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I learned how to ride a bike 6 years ago but the only bike I’ve had is a city one which I use for commuting 3km every day to work but also to go to lakes ~20-25km away one-way on Weekends which is the furthest I would go.

Of course the city bike is not suited for the latter so I am looking to get a second trekking bike for such trips.

I need an advice on what is the most important to make biking uphill easier? Is the weight of the bike super important? I am looking at some options ~16-17 kg with suspension and then 14kg without suspension and 50% more expensive. All including lights, mud guards, bike rack which I would need.

I guess suspension is „nice to have“ for some stretches through the woods but the most important thing that kills me even in the city are the hills - I’m 50kg, not super fit and sometimes I would just get off the bike and push it uphill :)

So basically I’m wondering if a couple of kg will make biking uphill noticeably easier?

Thank you!

P.S. Ideally I would go to a store and try different ones but these days everything is sold out and even to order online I need to wait several months so I need to decide what I want…

PPS Thanks everyone! The overwhelming advice is against suspension so if these ever get released planning to get one of them https://www.cube.eu/2022/bikes/city-tour/offroad/travel/

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    Is electric assist an option for you? Because this is what makes biking uphill easier. Nov 14, 2021 at 1:35
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    I don't think this warrants a full answer: but some advice I have is to specifically avoid suspension. Suspension is for hitting things hard, and the tradeoff is more weight and the damping actually saps energy from you. If you're not going downhill fast off road then it hurts more than it helps.
    – Turksarama
    Nov 14, 2021 at 1:41
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    Please do not get the bike with suspension. You don't need it. Nov 14, 2021 at 1:47
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    What surface do you plan to use? Tarmac? Good tarmac? Bad tarmac? Hardpack dirt? Mud? Stones? Tree roots? This makes a huge difference. After going uphill, will you go downhill on a similar surface? Nov 14, 2021 at 8:33
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    If hills are the problem, gears are all you need. And some patience, of course.
    – user61229
    Nov 14, 2021 at 10:02

14 Answers 14

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I would say that, along with easier gears making it easier to go up hills, a lot of it is just being comfortable riding at slower speeds. A lot of new riders lack the balance and bike-handling skills required to keep the bike upright and going at a slow, steady pace up the hills.

I would say that practice is important, not only for getting in shape, but also in getting used to pedalling an easy gear at a high cadence up a hill. This seems not to be a natural way of doing things, but it's really the only way to make it up long steep climbs. If anything, I would work on putting the bike in the lowest (easiest) gear and just work on being comfortable pedalling up a hill, even if you feel it's too easy and you are going too slow. Being comfortable and being able to balance at low speeds makes hills easier.

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    Yes, I 100% agree with this. And moreover, things just got better for me when I decided that if a hill was too much I would just get off my bike and walk it. Retrospectively, I realize that I had a senseless fear of being judged a weak cyclist that was keeping me back.
    – emory
    Nov 14, 2021 at 4:45
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    Concur - if the best speed you can maintain is under 5 km/h then balance becomes an issue, and walking might be the practical best option.
    – Criggie
    Nov 14, 2021 at 8:58
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    "A lot of new riders lack the balance..." (I cannot do 1 letter edits). Nov 14, 2021 at 20:52
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    @Criggie At some point walking and pushing the bike even conserves energy in my experience.
    – arne
    Nov 16, 2021 at 8:42
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Biggest factor is the gear combination. If it's a 6-7% climb, you'll probably need a 28T at the back (cassette) and 36T or even smaller at the front (crank set). I think your city bike has not this gear combination. Weight of the bike is also important but you will be ok even with a 14 kg bike with this gear combination assuming your fitness level is not too bad.

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    Since the bike + rider combo usually weights in excess of 80kg, the effect of shaving off a kilo from your bike is rather minimal. Training is a much more effective way to bring the power to mass ratio up. That said, the point about the gearing is spot on. Nov 13, 2021 at 18:06
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    Assuming a reasonably fit person, rider mass roughly scales with the power they can generate from their muscles. Adding mass in either the form of body fat, or bicycle mass purely negatively affects this useful W/kg ratio. Training will help with one aspect, but you can certainly buy less mass, and in some cases save money doing so (don't get suspension! 😉) Nov 14, 2021 at 3:40
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    @cmaster-reinstatemonica: Don’t underestimate bike weight, especially for light riders. OP will be >10% faster uphill just by switching to a lightweight bike. Getting a 10% increase from training is a lot harder or can even be impossible if you are already at a very good fitness level.
    – Michael
    Nov 14, 2021 at 7:54
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    @LamarLatrell I fully agree that suspension is contraproductive for performance on any half-way decent ground. The point about training is, that it converts fat mass into muscle mass in the long run. I.e, training works on both sides of the equation. And for the average well-fed person, superfluous fat mass exceeds superfluous bike mass by far. Nov 14, 2021 at 8:07
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    The gears are for sure a huge problem, forgot to mention I tried a friend’s mountain bike on a hill a couple of times and it was a world of difference. But I don’t need a mountain bike, but something in between :)
    – Fahrrad123
    Nov 14, 2021 at 8:10
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In addition to other answers, I would say the most important thing in making riding up hill easier is your mindset.

