Climbing Tips by Pat Jonker


Most recreational riders go out too hard too early on a climb and then blow before they reach the top.

If you try to keep up with the better climbers and push too hard too early, you’ll blow up spectacularly and you’ll end up going much slower than if you had paced yourself early on.

The secret is to ease into the climb early on and keep your pace steady, then once past the half way mark, start increasing your tempo to near max while reaching the top.

You will lose less time to the better climbers this way. It takes some discipline letting go while your legs aren’t hurting early on, but that’s the point, you can hurt later near the top of the climb.

You’ll find that your climbing improves when you start the climb at an easier tempo and gradually increase your effort as the climb goes on.

Think of yourself as a snow ball rolling down a mountain rapidly, gaining momentum, getting faster as you near the end. It’s about how fast you finish a climb, not how fast you start a climb.

I personally tend to sit most of the time while climbing. But once the road suddenly gets steeper (so over 10%), then that’s a good time to stand.

I also stand when accelerating, but otherwise I stay seated because my heart rate remains lower.

For most riders, standing on a climb results in a heart rate increase of about three to five beats per minute compared to sitting, so still riding at the same speed.

Small, light riders usually can stand with less heart rate increase because they’re supporting less weight than bigger riders.

To find the climbing style that’s most efficient for you, find a climb that takes five to eight minutes to complete.

So the test is ……

Ride the whole climb seated at your near max pace, in your gear and cadence of choice.

Note your average heart rate and the time it takes to get to the top.

Then, ride the climb again a few days later but note wind direction and strength is the same.

Ride the climb standing this time, but it must be at the same heart rate.

Compare your elapsed times. This will give you an indication of what best style of climbing suits your body type.


I like to spin a lot more than most pro climbers. My time while racing at the Tour De France was around 80 to 90 rpm even on the steepest grades.

Most climbers slide forward and backward in the saddle to vary the strain on their muscles, but I try to stay in the same place most of the time. I climb with my hands on the brake hoods and relax my arms when I’m seated.

The secret is to choose gearing that lets you spin on the steepest climbs in your area. If it takes a 39×27-tooth low gear, get one. Don’t let pride stand in the way. I have a semi Compaq and who cares.

While you’re spinning up climbs, think about relaxing your upper body. Muscular tension in the arms and shoulders uses energy better spent on pushing on the pedals.

Most importantly, keep a positive attitude while climbing, even when riders are passing you – don’t worry, ignore them, focus on your own game plan and most importantly, don’t give up. A positive frame of mind is truly the secret to long term success!


Good Luck


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