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Don’t walk your bike up a hill

Published 2010-09-09

Tonight on my ride home up Montgomery Drive I passed a woman walking her bike up the hill.

Don't ever do this.

I've written previously about this hill and how I conquered it. Here’s my recipe for mastering hills:

  1. Ride your bike up the hill, until you are absolutely unable to turn the pedals over again, or you are moving so slowly that you’re in danger of falling over. At that point:
  2. Stop. Get off your bike. Take a drink of water and relax for a short period while you cool off and catch your breath. Don’t wait less than 15 seconds or more than five minutes, or you’ll get stiff and it’ll be hard to ride again.
  3. Once you’ve got your wind back, remount and repeat.
  4. If you’re on a portion of the hill so steep you don’t think you can start again, try turning your bike across the road. The fall line (i.e. slope) is less dramatic that way, and you can gain enough momentum to climb again.

(This all assumes you have a bike with low gears and you’re using those gears correctly.)

Remember: if you can drive a car up a hill, you can ride a bike up it.

Advantages of this method:

  1. As long as you have enough momentum to stay upright, the bike is more efficient than walking. Meaning: it’ll require less energy over the length of the climb if you climb it on your bike.
  2. For the same reason, it’ll be faster, too
  3. Resting with your bike looks cooler than walking. Walking your bike looks and feels like “person defeated by a bicycle”. Leaning on your bike looks and feels like “person chilling out near a bicycle.” It sounds vain, but that feeling matters: it will affect your perception of the hill, and of climbing generally. And climbing is more a mental exercise than a physical one.
  4. This method will build the muscles and cardiovascular capacity necessary to climb hills. Walking your bike won’t.
  5. Riding your bike up a hill makes you feel like a goddamned HERO.

All that said, there are times when even seasoned cyclists need to walk their bikes up a hill. But these are almost always situations when some technical aspect of the hill prevents them riding it. For example, on a narrow trail there might not be enough space to cross the fall line as I describe above, so you can’t get enough momentum to start. Or your bike is a single-speed or otherwise lacks gears sufficiently low for the hill. Or you’re on a tandem or recumbent and can’t get enough leverage to start again.

But seasoned riders, even those in not-particuarly-good physical condition, seldom walk their bikes up hills.