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I am a beginner cyclist, having not learned how ride a bike as a kid, I've started riding from scratch 3 months ago. Local "bike buddies" have helped a lot.

I'd like to ride my bike to work, which is only 2km (1.24 miles) away from home. However, the entire path is a climb - max grade 4% for about 2 blocks, which is tolerable. While I can ride uphill, I can't start uphill. When I try, my front wheel tilts sideways and either by reflex I put a foot down, or if I am able to balance, I start riding diagonally, but bikelanes are too narrow for me to do that.

I ride a freewheel/singlespeed, so there are no gears for me to shift. Also, I haven't learned yet how to ride standing, so that is not an option for now.

Am I missing something in the starting technique? The only thing I could think of is that maybe I'm not pushing the pedal hard enough when starting, but I feel like pushing harder is what makes the front wheel tilt, due to pressure on handlebars.

I've read the Sheldon Brown article, and I am able to apply the proper starting technique he described when in a flat or downhill terrain, and I think it's because the bike gets enough speed only with my weight on the pedal.

I've also read How to start uphill?, and it's a different scenario, it was informative but didn't help me.

EDIT: I (finally) bought a floor pump and realized that part of my problems were uncalibrated (underinflated) tires. It doesn't make it easy to start uphill, but it is less harder. I think it'd be so because the first stroke gives the bike more momentum.

  • Having polio-weakened legs, I will often start uphill by starting on the "wrong" side of the road and riding across the road before turning uphill (though if a level driveway is handy that's even better). – Daniel R Hicks May 7 '16 at 17:52
  • @DanielRHicks everyone has a slope at which that technique is needed, strength is only a part of it (balance and traffic conditions are also significant). – Chris H May 7 '16 at 18:35
  • @DanielRHicks Most of my path is on a big two-way street, it has one bus lane and two car lanes each way, so it's impossible for me too drive on the wrong side. Also, my biggest concern are traffic lights, I'll have to start uphill on them, but your comment has made me think and maybe I could use the intersections to ride on a smaller gradient. – Eric O. May 9 '16 at 3:06
  • Sometimes you simply need to take a different route. Or figure out if you can start on a side street and safely turn onto the main street. – Daniel R Hicks May 9 '16 at 11:51
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Answer: You need to get your second foot ready in time, when taking off uphill.

Upbill starts are hard work - there's no doubt there are slopes you can ride but can't start on. Your options:

  1. Go downhill and start again from the bottom - keep your momentum up for the whole climb and use good climbing techniques as per Looking for Techniques for Riding Uphill on a Single Speed and

  2. Aim your bike sideways across the slope to lessen the gradient until you get both feet in.

  3. Use clipless pedals so you can pull your starting foot up to give more time.

  4. Practice mounting quicker so you can be ready for the second power stroke when you need it.

  5. Walk the steep bit - at least you're doing it!

There's no shame in any of theses suggestions - at least you're riding! The only embarrassing one is giving up and not getting up the hill.

Another technique is to keep your backside out of the saddle. Keep your crotch near the stem until you're up to a couple km/h of forward speed.

I strongly suggest you borrow a geared bike of some sort and have a go. A singlespeed is hipster - remember, the TDF riders planned a sit-down tantrum to get permission to ride geared bikes!

  • 1
    I think you're right, I do feel like it takes long for me to find the left pedal (I start with the right) and this tiny time frame is enough for me to lose balance starting uphill. About riding a singlespeed, I bought it mostly because it was really cheap and it was extremely good for its price, but I also considered the fact that it's easier to maintain a singlespeed and that Sheldon Brown loved singlespeeds. :) – Eric O. May 8 '16 at 3:19
  • @EricO. Sheldon's not dead - he's just on a really long ride.... My point about geared bikes was to experience the difference, not saying that a singlespeed was bad. Geared bikes will actually give you less time to get the second foot ready, when in a lower gearing than your existing bike. – Criggie May 8 '16 at 8:55
  • I'm practicing to mount faster, and tried it uphill (not only on flat/downhill terrain). There are some slopes at which I readily place my left feet to push the second stroke, but instead it backpedals - I'm thinking that maybe the right pedal is not reaching 6 o'clock position. Any tips? – Eric O. May 13 '16 at 14:16
  • Practice on gentler slopes is probably the simplest option. Find a place with a gentle uphill slope and no traffic. If you backpedal you are possibly panicking and pushing with the left foot too soon. – Penguino Aug 24 '16 at 22:31
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Based on the Sheldon Brown article here's my approach. I find that putting the pedal 45 degrees forward of top dead centre is too far for maximum starting impulse - I go more vertical than that. I also start with my strong foot resting on the pedal, but that's partly because that means I lean the bike away from traffic and towards my single pannier when stopped.

Starting out on a hill I'm forward of the saddle. I push forward with the foot on the ground as I step up on the pedal, which puts the saddle under me.

But this depends on being in a suitable gear. And as you don't have a choice in this respect that sets an upper limit for your starting gradient. Unless your gearing is too high for the riding you do (and don't rule this out) you should be ok starting out on 4%. I have about a 6% start regularly, in a bike lane, and would be in something like 38x13 on 700C wheels - so a similar ratio to many single speed commuter setups I've read about. A little lower would be better, a little higher is possible.

