As a total noob to cycling the thing that really kills me is hills steep enough I get into anaerobic territory. My general fitness lets me cycle for hours without really getting tired even working fairly hard, but my thighs have a pretty limited total amount of ascent in them which takes a long time to replenish.

I feel like on steeper hills (say 10% and above) I have to go anaerobic to get enough speed... if I shift down to my lowest gear at my regular cadence I am so slow I risk falling off, and of course the climb just takes much much longer anyway!

My beginner question is: should it be possible to get up most/all hills aerobically using gears, or is it a fundamental feature of cycling that you will end up burning, and you will find sometimes your legs just give out mid-hill until you improve your muscles/fitness?

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    Much like any physical activity, if you're not trained for it, it's going to be tough. Using gears judiciously helps, but a tough incline is going to be tough anyway you slice it.
    – Batman
    Commented Sep 4, 2016 at 21:31
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    What is your first gear (cog teeth, chainring teeth)?
    – BSO rider
    Commented Sep 4, 2016 at 23:22
  • The short answer is "yes". For example, I can go up 1:1 gradiants (45 degrees) on my load carrying quad without going anaerobic. I suspect you don't have low enough gears. If you're already in your lowest gear but find you have to work excessively hard to keep your pedal rpm up, you need lower gears. If not, change down and go more slowly.
    – Móż
    Commented Sep 4, 2016 at 23:23
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    I'm more finding i go so darn slowly I risk falling off! I've a MTB so in bottom gear even at decent cadence I'm not really moving!
    – Mr. Boy
    Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 0:02
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    @Móż Oy! I resemble that!
    – andy256
    Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 1:01

2 Answers 2


Get an app like strava to log your rides, and see your progress on those climbs.

I have a climb near home which took three hours first time I did it. I rested a bunch of times on the way up, and got passed by dozens of riders.

Over the last three years I've improved to the point I can do the climb in 40 minutes non-stop, still get passed but I'm passing others, some of whom look shattered.

Remember it never gets easier, you just go faster. Some logging will help show you your improvements, because it never feels faster at the time.

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    Yes, and No. Yes, in that its your ride - if it won't take away from your enjoyment, by all means take a rest. No, in that if you have a shred of honour you wont want to let the hill defeat you :)
    – Andy P
    Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 8:26
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    @Mr.Boy - The main problem with stopping on a hill is that you've got to get started again. Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 12:36
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    @DanielRHicks Right, and that might be a PITA with clipless pedals on steep hills, especially if one is not used to it.
    – anderas
    Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 13:57
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    @anderas - Generally one can get started without clipping in either shoe (by pedaling on the instep), if the circumstances are such that a "bail out" might be required. But it's difficult in any case, if the hill is steeper than you are strong. I will often start out going across the road (when traffic permits) or look for a driveway or some such in which to get up steam. Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 16:36
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    @DanielRHicks I completely agree, but when I started riding clipless and wasn't really used to it, both options felt a bit insecure. Actually what I'm doing now is exactly what you are suggesting.
    – anderas
    Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 7:27

Yes, in your example of a 10% gradient and MTB gearing, it is easily possible to climb without going anaerobic. It all comes down to your power to weight ratio at lactate threshold.

Following a training program including structured intervals will help improve your threshold power. Interval sessions can also help your body become used to making hard efforts and then recovering ready to go again.

  • Yep. Plus skills to ride slowly. On a MTB the OP should be able to ride at 5kph (3mph) and still be in control. The certain way to go anaerobic is to rush at a hill. A bunch of questions under the climbing tag also.
    – andy256
    Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 1:10

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