How to Get Lighter on Climbs (Without Going on a Diet)

Peter Glassford
by Peter Glassford
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How to Get Lighter on Climbs (Without Going on a Diet)

One of the most common goals of cyclists is to get better at climbing. While it may seem obvious, riding hills more is a pretty big boost for most people since we often avoid what we aren’t good at, isn’t convenient or don’t enjoy. While bodyweight is not a fun component of climbing speed, most cyclists like talking about bike weight. Riding a lighter bike feels awesome and helps on climbs.

The following are some ideas to help get your bike lighter without spending a ton of money, or going on a crash diet!

LIGHTEN YOUR FRAME AND ACCESSORIES

A bike built for climbing will generally be lighter, but not necessarily cost more money than an aerodynamic or all-around bike. This may not matter if you have your bike for the season but keep it in mind for your next one if climbing is a priority. If you are in the market for a new bike then you have some options to look at. Many companies have trickled down lighter tubing for carbon and aluminum bikes to lower end models.

Once you have a bike, look at the ways you can make it lighter. Many bikes come with heavier parts like tires, bottom brackets, seat-posts, pedals, seats, stems and handlebars that can be replaced at a relatively low cost.

Cheaper changes can be made to accessories like handlebar tape and bottle cages. Some of these lighter accessory choices may even be the same price or cheaper relative to fancier, aerodynamic or feature-rich versions.

HONE AERODYNAMICS AND GEARING

While wind resistance is not a factor in your power-to-weight ratio, the influence of wind resistance can be felt on gradual climbs. Think about aerodynamics: If you have baggy jerseys or sit very upright then you may be slowed down on a climb where the speed is higher or the wind is high.

 Gearing might help your climbing by dropping your bike weight if you are a mountain bikercyclocross racer or gravel adventure rider. You could consider moving to a single ring setup and likely save yourself some weight by dropping the shifter, cables and derailleur from a two-chainring system.

Road bikes traditionally had very high gearing for high speeds, which meant climbing at low cadences, especially if you did not possess the fitness of a professional world-tour cyclist. Today, it has become much more common for even the best climbers to use lower (easier) gearing to set the fastest recorded times up some of the hardest climbs (e.g., Alberto Contador used a compact crankset).  

ADAPT FOR SINGLE EFFORTS

Sometimes you just want to climb as fast as you can on a single climb or for a certain day. You might be on a fully supported bike tour where you can drop some of your spare parts and tools or you might simply be going for your best time up the local climb. It may seem obvious but if you are taking on a hilly ride it is wise to remove accessories you might use for commuting or riding around town (e.g., racks, locks, lights). More experienced riders should look at removing bottles, saddle bags and things in your pockets for single efforts, perhaps leaving them with a friend at the bottom, in your car or hiding these items in the bushes at the bottom of climbs (be warned you may lose your gear like this!)

 Making sure the gearing on your bike matches the terrain you ride, the speed you ride and the fitness you have makes climbing more enjoyable and will likely help you go faster since your climbing cadence will be closer to your preferred cadence.

About the Author

Peter Glassford
Peter Glassford

Peter is a cycling coach and registered kinesiologist from Ontario, Canada. He travels frequently to work with athletes at races, camps and clinics. He also races mountain bikes for Trek Canada and pursues adventure in all types of movement. Follow @peterglassford on Twitter, or check out his online and in-person coaching at www.smartathlete.ca.

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