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?

See also:

Join 9,241 fellow cyclists who are subscribed to the London Cyclist newsletter

Sign up for our free newsletter to get...

  • Advice on the best cycling gear
  • A Friday roundup of all the latest London cycling news
  • Exclusive content not available on the blog

Subscribe today, and get exclusive access forever! (It's free)

*No spam, ever!

As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.

57 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. :)

Leave a Reply