I enjoy going up hills by bike and only the steepest Alps make me think 'what am I doing!!!'

However, some of my friends have a tendency to say things like We're not going all the way up there, are we!?!' Just the sight of tarmac looming upwards can make them want to instantly dismount or take a longer, flatter route, or go back home, or phone mummy, or find a pub or something else defeatist.

There also seems to be a common fixation on the top, which I don't understand. To me the top is not really of consequence (unless it is a famous mountain pass that I have not been to before).

What is the best way to encourage others to get to the top?

Edit: We are talking hills here, nothing particularly steep, nothing in extreme weather, perfectly averagely paved surface with light traffic.

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    I have always used a whip, that or put Twinkies at the top of the hill. Another reason I ride alone.
    – Moab
    Jul 8, 2011 at 19:25
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    Pick a hill that has beer at the top. Jul 10, 2011 at 0:14
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    Your riding friends provided at partial solution to your question: "take a longer, flatter route". I believe (and have found) that such folks will get better at climbing hills when they have more experience with biking in general. Making concessions on social rides will help reduce how intimidating a hill can be.
    – PositiveK
    Sep 21, 2013 at 5:20
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    possibly related: how do you help cavendish on the alps?
    – imel96
    Sep 22, 2013 at 22:39

7 Answers 7


For the most part, the same kind of advice you give to any cyclist will suffice here. Encourage them to take it easy at first, to give them the opportunity to experience cycling--and specifically climbing--in a supportive, non-threatening environment.

Pick a good route

What hills and roads you pick will have an effect on how the newbie cyclist perceives the ride. Lots of traffic, or many wall-like steep hills, or narrow shoulders--these will all discourage the new riders. Find a route that builds up to steeper hills gradually, with wide, well-maintained shoulders. Perhaps even take it off-road at first. You want to avoid roads like this:


...rather, look for roads with wide shoulders or even bike lanes (they tend to calm cyclists, perhaps with a false sense of safety, but they'll let your friends concentrate more on the cycling and less on the traffic.)


(This was at the top of a long hill, if that's not apparent.)


(This hill was tough, but the lanes were wide enough for passing.)

How to use your gears

There's a strange perception that you have to "tough it out" to get to the top of a hill, that spinning up a hill in a very low gear is somehow demeaning. Make it clear that it's not only okay to go to the lowest gear available, it's what many cyclists do. Explain that a little bit of planning ahead when they see the hill approaching will put them in the right gear before they need it. Building up speed on the previous downhill (if there is one) will also help.

Wait it out

Another thing that will help is patience. If they have to walk a few hills, be supportive. Wait for them at the top, or perhaps at the next turnoff on the route. Over time, this will change. Consider walking up the hills with them. (Walking a bike up a steep hill is good exercise, particularly a heavier bike!)

In conclusion

Whatever your friends achieved that day, let them know it! This may go without saying, but tell them what they did well, and how they could have more fun next time. If, in the end, they decide hills aren't for them, then avoid them on your next ride.

All hills look steeper when viewed from a distance. You might suggest that they keep telling themselves that!

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    I think patience is very important. If you go on ahead and then wait for them, then don't cycle off again as soon as they reach you, give them a chance to catch their breath and then set off when they're ready. My brother used to be really bad at that when we cycled together as teenagers.
    – Tom77
    Jul 15, 2011 at 10:35
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    When cycling with young kids it is important to emphasize the destination and to let them lead so as to set the pace. I did a 20mi ride with my 8yo recently, and I stuck behind him the whole way, except when I needed to show the path. Letting the beginner lead also reduces their insecurity about their ability to keep up. If you need a strenuous workout, do that on your personal time (like a commute). Aug 6, 2011 at 6:32

There are so many variables here. Strength and endurance varies widely between riders, and the situation gets even more complicated if heat is at all a factor. And many riders may be on bikes that lack a decent granny range.

Less experienced riders will have difficulty holding the bike steady on a hill, even if they have the strength to easily manage the hill.