One tip if it's a traffic light start in a bike lane: start as wide as you can in the lane and get going as soon as sensible (this is both a personal and a local matter). That way any wobble out of the bike lane is done while you've got some space around you - but you've got room to wobble towards the kerb.

  • My cube is a freewheel/fixed flip-flop, I only use one side of it, maybe I could get another cube or change one side of it. The gears have a 44x18 ratio, which seems bad for climbing. About the traffic lights: they are the worst. I've already done the downhill direction of my home-work path and most of the time cars are stopped, at traffic lights the difference of speed is the greatest. – Eric O. May 8 '16 at 3:44
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Starting from a dead stop, am afraid it is a matter of leg and core strength and handling skills, which seems that you do not quite have yet. They will come with enough riding time.

In the meantime you can try to get the bike in motion by pushing the road with your leg as when you push a skateboard or a kid's scooter, then turning the cranks will be easier. I do this a lot to start when I am in hard gears, not only uphill.

If the slope is too steep it may not work, but if slope is too steep you might not be able to resume climbing unless you go down and then turn 180 degrees ti face the hill again.

  • My body is not used to the movement of pushing down the pedal without some anchoring point, so I tend to also push down on the handlebars. I probably need to do core strength exercises, I just wasn't sure if it's more of a strength problem or a coordination problem. – Eric O. May 8 '16 at 3:08
  • That is where practice will help. When pushing down on the pedal you should be pulling up on the bars. – Penguino Aug 24 '16 at 22:34
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The key to starting on a hill is coordination.

It helps to practice in a location where the incline is lower (or with no incline), and there is no traffic. The stress of trying to learn on a steep hill, and / or with traffic makes it harder to learn.

There are two main techniques.

Basic technique

  • Stand over the bike, with both feet on the ground. You are not on the saddle at this point.

  • Adjust the pedals so that one pedal is at about the 11 o'clock position. On many bikes you can rotate the pedals backwards to achieve this. With a fixie or coaster brake you may need to lift the back wheel off the ground so that you can rotate the pedals (do this before you stand over the bike).

  • Put your foot on the 11 o'clock pedal. Grasp both handle bars firmly. If you have drop bars, your hands should be on the tops or hoods. The bike should be leaning a little toward the foot that is still in the ground, so that you have a stable position. The seat is well behind your bottom.

  • Now, in one fluid motion ...

  • Start pushing yourself forward, by rising onto the toes of the foot that's on the ground. Your body is moving forward, causing you to lean over the handlebars. You can practice this part a few times to get the feel of it.

  • Firmly stand on the 11 o'clock pedal. As you do this your weight drives the pedal and pushes the bike forward, so the seat comes closer to your bottom. Practicing this part without the next step is tricky, so just add the next step ...

  • Without sitting, lift your other foot onto the pedal, and as soon as it gets past 12 o'clock, stand on it. You should now be moving fast enough to maintain control, and sit if you want to.

Since you say that you have not mastered standing on the pedals, you will find this requires practice, away from the traffic and hills. It's the same for most beginners.

You will notice as you learn that you'll nearly always wobble about as you start. You'll find that you wobble less as you improve, and also that you can predict the amount of wobble.

The wheel "tilting" can be because you are not leaning the bike toward the foot that's on the ground when you're stationary. As you push your body forward, you will be moving your weight slightly across over the wheels, which will cause the bike to stand up straight.

Advanced technique

With this method, you stand to one side of the bike, with your hands on the handlebars, and your feet behind the bottom bracket. Let's say you're on the right side of the bike. Adjust the pedals so that the right pedal is at the 12 o'clock position (yep, higher than the basic method). Put you right foot on the right pedal, and push forward as you stand on the pedal. To get more speed you can push and hop with your left foot a couple of times. Swing your left leg over the bike, bringing your left foot onto the pedal as it reaches the top. Cheerfully ride away.

Hope that helps. Enjoy.

  • Since posting the question I've had good practice. I've lowered my flat bars to get about 10cm saddle-bar drop and calibrated the tires (noticeable difference). Now it's way easier to ride straight while standing, but I think it'd be easier with a bullhorn. I still find it hard to start standing though, I need to start, sit and than standup again. I also find that only using the weight to start isn't enough, I try to use the handlebars to hold my upper body in place and push the pedals hard. Also, I find the 11 o'clock position to be too high, but 10 is perfect. – Eric O. Aug 25 '16 at 13:43
  • I also find that only using the weight to start isn't enough yes, you must push off from your toes also. – andy256 Aug 25 '16 at 14:21
  • Yes, I like pushing off, I do it without thinking, but I feel like it doesn't give momentum when uphill. I think that gaining core strength, as @gaurwraith had said, and adjusting the bike to be able to transfer more power to the pedals has been crucial to improving my technique. Pushing off helped me more when I hadn't done those things. – Eric O. Aug 25 '16 at 15:21
  • Whatever works for you. For most people it's the timing and rhythm that's most important, to make it all one fluid motion. – andy256 Aug 25 '16 at 21:17

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