can leverage off the bars) not your body! If you’re upper body is moving all over the place just focus on moving the handlebars side to side while keeping your body still.
    • Yes move the bike side to side but the knees still need to track straight ahead when we are climbing out of the saddle – lift them up over the handlebars

Happy climbing


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s