Climbing Hills is a Blast!
By Lisa Pottier
Are you intrigued by hills but doubt you can do it? Did you ever try one but feel you almost suffocated? Or maybe you can’t even get your head around why anyone would ever want to climb a hill on a bike, and how could that possibly could be positive? Read on to learn how I learned to love hills!
Why hills are the way to go
Whether on a bike, hiking, or in a car, rolling or steep landscapes almost always beat flat ones as far as astonishment, surprises and character. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely love flat landscapes, but the twisty roads with varying elevations that allow last minute glimpses to a wonderful barn, lake or field are the ones that steal my heart the most. Clifftops and valleys frequently offer breathtaking views. If you are cycling abroad you may find that remote valleys are where ancient traditions persist now in modern times.
Something close to meditation may happen when you slowly climb a steep hill. A friendly confrontation happens between the hill and you and finding the right rhythm can be both stimulating and relaxing. Reaching the top can be very emotional – you may feel exhilarated, empowered, overwhelmed, proud, and perhaps grateful to have had the opportunity and motivation.
The extra bonus is that after the uphill, there is usually a downhill! With a long and twisty downhill the intensity can induce laughing out loud or shouts of joy while riding. At the very least, you will experience the feeling of freedom. I do recommend that you keep your mouth shut pretty tight and wear glasses in buggy territories, and elsewhere!
Tricks to get up hill
Choice of bike
The choice of bike makes a huge difference. I’ve had painful rides with untuned bikes, or limited gear range. When I started venturing outside the city, it didn’t take long to realize that there is a good reason why such a wide range of bike choices exist. I still don’t get it all and often wish I had a facilitator with me in bike shops. If you are not a bike nerd, it is hard to understand all the decisions you are asked to make: get the trusted bike shop mechanic who understands you, follow their recommendations to get the right bike(s) for the kind of terrain(s) you will ride. For hills they will provide you with a wide gear range, including a large cassette to help you make it up the hill more easily.
Choice of route
The choice of steepness: Keep your eye on the hill gradients on your route planner. Start with moderate hills in the 3-5% range. Try sticking with the same hills for a few sessions: you will see your progress very fast. Then move on to 5-7% and keep on testing your level of pleasure and skills from there. Moving into 8-10% is steep, and more than 10% is very steep.
For elevation, consider 300m-400m total elevation over 50k ride as beginner, 400-700m intermediate, and 800-1000m advanced. The longer your ride the more elevation you can plan for. We can find you some excellent climbs in Simcoe County, or consider Humdinger’s spectacular Hills of Huntsville and Haliburton trip as a test of your hill climbing, and reward yourself with some lovely lakeside stays after your day of accomplishments:)
Skills to acquire
Look forward to the challenge, pace yourself, and use the bike’s technology – this is a great combination! Starting too fast and using too hard a gear may mean that you do not have the strength or power you need for climbs later in the day. Take your time, be in the smallest gear that feels comfortable, and breathe. Know that you can do it! Techniques for climbing change once you get into steep and very steep hills – check out this GCN video for some suggestions:
You may want to consider using an e-bike. You can adjust the power support from the ebike to balance the amount of assist you need with the challenge you want to get out of the climb. Check out our blog post on 10 benefits of e-biking, that include climbing hills and other challenging terrain.
My personal experience
It all started with a dream but zero skills. I really wanted to cycle in the hills and mountains of Northern Laos and Vietnam but I had never been on a cycling trip before, nor had I biked on hilly terrain anywhere or done any sport. I was commuting daily on my bike in Toronto, Paris and Nantes for 15 years and felt fit. But I had never ventured out of my comfort zone which was flat roads and trails. The first time I tried a hill was to train for my dream trip, going up to Rattlesnake point in Milton with my throat and lungs on fire… I hated it, but I am stubborn. I really wanted to go on this trip. The second time I biked hills was in The Blue Mountains, Grey County on a very hot July day, I crashed the Ravenna Country Market bench after going up 119 for half an hour. I couldn’t talk. It was like my body had a flat. But I went on my dream trip and by the end of it I could climb in the mountains and have the best time. This is where I got my first uncontrollable and priceless laugh-out-loud going downhill. No going back: I am hooked forever. From my perspective, hills are the place where the most insanely gorgeous landscapes and physical satisfaction happen!
To sum up
So are you up for hills on your next trip? Do you wish to push your personal boundaries and sense of accomplishment? If not it’s totally fine, good for you to stick with what you like. But if you do let us know: Instead of telling you it is beautiful but hilly, we will tell you it’s beautiful and hilly!