It’s a sad fact but cyclists have to battle with one nemesis in particular: gravity. Usually this takes the form of a hill, the steepness of which is directly proportional to one’s fatigue. Most cyclists would agree that they do not like hills but since they are impossible to avoid many cyclists have learned to be efficient in their hill climbing thereby getting the whole thing over with as soon as possible.

The best way to improve one’s hill climbing ability is to practice riding up and down hills, over and over. And it’s not just about putting the time in the saddle but also incorporating the proper techniques.

The Training and Support committee have put together tips that if followed will make you a more efficient hill climber.

Proper Riding Techniques – Ascending and Descending

There’s no way to avoid it, you will have to cycle up a hill at some point – the key is to use the proper technique so that you can ascend as quickly as YOU are able.


  • Whether ascending or descending it’s essential to stay relaxed – it makes it easier to take full breaths which will help deliver much-needed oxygen to your muscles
  • Elbows and wrists should be loose on the bar – no death grips
  • Back should be flat i.e. not hunched over
  • Shoulders should be down i.e. away from your ears and back
  • Head up and looking forward
  • Do not clench your jaw
  • Don’t forget to breathe
  • Be patient – your speed is going to slow quite a bit – possibly by half or more. On the flats your cadence should be 80-100 rpms on the flats but this will drop to 60-80 rpms or less when climbing. A high cadence prevents fatigue over long rides because it spares your muscles by employing your cardiovascular system instead. If you do not have a computer with a cadence function, measure it by counting how many times a single pedal rotates over a period of 15 seconds, then multiply that by 4 to calculate your rims
  • Pacing yourself is the key to keeping your heart rate and lactic acid in check so your legs don’t get fatigued
  • When approaching a hill to ascend shift into a gear that feels almost too easy. For even slightly steep hills, shift to a smaller ring in the front and a bigger ring in the back. (Remember, the cogs closest to the bike are the easier gears.) Pushing hard on the pedals in too big a gear is inefficient and increases stress on your joints (and is often is the cause of knee pain).

Proper Riding Techniques - Ascending

  • Shift your body to the back of the saddle so that you get the best leverage on your pedals and puts more weight over your rear wheel giving you more traction.
  • Sit fairly upright with your back flat (i.e. not hunched over), your shoulders down and back and your head up – this helps you get the maximum amount of air into your body.
  • Focus on moving your pedals in circles rather than pushing down on the pedals.
  • Focus on keeping your feet light.
  • If you have clipless pedals or toe cages pull up on the pedal on the back of the stroke so that you are also engaging your ham strings and not just using your quads.
  • At the 5 o’clock position, pull your heel backwards.
  • Pretend you are scraping mud off the soles of your shoes.
  • At the 9 o’clock position, pull up and kick your feet over the top of the cranks. Think about pulling your knee up to meet the handlebar — the foot will follow.
  • Keep your feet mostly flat throughout the rotation, but with some flex in the ankles.
  • Avoid the temptation to climb out of the saddle – it’s a great way to give your muscles a quick break but too taxing to ride the entire hill this way.

Proper Riding Techniques - Descending

  • Descending is the fun part – it’s a hard earned reward for your tired muscles.
  • As in ascending stay relaxed – being tense causes the body to react rather than respond.
  • Shift your weight towards the back of the seat.
  • Keep your feet at the 3 and 9 position and put a little pressure onto them –this will help the bike move smoothly especially on rough pavement. By keeping your feet parallel you can use your legs as springs and lift yourself off the saddle if you have to go over a bump.
  • You can place have your hands on top of the bar or in the drops but keep your centre of gravity low.
  • Look further ahead for any obstacles in your path
  • Use your brakes lightly. Feathering i.e. light pulses on the brake levers helps you slow down and keeps the wheels from locking up in a skid
  • When descending, if there is space to do so, move away from the curb so that you have more room to avoid obstacles and to prevent drivers from trying to squeeze by you at high speed.

Being efficient means getting up the hill quicker with less effort. As far as practice goes we have also put together 3 training rides that will help you get stronger when climbing. All three routes loop through and around High Park. They are easy to get to and if you feel you can’t continue you’re never that far from the subway.

  • The Basic route is a good starting point. The hill in High Park is well paved and challenging but not outrageously so.
  • The Intermediate route adds in a longer hill that gives you time to focus on your technique.
  • The Advanced route basically incorporates part of the cycle route of the Pan Am games.

If you can do the last little hill and still breathe when you get to the top, you’ve mastered hills!

See you on the road,
Training and Support Committee.