How do you hill climb on a bike?

How do you hill climb on a bike?

This article is all about how to climb hills on your bike so that they'll cease to be an uphill battle!

Hills are a problem that every cyclist comes across once in a while. So if you love cycling and want to get better at it, or if you're a complete newbie who wants to get into it in the first place, it's important to know how to climb a hill! Armed with a few handy tips, you'll be able to increase your power and speed and reduce your fatigue. This article is all about how to climb hills on your bike so that they'll cease to be an uphill battle!

What's the right way to do hill climbs?

Obviously, it's not always easy to keep calm and carry on riding with good technique when you come across a false flat, a lump, a hill or a mountain on a bike ride, especially if these obstacles appear one after another and you've got the wind in your face. Thankfully, there are several little tricks that you can pull out of your hat, starting with having your bike properly set up before you set off!  

First up, make sure your bike is suitable for your height and build, and that you've got everything set to the right position so that riding feels easy and comfortable! Remember to check the height of your saddle, the height of your handlebar and the position of your handles.

Struggling to get up that hill? Here are our tips for climbing hills with less effort

Analyse the hill and pick your technique

As soon as you spot a hill looming in the distance, start analysing it to figure out how difficult it looks and what your strategy is going to be. For example, if it looks relatively easy, you could simply build up speed at the start and then adjust your pace accordingly. But if you think it's going to be a toughie, you may want to save your energy. For these harder climbs, you'll need to pace yourself right from the start.  

Either way, never slow down, because you'll risk getting into trouble before you've even started. And once you reach the top, don't be tempted to stop pedalling. Why?Because your speed will have dropped while you were climbing, and if you stop pedalling in order to rest, it'll drop even more! Getting back into a comfortable cruising speed will then require more energy. So carry on cycling for another few metres after reaching the summit to get yourself back up to speed. Only then can you take a breather, have a drink and eat something if you need to.

Choose your trajectory

Continuing with the theme of strategy, it's worth having a think about your trajectory. The most obvious approach is to simply ride in a straight line. However, when hill climbing, the fatigue or the lack of correct gears for the hill you're trying to get up may well lead to you having to zigzag your way along for several metres. While this option reduces the gradient of the hill, it increases the distance you travel and the time you have to work for. That said, it'll enable you to get up that hill without having to put your foot down.

How do you hill climb on a bike?

Use your gear ratios and experiment with your roll-out

Once you've decided how you're going to approach the hill, think about your gear ratio or, if your prefer, your roll-out. But what is a gear ratio? It's the combination of the chainring (the large toothed ring at the front, by the pedals) and the cogs (the little toothed rings on the back wheel).   

Riding in a "big gear" means riding with a big chainring and small cog. Your legs will turn more slowly and your muscles will work harder. Conversely, a small gear means using a small chainring and a large cog so that you can spin your legs as the gradient becomes steeper. Choosing your gear is something you should take seriously because your gear determines the trade-off between cadence and muscle and tendon tension. Opt for too high a cadence, or 'undergear' your bike, and it may well feel easy at the time but you'll be wasting crazy amounts of energy as you work your way up what will seem like a never-ending hill climb. On the other hand, too much muscle tension means using your whole body to push down hard on the pedals. Not a great idea, as you'll quickly reach your limits! 

Bear in mind that your gear ratio will depend on the gradient of the hill, the length of the effort and your own personal comfort zone! Build up experience through your training rides to help you instinctively pick the right pace and gear right from the start. After all, practice makes perfect, and you can rest assured that your gearing instincts will soon become automatic. 

Ride in a group, but go at your own pace

If you're going to climb comfortably, you'll need to go at your own pace. You'll soon realise that, if you're following someone quicker than you or just going too fast in general, you'll tire yourself out in no time at all. But if you pace yourself well, you'll be able to keep going for the rest of the ride and still be able to take on other hills.  

And don't forget that a friendly group ride can give you the little boost you need to get up that tough climb. It's well documented that exercising in a group gives you more energy!

