Joel Fletcher takes us through tips on tackling long climbs. No, sadly, step 1 isn’t “find a flatter route” but his advice will at least increase your climbing comfort.
By: Joel Fletcher
Whether you have long monster climbs right out your back door or your local riding terrain is pancake flat, long climbs can be intimidating, and it can be hard to feel comfortable. For me, it took a long time to feel prepared, both physically and mentally, for longer climbs. This is what I have learned so far and it is an always-changing process. I highly encourage taking training notes to record how you handle different climbing situations. This allows you to try new things and learn what works for you. When approaching a long climb, I recommend making sure that you have everything you need not only for the climb but also for the descent. This includes food, water, and extra layers.
On the lower slopes, you will inevitably start to heat up. Controlling your core temperature is key. If you’re wearing a vest, you can start by unzipping it or taking it completely off and storing it in your handlebar bag or back pocket for the descent. It won’t hurt your aerodynamics to let it flap in the breeze.
The next step in body temperature control is to unzip your jersey if needed, especially on the lower parts of the climb to keep yourself cool. Another benefit of doing this is to show off your flashy baselayer.
As you climb higher towards the summit, the temperature will drop. When you reach the top and are ready to descend, grab the extra layers that you schlepped up and throw them on to keep you warm on the way down.
Dressing properly for long climbs can be tricky as weather can change drastically from bottom to top. I always err on the side of caution and bring more layers. Becoming cold on the descent can be dangerous and lead to losing dexterity in your fingers while braking.
Eating and drinking on a long climb is also key to performing well both mentally and physically. Bonking on an hour-long climb can ruin the experience.
Make sure that you have plenty of food before you set off on your climb. You’re going to burn more calories while climbing than while riding on flat roads. To combat the bonk, make sure you're eating every 30 minutes and drinking every 15 minutes.
One of the biggest tips I have is to scout your climb on Google Maps to see if there are any spots to stop and fill up water. Many longer climbs will have water, especially if they roll through State or National Parks. Calling a State or National Park the day before to make sure water fountains are up and running will ease the mind as to whether or not you’ll have a water source.
If you are not used to the added fatigue on your body from a long climb, there are a few things you can do to give your legs, back, and mind a break from the seemingly constant grinding.
Taking a break from seated climbing to stand up is a great way to give your legs and back a micro-rest. Shift into one or two gears harder than riding while seated and stand for 30-60 seconds. This can also help you get through steep pitches. Riding switchbacks can also be a tricky part of longer climbs. You don’t want to push too hard and over-stress your legs. The pure inside line will be very steep and hard on your heavy legs. If you move slightly to the outside of the road (without crossing the centerline), you will find easier gradients through switchbacks that will keep your legs feeling fresh for longer.
Once you’ve reached the top, don’t just turn around and immediately ride down. Take in the view, eat and drink, visit with your ride partners, and give yourself a much-needed rest. One of the best parts of long climbs is the amazing views you get at the top.
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