Part 2 Riding/Shifting in Hills   (follow this link for Part 1)

Three Sisters Hill - Hilly 2006 (Photo by Connie Szabo Schmucker)Most of the articles I’ve read about how to ride in hills (or climb hills) have generally been aimed at racing or competitive bicycling. What I’ve learned in the long and/or challenging climbs I’ve done in various states (TN, WV, VT, NH, VA and yes, IN) that it’s the journey that’s important and having fun and seeing great views from the tops of climbs is the goal, not how fast I got there. What follows is from that perspective.

I ride in the hills of western Bartholomew and eastern Brown County on a regular basis. It is not uncommon for my husband and I to ride many 10-18% grades in that area within our 50 mile rides. I can name many of them off the top of my head (Youth Camp Rd., Grandview Rd, Christianburg, Poplar Grove, Harrison Ridge, 4 Mile Ridge, Valley Branch, Hamilton Creek, Mt. Healthy, Becks Grove, Rinnie Seitz)

To be proficient at hills, you first need to be comfortable in how your bike shifts. Practice shifting on flat and rolling terrain first. (see Shifting and Hills Part 1 for some basics about shifting) 

The general concept in shifting when climbing a hill is to shift before you have to. You want to shift so your cadence (pedaling speed) remains relatively steady. As you climb the hill, shift so the pedaling remains fairly steady and so you can maintain your momentum. Shift too late and it puts a lot of strain on the chain and shifters and sometimes won’t shift. Shift too early and you’ll lose your momentum.

Every hill is different:

Some hills are long and gradual – in this case you can do several small change shifts (rear) before you make large change shifts (front). You will want to shift the front before you get to the last three (larger) cogs; you may have to shift the rear back up (to smaller cogs in the rear) when you make the large shift in the front (to smaller ring in the front). That way you still will have some opportunity to make small adjustments and not be in your lowest gear and won’t lose too much momentum.

Some hills are short and steep – in this case you may need to make large change shifts first (front) and then shift the back.

Long and steep hills are challenging but you can usually find a gear where you can keep some sort of pedaling rhythm.

Wide range gearing, properly used, will help you take on any hill.Some of the hardest hills to shift correctly are those that are short and steep in rollercoaster fashion – the downhill isn’t enough to give you the momentum you need to get all the way up and if it’s really steep, it can be a challenge to get in the right gear to keep the momentum you do have.

I generally coast down hills. In my opinion, in hilly terrain you expend a lot of energy climbing and need the breaks to recover. If the downhill is steep (causes you to go 35+ mph without pedaling), you’ll be working hard pedaling without adding much to the bike’s speed – just relax and coast. Plus that’s the payoff for climbing hills. But there are some hills that are roller coasters and you’ll want to keep some of the momentum on the downhills so that you can get at least part of the way up the hill before you have to start working hard. In this case you’ll definitely need to shift up as you’re descending the hill so that when you do start pedaling you can carry some of your downhill momentum up the hill.

Once you crest a hill, you’ll need to get the bike gearing readjusted for the downhill otherwise once you start pedaling you’ll be spinning like a hamster. The easiest way is to move the chain to a larger front ring and then make small adjustments to the rear.

Going to the Hilly Hundred?  See Shifting and Hills part 3: Hill Climbing at the Hilly Hundred

Keep bicycling!

For more tips and links, visit the Bicycle Garage Indy Hilly Hundred Resource Page.  We also remind you that if your bike needs service, you should bring it to Bicycle Garage Indy by Friday, October 7, 2011, and mention you need it for Hilly Hundred. 

Bicycle Garage Indy now has three locations to serve you; Bicycle Garage Indy North (Indianapolis, in the Clearwater area on 82nd St.),  South (just west of I-65 on County Line Rd, Greenwood), and the new BGI Downtown, in the Indy Bike Hub YMCA at City Market, the perfect stop for those last minute items before you leave work on Friday.