I’d like to think I’m like most people, in that I try to avoid things I don’t like. In this case, I’m talking about cycling up hills. I’m not a fan of hills in any scenario to be honest, but I’ve convinced myself that climbing by bike is my nemesis.
One of the benefits of living in Essex is that the worse you’ll get are a few sharp climbs or some rolling hills. My favourite, and most challenging though is the Mott Street climb.
At just under one mile with an average gradient of 5%, but it does have two testing ramps of 15% to conquer. I like to use Mott Street as my benchmark for where my climbing fitness is on any given day.
Off the back of the announcement in 2021 that RideLondon 100 was coming to Essex, I decided that now may be the time to stop saying I’d never ride 100 miles, and get it done.
As a result, myself and fellow cycling coach Alison Woods of Veloqi CC also created Beyond CC – an inclusive community for women cyclists to support them to complete RideLondon Essex 100 or any other Big Hairy Audacious Goal they may have.
A number of our community members actually mentioned cycling up hills and climbing by bike in their goals. One said she’s keen to “improve [her] hill climbing technique” and another said she wants to “get stronger for hills” …both of which are goals of my own.
So Alison and I put our heads together for an Instagram Live to chat all about How To Ride Hills Strong. You can watch the video here (it’s just 17mins long) or keep reading to find out everything we covered…
Adjust Your Mindset
Like I mentioned, I convinced myself a long time ago that I “hate” hills but maybe all is needed is a change in my mindset?!
If you tell yourself you’re not good at hills, that’s what will happen.
It’s not just me though, a lot of people suffer from hill anxiety especially when cycling with others. I’ve heard lots of people talking about not wanting to slow their ride buddies down when the hills come too.
But it doesn’t matter if you’re the last one to make it up the hill. Typically when I lead a ride, I’ll tell everyone to ride their preferred speed up the hill and we then regroup at the top.
But other factors can play into how cycling uphill feels for you – for example, your cycling experience. Try not to compare yourself to other cyclists and focus on your own growth.
Hills are always going to be hard. It’s basic physics – you’re fighting against gravity. It’s not just you struggling.
Get Interval Training
As women, we really benefit from interval training which is why our Beyond CC training plans all include shorter interval sessions during the week. These build your fitness, strength and power which translates to you riding those hills stronger.
Although you can do interval training outdoors, it’s much easier to use an indoor trainer. With our Tuesday interval rides being tailored to our own fitness, we then come together on Zwift to ride together.
If you’re tight on time or days to ride, then your interval session is up there with your long ride to get the maximum benefits you can from what training you can get done.
Use Your Gears
I’ll be honest, it took me years to get to grips with the gears on road bikes but now, riding is a lot more enjoyable when I am in the right gear.
When I’m coaching skills sessions, we cover gears and I ensure everyone works through all their gears to get a feel for them.
One reason I never used to use the gears needed for hill climbing was because I didn’t know what gear I was in and if I had any left to use. But now my road bike – a Liv Langma – connects to my GPS and shows me which gears I’m in on my screen.
I used to be a ‘grinder’… staying in a hard gear and using sheer force to get up hills. Nowadays, I try to spin more – with a faster cadence – and a easier gear. It feels a lot less taxing on the legs and the lungs!
Remember That Every Hill Is Different
There’s no ‘one rule fits all’ for tackling hills in cycling. Climb length and elevation will always vary. For me, this used to play into me grinding up hills – I just wanted to get it over and done with, as quickly as possible!
Long slow hill climbs were Alisons hill climb of choice, while I prefer short steep hill climbs, kinda like what you find in cyclocross races.
If you have an event coming up and you’re worried about the hills, check out the course and the type of hills so you can train accordingly. Find local hills that are similar or replicate the route on your indoor trainer. Then it won’t be such a surprise when the event comes around.
RideLondon Essex 2022 Route
Finally, the route for RideLondon Essex 100 was released… and it’s not too crazy.
Total elevation is 1,236m over the 100miles.
If you’re also gonna be doing RideLondon Essex 2022 then it’s time to start riding and practice those hills, especially those on the route.
I’m lucky in that the route is local to me, but if its not for you, you can upload the GPX file to your GPS or Zwift and ride parts of the route indoors to get a feel for what to expect on the day.
I’ve just planned out a couple of loops incorporating the route that I can use in training as we approach event day in May, because…
To Get Better At Hills, You Need To Do More Hills!
And trust me, it feels so good when you conquer a hill that you had to walk up before. It’s a real sense of achievement and testament to your training.
If you really wanna challenge yourself, you can sign up to the infamous Zwift Everest challenge which is 8,850 meters of climbing and then a further 41,150 meters gets you the coveted “Concept Z1” (aka “the Tron bike”). I’m currently somewhere past the first 8,850m but no-where getting my Tron bike.
Get Support For Your Cycling Goals
Alison and I created the ultimate community for women who ride and are looking to take on the challenge of going beyond their current limits. Originally the idea was to support women to train for their first century (100miles) in 2022 but we realised there is a space out there for a community that goes beyond just one event.
Beyond CC officially launched in January 2022 – check out our website and leave your email to be kept in the loop. If you have any questions, get in touch via the contact form on the site, via email, or our Ko-fi page.
Are you a fan of cycling up hills or not? Got any other climbing tips to share? – drop them in the comments below.