The thing to tell your companions is that, for most hills, with an adequately geared bike, it's simply a matter of persistence -- gear down and spin, at whatever rate of effort suits you. Set a "good" example for them by spinning up the hill yourself, rather than charging it.

You can also teach your companions a few hill maneuvers, such as how to turn sideways (on a lightly-traveled road) to safely come to a stop. On a curving hill (again on a lightly traveled road or one with good shoulders) one may want to move to the outside of the curve (even if it's the "wrong" side of the road), both because the slope is less there and because it better positions you to turn downhill in case you need to stop (since the outside of the curve is banked).

Also, of course, explain to them how on a hill it's more important than usual to "claim your lane", since you'll tend to be a bit wobblier and you want to discourage motorists from trying to "sneak past".

But mostly you just need to give your companions a chance to develop as riders -- baby steps, not forcing them to climb Col du Galibier on their first ride. If you're picking the routes avoid hills that you would consider "average" and stick with "easy" for awhile.


You must understand that if your friends aren't as much as a keen cyclist as you are they won't get the same level enjoyment as you do. If that's not the case, set goals and give them something to look forward to.


I think it depends on the friend who you're riding with. If it's a friend who is a casual cyclist, there's probably little you can do. But, if it's a friend who is actively interested in cycling, there are options.

Neil has some good ideas in his answer. I will take the track of the cyclist's body. I'm a big fan of training the "engine" where the engine is the cyclist. Climbing takes 2 things. Energy and muscles. So, add some calories just before that hill climb. Energy gels or cookies usually work or any other food that provide immediate glucose for the muscles. The muscles take a while. In order to get the muscles to a climbing mode, one must train them. In as little as 2 - 3 weeks of interval training, muscles will be a lot happier when climbing hills.

One of my favorite rides starts off at 13 m/44 ft and ascends to 1237 m/4061 ft. It's 14 miles/22.5 km. The best part is the view at the top. Six snow-capped volcanoes, with Mt Hood in touching distance. The second best part is the ride down. (For me this is a 60 mile ride since I ride out there and back home.)

Anyway, if you can get your friends to work-out their cycling muscles, it might improve their reticence to climb hills.


Let the group know that, in terms of training benefit, climbing hills is a quality workout: this is where you build strength, and where obvious progressive gains can me made.

Basically, make the group believe that it really does get easier: that what are mountains today will be molehills tomorrow.

Inspect everyone's equipment to make sure it is set up properly for their size for good pedal power from a seated position. Maybe some dislike climbing more than they should, because their bike is not set up for it, causing them to exert more total effort than necessary in order to conquer a given hill.

Likewise, have everyone check their tire pressure. Riders with low tire pressure and poor configuration of seat height are effectively climbing a taller hill than their companions with harder tires and more optimal configuration of bike.

Encourage the group to use a higher gear than what is comfortable, at least for a portion of the climb, as a form of resistance training.

Encourage the group to gain more power from standing up, and to develop the endurance in the supporting muscles to maintain the standing position over longer climbs.

Support those who want to take one or more rests along the incline: this is interval training in disguise.

If there is a steeper and less steep path to reach a point, divide the group into two: those who want to challenge the incline, and those who want a more gradual incline. If the steepsters reach the join point first, wait for the graduals before continuing.

  • "Support those who want to take one or more rests along the incline" - First you have to explain to people how they can stop on the hill and get started again. (And explain it to me while you're at it.) Sep 24, 2013 at 1:51
  • @DanielRHicks The question was edited in 2011 thus: We are talking hills here, nothing particularly steep. Difficulty starting occurs only on steep hills. My technique is to hold the brakes, and then rev the pedals at a steady 1500 RPM while gently letting out the clutch. Then as I feel that the bike starts to grab, I let go of the brakes at which point the bike starts to move without any rollback. With a special button, I then retract the kickstand and both training wheels.
    – Kaz
    Sep 24, 2013 at 2:41
  • Cute. "Particularly steep" is very much an individual thing -- this is something that several of the folks placing answers here don't seem to appreciate. "Difficulty starting" can occur at a 2% grade or less, for some riders. Sep 24, 2013 at 11:19

Everyone has a maximum "enjoyable" power (in watts) that they can output for an certain time, more time means less power of course. A cycling champion might do 400W for 1 hour, a newbie perhaps 80W...

