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Climbing Hills on a Mountain Bike

On a road bike, traction is only a problem when the weather turns bad. On a mountain bike traction is the key. Unfortunately, the traction is almost always bad. Loose rocks, roots, mud and sand can all cause even a rather tame hill to become something of a monster.

To tame the beast, you need to learn how to deliver power to your rear wheel and stop that wheel from slipping when you do.

Here’s How It Works
Just like when there is snow on the road and you see pickup trucks with a couple bags of sand or something heavy in the back to help put some weight on the rear wheels. This is what you want to do when you find your tire spins without grabbing. Just slide your rear end back on your seat.

Balance
The unfortunate thing about sliding your rear end back when going up a hill is that it will unweight your front tire. Suddenly you’re doing a wheelie, perhaps even a backflip. The trick is to get weight back but still keep weight on the front wheel. Your goal is to lower your center or gravity and distribute weight evenly on your bike.

Here’s how:

  • Lean your torso forward as you move your rear end back.
  • Bend at the hips.
  • Keep your elbows close to your side and flexible.
  • Keep your head up.

How far you have to lean forward is determined by the angle of the slope and the traction available on the trail. The looser the dirt and the steeper the trail, the closer to parallel your torso will be to your top tube.

Learning how far to slide back and how much to lean forward is where the finesse of hill climbing enters. With time you’ll find how simple variations in forward-and-back movements can help get you over obstacles and up big hills.

Pedaling
When you approach a hill, the gut reaction is to click into the lowest gear and attack the slope. This doesn’t work. Instead, go into a gear that’s just low enough so that you’re neither spinning too rapidly nor having to stand on the pedals. Then, keep your cadence steady and smooth. Pay attention to the pedaling techniques.

Shifting
For a beginner, the best approach is to shift before you actually start the climb. As you learn to shift your weight to maintain balance and traction, you can change gears to maintain speed.

When you feel more comfortable, maintain your cadence in your current gear until you feel like you have to lift out of the saddle to continue pedaling. Then drop into a lower gear. This will help you maintain speed and make the hill seem less grueling.

Pick a Good Line
It also helps to pick a good line before you go up the hill. A beginning cyclist has the tendency to pick a line that avoids the most obstacles. Seems logical, but this isn’t always the best route. Turning the handlebar to steer around an obstacle can upset your balance more than just going over it.

Of course, you have to learn which obstacles you can power over and which to avoid. Obviously big rocks and large, wet roots will stop any advance and are best avoided. But you can generally power over the small stuff.

Look Without Looking
A common mistake is to stare at the next dangerous-looking obstacle. Don’t, because you tend to steer in the direction you’re looking. Instead, see the obstacle and then focus your attention immediately on the best route around it. Make your eyes stick to this point of reference. Roughly 99.9% of the time you’ll hit your mark and safely clear the obstacle.

That’s it. By using these techniques you’ll find climbing hills a desirable challenge and a worthy conquest.

Save at the Altrec Climbing Store


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