If you start at the bottom of the hill telling yourself "that is a big hill, its going to take forever and its going to hurt a lot", its going to take forever and its going to hurt a lot.

If you start the hill climb thinking "Its a nice day to be riding my bike, the view from the top will be worth it and I'll reward myself with that when I get there", it will take the same time and hurt the same, but you will seem shorter and you will notice the pain and effort just a little less. (i.e. Learn to take you mind to its 'happy place')

Another thing that helps is not 'over doing it'. Aim to finish at the same speed you started, which is easier said than done with out practice and experience. A heart rate monitor (power meter is better but I suspect out of you price) allows you to keep track of how you doing and can be a useful tool.

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    In other words "pacing"
    – Criggie
    Nov 13, 2021 at 19:51
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    Exactly. The first minutes will be the hardest. If you manage to think about something else while riding, it won't be so bad. I love getting "in the zone" either while riding a bike or a skateboard. It's a great feeling, it's meditation on wheels, and I often get surprised looking at the GPS and noticing that 20km have gone by. Don't meditate while riding close to traffic, though! Nov 14, 2021 at 9:19
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    It doesn’t get easier, you only go faster. I agree that a common beginner problem is to start a long climb (or rides in general) way too fast.
    – Michael
    Nov 14, 2021 at 13:24
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    A trick I find quite effective is to tackle big climbs (that I’m already familiar with) at night — that way I can’t see the whole climb, and I find myself both taking it easier (because it’s dark) and cresting sooner than I expect. Of course overall I’m slower than during the day, but the risk of the climb becoming mind-numbing is greatly reduced, and my body learns the climb differently which helps on subsequent climbs. Nov 14, 2021 at 16:45
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    it will take the same time and hurt the same — it might take the same time, but it would actually hurt less.
    – gerrit
    Nov 15, 2021 at 12:31
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Uphill speed mostly depends on weight (assuming your power output to the rear wheel is identical).

Since you are only 50kg a 14kg bike would be about 4.5% faster than a 17kg bike (total weight drops from 67kg to 63kg). It would be even more noticeable if you switch to a road bike. A typical road bike weighing 7.5kg would be 14% faster from the weight reduction alone.

Cheap suspension isn’t very effective, is heavy and reduces efficiency if it can’t be locked. Better to use wider tyres at lower pressure, which would be especially effective considering your weight.

Another important part is easy gears for uphill rides. Ideally you’d be able to pedal at >75rpm no matter how steep it is.

I think you have to decide what exactly you want to use the bike for.

Personally I’m very much a fan of road bikes and gravel bikes and I think those would make total sense for some fun weekend rides on roads or good paths through the woods. At your weight you can certainly pick the flimsiest, lightest stuff and it won’t break even on light offroad use.

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  • +1 completely agree regarding the suspension and tyres. Cheap suspension also has a habit of eventually seizing and being effectively rigid anyway. Nov 14, 2021 at 1:49
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    A 7.5 kg bike with mudguards, rack and light, which they mention they need, will be very expensive. Nov 14, 2021 at 8:33
  • I question if they actually need mudguards and (permanently attached) light for a fun weekend ride bicycle.
    – Michael
    Nov 14, 2021 at 9:17
  • Maybe yes, maybe not. Maybe the road bike is totally inadequate for the terrain they must cross... We do not know. Around here, most peoole certainly use other kinds of bikes for fun weekend bikes and mostly for good reasons, I have to say. Nov 14, 2021 at 11:16
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    From the nick I would guess OP is in Germany. That means all bikes come with front and back lights and two independent sets of brakes because these things are legally required to be allowed to bike on roads. Mudguards are also very common as standard equipment. Even a backrack is often already included for anything that is not a mountain bike.
    – quarague
    Nov 14, 2021 at 20:58
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Make sure your seat is the right height (and that the bike fits you in general). In particular, most beginners have their seat too low, which really hurts power output and balance -- killing your ability to climb.

