April 12, 2016
When I got serious about riding long distances, I quickly understood it included climbing, lots of it. You want to go somewhere. You want to see the world on a (properly) loaded bike. You want the experience. Well, you will climb and descend. And like any new skill, it took study, coaching, practice, time, and letting go of childhood notions of just “get on and go.”
You’ll hear plenty of advice on climbing technique. Along the way, I asked experienced cyclists for advice, and studied and practiced lots of climbing techniques, but there was a missing piece: the attitude and fun.
I’ve never had a classic cyclist’s body and I’ve had beat-up, surgery-wracked knees full of hardware for most of my adult life. I used to be one who almost stopped at the idea of going up a steep gap or a long mountain pass.
But I finally learned that it doesn’t have to be intimidating:
Attitude. Fun. I learned to stop. (I pick carefully where I know I can get back on the bike and not fall over trying to get going again!) I take pictures (photos get you a few bragging rights) and I take in the scenery.
I stretch. I open my arms wide and look up at the sky, rain or shine. I take a couple bites of a bar and a swig or two of water. It’s a butt break. It’s a “stop and smell the roses” thing, and on really long pulls I may do it every mile or two to keep my legs rolling.
I focus on my rhythm, my alignment, my bike handling, and my surroundings. I relax my upper body, open my chest to breathe, and keep my pedaling nice and circular like an old steam locomotive.
I try not to focus on how long it will take, what anyone else is doing compared to me, what the grade is, or how many miles. I do a “be in the moment” biking meditation when I climb.
I also remember that climbing adds spice. Endless, straight, flat miles get boring and disconnected for me really fast. Climbing adds a level of engagement with the journey. It’s a hill. Metaphorically, there are a lot of those in life.
Climbing: It was a long road from abject terror to almost my favorite thing to do, but now I roll along on whatever road life gives me.
Yes, there is technique to the downhills too, especially if you load up your bike. Learning descending tips can help with the downhill jitters.
Comment and tell us your climbing ideas, descending hints, and other up and down experiences.
Photos by Linda Baldwin