Don't load yourself down, but do train...

An obvious one! And yet, it's not at all unusual to come across cyclists carrying way too much stuff. Use a bit of common sense when getting yourself ready for your ride, and avoid taking anything unnecessary. Do you actually need all of that equipment for your one-day ride or your bike tour?

And when it comes to improving at hill climbs, there's no magic solution: the more you train, the better you'll be! Climbing a hill requires a type of muscle strength that you'll only build up by leaving the flat and taking on hills of all kinds – both short and long.

How do you hill climb on a bike?

What's the right position for hill climbing?

There are two positions you can use to climb hills, each with their pros and cons. One thing's for sure: you'll have to shift around on your saddle at some point in your ride!

Standing up

This option may seem natural, but beginners won't always realise when this is the best way to draw on their strength. Start by dropping down one or two gears. Then, standing on your pedals, either hold your body in place while you rock your bike side to side, or hold your bike steady and sway your body. Personally, we'd go for the first option as it's best from a biomechanical point of view. Moving your bike is much easier as it's much lighter than your body! 

All the same, be careful because standing up burns a huge amount of energy, and will really get your heart pounding! Why?It's a technique that works many other muscle groups that you probably haven't used during the rest of your ride, leading to your body working extra hard to rid the muscles of toxins.  
If you choose to use this position, pay attention to your centre of gravity, which should remain as stable as possible and at the same height. In other words, bobbing up and down makes the movement less efficient. Last but not least, remember to relax your shoulders, arms, forearms and hands as this will make it easier to swing the frame from left to right. 

This standing position is best used when you need to negotiate a tricky part of your ride, such as climbing a hill, accelerating out of a corner or launching an attack. You'll soon learn how to be one with your bike while retaining the most natural position and most fluid movement possible. 


If you're going to get over that hill without getting out of the saddle, you can try positioning yourself either further forward or further backward on the saddle. But be aware that your muscles will have to work particularly hard if you're sitting down! In spite of that, staying in the saddle as you climb allows you to spin your legs and take on longer climbs, such as mountains. Bear in mind that it'll still be beneficial to master the standing technique if you're going to take on multiple hills.

Sitting very far forward on the saddle will use your quadriceps the most effectively, enabling you to really dig in right to the top of the climb. This position is most commonly used to power up shorter hills. Sitting further back on the saddle will extend your legs more. This position is recommended when there's a long stretch with an even gradient. Its advantage is that you can transfer your power more evenly. By shifting further back in the saddle, you'll push forwards to turn the pedals, whereas if you're at the front or in the middle of the saddle, you're less efficient. Focus on relaxing your upper body and avoid pulling with your arms.

How do you hill climb on a bike?

What's the best technique for hill climbs? 

So should you sit or stand when climbing? There's no right or wrong answer. Several things need to be taken into account, such as the cyclist's technique, their weight, their strength, the position they're in, the gear used, the type of climb, the length of the climb, the gradient of the slope, the intensity of the effort, and more. The key is to plan ahead and adapt your position and pace! 

How far should you ride before doing a hill climb?

Before riding uphill, it's important that you warm up. Ideally, you should warm up for at least 30 minutes before taking on a difficult climb. Always start your bike ride at a very gentle pace and then gradually increase it as your muscles warm up and your heart rate and breathing settle.

How should you breathe when doing a hill climb?

It may seem obvious that you should breathe evenly and deeply in order to supply yourself with enough oxygen. But even though our breathing rate and the depth of our breaths will naturally adjust to our needs, many of us still struggle with our breathing during exercise.

We often fall into the trap of thinking about our effort only, and forgetting about our breathing. Slumping forwards, with your shoulders hunched, causes you to take shorter, shallower breaths using your upper chest only. Hence the importance of adopting a good position on your bike.
Our tip is to do this simple exercise before you set off on your ride. Lie on your back, place one hand on your stomach, then inhale through your nose and focus on the oxygen entering your lungs. Feel the air gradually expand your ribs and rise to the top of your lungs, lifting your entire rib cage. Then, exhale slowly through your mouth in a steady stream of air. Pull your ribs together to push your diaphragm up until your stomach is empty and lies flat.