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In addition to the other great answers: Aside from weight and gearing, frame geometry is also relevant. Stiff chainstays and responsive steering help transferring the power and keeping the bike pointed uphill. Sadly, you might not easily find this information for entry-level/utility bikes like trekking bikes, but you can safely assume that any not-super-light aluminum bike will be stiff enough. If you can test-ride the bike and feel that the steering reacts very directly and quickly/twitchy (which also means you have to constantly move the handlebars), you can assume that it will handle well uphill. Incidentally, this also helps in threading through city traffic.

Regarding gears, sadly many bikes (especially entry-level ones) don't have very reasonable gearing. You can use the Bicycle Gear Calculator to check your gearing configuration. If you have a gear with 20-25 Gear Inches, then it's probably fine. Unfortunately, internally geared hubs as found on some trekking bikes make hill climbing more difficult due to their limited range, added weight and drag.

Also, I can directly confirm that a rigid bike climbs much better than one with suspension: My husband and I have similar trekking bikes, mine is completely rigid while his has a suspension fork. Mine climbs much better because of the fork, despite his having better gearing. However, my gravel bike climbs way better still, mostly due to the weight.

PS: I think trekking bikes are great allrounders for city, commuting, touring, light offroad fun. Don't let anyone tell you you absolutely need a road bike!

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This is about mountainbikes (i.e. on bikes optimized more for going downhill on the other side, and where adding bar-ends or other features to the handlbars might not be so applicable) and for significantly steep climbs, where you may be in the easiest gear of a MTB anyways. I saw too late that the question is about generic bicycling. For non-MTB specific bikes, there are possibly better solutions.

On the trail:

  • Get a good, sustainable rhythm or cadence going. This is probably mostly subjective, so some people may want to cycle slower or faster.
  • Try to sit as far forward as possible.
  • What I often do is that I rest my wrists on the handlebars instead of holding them with my fingers as usual. This has two benefits: first, it allows a more forward position; and second, it means that I do not habitually grab the handlebars tightly. This saves noticeable energy by not stressing the arm/hand musculature. (N.B. in response to a comment, this is not about having the wrong frame geometry, but about consciously avoiding tensing the "grab" musculature by making it physically impossible. Call it cheating yourself, a little mind game during the climb...)

During planning:

  • Pick a route with the proper grade/slope. Get into the habit of reviewing your route not too long after a ride, and to figure out the inclination of the parts which seemed too easy or too hard during the ride. Then take that into account for future routes.

That's about it. Sure, total weight, frame geometry, the question of whether you can really lock out all your suspension etc. can help, but the above is the way to work with what you have, and is more easily influenced than buying another bike or losing 10kg of body mass...

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    Mostly good points, but not having an adequate grip on the bars suggests some bike fit may be in order for you. I remember bar ends which could give a more "forward" feel while still being held well-enough. Or the same bar ends mounted inboard of brake levers would be mini-aero bars or "bar mids"
    – Criggie
    Nov 15, 2021 at 10:25
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    At least on road bikes most people climb in a more upright position using the top position of the handlebars.
    – Michael
    Nov 15, 2021 at 10:49
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    Dangit, @Criggie and Michael, I somehow was in "MTB" mode and didn't see that OP is asking about bicycling in general, possible on a regular city bike. Thanks for bringing up those points.
    – AnoE
    Nov 15, 2021 at 11:20
  • The OP did actually mention suspension and brief trips "through the woods". It's understandable that you thought the OP wanted an MTB, because the OP seems to want one - the problem is that the OP is arguably wanting the wrong thing.
    – Weiwen Ng
    Nov 15, 2021 at 18:01
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If you can not try out bikes in/from stores, look at trying out bikes by renting them for a day.

Or by buying a second hand bike which you can sell on for what you paid for it.
Two advantages over ordering online, direct availability and no great loss of money when the bike turns out the wrong one.

If you now only have a city bike that is not good for hills any lighter bike with gears (or more gears) will be an improvement. As you are relatively low on money, do not buy into the 'roadbikes are the best' dream untill you have tested out some in between options and gotten results from that.

Training your body to do those hills on a heavier bike with good gearing will do more for you than buying the lightest bike around and not daring to use it as it is so expensive.

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What is most important for making biking uphill easy?

Climbing is down to a relatively simple formula of bodyweight, power and gearing.

