To successfully climb and descend on your road bike, you need impeccable technique. Sometimes, just having muscle is not enough, and you need to learn how to have good balance, good aerodynamics to save your energy, and when to slow down. All of these, and many more, are key to successfully climbing and descending while riding, and getting the most joy out of your riding.
To make sure you are not wasting your energy pedaling too much when unnecessary, here are a few points to consider when climbing.
Before starting your ride, consider if your gear will be appropriate for the type of terrain you are going to ride on. Make sure you know if there are steep climbs, and if your gear can withstand it.
Luckily, most modern road bikes have gear that should withstand even the toughest of climbs, but if you usually ride on hilly terrain, consider investing in an endurance carbon bike. It is best suited for that kind of terrain, giving you the most efficient riding position, and the most enjoyable experience.
Going on a ride is something you do for fun, so try not to over exhaust yourself riding uphill. Try to pace yourself, and avoid ‘going into the red’ – or being oxygen deprived of straining too hard. Keep your breath steady, and try to keep your speed at the pace you find most comfortable.
Try to view bike rides similarly to a marathon. You should not put all your eggs in one basket and get all your energy out at the very beginning, because the more you ride, the more tired you will be. Start steady, and maintain the pace that you feel is the right one for you, and you will not overwhelm your body.
Even if the hill you are climbing is not so steep, do not try and push through it, because eventually, all you will be doing, is hurting yourself.
Technique over strength
In the previous chapter, we mentioned that pacing yourself is valuable for both longer and shorter climbs. Let us explain the technique behind it.
Many riders tend to shift in and out of their saddle during climbs, especially on a steeper hill. Beginners usually think this is the most effective, while in reality, it is the opposite. Spending more energy trying to ‘push’ the bike uphill while gripping tightly onto the handlebars can create more stress on your muscles, slowing you down in the process. However, if you stay seated on your road bike while you ride, pedaling and spinning a low gear, your muscles will endure less stress, making you faster, all the while spending less energy.
If you come across a short, but steep section, riding out of the saddle may prove efficient, since it will ‘push’ you uphill faster.
One step at a time
Doing anything physically straining can be difficult on your psyche. Doing it for a long period of time can be devastating.
If you are coming up on a steep or long climb, try not to be anxious to invest all of your energy. The secret to staying mentally strong during longer, more difficult climbs, is to try and see them in chunks. If you split it into smaller parts, it may seem less challenging than trying to overcome it as a single obstacle.
You cannot go down if you haven’t gone up. So, now that you have overcome the climbs, let’s see the easiest way to descend.
Focus your view
When descending, it is essential that you look far ahead of you, to be able to react in the shortest period of time. If you only look at the wheel of the rider in front of you, or on the road directly in front, you will not be able to react in a timely manner. You need to be aware of your surroundings, both on the road in front of you, and to the left and right.
Similar to climbing, and breaking the road into chunks, it is applicable here also. Break the road into chunks to stay focused, and use nature, or road signs to aid you. This will not only help you not get overwhelmed but also enable you to react quickly should anything dangerous happen.
Mind the corners
When you are approaching a corner on a steep descent, slow down significantly as you get near the corner, to avoid braking in the corner. When you think you have slowed enough, go into the corner by leaning with your right foot stopped at a downstroke for a left-hand corner, and the left foot stopped at a downstroke for a right-hand corner.
When it comes to safely braking, the most important rule is that you should descend at a speed that is comfortable and in which you can control the bike.
Be mindful that, when pressing on breaks, you should do it slowly, evenly, and both brakes at the same time. If you press only the front brake, you will tip over and fly over the bike. If you press only the back brake, you will most likely burn the brake, making it useless.
Try to keep your fingers over the brake levers at all descents, steep or not, just so that you will be ready to react to whatever happens.
Take into consideration that wet road carries more danger, so you need to start your braking process at a much earlier time than you would otherwise.
If you encounter gravel or sand, or any other large obstacle, hit the brakes hard to try to minimize the time of braking and to avoid crashing.
This could be the most important part of descending. How you position your body will determine the speed at which you are going to go. The more aerodynamic position you take, the faster you will go.
The best body position to achieve the most speed is a bullet shape or a bird shape. Grip onto the bottom part of the handlebars, and try to lower your body as low as you can go, arching your back, bending your elbow, and relaxing your upper body. This position of the body is the best one to lower your center of gravity, help better distribute your weight on the bike, and you will feel more stable while riding.
Riding is all about feeling free. So try not to captivate yourself in comparing yourself with others, but try to ride as comfortably as you can, gradually building up your speed and skill over time.