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I commute on a Single Speed (SS) bike about 13mi round trip. Going home is not a problem as the gradients are low and I can climb them. However, going in to work the gradients are much steeper and I have a hard time climbing them. I usually need to stop and walk a bit. I am looking for any pointers on climbing hills on an SS. Thanks

Edit: I am not really looking for ways to avoid hurting myself, I am young and fit so that isn't my biggest concern. I am more concerned with making my pedaling technique more efficient, especially for hill climbs. Another point I should mention is that I am using clipless pedals to increase my power output.

Verdict: I added this because I can only choose one best answer. I think that @GuyZee best addressed my question about technique, but @Steven offered a great deal of help with regards to getting a better mechanical advantage. Thanks to both of you for providing great answers.

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Welcome to Bicycles.SE! Thanks for the question, we need more SS/FG love here. Are you concerned with hurting your knees or ankles, or do you just want help determining the best way to work up to this kind of climbing? –  Neil Fein May 27 '11 at 16:46
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For your situation a flip-flop wheel might be a useful answer. That would let you keep your current gear to work, flip the wheel before you ride home to get a tooth or two extra on the cog for the ride home. –  Мסž May 29 '11 at 3:22
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9 Answers 9

up vote 15 down vote accepted

I ride both SS/FG and approach climbing hills much of the same way I would if I were on a geared bike with one very big exception...MOMENTUM. When on a heavily geared SS/FG I gain as much speed as possible going into the hill and push hard to maintain it throughout the climb.

Basic climbing tips:

  1. Slide back on saddle and drive heels through the bottom of the pedal stroke
  2. If you need to stand, do so while minimizing body sway and unnecessary counterproductive upper body motion
  3. Get into a rhythm - climb at your own pace
  4. Stay upright to keep lungs operating at full capacity
  5. Pull handlebars into your thighs as you drive pedals forward

Hope this helps!

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Some times when i know i can't make it up a hill, I'll climb diagonally up the hill instead of straight up, zig zagging in my lane (or a bit wider on empty streets) so I effectively reduce the grade I'm climbing and can keep making forward progress. This allows me to power up hills that might be otherwise too steep for my ability without dismounting. The angle of your ascent can be varied to suit the steepness of the hill vs your ability. If you wind up having to do this all the time you may need to alter your gear ratio to make climbing easier. –  Benzo Aug 9 '12 at 14:28
    
I also run a single speed mountain bike and have several cogs I swap out as needed depending on the terrain. However, If you've got a flip flop hub (with < 130mm spacing), this probably isn't much of an option for you. Most track bikes and conversions tend to have a smaller rear hub spacing. –  Benzo Aug 9 '12 at 14:33
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@GuyZee covers most of the technique side, but I'd like to add that if you're experiencing difficulty climbing hills, you should also use a lower gear. Faster cadences are a great way to build up your endurance and help with the hill climbs to boot.

Spinning is winning!

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I like the idea, but this isn't that feasible since I have a SS. If I put a hill climbing gear on I would be hosed in the flat. I think building my endurance will be a big help. –  CyberKnoy08 May 27 '11 at 18:34
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You don't need to drop your gearing by much — just go a tooth or two smaller on your chainring. Or if you don't have a smaller chainring, go with one tooth more on your rear cog. You'll notice the difference climbing hills, and you'll learn to spin faster to compensate on the flats. Don't downvote me until you've given it a chance; higher cadences are a good thing, and shouldn't be feared. –  Stephen Touset May 27 '11 at 19:31
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No problem. Keep in mind that every tooth added to your cog is about the equivalent of removing four teeth from your chainring, so chainrings let you make finer adjustments to your gearing. However, they also tend to be way more expensive. I'd try a cog that's one tooth larger, and if you're spinning way too fast, get a chainring that's two teeth smaller and put the original cog back on. –  Stephen Touset May 27 '11 at 20:49
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I can't help but point out that Mr. Campagnolo invented the modern derailleur precisely for this purpose... For the young and strong, the single-speed may have it's charms. For those of us who are a bit older and have wonky knees...."Give me gears, lots of gears, and a hill to ride upon..." –  M. Werner May 28 '11 at 0:01
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There's nothing wrong with him using a single-speed bike. He had problems climbing hills, the obvious answer (to me, at least) is to drop a few gear-inches and make them easier. He'll have to spin faster on the flats, but that's much better on his knees and for building endurance than mashing on the pedals is. –  Stephen Touset May 31 '11 at 3:49
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I have cycled to Holland from London and to Ireland and am about to cycle again to Holland, through Belgium and into France.

