Training specifically for climbs, spending more time on the bike and getting serious about your diet are all excellent ways to ride faster in the mountains, but whether or not you’ve done your homework, climbing hills on a bike is hard for everyone — and sometimes it’s the little things that end up determining how fast you ride.
Use these seven hacks for riding faster up those leg-burning, monster climbs when you’ve tried just about everything else:
FUEL BEFORE THE CLIMB STARTS
Once you’re on a tough climb and you’re breathing hard, it’ll be much harder to eat and drink. Instead of waiting, top off with fluids and an energy gel or two just before the climb starts. In addition to giving yourself a boost of energy, it’ll also be easier to consume, more gentle on your stomach and you’ll lose the extra weight in your jersey pockets.
Additionally, eating before you reach that giant climb on your route can keep you from waiting until you’ve already started to bonk to grab a snack.
GET RID OF ANYTHING EXTRA
Weight can make a big difference on a climb. And while shedding a few pounds and buying a lightweight bike certainly helps, once you’re on the side of a mountain there isn’t a lot you can do about your bodyweight or your bike. However, getting rid of unnecessary supplies is something you can do to achieve a significant boost in speed.
Whether it’s an extra bottle of fluid you won’t need or a rain jacket on a sunny day, these extra supplies add up to a pound or two of weight you’ll have to carry with you to the top. If you plan on returning to the bottom once the climb is finished, finding a hidden spot to stash extra gear might be worth it.
It’s also a good idea to leave anything at home that you’re sure you won’t need. Choose a lightweight kit, remove saddlebags and take off any attachments (bike bells, lights, etc.) you can do without.
TRY A MORE AERO POSITION
While weight is a big consideration, there is a trend to move toward aero even on climbs — particularly on gradients under 8–9%. Aero helmets, tighter jerseys and slippery bike frames all help you move faster up a mountain.
In addition to this, adopting a more aero riding position can help as long as you’re riding above 6 miles per hour. Lower your head, use the drops when possible and watch your miles per hour start to creep up.
TAKE DEEP BREATHS
When you’re dishing out maximum effort, your breathing can become ragged and shallow. This makes it harder to relax (which burns more energy) and will deliver less oxygen to those aching, burning legs.
Instead, concentrate on relaxing your arms and the muscles in your face. Sit up with your hands on the bar tops whenever you notice you’re taking shallow breaths to open up your chest. Take a few deep breaths, breathing in through the nose slowly and exhaling through the mouth. Once you get into a good mental space and notice your body relax, you can return to a more aggressive position on the bike if you wish.
HAVE A FEW TEAMMATES
Riding any climb alone can be difficult. When things get tough, it’s easy to get inside your own head and think negatively about how impossible the task at hand may be.
Whenever possible, have a few friends ride up the climb with you. If they’re more experienced, they’ll be able to offer you motivation, help with your pacing and give you a few tips to help with your gearing and position if needed. Riding behind a few friends can also help you draft, which can make things easier for you even at lower speeds.
RIDE AT AN EVEN PACE
One of the keys to avoid bonking and ride up a hill as fast as possible is an even pace. What makes this task tricky is you can’t rely solely on your miles per hour, since the gradient of a climb isn’t usually consistent and changes frequently.
For this reason, it’s better to use a heart rate monitor or power meter to monitor your pace. Ride at an effort you know you can keep all the way to the top without going into the red zone. Maintain this pace even if you’re feeling like you can go harder. You can always up the pace on the last quarter of the climb if you want to.
Sometimes when you’re digging deep, it’s the little things that help propel you to keep pushing forward. If the big climb you’re planning to tackle is in a race, having family and friends roadside to cheer you on could be just want you need to go faster. Music can also help, depending on where you’re riding, just make sure it’s safe to listen.
One thing the pros are known for doing is taping a picture or an inspirational quote to their handlebars or the top tube of their frames. This motivational trick helps distract you from the pain and gives you something else to focus on besides how hard you’re working.