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Today’s post is about cycling on rolling hills. Often on rides I see cyclists — both novice and experienced — stop pedaling on the down hills, only to mash, huffing and puffing, on the up hills. I think these cyclists are being lazy, either wanting a rest on the down hill or not wanting to shift between the change interval. But I think there’s a better way which will conserve strength and energy by evening out the effort all along the hill.

And the solution is just that: making a conscious effort to maintain an even speed and level of exertion on both the uphill and the downhill. In this way, you can “rest” on the downhills and on the uphills! You spread the resting state out along with the effort — the rest on the uphills comes from maximizing your downhill effort to carry you up the more-difficult uphill.

How do you do this? Here are some tips which occur to me as I think about when I’ve succeeded on rollers and when I’ve failed:
First, be in the right gear for your speed and the pitch of the hill you’re on — don’t pre-shift in anticipation of the pitch of the hill. Instead, be prepared to shift as soon as your cadence drops below your target. If you don’t have a cadence meter, judge by how much effort you’re putting out. Too little effort: down shift. Too much effort: up shift.
Second, be prepared for the “micro” shifting you’ll be doing with the rear derailleur (right shifter) by staying in one place for the “macro” shifting of your front derailleur (left shifter). Its easier to get “trapped” in the wrong gear (thus losing forward momentum unnecessarily) if you’re constantly shifting in the front.
Third, try to keep a steady cadence — avoid spinning so fast you’re no longer moving the bike on downhills, and avoid mashing (or spinning so slow you’re essentially mashing the pedals down) to get up the other side. Try to even it out as far as possible. This should maximize the momentum from the downhill. How do you know what your cadence should be? Well, to make it easy, faster is better:

Higher cadence equals better blood flow

The legs act as a more effective blood pumping system when the cadence is higher – if you hit a faster cadence the heart output increases [7]. For the same power output (200Watts as used by Gotshal, 1996) higher cadences make for better muscle blood flow, and in-line with reduced muscle strain data, it makes for better endurance. At 200 Watts (around 20mph) if you spin 100rpm your strain works out at just two Watts per rev, whereas at 60rpm your strain is over three Watts per rev. 

Any rider who has ever ridden with power and cadence data to view, using SRM, Polar, PowerTap, Ergomo, Tacx or Cateye, can feel the difference that changes in cadence produce in leg tension, if Wattage stays constant. And here’s the crux: If you use this variety of gearing, power and perceived effort, you can vary training to develop your ability – in other words: Get fitter, faster and better. Now who doesn’t want that! (From

Fourth, don’t stop pedaling. Even if you aren’t getting any forward momentum, by continuous pedaling you’ll know when you’ve hit the point that your gears engage and so can maximize your effort. Since it costs little to keep your legs moving freely, you’ll be resting even while you pedal. This also has the effect of keeping your muscles engaged, making it easier to keep the momentum going on the uphill portion and keeping them from cramping.
Fifth, stay seated as much as possible. — this will conserve your energy for the duration of the ride. If you power up each and every hill in the rollers, you might do well on the first few, but you’ll conk out on the last few.
When you do this correctly and when the hills are relatively equal with up and down portions, it feels like you’re flying!
Again, no doubt this list is not complete and it is based primarily on my own experience and the tips I’ve been given by others. Please feel free to add points or correct me in comments!
Your Bear

2 thoughts on “Momentum

    […] yourself before you get exhausted, and rest while cycling. Slow your speed, slow your heart rate while cycling. You’ll save time and effort over […]

    […] might move your bike forward faster, but it will definitely exhaust you. (Read my prior article on why higher cadence is better.) The answer is to modulate your cadence based on road conditions and your fitness level. How do […]

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