01 February 2013
Like Julie Andrews, we all love a good romp in the hills and cherish an honest hill climb. Often unfairly labelled 'a necessary evil', it can be treasured as part of the yin and yang of mountain biking. For those who disagree here are a few tips that may take a little bit of the pain out of altitude gain.
Unless you're a wheelie maestro or part-time busker with a unicycle, you'll want to keep your front wheel in touch with terra firma as you grind uphill. Nudging your centre of gravity forward is the answer... roll your wrists back, drop your elbows, lower your shoulders and slide your butt forward on the seat. Sounds hard, feels funny, works a treat! And try to relax - loosen your arms and upper body to conserve energy and minimise back stress.
Ever notice how the gun riders look silky smooth when they tackle tricky terrain? Part of the secret is picking a good line. Look ahead and eye up options with better traction or fewer obstacles to grunt over, although sometimes the direct route with a few bumps or rocks is preferable to the 'easy' line that weaves in and out like a game of snakes and ladders. Following a more experienced rider is the best way to discover where these magic lines lurk.
Obviously it's critical to maintain traction uphill and thinking about the drive end of the rig is helpful when negotiating tight corners. Your rear wheel cuts a tighter line than the front, so give yourself space by running the front wheel on the outside edge of the bend or obstacle. Don't obsess with the wheel - look ahead and around the corner to where you aim to travel, keeping your front wheel just in your peripheral vision. This snazzy trick works a treat when avoiding obstacles on the flat as well. Just imagine where you want your rear wheel to track and compensate by pushing your front wheel further outwards.
Don't be afraid, changing gears often is okay - that's why you have so many! When pushing hard uphill there's a bundle of tension in the drive train, making it harder than usual to convince your chain to 'hop to'. Try to plan ahead and select an easier gear before you need it. But if you miss the moment, wind up to get a brief spurt of momentum then lay off the full pressure while you click into a bigger rear cog.
Even with the best endeavours you may still lose it part way up. But this doesn't necessitate walking to the top or returning to the bottom for another go. If you have room, park your bike on an angle to the slope to make starting off easier. Hop on your bike, clip-in your downhill foot, pedal forward then turn up the slope and resume the climb.
Once you have bagged your peak let your legs run loose for a while. They'll be a bit wound up, tense and tired after so much forced labour. So rather than stopping or racing off once you crest the hill, back off and spin for a few minutes to bring them back to life. Think you're pretty hot? New Zealand's benchmark hill climb is the Tip Track on Hawkins Hill in Wellington. Simon Kennett holds the official record of 20 minutes from 'seal to seal'. Trevor Woodward has blasted the slightly shorter distance from 'barrier to barrier' in 18 minutes. Start your engines!
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