Pedal Power ambassador, Michael Milton, has climbed his fair share of hills, both on the bike and off. With just half the potential power (in theory) to get him to the top, Michael says he’s had more time to think about strategies and techniques. Here are his tips for getting to the top and enjoying the journey!
Let’s be clear about one thing: I am great at riding hills. I have never been beaten by a hill. I may not be the fastest. In fact, often I am the slowest but that’s not important. What’s important is getting to the top without dying. That’s given me lots of time to experiment with different techniques. Here’s what I know.
Choose the right gear
Bikes have evolved in the last decade and now have much lower gearing options. Climbing a hill used to be all about strength, power and ego. These days it’s more about being practical and conserving your legs and your energy, especially on a ride like the Rotary Rides 5 Peaks Challenge. Most modern road bikes come with a compact crank set and a large cluster. As the hill gets steeper, drop gears while trying to maintain a normal spinning cadence. The idea is to just keep the pedals spinning around while not taxing your legs too much. It will rally pay dividends at the top of a hard climb.
Sometimes you just run out of gears. It is a bit of a sad fact but I have been there many times. Once you hit the granny gear it is a matter of pacing your effort, trying to keep your cadence up and tough it out.
Stay in the saddle (mostly)
To ride efficiently up hills you need to be seated most of the time, let's say 80 per cent. From time to time it is a good idea to get out of the saddle. It can help you conquer a steep section, give you a speed burst to get past the backside in front of you and change the load on certain muscles. For the most part though, sitting is the best option. Whether standing or sitting, it's all about being efficient. Try to keep your upper body and hips relaxed and stable.
Know the hill
If you have scoped the hill beforehand, you’ll know what to expect and when to go hard. Of the five peaks on Sunday, Black Mountain and Mt Ainslie are the toughest but they are also completely different. Black Mountain is steep at the bottom and easier towards the top. Mt Ainslie tends to get harder and harder the further up you go. Knowing when and how to expend your energy can really help.
Go the switchback
If you run out of gears or get really tired, try riding across the hill, zig-zagging your way to the top on your side of the road. You’ll ride further but it won’t be as steep. It can be a bit tricky to maintain your balance on turns at a lower speed and you’ll have to be hyper-aware of other cyclists and cars coming down the hill or driving up from behind.
Take time to recover
I love going up hills, but I love going down them even more. Lots of riders crouch on the downhill, with their bums off the saddle, standing static on bent legs. All these things will make you go faster like a tour rider but they also reduce blood flow and increase muscle fatigue. Easy pedalling for a few minutes after a hill can help your legs recover from the effort.
How do you know when you’ve beaten a hill?
There’s only one true measure. If you can belt out ACDC’s It’s a Long Way to the Top When you Want to Rock and Roll at the peak, then you’ve beaten the hill. I know. I do it all the time.
Michael Milton is a six-time Paralympian and mad-keen cyclist. He owns five bikes and operates a small Canberra-based cycling touring business called Big Foot Adventures. No matter how hard it gets, he never stands up on the pedals.