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I'm a long time bike commuter (over 10 years), I was living some 4.5 kms from my workplace, a mostly flat commute (well, maybe 40 m up-and-down). After two years of that commute, it had made my significantly healthier and fast.

A year ago, I moved to a place a bit closer to my work, but much higher. I have now a 3.3 km ride home going 160 m up, most of which in the last kilometer (maybe 10% average in the last bit). While I had no problems with my commute just after moving in, over the time, it became increasingly more difficult, and now, I always have "heavy" legs when I start the ride home, and I take much less pleasure in my commute...

Do you have tips to avoid this ?

  • Do you have to cycle every day? – Swifty Apr 8 at 11:48
  • If the last part of the track is - as you say - unavoidable, consider getting off your bike and walking the heavy uphill part. – Erik Apr 8 at 12:29
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    Do you downshift? What cadence do you maintain? A low cadence is apt to cause this problem. – Daniel R Hicks Apr 8 at 12:42
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    That is a 5% average grade over the whole route, which is a lot. It is not surprising that some of it is 10%. What is your low gear? You probably need a lower one, or maybe three more. 11/34 cassettes have become quite available and do wonders. They take a mid-cage derailleur. – Ross Millikan Apr 10 at 14:49
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How hard do you ride? If you ride hard and in hard gears it could be that your legs are accumulating fatigue and simply don’t have enough time to recover from one day to the next even though it’s only 3km. It’s made worse because you don’t have an easy start to warm up.

Even pro riders don’t do hard training every day, most of the training is spent at an easy “endurance” pace.

Take it easy (at least every second day or so) to allow your legs to recover and get stronger. Get easier gears if you don’t have them.

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    I would add a couple of things to this: (1) just doing a hard effort misses a warm-up, something that is essential here, and (2) the total exercise load is not sufficient to support the amount of hard effort, so actually the ride is too short, even ignoring the lack of warm up for the climb. – user7761803 Apr 9 at 6:55
  • Hmmm... I used to ride hard, but now it's pretty difficult to switch even one gear up from the lowest. I need warming up, then – Vincent Fourmond Apr 9 at 8:38
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    @VincentFourmond yes, but you also need to do a bit more in total. Typical distribution would be 80% "easy" and 20% "hard". Your previous commute was nice and easy - over a long period of time that improves fitness. People add a small amount of hard efforts in as it improves fitness faster. Put too much hard effort in for the amount of easy work, and you get overreaching and overtraining - people actually lose fitness. – user7761803 Apr 9 at 8:53
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    @VincentFourmond Don't ignore the part about easier gears! If you find it hard to switch out of your lowest gear, your lowest gear is still too high. If you have a chain-shift bike, try installing a mountain-bike cassette, if you ride an IGH, swap the sprocket for a significantly larger one. With the appropriate gear, you can ride up any hill as if it were flat terrain (as far as your legs are concerned). You might be slow as a snail, but a low enough gear keeps your legs spinning at comfortable force and cadence levels. – cmaster - reinstate monica Apr 10 at 11:12
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    @VincentFourmond Btw, 10% ascends are a very serious thing. I've long ridden a bike with which I would not be able to do any length of 10% at all. Too hard gearing. Of course, I'm living in the flat lands, so I don't usually see even 5% ascends, so the gearing was adapted to my purpose. And I think, you need to adapt your gearing to your purpose as well. – cmaster - reinstate monica Apr 10 at 11:23
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Find an alternate route

When commuting, we tend to gravitate to the shortest route, which is rarely the most fun or picturesque. You know you can ride 4.5 km, so look out for some 5-8 km routes.

Also look for bike paths instead of sticking with roads. You might find a side road that is more enjoyable.

Time is not really that important when commuting. You can look at Strava's heatmap and potentially get some ideas for popular routes/sections.

Also check out your local authority for cycle lanes or shared pathways, or even green parks where you can ride through, where larger motor vehicles can't go.


Possibly contentious idea - your 160 metre climb is getting harder? Consider a route that gives you more climbing - when you compare a 300 metre climb with half that, is not so bad.

