Cycling

How to Ride a Climb Efficiently and Effectively on Your Mountain Bike

A mountain bike and a view

Mountain biking is all fun and games until you face your first major climb. If you face it too early in your cycling career, you may feel discouraged and wonder if you really want to take on this new challenge.

However, there’s not much more satisfying in life than getting your bike to the top of that long, steep climb and seeing the trail spread out in front of you. Here’s how to make those climbs easier so you can get to the downhills you love!

Focus on Your Breath

The minute you get out of breath, the climb gets a lot harder. Instead of just letting that happen, learn to control your breath for as long as possible. Figure out how to breathe in time with your pedaling cadence so you have a rhythm you can hold. Keep that rhythm for as long as possible. When you can keep getting air, you can keep climbing.

Try to breathe slower than you want to. Make sure each breath fills up your lungs completely. Reduce your stress and anxiety about the climb by making each exhale longer than the inhale that preceded it. This dials down your nervous system and gives you the oxygen you need, all at the same time.

Play the Long Game

Climbing is at least as difficult mentally as it is physically. When you look up and see a huge climb in front of you, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Learn what works for you when it comes to keeping a positive mental attitude so you can make it to the top. Try techniques like:

    • Breaking the climb down into several easier steps. Take it one tree or bend at a time, rather than thinking about the whole thing at once.
    • Thinking about light, airy things. Keep these in your mind and you may feel at least a little more like you are floating or flying up that hill, rather than riding and riding.
    • Think about other hard things you’ve done. If you can do those, you can absolutely do this!
    • Know ahead of time that it’s going to hurt. Decide that you can take the pain or that the pain is worth it for the reward.
    • Count in one-minute increments or increments of 50 breaths. It may not be exactly a minute, but it gives you something else to do rather than just hating the climb. When you hit a minute or 50 breaths, start over. See how many times you have to do it before you get to the top.

Sit Down

A mountain bike rider on a steep climb
Photo by Irene Lasus from Pexels

It’s tempting to raise your seat out of the bike seat to climb, but this is actually inefficient. Instead of just pedaling, your legs now have to support the weight of your entire upper body, too.

Rest your body on the seat so that all your legs have to do is pedal. Trust me, that will be enough for them. If the climb is really steep, you can shift your weight forward without getting up out of the seat. It may take a few tries, but you’ll find your balance sweet spot.

Getting out of the seat can also mess up your balance because you’ll have fewer points of contact on the bike. Once you spill on that uphill, you may not be able to get started again so don’t even risk it.

Higher Cadence, Lower Gear

Your pedaling cadence (how many times you pedal in a minute) can help keep you going. It may feel faster at the beginning of a climb to pedal slower in a higher gear, but your muscles won’t be able to sustain that for long. So shift down, pedal faster, and find a cadence you can maintain that continues giving you forward motion the entire time.

When you use a higher gear, most of the strain ends up being on your legs and they will eventually wear out. When you use a lower gear, the strain will be on your cardiovascular system, instead, which is designed to keep going as long as you stay in the aerobic zone. Don’t go anaerobic or you’ll burn out before you get to the top of the hill.

Lower Tire Pressure

mountain bike tire. bicycle wheel.
Image by tarasov_vl from Getty.

Finding the right tire pressure for your climbs may take some trial and error but it’s worth the effort. If your tire pressure is too high, you’ll struggle to get the grip you need to climb well. This means wasting your energy wobbling around and even falling, sliding, or stopping entirely.

If your tire pressure is too low, you’ll have too much resistance and you can increase your chances of getting punctures. You want to find a spot where you have enough resistance to grip but not so much that you fall over while maintaining enough pressure that your tires stay intact. A few PSI can make a huge difference. Get a tire gauge and a tire pump and experiment a little bit.

Give yourself ample experience on small climbs before you try anything too big. This allows you to accustom yourself to climbing and get your bike set upright to get the job done. Before long, you’ll be climbing like an experienced rider and you’ll be able to take advantage of so many more trails.


Do you have any questions or concerns? Leave a comment below!

How to ride a climb efficiently and effectively on your mountain bike

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