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How to climb

Learning how to climb hills properly is one of the secrets to enjoying cycling.

Slow down

There is a temptation to attack a hill and get it finished as quickly as possible. Avoid this – you usually over estimate your own ability and the effort takes a lot more out of you than you predicted. This leaves you feeling more tired than you ought to feel for the rest of the cycle.

Gear down

Don’t wait until you get tired to change down gear. You should begin a climb in the same gear that you finish it, regardless of whether it takes 5 minutes or 45 minutes. This is the same principle used for running – that you should start a training run uncomfortably slowly. Note that it is not a racing tip – different rules apply there – it is just a tip to get the most enjoyment out of cycling.

When you hit the bottom of a climb, used the lowest gear you expect to use on it. Then pedal at a consistent speed. If you reach the top with plenty of energy, you can always move up a gear and speed up for the end of the climb.

Stay in your seat

Climbing out of your seat takes more energy than sitting on it, so it should be used sparingly, while shifting position or as a way to stretch. Using it to climb faster is a poor way to use your energy.

Climbing will quickly increase your heart rate, burn calories and lower your energy reserves. Enjoying a climb and the rest of the day’s cycle requires you to be careful about wasting energy on the way up, and to keep your heart rate down.

Don’t think about the top

Instead of wishing away every minute you spend going uphill, if you slow down you have time to enjoy the scenery you pass through. This will make the climb appear to pass more quickly and give you a better experience.

Practice

Like most things, the more you do it, the better you get. Cycling on the flat does not prepare you for cycling uphill. If you are serious about improving to the point where hills are to be enjoyed rather than feared, go find the largest hill in your area and cycle up it ten times. Whether it is on ten separate occasions or just a few, by the end of it you will be a better climber.

Lose weight

When you watch professional road races, you quickly notice that the specialist climbers are always the skinniest guys. You don’t need to attain that sort of physique to be a good climber, but you will feel the impact of carrying extra weight up.

Even a modest weight loss can make life going uphill much easier. And while you can, and probably will, lose some weight on a bicycle tour of more than a few days, it is not a good idea to attempt to do so by cutting your food intake unless you are an expert nutritionist. You will be burning a lot more calories than you usually do, so you will need to consume more food than you usually need to – dieting and cycle touring at the same time will play havoc with your energy levels unless you know exactly what you are doing. But losing a kilogram or two in the weeks leading up to a cycle tour can be a great idea and will help your climbing greatly.

Remember that it is short

Few climbs in Ireland have more than a 2-300m rise in height. So slow down, gear down and know it’s not going to last for too long.

Build up

Doing the same climb all the time on a commute or local route can be boring. Next time you are cycling in a new place, try out a climb that you think you can beat. Then plan the next one…