Hills! They often get a bad rap in cycling. But, whether you love them or hate them, they’re a necessary evil on the road.
Not only do they help improve your speed and endurance, but they also help generate more power while cycling. So if you want to get better at climbing, you need to learn how to tackle them correctly.
That’s why we put together this list of nine climbing mistakes to avoid when cycling, so you can make the most of every pedal stroke on the way up.
9 Climbing Mistakes to Avoid
1.) Starting too fast
The first, and most common mistake people make when cycling uphill is going all out at the beginning of the climb. You start off with your legs feeling good and your adrenaline flowing, but before you know it, you’re breathing hard and your heart rate is through the roof.
You might make it a quarter or halfway up the hill before having to ease off the gas due to fatigue. By starting out too fast, you’ve essentially shot yourself in the foot and made the rest of the climb that much harder.
Instead, work on finding a sustainable pace that you can maintain for the entirety of the climb. It might not be as fast as you’d like to go at first, but trust us, you’ll make it to the top without having to take a breather and your legs will thank you for it later.
2.) Using too low a gear
The next mistake to avoid while climbing is choosing a gear that's too low. When you do this, you end up spinning your legs too fast and not getting the power output that you need to make it up the hill.
Instead, try to find a balance between cadence and resistance. You want to be able to maintain a steady pedal stroke without overworking your legs.
3.) Using too high a gear
Just like it's important to make sure your gear isn't too low, another mistake would be to choose a gear that's too high. This will make pedaling much harder than it needs to be and put unnecessary stress on your knees.
If you find yourself having to stand up out of the saddle to pedal, then your gear is probably too high. Instead, try shifting into a lower gear so you can maintain a consistent cadence.
4.) Shifting at the wrong time
The next mistake you want to avoid while cycling is shifting gears at the wrong time. This is a mistake that’s often made by beginner cyclists who are still getting used to the feel of their bike.
If you attempt to shift gears when you're already pedaling uphill, it can stress your chain and wear out your bike.
As a general rule of thumb, you want to shift gears before you start to feel resistance. If you wait until you feel like you’re pedaling through molasses, then it’s already too late.
5.) Not controlling your breathing
A very common mistake cyclists make when cycling uphill is not controlling their breathing. When you’re climbing, your breathing should be deep and steady.
Taking nice steady breaths while cycling ensures that you’re getting the oxygen your muscles need to keep pedaling. When your breathing gets out of control, you’re going to get fatigued faster and it will make the climb that much harder.
If you start to pant and feel like you can’t catch your breath, then it’s a sign that you’re going too hard and need to back off the pace.
6.) Climbing on the tops
Another common mistake you often see with beginner cyclists is climbing out of the saddle on the tops. This refers to holding onto the top of your handlebars while pedaling.
This may seem like a natural position to be in, but it’s actually putting you at a disadvantage. When you climb out of the saddle on the tops, you have less stability and control over the bike and you’re not getting full power output from your legs.
Instead, be sure to position your hands in the drops when climbing. This will give you more power and control while cycling, making it easier to make it to the top.
7.) Not staying properly fueled
Another important mistake to avoid when climbing hills is not being properly fueled. Cycling is a physically demanding sport and hills are even more so.
Without proper nutrition, your body won’t have the energy it needs to make it to the top. Be sure to eat a balanced meal with complex carbs and protein before heading out on your ride.
And, if you’re going to be riding for more than an hour or two, you should also bring along some snacks and drinks to keep your energy levels up.
Just be sure not to eat any of your snacks while climbing a tough hill.
8.) Standing up
Something else to avoid when cycling uphill is standing too long in the saddle. It might seem like it's helping or giving you that extra push, but if done too long it can do more harm than good.
Standing up in the saddle requires more energy and effort as you ride. It puts more load on your legs and kicks your heart rate up.
It might generate more power, but it comes at a cost. If done too early or for too long, it can wear you out before you even reach the top.
If you choose to stand up while cycling uphill, make sure to use it sparingly and don't overdo it on the long hills.
9.) Getting mentally overwhelmed
A rarely mentioned but important climbing mistake to avoid when cycling is getting mentally overwhelmed. It's easy to let big hills intimidate or psych you out before you even start climbing.
Add that into the physical effort (and sometimes pain!) of the actual climb and it can go from challenging to miserable pretty quick.
The key to climbing hills is to take them one pedal stroke at a time and not think about how long or hard the hill is. If you can focus on just pedaling and keeping your breathing steady, then the hill will eventually end and you'll be glad you made it to the top!
Climbing hills on a bike doesn't have to be intimidating or difficult. By avoiding these common mistakes, you’ll make cycling uphill a lot easier and more enjoyable.
Just remember to start slow, keep your breathing steady, and focus on pedaling one stroke at a time. With a little practice, you'll be climbing like a pro in no time!