Hills are different to riding along the flat for several reasons. The first is that as you start going up your cadence, or peddling speed, will drop. At the same time, you’ll need to develop more power on the bike. For these reasons, you’ll need three things. The first is good aerobic fitness as you’ll generally be riding at a higher intensity on climbs. As the gradient increases you’ll be working more against gravity and this will place more demands on your aerobic fitness. The second is the ability to generate good power at lower cadences. And thirdly, the ability to do these two, produce high power at low cadences, for extended amounts of time as you climb longer and longer hills. For shorter steeper hills, you’ll need to be able to produce short burst of very high levels of power to get over them.
When training on the flat you’ll generally be producing lower levels of power at higher cadences. This type of riding can help you build your aerobic capacity to help you climb. When riding along the flat focus on keeping your cadence around 90-110 rpm and your heart rate zone below 75% of your max heart rate.
To build strength to help you climb at low cadences you’ll need to ride at low cadences, around 60rpm, either into head winds or up hills. If you only have short hills in your area then doing repeats on them will enable you to load your body up so that it adapts to riding longer climbs. Ideally you want to start building strength after you have built some aerobic base as your aerobic base is your foundation.
Once you get onto climbs you’ll want to practice pacing yourself. I would generally climb longer climbs in E3, which is from 85-91% of your max heart rate. You’ll need a good aerobic base to be able to do this. For shorter climbs, you can go beyond 91% of your max heart rate, but for only a few minutes, after which you’ll blow up. So, it’s important to monitor your intensity to ensure that you keep your heart rate within a reasonable range. This will enable to you pace yourself and reduce the chance of blowing yourself up.
Climbing is done in two positions, either seated or standing. Generally it’s more efficient to stay seated, but you can produce shorter burst of power when standing. I prefer to try to stay seated for longer climbs and stand for shorter climbs. If you are a heavier rider then you initially may find standing harder than being seated as you have to carry your upper body weight as well as drive the bike.
Weight is your biggest enemy when climbing hills. It’s still amazed me when people spend huge amounts of money getting the lightest bikes and components when they neglect the biggest way to reduce their overall weight. That’s from off their body. If you are carrying a little extra weight then by leaning up you’ll find your climbing will improve. I call it free speed because you don’t have to be any fitter to go faster up hills. By just being lighter you’ll be climbing faster.
I hope that helps. If you have any questions, please visit our website: www.cycling-inform.com for a heap of hill climbing and cycling tips.