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What’s the best approach to climbing a long, steep hill?

Ask a Pro — Diane Stibbard
– Coach, Personal Trainer, and Two-Time Canadian Duathlete of the Year

Diane Stibbard - two-time dualthlete of the yearHill climbs require many cycling skills, including gearing and riding position. When approaching a hill, you want to carry as much momentum as you can into the bottom of the hill. As you begin the climb and start to see your cadence falling more than 5 to 8 rpm’s, move into an easier gear at the back. As you climb, continue to move slowly into easier gears at the back, until you are approximately in the middle cog. At this point, switch to the small chain ring at the front.

As the hill gets steeper and your cadence continues to drop, move into a smaller gear at the back until you get into the smallest gear possible. Depending on how you feel, and how long or steep the hill is, you may want to change your position on the bike by getting in and out of the saddle to help you ascend the hill. That will keep your legs fresh and reduce leg burn.

When climbing in the saddle, shift your weight to the back of the seat, move your hands away from the hoods of the handlebars, and place them on top of the handlebars. Your pedal stroke while you are seated mimics scraping mud off your shoe. You push down with the heel and pull up with the foot. This action will help generate the power you need to propel you up and over the hill. When standing during the climb, shift your weight a little more over the handlebars, and gently rock your body side to side as you work on pushing down and pulling up on the pedals.

At the top of the hill, sit down, keep the bike in the small chain ring at the front and an easy gear at the back, then spin at a higher cadence for a short time to flush the lactic acid (the burning feeling you get from climbing the hill) out of your legs. As you gain speed, shift back into harder gears to continue your ride. Practise this method while climbing all hills and by the end of the season you won’t fear hills but will look forward to conquering them with strength and confidence.

If you have a question you’d like Diane to answer please email it to [email protected] Diane Stibbard Ask a Pro

As a world-class duathlete, Diane Stibbard brings a rare combination of expertise, motivation and knowledge to her coaching. She knows that the driving force to reach any goal comes from a deep desire within. As a trainer, she has a unique ability to help individuals embrace this desire to achieve their athletic potential.

Diane provides training programs for recreational and competitive cyclists, duathletes and triathletes, including nutritional counseling and personal training.

You want personal training but don’t live near Diane? No problem. Diane does email and telephone consultations. To learn more, contact Diane at [email protected] or at LinkedIn.

Training for a two-day cycling event


Check out Diane’s new e-program, Training For a Two-Day Charity Event For the Time-Starved Cyclist.



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1 comment to What’s the best approach to climbing a long, steep hill?

  • Syringa

    Shifting the front gears while climbing is never been recommended by any mechanic I’ve ever worked with. The chain can break. Yes … it happened to me so I am now a believer. I have always been coached to be in the small ring on the front before I start the climb and play the back casset like a banjo.

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