Tips for climbing (and actually enjoying it)
You are new to cycling, hills may seem an unwelcome challenge. To the experienced cyclist, climbing is a meditative break. You find the sweet spot of breathing and spinning, you can hear the birds and other wildlife, you can just enjoy the exertion without worrying so much about navigation or traffic.
1. Stay seated as much as you can – that’s generally the most efficient way to climb. You can stand occasionally, such as for a particularly steep section, or to switch muscle groups on a very long climb. To pull maximum air into your lungs, keep your back straight and your chest open. Position your hands on the brake hoods and relax your arms so your elbows sit wider than your hips.
2. Just keep spinning. Stay seated, keep your legs spinning with a cadence of around 80 to 90 pedal rpm. Focus on spinning faster, not pushing harder.
3. Be prepared (before the ride). To spin fast enough, you will have to have low gears. Plan ahead to have a gear low enough to spin on the steepest incline you will encounter. In Ohio, I know can climb any paved road hill with a 32" gear--plan for your route and ability.
4. Be prepared (at the bottom of the hill). Shift down to lower gears BEFORE you need to. There is nothing worse than getting stuck into high a gear and, at best, having to grind out the climb at a low cadence and leg busting strain.
5. Start slow and finish fast. Use a lower gear and faster cadence at the bottom of the climb than you adrenaline-crazed mind thinks you can handle. If you still have strength and motivation to spare late in the climb, you can shift into a higher gear to power over the top. The eroded hills in the eastern US tend to be stepper at the top, so the energy you saved will often be needed just to get up the last bit.
6. Fight gravity, not yourself. The grimacing, teeth-gritted, death grip on the handlebar, leg straining pushing works a lot more muscles than you need, and the tension makes you more tired and frustrated than you need to be. The goal is to erase every ounce of unnecessary tension. Relax...
a. The coach for the racing club I used to ride with said "if your lungs hurt (you are aware of breathing of panting), your gear is too low. If your legs hurt, your gear is too high. If both your legs and your lungs hurt, your gear is just right. Find a rhythm between your breathing and you pedal stroke that minimizes both the panting and the leg strain.
b. To remind yourself to relax your upper body, and not clench the bars so tightly, do not wrap your thumbs around the bar at all, but rest your thumbs on top of the bar.
7. Training. The more you climb the more you get used to climbing and you will find out what works for you. To get faster and stronger, do part of your climbs in a higher gear to strengthen your climbing muscles. No pain no gain.