In the last year I started using cleats (2 bolts SPD) on my touring bike, which I often use with rear panniers on biking holiday (travelled about 2000 km with this set up).

The struggle I have is when cycling on a steep climb: in certain cases, when I am already using the shortest gears, I have to trade off between two opposite necessities:

  • if I push harder without standing on the pedals I end up lifting my front wheel
  • if I don't push harder I go too slow to keep a decent equilibrium

Until I used clip less pedals I could easily put my foot on the ground in case of necessity, but now the concern of having locked feet adds another source of uncertainty.

I have tried releasing one foot during the climb, but it goes without saying that pedaling gets way more clumsy.

What is a good technique to climb steep road with cleats and back panniers?

  • What cleat system are you using. MTBers using SPD's have this happening all the time, and (mostly :) ) unclip when needed.
    – mattnz
    Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 7:36
  • @mattnz, added that info in the question
    – L.Dutch
    Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 7:40
  • Do you also find that a precautionary unclip puts you in a weaker pedalling position? I do with SPDs on a tourer, so I prepare to bail if I stall, but that makes me stall. I haven't found releasing one foot helps (and in fact went over onto the still-clipped side on an uphill emergency stop recently).
    – Chris H
    Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 8:11
  • 2
    You'll have to practice unclipping until it's so deeply rooted that you can do it without thinking.Remaining clipped-in is way much safer as it seems because it improves the balance and the control of the bike and you can't slip from the pedal accidentally.
    – Carel
    Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 18:08
  • 2
    Try the same climb with empty panniers. See how different it feels to you.
    – Criggie
    Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 23:24

2 Answers 2


One thing that may help a lot is shifting some load weight forwards. In other situations I've found that a surprisingly small amount of weight shifted from behind the back axle to the front forks improves handling a lot. For example rather than mounting a D lock behind a child seat, I put it on the front forks. That's something like 1% of the total weight, or 4% of the non-rider weight.

This may lead to a bar bag, bar/fork-mounted bottle holders, or front panniers, though I'm trying to avoid the latter (as it seems are you).

Even loading differently within the panniers might make a difference.

  • This is very much a partial attempt to address the problem, but I felt ust too much for a comment
    – Chris H
    Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 8:17
  • 3
    Rear weight that is behind the wheel/road contact patch is the same as negative weight, or lift on the front wheel. Even moving a full waterbottle from the seat tube to the downtube can have an impact. I'd suggest a handlebar bag, or front rack, or front panniers, or leave the rear panniers off and use a back pack to help get the weight forward on a climb.
    – Criggie
    Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 23:23
  • 4
    @Criggie's right and of course behind changes with incline
    – Chris H
    Commented Apr 11, 2018 at 5:48

A good option, if you can't shift any packed weight to the front of the bike, is to lean forward over the handlebars while climbing. You'll distribute your weight more equally between the wheels and avoid lifting the front wheel. Be sure to have the bike in the lowest gear before you start the climb, and just spin all the way up the hill. You will move slower, but the bike will stay stable, and is actually a little more efficient in terms of energy expenditure.

This will require a stronger core, so if you find it difficult at first, add a couple sets of front and side ab crunches to your morning routine.

There may not be a perfect solution to this depending on how much rear weight you are carrying. If it's really a lot of weight, the only good solution may be front mounted carrying systems like panniers or a front basket/bag.

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