The short and simple answer to making biking uphill easy, is to get fit and pick small gears. Especially with your light bodyweight, when you are fit 99% of hills will become easy.

Yes, hills can become a little faster with lighter equipment, but ultimately i find it doesn't matter too much - maybe on a heavy bike I need 1 easier gear.

Ultimately you are looking for the combination of fitness and gears where you control the effort and not the hill - if you choose to ride easy, you still climb the hill, just slower than if you choose to go hard.

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I will give you a personal perspective.

10 years ago I was moderately fit, I bought a used roadbike (aluminium frame, trek 1200 sl from 2006, one of the lightest frame available for less than 1200$/£/Euro/AUD/CAD) with a quite sporty gear combination. I installed rack and panniers and it was my everything bike, from gravel road to commuting to day trips.

I could do moderately long climb, I was crossing a hill twice almost every day (~75 m over 2 km, the hill was on the way between my house and my workplace), I was pushing hard on the lowest gear I had (30T on the front, 26 on the back) and it was hard. Hard like doable, but I must fully concentrate on myself pushing hard. After one year of commuting that hill ... I gained almost nothing on how easy or long or fast I could climb.

So I traded the road bike for a MTB-style bicycle (Scott Tampico from 2007 or sth like that, again an aluminium frame, heavier than the road bike). I installed rack and panniers and it was my everything bike, from gravel road to commuting to day trips. Same hill twice a day (~75m over 2 km), with the lowest gear (24T on the front, 32T on the back) and after a couple of months, I'd say even after just one month, I was definitely going faster, I could climb longer hills and it was easier. The bike is a completely different bike, it is more of a tank with respect to the road bike, but I was actually going faster uphill if I put just a moderate effort (also because the road bike was not going uphill with just a moderate effort :D ) .

Then on flat section and on long rides, aerodynamics and tyres of the road bike allowed me to get to an average speed of 25-30 km/h, while the mtb (dynamo, panniers, etcetc) I was more in the range 18-25 km/h ... but hills were just slower, not an absolute pain in the neck to avoid at all costs.

I definitely regret selling the Trek road bike, although I am not a roadie, but I also regret a lot not having had better gearing to climb the hill from the beginning!

P.S.: regarding the bikes you suggest, I would say pick the one with derailleur, not with the hub gears. You will be able to experiment more in terms of gears.

P.P.S.: all my experiences are as a person going to work with the bicycle, or as a person touring with a bicycle, I do not consider myself a cyclist, I have no interest at all in bike racing nor in cyclism as a sport, so my experience may differ from "professionals". I still think bicycles are great and interesting tools :)

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I'll focus on the not mountain bike part of the answer. The OP's use case is:

commuting 3km every day to work ... also to go to lakes ~20-25km away ... I guess suspension is „nice to have“ for some stretches through the woods but the most important thing that kills me even in the city are the hills

You get a lot of suspension from your tires. You can likely run lower pressure than you think - it's been shown that this is no slower than high pressure1. Additionally, as you keep cycling, you may learn to un-weight your body as you go over bumps. Suspension forks on MTBs, as well as rear suspension, keep the wheels in traction with the ground when you're on rough terrain.

If you are mainly riding around town, you don't need suspension forks and rear suspension. You can take a rigid hybrid on easy dirt roads. Second, suspension systems require maintenance - you don't want dirt and dust getting into the suspension system, but enough will seep through the seals over time that you need to clean out the system. Most entry level riders may not realize this! If you keep a suspension system without maintenance long enough, you'll eventually wind up with dead weight. Third, as stated elsewhere, as you pedal on the road, suspension compresses and saps some energy. Higher-level suspension systems can be locked out, but this feature may not be present. Last, suspension costs money. At a given pricepoint, a bike with suspension has to have poorer components elsewhere than a bike without suspension, all else equal. Additionally, knobby tires will have much higher rolling resistance on the road, and MTBs will come with these tires stock. Furthermore, a wide and non-knobby tire is rideable on packed dirt and light gravel.

Basically, for the use case you described, you don't need an MTB. You should get one if you want to mainly ride off-road on terrain appropriate for MTBs. Consider that gravel bikes are the main growth sector of the drop bar market - and they are (in some sense) rigid MTBs, and they can traverse a lot of unpaved terrain without suspension.

