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Who doesn’t want to climb better? It must surely be one of the most ubiquitous goals in cycling. We share six key strategies for swifter ascents – and perhaps a Strava KOM, as we get those last few training rides in for the Cape Town Cycle Tour.


When the gradient goes up it’s normal for your cadence to drop a bit, but trying to maintain a high cadence and spinning up climbs is better both for efficiency and for your knees. A good cadence on the road is 85–95rpm – on a climb you should try to maintain 60rpm or above. If you persistently find yourself straining to grind up climbs then it might be worth buying a new cassette so you can have some lower gears to go to, or even switching to a

smaller inner ring on your chainset.

Being able to spin up a climb requires you to stay on top of the pace from the outset – once you’ve lost your momentum on a climb it’s hard to get it back, which is where gear selection

and pacing comes in.


While you might think you are stuck with the gears your bike came with, you can in fact change them. All riders are created differently and it would be unrealistic to expect to climb using the same gears as a pro – although bikes are often sold that way.

If you’re planning on travelling to a really mountainous area it is even more important to consider your gearing as you may need lower gears than you use at home, unless you happen to live in a particularly hilly area. Even if you’re used to climbing, on climbs of an hour or more it is good to have an easier gear to go to when fatigue sets in. Your local bike shop will be able to come up with some solutions for you.


There are lots of reasons why you might struggle at the bottom of a climb. To avoid this, use your momentum from the preceding downhill and hit the bottom of the climb with as much

speed as possible. Often riders brake on a descent when the climb itself would naturally scrub off speed, so if you can, be brave, stay off the brakes, and hit the hill fast.

Fumbling with gears is another common reason for stalling. If you judge the gradient wrong and arrive at the climb over-geared, then struggling with a big gear and having to shift down

will rob you of speed. The trick is to stay on top of the gear you’re in and change down a fraction before it becomes too hard. Go past that point and shifting gets messy, but change too soon and you’ll rob yourself of speed.

Occasionally a hill can catch you out – look a long way down the road and keep an eye on the tree line to see if there might be an incline coming up and be ready to change gear as you go round corners.

Another reason for stalling before an incline is a fear of hills. If you change down too soon into a far too easy gear you will lose all your momentum.


If you are staying with a group up the climb but losing contact over the top this could point to a number of things. If you are right on the limit of your ability you’ll have nothing more

to give as the other riders ‘kick’ over the top. Or there may be an element of subconscious easing up as you see the top of the climb – just at the moment everyone else goes for it.

Whenever you are out riding on your own, make sure you practise riding hard over the top – not easing up as soon as the summit comes into sight. As you reach the peak be ready to change up into a harder gear to accelerate. A good training session would be to find a hill and challenge yourself to increase your effort level as you climb so that you sprint hard

over the summit, only easing off on the descent. Repeat this six to eight times with a recovery break in between.


This is a frequently debated question to which there is no definitive answer. The latest research showed that ‘natural’ climbers performed as well in or out of the saddle, however, for the rest of us who aren’t gifted in this area, remaining seated can help to save energy.

If you are heavy then you need to lift your body out of the saddle and support it, which has energy costs. Getting out of the saddle raises your heart rate as you have to engage more of your upper body and core muscles; staying seated and spinning a gear is more efficient.

Working on your chest, shoulder and core muscles off the bike will help your out-of-the-saddle climbing, so don’t neglect this. Sticking to low weights and high repetitions won’t

build unwanted muscle bulk but will build endurance.

When climbing, focus on staying in the saddle and smoothly spinning your legs as much as possible; getting out the saddle for short bursts can help alleviate muscle aches or help get you through steep sections.


Keeping a good supply of oxygen to your working muscles is critical. While you can work anaerobically (without oxygen) for short bursts of high effort, it can’t be sustained for long periods. If you start panting or breathing fast and shallow you are getting less air into your lungs and it can lead to feelings of panic.

Although your breathing is autonomic – it happens without you having to control it – it can also be brought under your conscious control, though this does require some focus.

Think about your breathing as you climb, taking deep breaths in then blowing out the used air quickly. Some people find repeating a mantra in their head or timing their breathing with

their pedal strokes helps.

If your breathing starts to get ragged bring it back under control. If you are still struggling to control your breathing it may be worth trying a few yoga classes – not only will this help with improving your flexibility, but yoga also puts a lot of emphasis on managing your breathe.


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