This month I have been posed a question by Brian Anderson whom recently conquered Etape Caledonia in just over five hours. He is 50 years old and keen to improve his climbing so he can better his time in his next challenge. Climbing is one of those techniques that requires practice and depending on your physique, there are ways to make the push to the top a climb more efficient and of course, you will get the reward of the descent afterwards!
So, here are my tips:
Effective climbing on a bike is all about rhythm and riding at an efficient pace. Some people like to push a bigger gear whilst others prefer to spin a smaller gear with higher cadence. Ideally your cadence won’t drop or rise too much from your normal efficient cadence on flatter terrain.
The gradient of a hill will also affect the cadence as will the gearing on your bike, so ahead of any ride, challenge or race it’s worth researching the climbs and making sure you have a good gear ratio for the type of terrain. For some people that means a compact chain set and for other a bigger sprocket like 27 or 28 on the back. You will hear the pros ahead of the major races saying they have been out to check the climbs – they dont want any surprises and want to get their technique and also their gear ratios right.
Once you know you are giving yourself every chance with good gearing the key to good climbing is just good practice.
Try a gradual click down on gears as the climb starts, don’t just stay in a harder gear and lower your cadence or go straight to the easiest gear and spin too much. By changing gears and cadence gradually you will have covered more ground on the climb.
The next big decision is whether to stay seated or ride out of the saddle. We all see the slight figures of pro riders climbing out of the saddle and making it look easy, but the reality is most of us have a greater body mass that needs supporting out of the saddle and this costs extra energy. Climbing seated is going to cost less energy and saving the out the saddle bursts for any shorter steeper sections will definitely help.
Whether in or out of the saddle the upper body should be as still as possible and the hips as parallel to the floor as you can. All the movement you make from hips and above, either side to side or bobbing, is wasted energy that needs to be used to pedal the bike forwards. Concentrate on a still and relaxed upper body and this will work your core muscles too, so it becomes a double workout!
Finally keep a loose grip on the bars, even whilst out of the saddle. Pulling on the bars whilst out of the saddle needn’t be a white knuckle ride and whether seated or out the saddle your grip affects the direction of the front wheel and a tight grip not only wastes energy but creates tension in your upper body which you don’t want.
For those with the worst core strength it may be advisable to add some specific exercises to your stretching routine so always consult a Physio before to have this aspect assessed.
As with everything perfect practice makes perfect so enjoy being out on your bike and improving your climbing!
Dame Sarah Storey DBE
Dame Sarah Storey is the ambassador for the Marie Curie Cancer Care Etape Series. Etape Mercia (etapemercia.co.uk) and Etape Pennines (etapepennines.co.uk) are still open for entries and there are a limited amount of free places available in both events if you pledge to raise £250 for Marie Curie Cancer Care.