Feeling the burn on the uphill climb? If you’re the type who usually stays fit over the winter by switching your mountain bike for skis, you might have not got in quiiiite as many laps as you’d hoped – let’s be honest, this winter was pretty uninspiring. We’ve got some tips for getting better at uphill climbs on your mountain bike – we’ve even broken down into what you can do before your ride, as well as tricks for when you’re on the MTB trails to make it easier.
How to Prep Before
Preparation for most things in life tends to make them more enjoyable, and it’s no different for MTB climbs. By planning ahead, this gives you a better chance of enjoying every moment of your ride instead of battling through any climbs – by the time you’ve reached the top, your legs feel cooked and you won’t perform as well on the downhill.
Yep, it’s gotta be mentioned. If you’re feeling a little unfit, you’ll become fatigued much quicker than if you were to be in tip-top fitness. Good cardiovascular or aerobic fitness means your heart rate won’t rise as quickly and you’ll be able to keep ripping the trails for longer, instead of pedalling halfway up the climb and feeling like you need a rest. Incorporate longer, flatter rides to increase endurance and work on doing ‘bursts’ (intervals of going hard) on hills to build your fitness. Bonus points if you’ve got a smartwatch – you’ll be able to watch your heart rate to gauge approximate fitness levels.
More muscle means more powerful pedalling – you’ll be able to travel greater distances from the same amount of pedals and may not have to drop down as many gears when climbing. If there’s a particular muscle group that you notice gets fatigued or always feels sore after a climb, you can improve your strength by training that area at the gym or by doing home workouts. For example, if you notice that your glutes get sore or lack power, try doing jumping lunges or squat jumps.
Plan Your Ride
It’s always best to be safe than sorry. Make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into when you’re going for a ride by scoping the rough trail distance and elevation you plan to tackle in your ride. By doing a little bit of homework beforehand, you’ll be less likely to get caught with an unexpected climb that you’re underprepared or under-fuelled for.
Switch It Up
Everyone likes a little bit of variety, right? Try to incorporate a range of rides into your regime so you can crank out more trails. For example, try to do some cruisey rides on top of your usual MTB routine – if it’s a gentle enough trail, you can even count it as active recovery. By making sure you get into the bike saddle frequently, it means your legs will be waaay more used to cranking out the kms.
You might be thinking “thanks captain obvious”, but it’s a big component of performance that is often underestimated. Making sure that you eat quality food (and enough of it) on a consistent basis will mean you’ll have muuuuuch more energy than old mate who lives off migoreng noodles. Incorporating whole foods as well as plenty of fruit and vegetables into your diet will mean you’ll have enough micronutrients and macronutrients. Don’t forget about hydration either – make sure you drink plenty of water on a consistent basis instead of guzzling water the morning of your ride.
When You’re Riding
There’s plenty that you can do when you’re on the trails to make the climb more manageable. From MTB riding techniques to tips about your gear and what to bring with you, there’s bound to be at least a few golden nuggets of information for you to take into your next ride on the dirt and will help you during the climb to make it feel a little easier on the trails.
If you’re feeling like you’re not quite at peak performance, don’t get too carried away at the beginning (think of the pre-ride, re-ride, freeride rule). It’s not a race (usually), so just enjoy the climb instead of making it a slog for yourself, unless you’re into a suffer-fest. Plus, pacing yourself means you’re less prone to injuries like strains from overworking muscles that aren’t ready for that level of performance.
High Cadence, Low Gears
Make sure you pick an easy enough gear so that you can freely pedal without feeling the burn too much – again, you don’t want to reach burnout before you hit the top of the trail. If you pick a gear too hard, you’ll exhaust yourself before reaching the top of the climb. It’s a bit of a guessing game, but with more experience, you’ll find that it’s easier to judge this. Plus, you’d rather reach the top with a bit of energy left over compared to hitting the top feeling like it’s time for a nap, right?
Momentum is Your Friend
Drop the gears and increase momentum before steeper sections if you can. Even if it feels slow, it’s much easier (in the long run) to keep the pedals turning, compared to constantly stopping and starting – believe it or not, but you’ll use waaay more energy when you’re going from stationary to moving again; getting yourself back up to speed will use up way more energy.
Choose Your Line
Make your life easier by choosing the line of least resistance. By reading the trail, you’ll be able to tackle the climb far more efficiently and avoid obstacles that will make you lose momentum (think rocks and tree roots).
Your tyres are what connect you to the ground when you’re riding, so it’s pretty important to make sure that they’re in tip-top shape when you ride both up and down the trails. Make sure your tyres are properly inflated – this will mean that you’ll be able to grip the track enough as well as keep a bit more momentum with each pedal. If you’re not sure on whether you need more air in your tyres, come into our workshop and have a chat.
Stiffen Your Shocks
When we’re pedalling uphill, we don’t want that momentum lost through our shocks. Make sure you stiffen these before you start your journey uphill – it makes your ride waaaay easier. When you get up to the top, don’t forget to soften your shocks again!
Gotta put in a few technical riding tips too. Try to stay in your saddle if you can – when you stand for the uphill pedal, you put more force through your pedals (making you faster), but this will fatigue you quicker as when you stand, you use heaps of stabilising muscles from the unevenly distributed weight. If you notice that your wheel feels like it’s lifting or you’re losing traction, lean forward a little more too. If you’d prefer some more hands-on technique tips, book a coaching session – we’ll take you through any areas you want to work on specifically and give you some tips to take into the next ride.
Making sure you fuel yourself well before riding as well as during your ride is suuuper important. Always carry a water bottle with you on the ride, regardless of the length – there’s nothing worse than being parched halfway up. If you’re going for a longer ride, bring a few goodies to keep in your pockets too. Energy gels and chews are great because they’re small, lightweight and can give you heaps of energy (pssst. you can even pick them up from our retail shop). If you’re bringing a backpack, chuck in some fruit and if you feel like treating yourself, maybe even a few pieces of candy. Of course, we’ve also got an onsite café, Velo, which serves up the ultimate post-ride snacks too.
Aaaaand that’s it! Hopefully you’ve come away from reading this with a few nuggets of information on how to make your uphill MTB journey easier and more enjoyable. Go and tackle that climb – you’ll feel soooo good after (plus, the views are unreal from the top). Happy riding people!