Mountain bike riding is a popular pastime and sport for many Americans. According to the National Bicycle Dealers Association, 28.5 percent of the bicycles sold by specialty bicycle shops in 2008 were mountain bikes. But it is a good bet that few of these riders consider actual mountain bike climbing to be their favorite part of the sport.
Climbing hills, particularly steep hills, is an activity that most riders approach with dread. They know from hard, painful, sometimes humiliating experience that mountain bike climbing leads to the agony of defeat much more often than it leads to the thrill of victory. With the right strategy, however, hill climbing can be done efficiently, without causing undue hardship to the bike or to the body.
Three Ingredients of a Successful Bike Climb
Biking enthusiast Ken Kifer says that there are three ingredients of successful mountain bike climbing:
1. Physical strength of the rider
2. Proper gear selection for the climb
3. Hill climbing strategy employed
Assuming that most people who participate in such a rugged sport as mountain biking are physically fit, the first ingredient should not pose too great an issue. If it is a problem, some rough and tumble rides up and down various hills for a few weeks should eliminate this obstacle.
Items 2 and 3, however, are not quite so easy to master. However, before these aspects are even attempted, one must choose the correct type of bike
Choosing the Correct Type of Bike
There’s a vast difference between a road bike and a mountain bike and not knowing this difference-and perhaps making the wrong choice-can make mountain bike climbing nearly impossible.
In general, one can tell the difference between a road bike and a mountain bike by considering two factors-the framing and tires of the bikes.
Because road bikes are built for speed, they typically have lighter frames than do mountain bikes. By contrast, the heavier frames of mountain bikes house suspension systems that are built to withstand the frame-jarring shocks of rough terrains.
Road bikes have thinner, smoother tires. The tires of mountain bikes, however, are broad with a significant amount of traction to handle rough terrains.
The Final Ingredients
The final two ingredients-proper gear selection and hill climbing strategy-are indispensable parts of each other. Both are essential ingredients of successful mountain bike climbing. Both involve strategy. And the uses of both are dependent on the different types of hills.
Mountain Bike Climbing Up Different Types of Hills
Most hills or mountains fall into three categories. Each category brings its own unique set of challenges. But each different type of hill can be conquered-with the proper strategy.
1.The concave hill is steepest as the top. Such a hill appears to get taller as the rider approaches.
2. A convex hill is steepest at the bottom. This type of a hill appears to get shorter as the rider approaches.
3. An even grade hill has a sloped, even rise.
To make mountain bike climbing even more challenging, some hills can be a combination of all three types and some can be part of a series of hills. Some can even be mountains. The strategies for climbing the different types of hills must be considered in relation to whether one is climbing an isolated hill, a series of hills, or a mountain, as the strategy is different for each.
This article will address the strategy for mountain bike climbing up an isolated hill.
Climbing an Isolated Hill
An isolated hill is one that “stands alone” without any surrounding hills. The strategy employed in climbing same will depend upon whether the hill is convex or concave.
Climbing any hill takes power and speed, two components that must gradually be increased upon approaching a hill. For a convex hill (one that is steeper at the bottom), the timing and the speed of the ascent must be nearly perfect. As odd as it may sound, the way to accelerate up a convex hill is to shift down. This provides more power for the climb. But timing is everything when using this method. Downshift too soon, and exhaustion will plague the rider even before reaching the hill. Downshift too late, and climbing the hill can be too labor intensive.
Concave hills are steeper at the apex and, as such, require a different strategy than do convex hills. Two key factors to this strategy are keeping the speed steady, thus conserving energy, at the start the climb. As the hill becomes steeper, the downshifting should begin.
Another strategy to mountain bike climbing of a concave hill is to stand up on the pedals, which creates a more powerful cycle. When standing, make sure the full body is evenly distributed on both pedals. This will create sufficient power to overcome the hill.
A Few Tips for General Technique
One’s pedaling technique is also an important factor in successful mountain bike climbing. The right placement of the feet can have a huge impact on the amount of effort expended while climbing the hill. The feet should be positioned properly and the heel should be kept parallel to the ground. (If the toes are pointed down, the muscular contractions of the leg are minimized which will affect the speed and the stamina of the rider.)
Another point to consider is the cadence of the ride. (Cadence is the number of times that the pedal is rotated, on either side, per minute of cycling.) Aiming for a steady cadence is a healthy goal, whether the surface is flat or is on a hill. Cycling at a cadence of 85 to 105 is an optimum level.
When mountain bike climbing, one’s power to climb the hill will be increased at a higher cadence while downshifting to a lower gear. The effort on the pedal, however, should remain the same on both the upstroke and the down stroke. Maintaining the same amount of pressure throughout the whole pedaling cycle will create a more even stroke, which can help to maintain the energy level needed to climb the hill.
The View from the Top
Mountain bike climbing is not for the faint of heart. It takes strength, stamina, and good technique. But with these tips, you should be able to see the view from the top of the hill (or mountain) sooner than your friends!