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Climbing Tips for Intermediate to Advanced Tours

Posted by Francesca Loomis

Bike Across Southern Italy

Most cyclists new to European terrain tend to try to do the hills too fast and, as a result, get tired and/or discouraged before reaching the top. Finding your OWN pace and having the right attitude about hills is key. Ride the hill like it will last all day (in other words, don't be in a hurry for hills to end). Also, think about how great you will feel when you get to the top, how gorgeous the view will be, and the thrill of the downhill. Below are some suggestions.

The Pyrenees in France

1) Hills are generally long with a grade of 4%-10%

Try to find your own pace, and stick to it all the way up the hill. Trying to keep up with Joe Biker might boost your ego, but you certainly won't enjoy yourself and might just burn out before you get to the top. The same goes for advanced riders who try to slow down to keep the pace of a slower rider.

2) The first part of a hill is usually the toughest

Psychologically, you are at the bottom. Physically, your body has to get into a rhythm, you have to break a sweat...  patience, persistence, and optimism. Look behind you, and see how far and high you've come. Think of the top, the view, and the feeling of accomplishment. If thinking of the top doesn't do the trick, set small goals like the next house, tree, or other object within reach.

Cycling in the heart of Tuscany

3) Try alternating sitting in your saddle and standing on the pedals

Standing on your pedals might feel awkward at first, but it helps. Try watching others who seem to have a "grip" on it; ask our guides or other tour members to help you.

4) Hills are described in percentages of steepness

A 1% grade is scarcely noticeable while 18% grade is very difficult. Most of the hills we climb on intermediate and advanced trips are between 4%-10%. For an average cyclist, anything over 7% is considered steep. On the maps, many of the hills are shown with symbols called "chevrons." These chevrons look like tiny greater or less than signs < > marked on the roads. The arrows point in the direction of the uphill.

  • One chevron (<) indicates a 4-7% hill
  • Two chevrons  (<<) indicate a 7%-12% hill
  • Three chevrons  (<<<) indicate a 12%-+ hill

If you need to, take frequent (but quick) photo breaks and water stops.

Panoramic view of Lake Como in Italy

Unfortunately, the more you stop, the more your body will cool down, then you’ll have to get into the rhythm again. However, if you feel like you are over-heating, stop in a shady spot and rest.

Here are some recommended tours:

Pyrenees: Sea to Sea  (advanced)

Heart of Tuscany  (intermediate)

Italian Lakes  (intermediate)

Verona to Salzburg  (advanced)

Mediterranean Island Hopping  (intermediate)

Bike Across Southern Italy  (advanced)

Topics: Bike Tours, How To, Climbing Tips

Written by Francesca Loomis

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