Improving Your Climbing Adds to the Fun of Riding

“The real reason to ride your bike is because it is fun.” A good friend of mine, a former pro, was featured in a magazine article a few years ago and her statement has always stood out in my mind. As a coach, my biggest goal is to make sure that the athletes I am working with are (mostly) enjoying themselves. Fun means different things to different people, of course, and cycling often sees people who consider “improvement” to be a requirement for enjoyment. Riding with their chosen group and not getting dropped will make cycling more fun! From the very beginning, it seems that people know they need to work hard to get faster, and initially, improvement can be seen every time one gets on a bike. Eventually, though, improvement slows and cycling starts to seem more complicated.

There are so many training tips that can work to improve a newer cyclist’s performance, and choosing one without looking at the others is a tough call. I’ll take a stab at it, though, by addressing climbing. We have so many lovely hills in our area that have the benefit of being on lightly traveled farm roads. What is not to like? Oh, getting up those hills! I often hear the lament of “I hate climbing” or “I am terrible at climbing,” and people will do a lot to avoid climbs. How to get better at them?

While pushing hard can be a way to get faster (duh), what I see the most of is that folks start out at the bottom of a climb riding as hard as they can. Those physiological abilities to go full bore are available, but for a limited time only, and when they have “timed out,” one has no choice but to slow down. Explosion has occurred. “I hate hills.” What to do?

There are many books and online services that give ways to work on climbing, and work on fitness and technique is a given in the form of timed hard-paced intervals. What to do the rest of the time? The flip side of intervals is the form of pacing that demands knowing how to ride without pushing at an interval pace, using a big dose of self-control. Controlled climbing is made easier these days since the newer generation of bikes generally have a selection of “climbing gears” that make going up less difficult. Starting out easier is key! Instead of racing at the bottom of every single climb, choose to start shifting at the bottom and take it easier. Use all those gears and adjust cadence accordingly in a way that will keep the heart rate a little lower. The advantage to this is that while climbing that hill might still feel hard, blowing up is much less likely to occur and there is a greater reserve of energy left over for the entire climb and the rest of the ride. Finding that sweet spot can make one faster overall and contribute to making riding FUN. Which is the real reason to ride a bike. 😊

Be safe out there!

(Margaret Thompson Cycling Coaching Services)