Good breathing is an essential part of your ride. So experiment with different depths of breathing depending on your level of effort. Breathe as evenly as possible and avoid sharp intakes of breath. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Your exhalations should be at least twice as long as your inhalations, but never force your breathing. 

Which cog should you be on? What's the right gear for hill climbing?

We already discussed the question of gear ratios above.  But just as a reminder:
- the smallest gear will get you to the top of your hill, and the biggest one is what you need to come back down again. If you want to go faster in a standing position, change gears early so that you conserve as much of your physical strength and momentum as possible.

- climb that hill at the pace that's right for your body! Our recommendation is to start at a comfortable pace to save energy, then increase the intensity of your effort.

How do you hill climb on a bike?

How do you hill climb on an e-bike?

Climbing a hill on an e-bike can be an impressively pleasant experience! E-bikes are growing in popularity around the world thanks to their numerous advantages. The idea is to find a balance between your needs, your expectations and the bike's characteristics. 

What's the right gear for hill climbing with an e-bike?

With these tips, you'll be able to climb hills more easily with your e-bike:

- if your e-bike has suspension, set it to the lowest possible level. This will give you more traction and a stiffer frame, which means that you'll lose less energy.

- make sure your foot is correctly positioned on the pedal so that you're using your full weight to push down. You'll get more traction this way, and will find it easier to maintain a good speed.

- if necessary, play around with your position on the saddle. Try moving forwards and backwards, or coming out of the saddle entirely.

- Like working up a sweat? Use eco mode or the lowest possible assistance mode that your bike comes with. As well as saving your battery, you'll end up much fitter! Just watch out, because the more you use your bike's assistance, the more you risk draining your battery. Only use it when you reach the steepest parts of the hill. Anyway, you're hardly going to feel satisfied at the top of the hill if you had a leg up the whole way.

To find out more, take a look at our article on choosing the right electric hybrid bike.

So, how do you climb hills without exhausting yourself?

As you've seen, there are various things to think about when hill climbing. By taking advantage of the possibilities open to you, you can adapt to the circumstances in real time while maintaining a stable level of effort throughout the climb. It's a skill that you'll build up the more you practise!

And in terms of mindset...

Let's not shy away from the obvious: hills are a tough ordeal for beginners and a real challenge for more experienced cyclists. But don't worry! With the right technique and a bit of practice, you can use all of the tricks we mentioned above to take on hills effortlessly.

Keep a positive mindset and remember to savour that feeling of conquering your nemesis!

How do you hill climb on a bike?

It's worth spending some time doing a few exercises to practise these tips. And that's everything you need to know to climb hills without suffering!

How do you hill climb on a bike?


"Ever since I first rode a bike, I've been hooked on cycling. Be it solo, with family or with friends, I simply love exploring the forests of Picardy, the mountain bike trails of the Chaîne des Puys and France's many dedicated cycling routes. It's so much fun cruising along the trails and discovering the local architecture, culture, art and cuisine. It's a passion I share through my blog, Graines De Baroudeurs, and in my travelogue, Notre Tour à 7 Roues, which tells the story of the 8-month cycling tour of France I did with my kids.

How do you hill climb on a bike?

Caroline Segoni

"Ever since I first rode a bike, I've been hooked on cycling. Be it solo, with family or with friends, I simply love exploring the forests of Picardy, the mountain bike trails of the Chaîne des Puys and France's many dedicated cycling routes. It's so much fun cruising along the trails and discovering the local architecture, culture, art and cuisine. It's a passion I share through my blog, Graines De Baroudeurs, and in my travelogue, Notre Tour à 7 Roues, which tells the story of the 8-month cycling tour of France I did with my kids.

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