While I am not a great climber by elite standards as I often get dropped on the long climbs in the elite races due to my power to weight ratio. Most of the top climbers are razor thin and as a result can out-climb the bigger, heavier and more muscled opponents. However, if you can make it up and over the hill with the lead group or still within contact you can use your weight to your advantage to create momentum on the downhill to close gaps. While out training or riding with friends, I love the challenge climbing presents and enjoy the satisfaction of being able to conquer mountains and then let the adrenalin flow with speed on the descents!
While out climbing at Yangming Mountain, I kept noticing various riders whose climbing skills could do with some coaching including educating them the importance of a professional bike fit. I have come up with a list of tips for beginner climbers or those who have been climbing for a while but wonder why they never improve:
- Bike fit: The importance of this cannot be understated. I kept noticing people’s hips rocking side-to-side or wearing knee pads (they have a chronic knee problem). Taiwanese apparently have collected bad habits from scooter riding and many insist on having their saddle height low enough so they can plant both feet firmly on the ground.
- Pedaling style: I saw alot of people mashing their pedals with extremely low cadences, some were doing 20RPM and using their upper bodies to propel the bike forward. It is important to cultivate a fluid pedaling technique. Start with the proper bike fit, and then practise high cadences on the flat – 95-105 RPM. When climbing long hills, you need to find a cadence that you can comfortably hold without blowing. I tend to find that I average 65-75rpm on climbs, sometimes dropping down to 45-50 RPM on the steep sections. Focus on high cadence and smooth pedaling will ensure you climb efficiently (this works well on the 5-6% steady climbs).
- Relax your upper body – try to keep it motionless when seated and keep all the power coming from the glutes/legs.
- Alternate your position. Mix your climbing with some out-of-saddle climbing with the seated, this will help rest different muscle groups.
- Point your heels down-wards and keep your knees closer to the top tube of your frame, this will give you more power to climb as the glutes are more fully engaged.
- Take the pain – this is often the difference when racing a climb, it is the person who can tolerate greater pain to surge ahead or just to hold on with the group whether in training or racing. Climbing for the most part is mental – training your mind to think positively about climbing will go along way to climbing success. This tip is good for those who are competitive.
- Pacing - Don’t go too hard at the beginning. I saw quite a few people attack the slopes and then steadily lose power and I would past and drop them forever. It is important to go out at a steady that you can maintain for the whole climb duration, reserving surges for the steep inclines and when the end is in sight.
- This list is by no means exhaustive and there are plenty of books and internet resources devoted to the art of climbing.
If you want to see tangible climbing improvements, I would advise finding a climb that takes roughly 10minutes to complete and has a nice gradient of about 2-4%. Use this climb once a month, where you perform an all-out time-trial on it. Make sure you are well warmed up and mentally ready to put out a big effort. You can use your time as a measure for your improvements. You can also use the same climb to do several intervals during hill specific training. The aim is to complete each interval within 10-20seconds of each other. This will build consistency and a greater tolerance for lactate build up in your legs. The recovery in-between each interval should only be 2-5mins. When doing the interval repeats, its important to find that “sweet spot” where you are very close to your threshold. The goal is to complete all the intervals with similar times, heart-rates or power.