Q. How Can I Get Up Hills Faster?

Cyclists often ask me, “How do you get up hills so fast?” My reply for this question remains the same; I ‘spin to win’. In order to move upward faster and more efficiently, you will need to build up your spinning to a higher cadence than the average cyclist, which is around 85rpm, the most efficient being 105rpm. It will take about 6 months to be able to pedal at that rate if you’re doing regular training drills. It doesn’t take much time during your day and can be done in conjunction with any of your standard group rides.

Want to climb like Quintana?
Photo by Robert Calin

The Gears for Success

When going full gas up a hill, use whatever gear you need to so that your cadence is between 90 and 105. As you get used to spinning you will find your ideal rpm in which you pedal the most efficiently, usually around 100 rpm. Your cadence will increase to 120+ rpm while sprinting, and if you can’t do 120+ in a sprint than your gears are too hard for you and you might want to consider new ones. If you live in a hilly area, you can use a road bike compact crank (50/34) along with an 11-32. If that’s not enough gear, look into a mountain bike cassette found in an 11-40, or there are some 11-42 and 11-46 as well. Though some might consider that a compact too small, Mark Cavendish is a prime example of the few people who can spin out a 50/11. On a 50/11 at 130 RPM you will be eating up the road and I think there are quite a few world tour pro teams that would like to talk with you. If you still want to go with a bigger gear, a 53/11 will move you down the road at over 49 mph at 130 rpm. Believe me, a 50/34 provides plenty of gear.

The Magic Numbers

The optimal number of the world’s top sprinters as they cross the finish line is 130 rpm. If you compare Peter Sagan’s cadence in his first year of racing to where he is now, you will see that early in his career he was pushing/mashing much bigger gears compared to what he’s spinning now, and he’s usually the first sprinter over the top of each mountain. Mark Cavendish sprints at 1600 watts and achieves a speed of almost 49 mph; he’s spinning 120-130 rpm. When it comes to climbing, take a look at Chris Froome’s average cadence; on 15km climbs he averages 414 watts (5.78w/kg) and 97rpm. To quote Levi Leipheimer, “You can consider anything under 90 RPM to be a low cadence, and 90+ RPM would be a high cadence.” When someone once asked Levi what his ideal cadence is, Levi summed it up by saying “it’s somewhere between ‘holy sh– my legs are on fire!’ and ‘I…can’t…breathe!’”

Local cyclist Krystof Andres spins all the way to the top.

Finally, if you need more convincing that increasing your pedaling rate is the most effective way to move up hill, refer to the 2008 study “Adaptation of pedaling rate of professional cyclist in mountain passes” published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology by José Antonio Rodríguez-Marroyo et al. The study monitored professional cyclist’s pedaling rate (PR), heart rate, velocity and power to overcome gravity during high mountain stages. The study concluded that the “cyclists chose higher PR to improve their performance,” proving that increasing your cadence is the tried and true method for getting up hills fast like the pros. Whether or not you decide to change your gearing, just remember those three words to keep you going, “spin to win.”