I agree strongly with Frank. Conditioning is what it's all about. The only thing I would add is;

  1. Going up hills on a SS - keep your breathing constant and powerful - work the lungs.

  2. Push hard into the climb and then stand when you have to and then do what I call the push ups motion, pulling upward on the handlebars into your body and working hard.

  3. There will be some hills where you have no option (and it is quicker) to get off and walk) but if you repeat steps 1 and 2 for a couple of months with decent distance on a regular basis, then your body will pump you up the hardest of hills.

  4. Keep hydrated throughout - and if doing long distances eat the right foods - full of carbs, like flapjacks and snickers bars! That and energy drinks have helped me push hard up hills for years. Simplicity is key (although I do not discredit anyone's more advanced knowledge of changing cogs etc - I would try that if I could afford to out of curiosity).

  5. Don't think too much! Keep yourself in a calm state and concentrate on your rhythm and not on cyclists around you or motorists (at the same time obviously keeping them in mind for safety!).

Good luck soldier.

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I am with M. Werner - couldn't be better said!

A compromise idea might be to use 3-speed, Sturmey Archer hub gear.

There is a minor weight penalty and that handlebar lever will completely ruin the look of the bike, however you will get a gear for the hills/speedy standing starts, a cruising gear and an overdrive gear. You do have to ease off the pedals to change gear but you can also change when stationary. 3-speed is fun because you can rapidly downshift to first, go into high cadence mode, clear whatever you need to get past and then shift back to the cruising gear. Externally minimalist and bulletproof (I have a 3 speed from 1954), 3 speed will set you apart from those single-speeders lumbering away from the stop lights.

Implementing 3-speed could be a fun project if you build your own wheel from any old junk 3-speed wheel. The clips, cable and shifter are readily available after market for small sums, they will also fit onto your frame without requiring dropouts or any other frame bolt-ons. If you go with Sturmey Archer you will also have genuine retro, timeless classic-ness added to your bike.

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The simplest answer is conditioning. Try pushing yourself hard for three minutes with three minute recoveries. Do this three times on the way to work. Do the workout two or three times a week. I ride a single speed ten to twenty miles a day before work. Using this simple program I got to the point where I was able to ride a single speed forty miles at altitude in a few weeks. Regarding equipment a higher saddle often helps with climbing.

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Given that you're riding a single-speed, my advice would be: Coast down the hills, and pedal up. This conserves your energy best and gives you more power going uphill.

The reason is that a certain amount of downhill pedaling is wasted. Gravity will pull you down a hill, so you have to pedal a certain amount just to go faster than gravity would move you anyway.

Uphill, on the other hand, every bit of energy you expend is useful.

So you'll be most efficient if you coast down and pedal up.

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As another suggestion - replace your single speed rear hub with a Sturmey Archer 2-speed, Duomatic hub. This is operated by back-pedaling, so you get to keep the clean, simple look of a single-speed, but you get a lower gear for hills. I have one - it works great.

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I agree with the advice given by @GuyZee: It's all about momentum. Make sure you have established a rhythm with your cadence (rolling start) and just before the climb, push and never look back! I do this personally, with the addition of adapting a road biker's stance (leaning slightly forward at least) and it works quite well. Not to mention that the next time I climb that hill, I feel considerably stronger and more confident.

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I'd agree with most that has been said (Campagnolo excepted, some people just don't get simplicity!). Like most things, practice makes things easier by a combination of strength build up and technique refinement. I regularly do distances of 40+ miles on my fg and haven't changed cogs, position, equipment once it works. So much is psychological rather than physical! I guess that if you read this after a year or so riding ss you've either cracked the difficulty and are gloating, or you're still finding hills tough. Hope it's the former! My wife has just got a ss and loves the immediacy of riding up hills. You say you're young and strong, as a 60 year old I guess I could say that my fg is keeping me old and strong! Enjoy.....

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