hill signWith proper shifting and some advance training, you’ll be able to stay in the saddle even on hills. Here are some tips:

  • Make your bike hill-friendly. If you own a hybrid or mountain bike, you’re ready to climb. But some road bikes are geared too high for easy climbing. A quick way to tell if your road bike is hill-friendly is if it has three chain rings on the front crank set. 

    If you have only two chain rings in front, and the smallest one has 40 or 42 teeth, your legs may feel like they’re pulling a truckload of bricks through the Adirondacks when you climb a hill. There are two possible fixes: You might be able to replace the crank set with one that has a smaller chain ring, with 36 or 34 teeth. Alternatively, check the largest cog on the rear wheel. It should have 28-30 or more teeth. Combine a large cog on the rear wheel with a small chain ring on the crank, and you can churn your way slowly but surely over hills. Your bike shop can tell you what’s involved in making these changes to your chain ring and crank set.

  • Use the gears you’ve got. Sometimes cyclists-turned-hill-hikers give up the fight before having shifted into their easiest gear. Make sure you know which gears are for climbing: The lowest numbers on both left and right shifters correspond to your easiest gears. If your bike doesn’t have gear indicator numbers, it’s still pretty easy; you can climb almost anything when you shift the chain to the left-most (largest) cog on the rear wheel, and the left-most (smallest) chain ring on the crank set. 

    Use a quiet parking lot or bike path to put your shifters through their motions repeatedly, until shifting becomes second nature. If you aren’t able to shift into all the gears, have a bike shop tune up your derailleurs.

  • Use your momentum. Resist the urge to coast all the way through the bottom of a descent and instead keep pedaling in a relatively hard gear, so your momentum will carry you part-way up the next climb. Keep pedaling hard while you gradually shift to easier gears. Your climb will be much faster and easier than grinding it all the way up from the bottom.
  • Those who hesitate, walk. Shift early, while you still have an easy, fluid pedaling motion, and your chain should drop smoothly to a lower gear. If you wait to shift until pedaling is nearly impossible, you’ll have so much tension on your chain that it may jump completely off the crank set–forcing you to stop and put the grimy chain back on by hand. Shift early and often to avoid this.
  • Train yourself. Cyclists become good hill climbers . . . by cycling up hills. Resist the urge to walk when your legs feel like they’re burning and your lungs are working overtime. Those painful feelings are actually strengthening your muscles and lung capacity. Even if you do get off and walk, set a goal to go a little farther next time . . . then a little farther again. Or start out with that short easier hill, and work your way toward being able to climb the longer steeper ones.
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