To newcomers and even more experienced mountain bikers,
hills can be the most daunting aspect of any ride. Sometimes it
even seems easier to go round them or turn round and head in the
other direction. These mini-mountains loom up ahead of you and can
instill the kind of dread and trepidation that make you want to
head for anywhere but the hills
Don't be fooled- they want you to be scared of them,
but with the right technique you can tame any incline. As far as
MiTB is concerned fitness is a small part of the tools you need
to make that climb. True, if you're wheezing after ten feet or if
the climb is steep for a very long way then you've got some work
to do, but anyone with a fair-to-middling level of fitness can take
on the steepest of hills with the right approach.
Positive Mental Attitude is a very overused
term that gets used for everything from running a marathon to buying
washing powder, but in mountain biking, particularly uphill, it
is crucial. Remember the fear we spoke of earlier, the intimidation
that hill puts into you? Don't let it! It's in your way, damnit,
and you don't want to let anything get in your way! Show it who's
boss, know that you can get over it and you will.
Pick your gear That was all a bit Oprah! let's
get back to the riding. The gear you choose is crucial- too low
and you'll spin like crazy and lose balance, too high and you won't
be able to turn the pedals. What you need is a gear that allows
you pedal with a steady rhythm. It takes effort to ride uphill,
but with the right gear and a steady rhythm sooner or later you'll
With a reasonably light bike and ok fitness you can
do most hills in the middle ring with the third or fourth sprockets,
but the key is trial and error. Start with middle and third as a
basis and see how it feels. Go up a cog if your legs are stuggling
or drop some if they're going like the clappers (just remember gears
don't like being changed under load, such as when you're riding
uphill. Smooth downshifts on the sprockets should be ok but be very
wary of shifting chainrings)
If your bike's on the heavy side or you don't have the fitness of
an olympic athlete then feel free to use the granny ring- whatever
gets you over that hill.
Rhythm is the key to making the climb. If you
keep pedalling, you keep moving forward, and as long as you do that
you will get over the hill, like you would any other stretch of
ground (only slower)! A steady 'not too slow, not too manic' pace
lets you keep your balance too- losing your balance is what most
often makes you mess up a climb.
Stand your ground There's an instinct when
climbing that makes you want to stand up. It provides a more powerful
kick but it can be counter-productive. When you're sat on the saddle,
the weight is on the back wheel, and that's where you need the traction
to be (obviously it's the wheel driven by the chain). Standing up
takes weight off the back and reduces traction, so try and stay
seated as long as you can.
There are exceptions to this rule, though. If you're
riding a particularly rocky incline, going over a sharp bump can
send your front wheel up, and if the hill's steep this can start
the sensation of looping out. It's pretty hard to loop out going
uphill but the feeling will unsettle and unbalance you and bring
the climb crashing to a halt. Use weight distribution intelligently
uphill as you would anywhere else- if the front wheel's coming up
move your weight forward, and move it back again as soon as the
hill get's smoother.
Another time to stand is on really long climbs. Whether
it's just psycholgical I don't know, but changing your position
(try this with your hands too if you're using bar ends) can really
help you last the distance.
Running up It's pretty hard to be surprised
by a hill (they're big and stick up a lot!) so when you know you're
heading for one be sure to use your momentum to get up the start
of it. I'd love to stop there but of course it's not that simple!
You need to make the shift to a gear suitable for climbing while
you're still moving at a decent speed, not while you climb. To start
with get all the speed you can on the run up to the hill, and when
you hit the slope, stop pedalling. As you freewheel, get into the
gear that suits you for climbing, whilst letting momentum carry
you as far up the slope as possible.
As you practice, try leaving the point where you stop
pedalling later and later, until you can use a combination of pedalling
and momentum to get as far up the hill as you can before the speed
runs out and you smoothly shift down for the hard bit. Timing is
everything, so give it some practice and if you don't get it at
first, don't worry- you will.
Smoothly Does it As with a lot of good mountain
bike riding, keeping your movements smooth and fluid really helps
you make it up a hill. Sudden, jerky movements get amplified by
the terrain and the gradient and something as simple as turning
the bars sharlply to go round a rock can cause a catastrophic loss
of balance leading to a*se-plant! Remember you're going slowly.
Think of trials riders- they plan everything five moves ahead and
are ready to compensate for every eventuality. True, being at the
top of 12-foot drop-off does wonders for your focus, but the best
riders are just the same on the ground- never making unnecessary
movements and employing just the right amount of body language to
pull off the move.
Riding uphill you have to be the same, (but no 'back hop to 360degree
drop off' please, unless you send us the pictures!) because you're
riding a very fine line between reaching your goal and falling over,
just like Martyn Ashton and his mates
So there you have it. Or rather you probably don't,
because climbing like a mountain goat doesn't always come easily
and you need to get out there and practice. Just remember what we
Find the right gear for you, use your
run up but remember to change down in time
Be smooth and keep sudden movements to a minimum, get a steady
rhythm and stick to it
Stay in the saddle for traction but be ready to move to maintain
STAY POSITIVE- YOU CAN CLIMB ANYTHING!