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When cycling uphill on a road, what are the pros and cons of cycling while standing up on pedal versus sitting on saddle?

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You're most efficient sitting with a cadence between 80 - 100 (faster if you can do it) so it's recommended that you stay seated as much as possible. For mountain biking staying seated increases the weight on your rear tire and reduces the chances of it slipping as long as you can keep a smooth spin stroke and not 'mash' the pedals on the down stroke.

Standing is harder on your body but in long climbs it's great to switch it up so that you move some of the force around your muscles and give them a break. Standing is also great to get you up that 'really steep' part of a climb or to sprint over the top and lose your friends (or win a race).

As stated above stay seated with a high cadence for as long as possible. Switch up to standing as needed to give yourself a break or an extra boost of power.

  • 2
    Great answer. I'd add that standing while pedaling forces you to either sway back and forth, or expend energy preventing swaying. – Neil Fein Oct 20 '10 at 3:51
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curtismchale's answer is spot-on -- I'm only answering to quote from my favourite cycling article "On the Technique of Climbing" by Luis Bernhardt:

When you are sitting in the saddle, you are basically on a Universal Gym. The way you fit the bike prescribes how efficient you are.

Seated climbing is the most efficient way to go: just pick a low enough gear and spin it out. Standing requires proper technique and can never be as efficient since your muscles have to support your entire body weight. But standing does change the muscles in play and can be a nice break from that uncomfortable saddle. It also might be your only option if you don't have low enough gearing to spin up a steep hill.

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Effectively what you are doing when you stand on the pedals and rock the bike from side to side is lowering the crank length and reducing the gear ratio. You are also using a lot of energy to hold the bike stable while you change from side to side & as well as wasting energy through the extra flexing of the frame, cranks & pedals. The only situations that really warrant getting out of the saddle is to either give your muscles a chance to rest by using a slightly different set or to accelerate very quickly, such as coming out of a corner in a race.

  • Standing on a long climb will definitely wear you out faster than staying seated! – Brian Knoblauch Oct 20 '10 at 19:41
  • can you explain how/why rocking your bike reduces your gear ratio? – sixtyfootersdude Oct 21 '10 at 10:05
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    rocking the bike doesn't lower the crank length or reduce your gear ratio. All it does is lower your efficiency. (the only force that can be transmitted through the drivetrain has to be applied perpendicular to the end of either crank arm) What standing does is add more of your body weight to the force applied, which is why you can climb in a gear that normally would be too difficult when seated. – darkcanuck Oct 21 '10 at 16:03
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I don't agree that seated pedaling is better since standing exerts a higher weight (effectively all your body weight) on the pedal. The link below explains it better: https://www.bikejames.com/strength/why-this-video-shows-that-standing-pedaling-really-is-better-than-seated-pedaling/

I agree that your cadence is lower but if you have more torque (due to larger weight on the pedal) you can shift to a higher gear. I also agree that your balance is in jeopardy (I fell once while biking standing) so I suppose don't stand up unless you have good balance and you can spare some energy to balance yourself. Personally I bike standing only on a tricycle since it needs no energy to balance it but that's another story.

  • Welcome to the site! It would help if you could summarize a little of the content on the page you link: links inevitably die and there won't be a lot in your answer if that link goes away. – David Richerby Aug 14 '18 at 9:12
  • I don't agree that seated pedaling is better since standing exerts a higher weight (effectively all your body weight) on the pedal. You can disagree all you want, but that's wrong. To use your weight to drive the pedals, your weight has to go lower. That means you have to lift it back up somehow. You're not going to trick the laws of physics. Climbing is all about lifting your mass against gravity. It's pretty much limited by your aerobic power to weight ratio. Everything else is noise. Changing your pedal technique in the middle of a climb can make you feel better. – Andrew Henle Aug 14 '18 at 10:34
  • If you don't loose efficiency when standing up, you are doing something wrong when sitting. Most likely that's a seat that's too low. If your legs are almost fully stretched out while you do the low part of the pedal stroke, and your cadence is high enough (low enough gear), there is nothing as efficient as remaining seated. You only ever need to stand up when your legs are bent too much while being seated (which makes them inefficient), or when you've run out of low enough gears (which is when you need additional force). The first is never the case with a properly fitted bike. – cmaster Aug 15 '18 at 12:41

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