Pauline Ferrand-Prévot and Evie Richards perform during UCI XCO in Nove Mesto na Morave, Czech Republic on October 4, 2020.
© Bartek Wolinski/Red Bull Content Pool

6 top tips to improve your uphill riding

Want to slay long climbs and fly over technical ups? These 6 simple skills and tips will boost your abilities on a mountain bike when the trail points upwards.
By Richard Bennett
5 min readUpdated on
Whether you're a budding cross-country racer, or you simply like to earn your downhill turns, climbing is a vital part of every mountain biker's skill set. Long, steep or technical climbs might seem intimidating at first, but there are lots of strategies and tips that will help you in the fight against gravity.
Trials rider Thomas Oehler and Rob Warner explain these key techniques. Remember, practice makes perfect! Soon, there’ll be no climb that you can't conquer.

1. Use an easy gear and pace yourself

2 min

How to climb with Rob Warner and Tom Oehler

Rob Warner and Tom Oehler show you how to get the best out of your climbing game.

For long, steady and not-too-technical climbs, pick an easy gear that will allow you to spin your legs easily, manage your effort levels and pace yourself. Too hard a gear and you'll exhaust yourself, ride too fast at it and you'll burn out before you reach the top. The speed you spin the pedals is called your cadence, so for climbing you want a higher cadence, as it puts less pressure on your heart and lungs.
Judging this takes a bit of experience, but it's better to arrive with energy to spare for those downhills than panting your lungs out.

2. Stay seated

Henrique Avancini rides up the climb during the XCC race at Rd 7 of the UCI XCO MTB World Cup 2018 in La Bresse, France on August 24, 2018.
Avancini sets the tempo
When things get steeper, looser, muddier or more technical, it's tempting to get out of the saddle to keep the power turning, but actually it's better to stay seated if you can. Standing up means your weight becomes unevenly distributed across the wheels, meaning they have less grip and traction, so you risk them slipping or spinning, which could stop you in your tracks.
Stay seated, move forward on the bike so your head and chest are over the bars to weight the wheels evenly and spin the pedals as steadily as you can. Sitting makes it easier to maintain an even pedal stroke and have better, more efficient control on your power output, which helps with that all-important pacing.

3. Smooth out that pedal stroke

Unlike road cyclists, with their smooth road surfaces, mountain bikers have to deal with all sorts of unpredictable features when climbing. Think rocks, roots, mud and often all three at the same time. Pumping the pedals round like a crazy person will cause you to lose traction, due to the uneven spikes in power.
A little known fact is that pro cross country mountain bikers have some of the smoothest pedalling action in all of cycling, meaning they dish the power out more evenly around the whole pedal stroke. So, next time you hit a steep technical climb, think about your pedals and applying pressure in a more even circular motion.

4. Choose your line

Emily Batty in action at a World Cup XCO race
Emily Batty demonstrates line choice on a technical ascent
Picking a line is very important. Look ahead and spot the path of least resistance. Think about where your rear wheel will be rolling. Things like roots and rocks can stop you dead or catch the rear wheel and cause it to spin rather than roll, so first see if you can avoid them and, secondly, if they’re everywhere try and spot a route through where they aren't as big.
To get over technical sections like these, there are several tricks you can try. Firstly, go into a very slightly harder gear. This will give you better control over your power. Secondly, accelerate towards the feature, so you have some momentum that will help carry you over it and you won't have to pedal as hard. Thirdly, slightly unweight each wheel as it reaches the feature by moving your body backwards and then forwards slightly on the bike. This will help prevent your wheels getting stuck. With practice, you'll be surprised at what you can ride over.

5. Get your tyre pressure right

Yana Belomoina performs at Rd3 of the UCI XCO Mountain Bike World Cup in Vallnord, Andorra on July 2, 2017.
Yana Belomoina had a faultless race
It's amazing what a difference having your tyres at the right pressure can make on climbs and yet it's something we're all guilty of forgetting about.
While having your tyres at a high pressure that makes them hard means they roll better, it's less good for climbing. This is because the tyre deforms less as it rolls, so there's a smaller contact patch with the ground, which means less traction and grip. At the other end of the spectrum, softer tyres will have a huge contact patch and therefore plenty of traction, but as a result will also be very hard work to move, like cycling through treacle. You'll be at higher risk of pinch flats.
It's all about finding the sweet spot where your grip and rolling resistance are optimal. Small increases and decreases – one or two PSI – can make all the difference, so we recommend spending some time experimenting with tyre pressures to see what works best for you.

6. Hone your mental game

Mathieu Van der Poel leads out Henrique Avancini during the XCC race at the UCI XCO World Cup at Val di Sole, Italy,  on August 2, 2019.
Avancini catches Van der Poel
Climbs can feel like they go on forever and have you wondering if you'll ever make it up. It's a head game that the pros are very good at managing.
On longer climbs, pros have been known to count in one minute intervals when they're on the limit. Once they make it to the end of that minute they start counting again.
Another idea is to break the climb down into chunks, so instead of thinking about the huge mountain you're ascending, think about making it to that next rock up the trail and once you're there find another goal further ahead. These strategies may sound simple, but they can be a great way of improving your mental game. You'll be surprised at how far they get you and before you know it, you'll be at the top and ready to shred the descent.