What is your uphill cycling strategy?

chalk farm heading wrong way uphill It happened to me a couple of days ago. I was on my way back from Camden on my bike and I took a wrong turn at Chalk Farm heading up to Haverstock Hill. It wasn’t the worst hill in the world but I was definitely not expecting it. This got me thinking about my uphill cycling strategy and I wanted to share it and see what you guys do. Hitting a hill is rare in most parts of London but it’s useful to know a few tricks for making it easier when you do come across one.

Know your enemy

When I took the wrong turn I had no idea how big the hill was. My initial thinking was:

Andreas to brain: Oh no! A hill, I swear this isn’t the right way, what shall I do?

Brain: Pedal hard and it will soon be over and you can get home and put your feet up and watch TV

Andreas to brain: Thanks brain!

This was an error because the hill went on for a while so putting in hard pedalling at the start meant that I would be out of juice by the time I reached the top. It definitely helps when you know how long the hill goes on for so you can pace yourself.

Steady your approach

If you are going flat out before you get to a big hill then you’re going to struggle unless you are some kind of cycling superhero. It’s best to pace yourself so you are conserving energy for the challenging hill. Note: This doesn’t mean stop, have a cup of coffee at Starbucks and then tackle the hill. That would be pacing yourself way too slow!

Seating 90% standing 10%

When cycling uphill I tend to stand only when I need that bit of an extra boost. The cycling experts will tell you that standing on a bike uses more energy as you are carrying your body weight.

Use gears to your advantage

When I feel the resistance building I know it’s time to switch down a gear. I always switch down gears incrementally, not 5 at a time! I also try to time my gear changes so that I’m not doing them when I’ve pretty much grounded to a halt because we all know how tough that can be.

Head down and pray

Well, it isn’t quite that bad! During the uphill climb consistency is king. I try to keep my pace steady and not too slow or too fast. It’s tough to know what the perfect pace is and what gear you should be in. This is something you only get good at with practise (I rarely practise so it is definitely something I would like to be better at).


I also try not to tense my upper body too much as this wastes energy. This includes keeping a fairly loose grip on the handlebars.

I think that sums up my strategy, the main thing I need to do is to practise more uphill cycling to get better at it. What do you guys tend to do? Get your head down and power it or avoid hills like the plague?

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61 Responses to What is your uphill cycling strategy?

  1. Pete 23/08/2013 at 4:57 pm #

    Good to hear people’s thoughts on this. I used to go hell-for-leather and do the standing up (yes, from the tele) and lo and behold was exhausted by the top. Now I’m staying in the saddle until I absolutely can’t and also using the gears more efficiently. Good times.

  2. Anna 15/01/2014 at 4:23 am #

    Best cycling tip I ever got: you should not need to change down a gear while going up a slope – the change of gears can be pretty painful for your bike, and you’ll be over-exerting yourself too early. Instead, anticipate – shift down as soon as you hit the start of the slope, to be in the gear that you think you will be able to maintain all the way to the top.

    Of course – that doesn’t mean you should switch down to something so light that you can’t get any power out of. But you get the idea. Go light, your thighs will thank you. 🙂

  3. Hoover 12/06/2014 at 8:24 pm #

    What you need to do first is to make sure your seat is set correctly for you – it should be almost stright for you leg/knee when you pedal – 1cm too low seat (which is VERY common) would make for about 10% power-loss – and your legs get tired very quickly. Try put your seatpost little lower on the front and raise up back – makes you feel ” leveled” when you pedal uphil and seat conftably rather than sliding off to the back – put seat as high you can until you can reach pedals and than lower after each 10min of drive a little until you find it easy and perfect .. practice is another point. I did myself 24/34 gear ratio for 10% uphill year ago ..today it’s 36/30 for very the same hill – and much easier than a year ago (no , I did not lose any weight – bing 190lb I am pretty heavy but no issues climbing up to 30% hills (until front wheel goes off and no power in my legs).

    I did road cycling 20 years ago – and nobody told me my seat is too low .. which it was ever since until last year

  4. oneten 12/06/2014 at 10:49 pm #

    Hoover – I’m going to check the saddle height as you suggest. I’ve suspected it might be a bit low for a while now and just lived with it and lately, after a touring holiday, my leg muscle and stamina has increased but but this week I’ve noticed that my right leg has become a bit painful before I get warmed up. I now realize that I might be putting a bit too much strain on it on the hills on my commute so I’m going to raise the saddle and do a bit of trial and error until it feels right.

    The other thing – instead of ‘hunkering down’ when climbing, I now sit as upright as possible and do deep diaphragm breathing to maximise the oxy levels, which is harder to do when crouched over. This also seems to work well.

  5. hoover 21/06/2014 at 7:30 pm #

    I hope it worked well for you oneten.

    one other thing is tgink about putting pedal cages – old fasion however very good for ity iking way to keep your feet on pedals and release tension on lefs to track your pedal/cfaincrank moces – plus it gers you 20% at least in pedaling uphill as you can not only push but also pull.

    of course SPD type of shoes and clips would do wven better ..

    good luck ( i use both on different bikes snd like it same way)

    • hoover 21/06/2014 at 7:42 pm #

      sent from iphone 🙁

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