Footnote

  1. Many riders over-inflate their tires. For each surface and each rider + bicycle + equipment weight, there is an optimum tire pressure. It is true that rolling resistance will increase if you exceed this pressure or under-inflate. However, rolling resistance increases much faster for over-inflation than for the reverse. It is true that if you under-inflate too much, you can get pinch flats. Nevertheless, tires at an appropriate pressure, which is less than many of us think, can be pretty comfortable.
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    rolling resistance increases much faster for over-inflation – this is intriguing, and all new to me! Can you provide a source? Nov 15, 2021 at 19:55
  • I don't see how this could possibly be true for rolling resistance in the tires per se -- this energy loss is due to hysteresis in the loading/unloading of the contact patch and should increase monotonically with increased compression (and therefore with decreased pressure, holding all else constant).
    – JoshuaF
    Nov 16, 2021 at 0:33
  • Now, a wider tire might still have lower rolling resistance at lower pressure than a narrower tire, but this is because the contact patch is a different shape.
    – JoshuaF
    Nov 16, 2021 at 0:34
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    @JoshuaF it's true that higher pressure = lower rolling resistance on smooth rollers and for track cyclists. On other surfaces, the roughness causes what Josh Poertner calls losses through impedance. At some point, the impedance losses cancel out the decreased RR. blog.silca.cc/part-4b-rolling-resistance-and-impedance
    – Weiwen Ng
    Nov 16, 2021 at 0:46
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There are only two things that make cycling uphills easy:

  1. Normal weight and good fitness combined. The weight of the bike itself doesn't matter that much, because a 15 kg bike is less than 70 kg normal body weight. I remember a long time ago I had a bike with non-butted cheap aluminum frame and heavy front suspension fork. Neither of these two added weight penalties made cycling uphills hard. I also always had full equipment on the bike (rack, fenders, kickstand, lock, reflectors, bell, front and rear lights, hub dynamo), and while those add some weight they didn't make cycling uphills hard. However, when I had a one-year break from cycling and started cycling again, uphills suddenly became very annoying even though I had normal weight back then and used the same bike.
  2. Electric assist. Today my weight is far above that of normal and my fitness level isn't extraordinary either. However, with a bike that has electric assist, uphills aren't annoying at all.

Choose your weapon. If you are of normal weight, it's probably a better plan to achieve good fitness. It's also much cheaper too.

Gearing isn't a limiting factor in most cases when considering regular bikes. For example, I have on my 2-speed Brompton a low gear of 56 inches and a high gear of 75 inches. The low gear is perhaps a bit higher than I would like, but it allows me to ride uphills standing and then the main annoyance is the energy needed to go up hill, rather than the force needed to go up hill. I don't think you'll find a road bike with low gear bigger than 42 inches, and today it's very common to have even lower gears on road bikes.

When considering "upgrades" to reduce bike weight, most of the time they won't make sense. For example carbon fiber fork at a great fragility and monetary cost saves perhaps half a kilogram from the bike weight. Half a kilogram can be very easily saved by reducing your body weight a little bit, and besides if you're unwilling to do that half a kilogram is the same as leaving your water bottle home and bringing a credit card with you instead, stopping at a grocery store to buy bottled water.

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    "great fragility" isn't really true for modern carbon. Obviously as you say the weight savings don't really matter for most of us, but I definitely feel the difference in vibration damping with a carbon fork, so if OP was complaining about sore wrists instead of climbing difficulty a carbon fork might make more sense than suspension.
    – JoshuaF
    Nov 15, 2021 at 17:06
  • 56 Gear Inches is super high for climbing hills. Having so stand in the pedals and use great force for longer times is exhausting and bad for the knees...
    – Erlkoenig
    Nov 16, 2021 at 10:28
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    OP only weighs 50kg, so the bit about easily losing some body weight may not be correct or beneficial
    – Andy P
    Nov 16, 2021 at 13:12
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In my experience, as long as the bike is not total garbage or principally unsuitable for the task (e.g. narrow racing tires on sandy forest ground), personal fitness is by far the most important factor. For hills of 75m (your scenario, if I understood correctly) bicycle weight, transmission ratio etc. are not so important because a fit rider can go faster (in a larger gear) for an extended period of time, when needed, without tiring too much. If necessary they simply stand up in the pedals for a few minutes. The gedankenexperiment to confirm or refute this would be to exchange bikes with a very fit rider on an excellent bike. Would that reverse roles? Probably not, the difference would be only modest and gradual.

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Turn autopilot on.

I find that, if my mind is elsewhere during a climb, once I finish it, I feel much less exhausted than if I focus my attention on riding.

Of course this is not a good advice if the track is dangerous.

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