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I'm sure a question like this must have been asked before but I can't seem to find it.

Should one learn to climb out of the saddle? I have heard that if the climb is steep enough, then at some point that may be worth it. However even for short ramps of more than 20% I still feel more comfortable staying in the saddle. Should I try to get used to out of the saddle climbing to possibly alternate on longer climbs or punch up short climbs? Or is this up to personal preference and I may just be better off staying in the saddle? (but even then should I train out of the saddle riding for a bit just to try?)

I ride pretty much exclusively on the road. I have recently tried out of the saddle riding on a short 25% ramp and did lose traction because of some leaves on the road. Though in general this shouldn't be much of a concern.

I don't have specific goals, I never participated in any race or similar. I wouldn't rule it out for the future but it's not in my current plans (since frankly I don't think I am at a level where it makes much sense to compete). Mostly I just ride for fun however I would like to become a better climber/cyclist in general.

Currently I mostly ride the short 1.7km climb at my doorstep but occasionally I will also ride some proper long climbs.

EDIT: Thanks for the many answers. The overall impression I got is that staying seated if it feels more natural (which for me it does) is fine so I guess I'll continue staying seated then. Thanks everyone for the answers.

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    Out as in how long your ride is. Staying seated and spinning up hills, and having the gearing needed to do so, allows you to stay within your aerobic threshold, which in turn allows you to ride for longer periods of time and cover more ground total. It's also much less stressful to the joints, which is the overriding concern for some. But, standing builds muscle and acclimates your body in other positive ways, particularly from a competitive/sport perspective. The question is all about what you're trying to do fitness-wise and what your practical needs are as a cyclist if any. – Nathan Knutson Nov 24 '20 at 0:54
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    1.7 km? Thats a proper long climb. You should definitely do it in the saddle if you can. You might consider standing for 'ramps' that are measured in metres, not in km... – Zeus Nov 24 '20 at 1:17
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    It is a good idea to exercise both skills and on longer climbs to use both postures alternately. – Carel Nov 24 '20 at 9:06
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    If your panniers are full of camping equipment ... stay in the saddle! – user_1818839 Nov 24 '20 at 18:16
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    "Should I do X?" is impossible to answer unless you specify what your goal is! E.g. to be faster overall, to be able to accelerate, to look stylish, to save your knees, to minimize frame strain, or to be able to eat a banana while riding... are all possible goals, arguably with different answers. – user2705196 Nov 24 '20 at 20:10
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Answer Stay in the saddle for steady state climbing, if you can. Get out of the saddle for extra short term power, getting over a steep bit, or for punching through a short climb. Or if you need a change of position.

Are you Tall? I have long legs, so my saddle is high, and at some grade my saddle ends up "behind" my rear axle. So there's a fairly quick decrease in front wheel weight, to the point each power stroke raises the front tyre off the road. At that point I have no steering input and precious little balance.

For me this starts whenever the wheelbase angle to the horizontal exceeds about 15%.

By the time it hits 30% I'm literally crotch-to-stem to keep the front wheel down, and concentrating on pedalling in circles to avoid any kind of punchy pedal inputs.

Upshot - if you have too light a front wheel then steering doesn't work, which takes away balance quickly. If this happens to you, move forward on the saddle, and get out of the saddle to recover balance.

If you know a steep climb is coming, try and move weight forward. Move your empty water bottle to the rear cage and the full one to the front. Try climbing with hands on hoods or right on top of the brake housings (you generally don't need brakes while climbing)


Aside - Also get lightly off the saddle for descents, hold the bike with your hands/feet and the saddle with the inside of your thighs. This helps with quicker reactions.

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  • “ to the point each power stroke raises the front tyre off the road.” I can’t imagine that on a road bike. Maybe your stem or frame is too high or short or your saddle really far backwards? – Michael Nov 24 '20 at 15:46
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    @Michael that has happened to me before too, on a short very steep ramp. Though I never had any "problems" with it, the wheel would just come down again. And that ramp is only 150 meters anyway. But I feel when it's very steep I already naturally "hug" the stem so that's not a problem. – koedem Nov 24 '20 at 16:44
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    @Criggie interesting, is that if I were to try and descent at full speed? In recent years I started descending rather slowly since I don't race and so there's not much point risking a crash. Though on my short climb here I naturally go out of the saddle when descending because the road quality is rather poor. :D – koedem Nov 24 '20 at 16:50
  • @Michael that's the joy of being several standard deviations away from "average" Here's something I tried on an old frame to counter the issues. criggie.org.nz/pictures/bikes/longdog2.jpg However that bike was hefty steel and the weight negated any time saved, but it was a lot easier to keep the front down. Next time I do a steep hill, I'll try and record some video. – Criggie Nov 24 '20 at 21:24
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There is no correct answer. Do what works or is most comfortable for you.

Bear in mind that if you train yourself to sit and spin at a higher cadence you’ll get better at that. If you train yourself to stand up and pedal slower you’ll get better at doing that.

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If Sheldon Brown is any authority for you (and if you don't have your own opinion/experience, he should be, IMO), he advises to stay in the saddle as a general case.

The idea is that standing up is a needless strain on both you and your bicycle, and you should prefer to use a lower gear (and correct posture).

That said, there is no harm standing occasionally when needed (say, when you don't have lower gears), provided that the bike is in excellent condition and you do it for short bursts.

I personally have to do it for 15%+ climbs (which I do every day, but they are short), because I much prefer smooth gear changes and thus use a cassette with the smallest possible steps - and thus lack the lowest gears for such occasions.

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    I only do it when crossing railroad tracks. – Daniel R Hicks Nov 24 '20 at 1:02
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Climbing out of the saddle is a useful skill to have in your repertoire. I used it on my ride Sunday to help me favor a banged-up knee from the day before. I was able to shift my weight over the bum leg and exert downward pressure on the pedal without irritating my injured knee too much.

I believe that as long as you've got low-enough gears, you'll use less energy climbing in the saddle. Years ago I took my pulse both sitting and standing on a tough climb, and the standing heart rate was higher. I haven't conducted the same experiment since getting a heart rate monitor, so I could be wrong, but the belief helps me.

Where standing in the pedals helps is to give a break to the muscle groups used while seated, and it can help a person go a little faster up the hill. To be done correctly, you need to shift your weight forward a bit and work the handlebars a little; just standing up and treating your legs like a pile driver will kind of inhibit forward motion and make your speed jerky.

I usually remain seated as long as I can, and if I stand, I only do it for short periods. The exception is when the hill is too much for my lowest gear, when I stand for the entire climb.

The bottom line is to do what feels best to you and helps you enjoy your riding.

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