Slow and steady makes it to the top — every time
While there are no 14,000-foot peaks in New York, it is not a flat state. The Empire State Ride includes quite a bit of elevation change, and of course, it is not all downhill. In addition to adding hills to your weekly rides, there are a few things you can do to help make hills something you look forward to.
The first thing you want to do is anticipate the change in grade so that you are able to shift into easier gears before your legs begin to burn. Be sure you are always looking ahead so that you know what is coming.
Your cadence should be comfortably high as you approach the hill, and the chain should be in the smallest front chain ring. Shift the rear derailleur upward (into the bigger cogs) one at a time, keeping your legs at a comfortably quick cadence. Shifting too many gears at once will cause you to spin out and decrease power to the pedals. This will cause you to lose momentum and slow you down. Additionally, if you shift into the easiest gear at the bottom, you won’t be able to make any more adjustments when your legs begin to fatigue later in the climb.
With the exception of talented tour riders who are able to stand for extended periods and ride away from the field on long, steep climbs, the majority of riders are more efficient climbing from a seated position. Slide back a bit in the saddle to activate your glutes and hamstrings. This will help increase the power you are able to put into the pedals.
While it may be tempting to race up a short hill, keep your efforts consistent to avoid prematurely fatiguing your legs. Remember the tortoise and the hare? You should be the tortoise; ride smoothly, with intention and focus.
Many riders have the understandable tendency to lift their shoulders up towards their ears and grip the handlebars tightly while climbing. While you should maintain a secure grip on your bike, the death grip adds tension to your shoulders and upper back and tightens your body. Try to remain relaxed and loose and drive the pedals down using your glutes, quads and hips rather than shifting your weight sideways. You should be seated comfortably upright with little upper body movement.
Train your mind
Remember the mantras mentioned in the blog on “mental training?” Well, hill climbing is the perfect time to use them. Visualize yourself floating effortlessly up the hill, completely relaxed. Think about relaxing your shoulders and upper back. Concentrate on deep breaths rather than short shallow ones.
When you aren’t riding, take a few moments to close your eyes and mentally “climb” the hills. Mental training exercises help prepare to experience the real deal. You’ll already know what to expect and you’ll just need to put your practice into action.
Hill climbing can take its toll on even the most experienced rider. While the above tips will help with finessing your climbing style, nothing takes the place of actually getting in the saddle and riding hills — so be sure you are adding plenty of hills into your weekly training as the Empire State Rides nears.