How Can I Get Better At Climbing Hills?

The answer to this question comes in three parts; change your gearing, change your weight, and change your training.

Let’s break it down:

1) Change Your Gearing

Cassette Upgrades
Probably the easiest of the ‘big 3’ to implement is to change the cassette – especially with Shimano’s new 68xx and 90xx derailleurs that can handle larger cassette gears right out of the box. For larger gearing, the CS-6800 offers several viable options, 11-28T, 14-28T and 11-32T. Since the CS-9000 includes several sprockets made from titanium, it is considered a racing cassette; therefore, it has fewer gear options. 11-28T and 12-28T are the CS-9000’s largest offerings. It is interesting to note that with the new 11-speed drivetrains, a Campy cassette will work with a Shimano drivetrain and vice-versa. Of course, you will need to use a Campy wheel with a Campy cassette and you might need to add several small spacers to its free hub body before installing the cassette. I recommend the Ultegra CS-6800 as the best balance of price and performance, cassette sizes depend on different factors. Use the table to determine your ideal size.

Chainring Upgrades 
With Shimano’s latest redesigned crank sets, you can run any combination of large/small chain rings you wish. In the past, you were limited to a couple of options if you ran an 110BCD crank and a couple of options if you ran a 130BCD crank. For the large chain rings, Shimano offers 50, 52, 53, 54 and 55T options. For the small chain rings, 34, 36, 38, 39, and 42T are available. Shimano recommends that you stick with a maximum of 16T difference between the small and large chain rings.Their standard configurations are 50-34T, 52-36T, 52-38T, 53-39T, 54-42T, 55-42T, but, with Di2, the drivetrain can easily handle a 52-34T (my configuration). In fact, I recently set up a new Di2 system for a client who wanted a 53-34T ROTOR Q-Ring. It works perfectly. For climbing, I recommend a 34T small ring with a 50T large chainring. For overall, I recommend a 34T small ring with a 52T large chainring.

2) Change Your Weight

It has been my experience that for every 10 pounds of body weight lost equates to one more gear you can push on the cassette. For example, if you are 200 pounds and can push a 34/28T up a hill and then you lose 10 pounds, you should be able to push a 34/25T with the same effort. The only drawback to weight loss is that all ‘roadies’ push hills as hard as they can so losing weight never makes hills any easier since you will just push a bigger gear up the same hill. You will be faster, but the hill won’t feel any easier.

3) Change Your Training

Ideally, you want to be an all-around cyclist so you will need to include hills in your workouts. But, you can simulate hills as well as get better at hills with certain kinds of workouts, namely intervals and spinning.

PRO Tip: A stationary bike at the gym or rollers at home can serve as your training grounds for major climbs.

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Coach Rick Schultz is an avid cyclist who trains, races and coaches in Southern California. He’s a bike fitter and USA Cycling Level 2 coach. As a USAC Certified Power Based Trainer, Rick  helps athletes ride safer and race better via his bike handling skills clinics. Rick also teaches the local Beginner Racer Program for USA Cycling. He’s the author of Bike Fit 101: Your Toolset for a Great Bike Fit and Stretching & Core Strengthening for the Cyclist and Triathlete. Check his product review website at biketestreviews.com and his coaching site bikefitnesscoaching.com. Rick is now working with Jax Bicycles as their premier bike fitter using the new state of the art Trek Fit System. Come on by and give it a try.