Reaching the Summit

September 11, 2010

When I read about tips for climbing better on a bike, rest assured there is almost always some mention of power to weight ratios. This is great if you are trying to beat your friends to the top, but when your bike is loaded with 40 pounds of touring gear, thinking about your power to weight ratio is just depressing, so let's not focus on that.

For a lot of riders, just looking at a mountain pass on a map is enough for them to start thinking of alternate routes. Climbing isn't easy, I'll never say that it is, but there are some things you can do to help make the ascent a little more bearable.

1. The first stage in a climb is the approach, and this can make or break your excursion to the top. It is really easy to look at a climb as you approach it and immediately start to fill your head with negative thoughts. Don't let the climb beat you before it even starts, have a good attitude about it, and know that it will eventually end.

2. Try and maintain a relatively high cadence. You don't want your legs to be spinning madly about, but you don't want to find yourself grinding the pedals in too large of a gear either, which can be hard on your knees. Find a comfortable cadence that keeps your legs moving smoothly, and shift down when needed to keep the cadence up. For those of you that have a pedal cadence function on your cycle computer, shoot for somewhere between 70 and 80 rpm.

3. Pedal efficiency is huge when climbing. What I mean by pedal efficiency is that you are pedaling through the entire circular pedal stroke. To get an idea of what this feels like, try pedaling your bike with one leg. You may notice that your cadence slows and speeds up drastically in different pedal positions. The smoother you pedal throughout the entire stroke, the faster you will climb with less effort.

4. If possible, don't stop pedaling when the grade points up. You can lose a great deal of momentum very quickly on a climb, and it is very hard to get back once you've lost it. That being said, there is no shame in taking a break and stopping on your way up. Take some photos, drink some water, and enjoy the day.

5. Standing or sitting? I prefer to stay seated when climbing, but I have ridden with people who prefer to stand, and others who are constantly going back and forth between sitting and standing. I don't think one way is better than the other, so long as it works for you.

6. High fives are always in order when reaching the top of the pass... and hopefully a great descent.

Photo by Josh Tack.


TOURING GEAR AND TIPS is written by Joshua Tack of Adventure Cycling's member services department. It appears weekly, highlighting technical aspects of bicycle touring and advice to help better prepare you for the journey ahead.


Joseph January 1, 2011, 6:32 PM

Thanks for the tips. If I keep my BMI low I always climb better and have a better attitude about the passes.

Anonymous September 11, 2010, 4:52 PM

For point number five, I''ve heard that standing up is less efficient. Although you can get more power out of your pedal stroke from standing up, it takes more energy. So for those long hills, standing up will actually make you feel more tired at the end.

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