Ever hear the phrase, “You won’t forget; it’s like riding a bike?” Odds are you have. This of course is in reference to how simple it is to operate a bicycle once you’ve learned how. While this is true for children who use their bikes to ride up and down the sidewalk, road and mountain bikes require a bit more learning and need to be operated differently from one another in varying conditions. Taking on steep hills is one such condition, and powering uphill on a mountain bike requires specific tactics, tactics that I’ve outlined below for those who may be having some trouble climbing those hills.

Most of the time, mountain bikes are used on surfaces with poor traction, such as gravel or dirt, which can leave your back tire spinning in place. To counter this loss of traction, you’ll need to learn how to distribute your weight to the rear wheel without losing the weight you’ve place on the front wheel.

Easier said than done, right? Actually, it’s not that hard and all you have to do is slide back on the seat a bit. To do this properly without losing front traction, you’ll have to lean forward as you slide back in the seat, bending at the hips as you do so. Keep your elbows close to your body and your head up, also. This positioning lowers your center of gravity and distributes your weight more evenly.

How far forward you’ll need to lean will depend on how steep the hill is, so there are times when you might have to rest your chin on the handlebars and stick your butt into the air. This may look awkward, but it’s incredibly effective at enabling you to climb those hills. Also, it will take some time and practice to learn how far forward or back you’ll need to position yourself on the seat in a given situation.

Knowing how to pedal properly on a hill is a key factor, as well. Beginners will attack the hill in the lowest gear with a head full of steam, but this isn’t the recommended approach. I suggest dropping to a gear that’s low enough to keep your from spinning your tires too fast and from having to stand up on the pedals. Pay attention to your pedaling, as well, and try to keep your rhythm smooth and steady. When you feel like you’re about to lift out of the seat while riding a hill, then switch to a lower gear and continue the climb.

Climbing a hill on a mountain bike isn’t as difficult as many beginners make it out to be, and really only requires a series of subtle positioning tweaks on the seat to maintain a smooth, steady climb. Choose a good line on the approach, fight the urge to stand and muscle the bike uphill, and you’ll be fine. Doing so turns that hill from a Dismount-and-Walk monster into a worthy challenge that will leave you feeling great when it’s conquered. 

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