And finally consider that your 160 metre climb is also a 160 metre descent the next day and you have to earn that free ride. Just look forward to the hot shower at home !

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  • Thanks ! I can't accept before I try, and I can't try now because of the epidemy. I can't change the last, hard bit (the only possible road), but I can take longer to get there. I'll try that. – Vincent Fourmond Apr 8 at 11:41
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    Concerning time not being important when commuting, well, you could be late for dinner... – Ghanima Apr 9 at 13:20
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If the 160m climb is right at the end of your commute, overshooting your destination by a few hundred metres then turning back to get a light spin as a cool down may help. This of course doesn't work if you're at the summit, or on a road that just keeps going up.

Similarly, keeping moving on arrival helps - walk around rather than just flopping into a chair and staying there.

You may also find stretching after getting off the bike helps. I used to have a smaller but very steep climb towards the end of my commute, and found I needed to stretch my quads and calves, at least until I got used to that commute.

Try to use a low gear, so your legs are spinning fairly quickly but without much force. Pressing down slowly and hard on the pedals is a different form of movement you may not be used to. 10% is a significant gradient, so you may need lower gears to be able to do this.

You can also review what you're carrying - could you, for example, leave clothes and heavy locks in work to avoid riding with them? This could save a few percent on the weight, and you'll feel that (my D-lock alone is 1.5kg, and I can't usually leave it behind).

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The bike industry is just now coming around to the idea that we aren't all TDF riders and need gears a bit easier than 39/25 for steep grades. Heck even TDF riders are using super low gearing for steep grades.

The thing that I have found is that it doesn't take much of grades near 10% and above to really stress your legs. If you've ever done lifting weights in the gym you know that above a certain weight, your repetitions are really limited and you feel it afterward. Dropping the weight makes it all much much easier. Lower gears are just like dropping the weight.

For me, I need something close to a one to one ratio to make 10% grades without blowing up. This would be something like 34 front, 34 back. This will seem painfully slow at first. But if you can spin up the grade, you will arrive at work much fresher.

Depending on exactly what you're using for a bike getting a gear that low may be something you already have or a more complex and expensive process.

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  • It looks like his home is at the top of the hill, not his workplace. – Michael Hampton Apr 9 at 0:01
  • @MichaelHampton true - so treat the destination as the reward, where there's a hot shower and whatever else is a good prize. – Criggie Apr 9 at 10:15
  • I don't think this is anything the bike industry would have to recently come around. Mountain bikes have had small chainrings for ages, especially the smallest ones on triple cranksets. My 2010 bike has the innermost chainring with 22 teeth and it was quite typical for the time. There were triple cranksets for road bikes available as well. They became obsolete, but it was certainly possible to have a small inner chainring. Now one can buy a sub-compact double instead but before it was the triple which had the possibility. – Vladimir F Apr 9 at 14:51
  • I agree with @VladimirF. Many current road bikes come with pretty low gears. Fred is correct that at one time, road bikes were heavily geared (sorry) towards performance road riders, but I believe that started changing some time ago. Nevertheless, we also don't know what sort of bicycle the OP has. He could have a hybrid, a mountain bike, a touring bike. For all we know, he's on an aero road bike right now. – Weiwen Ng Apr 10 at 14:32
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To add on Criggie's answer, it can be that you asking high performance to a cold motor.

When you start up out of the office, your leg muscles are basically cold. It takes some km ride to get them warmed up and to their peak efficiency.

In my experience, whenever I had started pushing hard on the pedals without proper warm up I have always ended up with stiff legs, and I have been lucky, since I could have risked also more serious injuries.

For your case, either take a longer route as suggested (it will allow your muscles to warm up) or consider doing some stretching/warming up exercise before starting the commute back home.

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  • In winter, my commute home is mostly cold, slightly uphill, frequently damp, and almost always in the dark. The morning commute is the same but downhillish. Some days I make a point of leaving work early, just to get some daylight riding in. – Criggie Apr 10 at 0:36

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