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Hate Hills? How to Get Really Good at Scaling Steep Slopes


One thing that Bay Area cyclists know better than anyone else is hills.

Whether you’re riding around San Francisco, traveling down the peninsula, or scaling the heights of Marin County, it’s almost impossible to go for a long ride in our area without facing a daunting hill or two.

For cyclists who like a challenge, that’s a good thing. But plenty of cyclists find hills a good reason to skip a particular route altogether, especially when they want to avoid a bike accident or bike injury. And unfortunately, those cyclists often end up taking less efficient routes around the city and missing out on our area’s best views and scenic trails.

When you’re ready to start embracing the benefits of the Bay Area’s challenging hills (or you just want to enhance your skills at hill-climbing), here are some basic tips to get you going all the way up.

Learn to shift smartly

Hills can be extra hard when you don’t know how to make your bike help you out and knowing how to do so will help you avoid a bike injury.

There is an art to shifting properly as you climb a hill. If you shift into a lower gear too soon, you’ll waste energy early on; shift too late and you might have already lost all the momentum your gears could have helped you with.

Here’s how to do it right and avoid a bike accident:

As you approach the hill, slowly shift into a lower gear. You still want your feet and legs to be pushing to make the pedals go, but shifting down should allow you to start pedaling a little bit faster. Not only does this help you manage your speed and energy, but it will also make it easier to keep shifting down gradually as you climb the hill.

Once you’re moving upwards, keep dropping gears gradually to continue your momentum. Only shift one gear at a time, as shifting multiple gears at once can cause the chain to slip (which will bring you to a screeching halt).

If the hill is really tall or long, you’ll probably shift down through most, if not all, of your gears. If the hill isn’t too long, don’t worry about shifting through too many gears; just shift as it feels appropriate to ease your pedaling.

Maintain as steady a speed as possible

Have you ever been riding up a particularly steep hill and realized that you were going so slow that you might actually stop? That’s what you want to avoid! Getting started again on a hill is extremely challenging, so your goal should be to set yourself up ahead of time to not slow down enough to stop.

The best way to get up a hill is to go steadily. You don’t have to go fast; you just need to leverage as much momentum as possible at the start and then maintain an even speed all the way up.

Shifting down-gear is an important part of this, and so is patience. While it can be tempting to try to just get over the hill as fast as possible, you’ll find that you get to the peak more easily and reliably if you take it slow and steady.

Make sure you are applying force evenly throughout the entire pedal process as well. Every cyclist knows to push down and forward on the pedal to keep the wheels moving, but it helps if you are exerting equal force on the back-and-up part of the revolution as well. This helps you to control the rotation and apply as much of your available force as possible, so you maximize momentum.

Resist the urge to stand and climb

As little kids, many of us have memories of standing up and pedaling hard to reach the peak of a particularly tough hill. However, for the everyday ride, it’s actually far easier and better to stay seated while you’re riding up a hill, and instead, use your gears to make the uphill manageable.

By standing up to pedal, you are getting your whole body involved in the ride uphill. This will ultimately make you more tired and the extra speed you gain will burn out quickly as your body runs out of steam from the extra effort.

Enjoy the view and the downhill

Climbing a huge hill is a really big accomplishment, and you are usually rewarded (especially in the Bay Area) with a beautiful view when you get to the top. Even if you’re just summiting the last big hill before your apartment, though, take a moment to turn around and look at how far you have come. Celebrate your accomplishment, and you’ll come to see the hill as a personal success.

If a massive hill is part of your Bay Area bike trip route, then after you reach the peak, you almost certainly will have the chance to coast on down the other side of the hill. It’s the reward for all your hard work! After all, what goes up, must come down.

Going downhill comes with its own challenges — maintaining a safe speed, for one — but it’s a great treat after a long, tough hill.

If you’re ever in a bike accident or experience a bike injury, reach out to a San Francisco bike accident lawyer to get the best representation possible. And it’s a good idea to stay up to date with the latest San Francisco bike laws with the Bay Area Bicycle Law Newsletter. Click here to subscribe!