Uphill Climbing Skills, Techniques, and Body Positions Tutor

Techniques for riding mountain bikes.
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Uphill Climbing Skills, Techniques, and Body Positions Tutor

Postby ChiliPepper » Thu Jan 02, 2014 6:17 pm

Uphill Climbing skills, techniques, and body positions tutorial...

You probably judge you’re climbing prowess on how fast you
ascend…..which of your riding friends you can keep up with or which ones
you leave behind. That’s a fair way to rate yourself, but you won’t
improve much if you only think about climbing faster. The quality you
need to develop is not speed; it is power, which will translate to
speed. Power means many things…..having the oomph to overcome obstacles
when you are already expending energy to climb, sustaining a burst
needed to scale a steep section, or maintaining your pace throughout a
long ascent.


Standing on hills burns more energy because your body must support
itself as well as propel the bike. Standing is great for juking over
obstacles, using different muscles, stretching on long climbs, or
hammering short sections, but most of your climbing should be done from
the saddle. There is no rule dictating how much standing is too much,
but in general, the heavier you are, the more you should be sitting on


As the ground tilts up, you should lean down toward the handlebar. This
helps you maintain traction while still delivering peak power to the
pedals. Many riders try to retain traction by scooting forward on the
seat. It is better to lean your chest toward the stem. The steeper the
rise, the lower the lean.


Stay loose to save energy, absorb jolts easier, and have more control in
technical sections. The upper body is the key, but concentrate on your
hands and jaw. If these are loose, your back, shoulders, and neck will
be too. Even in technical terrain, your grip should be relaxed but firm.
Don’t clench the bar…..no white knuckles. On a smooth climb, try
drumming your fingers as a reminder. Also try to minimize your upper
body’s side-to-side movement. Swaying or bobbing helps establish a
rhythm, but it has to be natural. Do not force it or overdo it.


Instead of mindless panting, develop a solid, rhythmic breathing pattern
that you can synchronize with your pedal strokes. This helps you
maintain a steady pace and keeps you from feeling out of control (and
psyching yourself out) during extreme efforts. Steady breathes deliver
oxygen better than even the fastest gasps, especially if you actively
force air from your lungs instead of just passively exhaling. This
flushes more carbon dioxide (the main cause of shortness of breath) out
of your bloodstream.


One of the most common mistakes is climbing with slow pedal strokes in
hard gears. Not only does this style waste energy and blast your heart
rate over the top, but it also makes you more likely to blow out a knee.
Your most efficient cadence is probably between 70 to 90 rpm. Whenever
possible, climb in a gear that lets you maintain this rate. Pay
attention to how you pedal. Apply even pressure all the way around your
strokes, pulling back through the bottom and pushing across the top to
make them as smooth & round as possible.


1) On uphill curves, take the outside line. It’s longer, but it’s almost
always shallower and easier

2) Do not zig-zag. It might feel easier to cut back and forth while
climbing, but computers and professional riders have proven that weaving
takes more energy than riding straight

3) Bungee up! Pick a tree, big rock, or any other object way up the
climb. Throw a “mental bungee cord” around that object, and then pull
yourself up to it. When you get there, toss your bungee around another
anchor farther up the hill. It is a great mind game to get you up an
intolerable climb. This is one of my favorites and really helps me


The more upright you sit on a climb, the more you use your thighs. As
you bend toward the handlebar, your buttocks muscles begin to deliver
more power. It is easier to become so zoned out on long climbs that you
forget to vary your riding position and completely wipe out one group of
muscles instead of sharing the effort.


Not all bikes have these handlebar extensions, and not recommended for
some bikes. If yours does, train yourself to use them more often. Many
riders grip their bar ends only when they stand to climb and want to
rock the bike from side to side. But you can benefit from them even when
sit. Slide your hands onto the joint of the bar ends and handlebar, or
just slightly higher up on the bar ends. This wider position opens your
chest and helps you breathe easier, stretches your hands slightly to
relieve cramps and aches, and subtly changes your riding position…..all
of which makes you more comfortable when you climb. The better you feel,
the stronger you ride.


As mentioned in the “Uphill Climbing Skills” above, simply by leaning
forward (dropping your nose toward the stem) or sitting more upright,
you can shift your weight fore or aft. The alternative is to actually
move forward or backward by sliding on the saddle, which is less
efficient and unwieldy. But as cool as subtle weight shift is, it will
not work for really steep climbs. On ascents that are almost too steep
to walk, your rear tire will spin out no matter how low and forward you
learn. In order to climb these freaky angles, you must drive the rear
wheel into the ground rather than merely maintain traction with weight.
Here is the deal:

1) Get in your lowest gear and approach the ascent at a walking pace. Do
not think that speed is the answer. Traction is. This is why full
suspension bikes are often faster on climbs than hardtails, despite
weighing more and sacrificing some pedal energy to suspension movement.

2) As you begin to angle upward, lean toward the stem as usual. But this
time float your butt off the saddle. It should still touch, but not
with any weight on it. Hover.

3) As the pitch increases, move your body forward until the nose of the
saddle is the only part touching your butt. This extreme position
guarantees that the front wheel will bite the ground instead of breaking
loose and causing squirrelly steering. But it also means that the rear
wheel has no weight pinning it to the turf. What do you do??

4) With every down stroke of the pedals, pull the handlebar back (not
up) into your chest…..almost as if you are rowing the bike like a boat,
with the handlebar as an oar. This drives the rear wheel into the ground
just as you apply power.

Synchronizing the handlebar pull with the pedal down stroke is the
hardest part of the maneuver. It may seem impossible for awhile, but
once you get it down pat, you will feel the added power as you climb.
Once everything clicks, you’ll stick to ascents like glue…..in fact, the
limit to what you can climb will be fitness rather than technique.
Riding like this takes upper-body strength and the ability to either
generate lots of power aerobically or to withstand many bursts of
anaerobic effort (every time you pull the bar).


You’re climbing great! Maybe you’re finally going to clean this climb.
Then you wobble into a rock, and suddenly you’re dead in the middle of a
steep pitch with one foot on the ground. Now what??

To get going again, you must first be in a low enough gear. If
necessary, shift to a bigger cog (remember: In the back, a bigger/larger
cog is an easier gear) by clicking the shifter, lifting the rear of the
bike with one hand on the saddle, and twirling the crank-set with on
foot (be careful not to let the free pedal smack your calf). It might
help to lessen the slope by angling the bike across the trail.

On most trails, the side cut into the mountain is highest. Put the
uphill foot on the ground so you won’t fall down the slope if you loose
balance. This position also means that you can sit on the saddle to get
going, because the uphill leg has less distance to reach the ground.
Place the downslope foot on the pedal, which should be rotated just past
top dead center so you can apply a full power stroke to get going.
Next, look where you want to go. Pick something to aim at…..maybe a rock
or a trail side tree that’s some distance ahead. Do not drop your head
and stare 2 feet in front of your tire. Trust your peripheral vision to
pick out the little details closer in.

Bend your elbows, relax your upper body, look ahead as you release the
brakes and initiate the power stroke, and give the handlebar a little
push to help the bike move forward. Immediately place your uphill foot
on the pedal. Do not look down, and do not worry about clicking in (if
you have clipless pedals). Just get some foot on the pedal and start
pumping, applying power equally on both sides. If you fumble around
trying to engage the clip (clipless pedals), you then will loose
momentum and stall. You need some speed and stability so you can ease
off pedal pressure momentarily. When you are pressing down hard, you
can’t slide your shoe into position.

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