Effective Mountain Bike Climbing

The Seated Climb

The seated climb is used on moderate grade, steady climb with limited technical features like loose rocks, roots, mud and sand.  The secret to the seated climb is to deliver controlled, steady, consistent power to your rear wheel while maintaining proper weight distribution.

mountain bike climb

Proper Weight Distribution

Having your tires weighted evenly is the key — here’s how:

  • Lean your torso forward as you move your rear end back.
  • Bend at the hips.
  • Bend your elbows and keep them flexible.
  • Keep your head up.

This lowers your center of gravity and distributes your weight evenly across the bike. How far you have to lean forward is determined by the angle of the slope and the traction available on the trail. The looser the dirt and the steeper the trail, the closer to parallel your torso will be to your top tube.

Though it’s awkward, you can have your chin right above your handlebar, your back flat and your rear end sticking up in the air. It’s comical, but effective. Learning how far to slide back and how much to lean forward is where the finesse of hill climbing enters. And that takes practice. With time you’ll find how simple, subtle variations in forward-and-back movements can help get you over obstacles and up big hills.

Practice: Find a good stretch of trail with varying conditions and hills. Find a low gear (but not too low) that will allow you to pedal up the hills. Experiment. Move just your weight back without leaning forward. Now lean forward. Try this on various trail conditions and varying slopes.

mountain bike climb

Gear Selection

When you approach a hill, the gut reaction is to click into the lowest gear and attack the slope. This doesn’t work. It’s like spinning your car’s tires on ice. You’ll only upset your balance and cause your tire to slip. Instead, go into a gear that’s just low enough (this will take practice to learn what gear to use) so that you’re neither spinning out of control nor having to stand on the pedals to crank them forward. An ideal cadence will be 70-80 RPM.  Keep your cadence steady and smooth.

As you approach the hill, the tendency is to shift before you actually start climbing the hill. For a beginner this is the best approach. But as you learn to move your weight fore and aft to maintain balance and traction, you can modify your shifting to maintain speed.

Once you feel more comfortable climbing, maintain your cadence on your current gear until you feel like you’re about to have to lift out of the saddle to continue pedaling. At this point, shift into a lower gear. This will help you maintain your speed and make the hill seem shorter, the climb less grueling.

It also helps to pick a good line before you go up the hill. A beginning cyclist has the tendency to pick a line that avoids the most obstacles. Seems logical, but this isn’t always the best route. Turning the handlebar to steer around an obstacle can upset your balance more than just going over the obstacle.

Of course, you’ll have to learn which obstacles you can power over and which are best avoided. Obviously big rocks and large, wet roots will stop any advance and are best circumvented. But you can generally power through the small stuff.

As you ride along a trail, your eyes should constantly scan the trail. Move your line of sight from in front of your tire to about 15 feet up the trail, then back. Look for large rocks, roots, sand—anything that can easily stop your forward motion. You’ll see the general lay of the land and obvious paths where your bike can and can’t go. As you become more experienced, your eyes will spot paths that most people think mountain goats couldn’t conquer.



And like all mountain bike skills… practice, practice, practice.  Enjoy!

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