How to ride hills efficiently and with less effort
Riding on rolling hills can be the most fun type of terrain to ride if you know how to do it right. On the other hand it can feel like the most difficult type of terrain if your technique is wrong.
The method of riding hills I propose here works best for long steady endurance rides like the Empire State Ride. If you’re racing or trying to split the field in a competitive group ride this won’t do it. In fact this method is designed to keep a group together at a good steady pace not blow it apart.
So lets break it down. In Figure 1. below you can see that there are seven sections to our hill.
1. The approach
2. The beginning of the hill
3. The middle section of the hill
4. The top of the hill
5. The first downward slope on the backside
6. The main descent
7. The approach to the next hill
As you approach the hill keep your speed steady all the way to the bottom. Do not slow down. This is the first mistake most cyclist make. Slowing down in anticipation of having to make a hard effort only makes the effort harder. The more speed (momentum) you carry onto the hill the better.
The Beginning of the Climb
Here’s where you have to get it right. Do not start to fast! You can’t maintain the speed you have coming into the hill. Let the slope of the hill naturally slow you down to a comfortable pace you can sustain all the way to the top. Find the right gear, keep your breathing steady and be patient. Do not accelerate!
The Middle Section
At this point you’ve found your sustainable speed and comfort zone. You should still be able to
talk at this intensity. Keep it nice and easy here and don’t accelerate yet!
The Top of the Hill
Here’s another place where cyclist get it wrong. The top of the hill is not the place to recover. If you need to stop pedaling at this point, you went to hard. This is the place where you should be slowly increasing your speed vs decreasing it. Your highest speed on the hill is over the top of it not at the bottom or middle sections.
The First Downward Slope
If you gauged your effort correctly you should be able to accelerate and get the most speed with the least amount of energy here. Accelerate first and then recover from your effort as the gravity of the backside of the hill keeps your speed high. Depending on the grade, you might be able to coast down without losing speed. If the grade isn’t steep enough you may need to soft pedal to keep the speed as high as possible towards the next flat section.
The Approach to the Next Hill
In this section use the speed (momentum) from the downhill to keep your pace as high as you can. Here it’s more about not slowing down to much vs. speeding up. You want as much momentum as possible going into the next hill without overexerting yourself.
During this entire cycle your rate of perceived exertion should be about 5-7, at the most, on a scale of 10. You should not be in oxygen debt (breathing heavy) and your legs should not feel very acidic. If you are, slow down at the beginning of the climb and find the pace that’s right for you.
Common mistakes to avoid:
– Shifting to a lighter gear before you start the climb. If you’re in the right gear on the flat approach to the climb, don’t shift to a lighter gear until you’re actually on the climb.
– Accelerating at the start of the climb. Starting too fast is the worst mistake you can make on a climb. Better to start slower and finish faster.
– Resting/slowing down at the top. The rest point is 20-30ft after the crest of the hill. If you have to rest here, you went too hard on the climb.
– Not using the first downward slope at the top to accelerate. The first 20-30ft of descent is for accelerating. If you can’t accelerate here you went to hard on the climb.
The route of the ESR has plenty of great small rolling hills that make it fun. Practice this technique on your next training ride and you’ll see why it makes hills seem easier to ride and way more fun.
Coach Charlie Livermore
Charlie is a seasoned riding coach from CTS Training and will be along for the entire Empire State Ride this summer.