Problem is the newbie doesn't know how to listen to his untrained body, so he will cross the red line, especially if well motivated, and will get out of resources (glycogen) or get cramps, acid overdose, or get out of breath, etc.

So you need to micromanage the newbies the same way do with your own body when cycling, except you have much less feedback. So you need to chat with them, and very often tell them to go slower.

You need to know what is possible for your friends. No matter the motivation, you can not ask the impossible.

  • know the power to weight ratio of the other guys
  • know the gearing they have on their bikes
  • thus, calculate the maximum slope.

For example, a newbie (1 hour P=100 watts) fat (m=120 kg including bike) :

max vertical speed = P/mg = 0.085 m/s = 5 m/min = 300 m/h

Let's suppose he has a granny gear of 32T front, 28T rear (a very bad choice for him), wheel circumference 2m, cadence 60 rpm :

minimum speed = (60 rpm)/60 * 2m * 32/28 = 2.28 m/s = 8.2 km/h

We will not make him stand on the pedals (too tiring) or use a lower cadence (not enough more muscle).

So, what maximum slope can this guy climb happily ?

300m every 8.2km = 3.6%

Yes I know, this isn't even a hill, for a seasoned cyclist it's pretty flat, but for a fat newbie on a bike with a transmission unsuitable for him, it's the maximum he can do. For a minute or two he can do 2x more, but not longer. Choose your routes appropriately.

If he has a better transmission (shorter gears) he can climb more percentage while staying at the same power, this means slower.

There is a very useful tool : the GPS' variometer which tells me my climb rate in m/min.

When I'm with MTB buddies who are faster climbers that me, I look at the variometer : I know how long I can last at various climbing speeds, so I know when not to follow them and go at my pace. They'll wait for me at the top, but not long, since I won't be out of breath.

When I'm with buddies who are slower climbers that me, I also look at the variometer : I know I shouldn't push them past "x" m/min, and follow that rule. It does work well !

  • A bit clinical, but fairly accurate. Sep 22, 2013 at 11:56
  • Since this is all based on "1 hour P=100 watts", wouldn't the resulting calculation only be valid for a 1-hour long climb?
    – dbr
    Sep 23, 2013 at 13:59
  • Yep, you can adjust depending on the length.
    – bobflux
    Sep 24, 2013 at 9:36

If the road is wide, really empty, safe, with excellent visibility, and maybe even one-way going up, then you might suggest weaving back and forth to make their own "switchbacks".

Obviously, this does not apply to riding a shoulder or on busy streets, etc., and so is not widely applicable.

  • I think weaving is a very bad idea, except in very limited circumstances. Sep 22, 2013 at 11:57
  • @DanielRHicks as a general rule yes. Picking some hills on which weaving is available as a fallback may be a good way to get used to the steepness - if steepness is the issue and not endurance.
    – Chris H
    Sep 23, 2013 at 13:00
  • One problem with weaving is that, unless the road is VERY wide, weaving is more stressful than going straight up, and will wear a novice out faster. Add to that the stress of worrying about traffic (unless traffic is very light and sightlines are very long) and it's enough to scare a lot of folks away from cycling for good. Sep 23, 2013 at 15:41
  • Unless we're talking about climbs like Westernport Wall, I have to agree that weaving is a bad idea. And if you're trying to introduce new riders to climbing with something like Westernport... well, you've already made a huge mistake and probably turned them off to cycling for life. Sep 24, 2013 at 1:36
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    I have a 200m-long 1:4 (according to the local skateboarders) on my commute. It's a decent width and to all intents and purposes a car park (dead end except for bikes). Now I go straight up at walking pace, but I had to weave up it the first few times I rode - an example to back up my comment above.
    – Chris H
    Sep 24, 2013 at 10:08

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