The most common question I’m asked as a coach is “How can I get better at riding hills on a bicycle?”
The answer isn’t really a simple one, but I can distill it into three parts:
1) Change Your Gearing
CASSETTE: Probably the easiest of the three parts to implement, especially with Shimano’s new 68xx and 90xx derailleurs that can handle larger cassette gears right out of the box. For larger gearing, the CS-6800 offers several viable options, 11-28T, 14-28T and 11-32T. Since the CS-9000 includes several sprockets made from titanium, it is considered a racing cassette; therefore, it has fewer options. 11-28T and 12-28T are its largest offerings.
I recommend the Ultegra CS-6800 as the best price/performance combination cassette for Shimano-equipped bikes. Among those cassettes justmentioned, here are the pros and cons of each:
11-28T: 11-12-13-14-15-17-19-21-23-25-28 (the configuration I use)
Pros: Gives a good spread in gearing. 11T for go fast and 28T for climbing
Cons: From 15 to 25, there is a 2-gear jump and from 25 to 28 there is a 3-gear jump.
Pros: Also known as junior gearing, which makes it USAC legal for juniors who run a 52 front chainring. Gives the tightest group of gears.
Cons: From 21 to 25 there is a 2-gear jump and from 25 to 28 there is a 3-gear jump. Since 14 is the smallest gear, you lose top-end speed.
Pros: Gives the largest spread in gearing including a 32T “bail-out” gear for the steepest of climbs
Cons: Large jumps including a 4-gear jump between 28 and 32.
CHAINRINGS: With Shimano’s latest redesigned cranksets, you can run any combination of large/small chainrings you wish. In the past, you were limited to a couple of options if you ran a 110BCD crank and a couple of options if you ran a 130BCD crank. For the large chainrings, Shimano offers 50, 52, 53, 54 and 55T options. For the small chainrings, 34, 36, 38, 39, and 42T are available. Shimano recommends that you stick with a maximum 16T difference between the small and large chainrings.
Their standard configurations are 50-34T, 52-36T, 52-38T, 53-39T, 54-42T, 55-42T. However, with Di2, the drivetrain can easily handle a 52-34T (my own configuration). In fact, I recently set up a new Di2 system for a customer who wanted a 53-34T ROTOR Q-Ring – and it works perfectly.
For climbing, I recommend a 34T small ring with a 50T large chainring.
For overall riding, I recommend a 34T small ring with a 52T large chainring.
2) Change Your Weight
It has been my experience that every 10 pounds of body weight lost equates to one more gear you can push on the cassette. For example, if you are 200 pounds and can push a 34/28T up a hill and you lose 10 pounds, you should be able to push a 34/25T with the same effort (one gear harder, in effect).
The only drawback to weight loss is that it doesn’t make climbing any easier. It just allows you to use harder gears, and get up the hill faster. All roadies push hills as hard as they are able, using the gearing they are able to push. Losing weight simply allows you to push a bigger gear up the same hill. You will be faster, but the hill won’t feel any easier.
3) Change Your Training
Ideally, you want to be an all-around cyclist, so you will need to include hills in your workouts. But, you can simulate hills as well as get better at hills with certain kinds of workouts, namely intervals and spinning. You might consider hiring a coach to put together a plan to help you achieve your cycling goals.
Get faster by improving your training. These 101 Cycling Workouts developed by USA Cycling Level 1 coach David Ertl will give you lots of variety to choose from when planning your cycling workouts.
Coach Ertl has poured 20 years of cycling experience into this eBook to give you 101 ways to ride, crosstrain and weight train to stay motivated and keep improving.
Making Friends with Hills, by David Ertl. This eArticle is designed to help you become more competent and confident in your climbing. It will explain equipment and techniques to help your climbing ability. It then provides a series of workouts to use to improve your ability to climb long and gradual, as well as short and steep, hills.
Coach Rick Schultz is an avid cyclist who trains, races and coaches in Southern California. Rick is an engineer by trade, and in addition to being a coach, he's a bike fitter and prolific product reviewer. He's the author of Stretching & Core Strengthening for the Cyclist and Bike Fit 101: Your Toolset for a Great Bike Fit in the RBR eBookstore. Check his product reviews website, www.biketestreviews.com, and his coaching site, www.bikefitnesscoaching.com. Click to read Rick's full bio.