Hills are awesome. No, seriously, they are. They are bite-size challenges that provide instant feedback on how fit you are now and are a good measure of how far you have progressed.
Let’s face it, not many of us have the time to put in 200km+ rides week-in, week-out, so it’s difficult to judge your progress against such an undertaking. However, a climb is largely self-contained, usually short and has variables that are easy to control –wind isn’t really an issue at slow speeds, so it’s just you, your bike, a hill and the Earth’s gravitational pull.
No matter what level you are at, a big hill is never going to be easy, but some are obviously harder than others. Fortunately, there are a few things we can do to make life a little easier.
Stay in your seat
Climbing a hill is a stiff test for your legs, but there is a limit to how much air you can take in and only so much glycogen to go around. By standing up, you start to employ your arms & torso as you swing your bike around under you, wasting precious energy and filling the wrong muscles with lactic acid. If you stay in your seat, your legs will be doing all of the work. Your leg muscles are bigger, they can take it.
Sit up straight
If you are on a road bike, hold the “tops” and sit up as straight as you can. If you are on a bike with a flat bar you’ll already be in this position. There’s no benefit to being in an aerodynamic position when you are likely to be travelling below 10mph and by sitting up with your shoulders back you can concentrate on the important business of breathing.
Don’t look up
Staring at the end of the climb, if you can see it, can be demoralising. Instead, focus on a point just ahead of you. Alternatively, if there are landmarks such as parked cars or signposts at strategic points, focus on those instead. By breaking the climb up into chunks, or just ignoring or distracting yourself from the scale of the challenge ahead it may help to keep spirits up.
Don’t neglect your core strength
Whilst cycling is a fantastic form of exercise, it’s pretty limited in the muscles that it targets. Unfortunately, whilst you will have strong legs after a few years of cycling, if they are attached to a weak core you won’t reap the benefits. Take some time off the bike to develop your core. Planking (both front & side), squats & push ups will help to ensure that you are not wasting energy compensating for a weakness elsewhere. It’ll also improve your posture and allow you to ride for longer without getting a sore back.
Keep challenging yourself
Despite being mostly flat, we are surrounded by hills. We even have a few nice climbs in the centre of Cardiff, starting in Penylan and Roath Park heading up to Cyncoed. However, head further out and you’ll find some epic climbs in Rhiwbina leading onto Caerphilly Mountain and from Llantrisant Road into Pentyrch and onto the Garth. We have a hilly route covering both of those that you might like called Twin Peaks.
Find your groove
Finally, if you are riding in a group, don’t fall into the trap of trying to keep up with them. They may well be faster than you, but that’s ok. Just find your own pace and tune everyone else out as best you can. There’s no shame in falling behind…losing your lunch at the side of the road, however…
Of course, the best thing about climbing is that you are often rewarded by an excellent view from the top. A view, a feeling of accomplishment and of course, the inevitable descent –what more do you need?!
Just show me the hills already…
Well, since you asked. My friend Dave and I undertook a couple of really hilly Audax rides a few years ago. There was the Trefil Travail and the Cambrian 1K. However, they’re a heck of a day out for those who want a real test. You may want to try some of these local climbs first.
Of course, if you’d like to read about climbs instead, there’s some excellent pocket-sized Epic Climbs books by Simon Warren that you might find interesting.