I’m afraid of heights. This is why I thought hill climbing wasn’t my BFF. But, the more I thought about it, I wondered if it were something else. I stuck with flat, monotonous routes everywhere I cycled.
Whatever the reason, hills went from enemies to frenemies (as a friend, on a mission to get in shape, calls them) and, now, to my unlikely new BFFs. When I’m having a hard day and everything seems overwhelming, I go ride up a hill. When it’s raining and gusty and cold and leaving the house at all seems like a questionable idea, I go all in and hit the hills. An extra hill can turn a quick errand into a much-needed workout. The endorphins are soothing and the sense of accomplishment never hurts.
Just a few years ago, you couldn’t have found a more enthusiastic hill hater than me. But now, thanks to a change in attitude, some good advice, and a little hard work, you can probably find me hanging with my BFFs on most rides. Here are some tips I’ve learned for making friends with hills.
Shift into the Hill
“Shift before the hill” was the advice that helped me finally develop a good relationship with my derailleurs. There’s more to it than that, though—as you ease into a hill, you want to get into gear slow but steady. Shift to an easy gear too quickly and your legs will spin, costing you valuable momentum. Shift to the optimal gear too slowly and you’ll have to shift too much all at once. As shifting becomes muscle memory, you’ll find yourself getting into a rhythm with it. The only way to learn is by doing it, and that means—what else—riding up a lot of hills.
Whatever You Do, Don’t Stop…
Keep going. Mash those pedals, shift, breathe, keep your eyes on the prize, go! You can do it.
…Until You Must
But. If you are ever moving so slowly that you are having trouble staying upright on the bike, that’s a good time to stop, especially if your feet are attached to your pedals.
Own the Downhills
Just as I struggled to learn to shift and pedal and breathe my way gracefully (and successfully) up a hill, I had to learn the equally challenging (though totally different) feat of descending. When I started cycling, I’d clutch the brakes on a steep downhill, inching along jerkily, arms stiff, sweating. The skill of descending another skill you can only internalize by doing it a lot—anticipating your turns and modulating your speed to suit them, moving your pedals so your lower foot is always on the outside of the turn, relaxing your arms and shoulders so every bump in the road doesn’t jar your spine.
Celebrate Your Victories
Sure, the best reward for riding up a hill is getting to ride down the other side. But you’ll remember your victory longer, and feel more motivated to ride and go for it again next time, if you remember to celebrate the moment. It’s worth it to pause, breathe for a minute, stretch out your shoulders, feel your blood moving, and grin like a fool. Then down you go—you’ve earned it!