How-to: Jeff Lenosky shows us how to ride up steep inclines

Right gear, body position and momentum critical factors

How To

Lenosky Steep Cover

This month’s how-to takes a look at handling short steep climbs and will show you some of the techniques I use to make them a little easier. Success or failure on longer technical climbs has a lot to do with physical conditioning, once you start to get tired your technique isn’t as good and you’ll begin making mistakes. On short climbs technique is paramount, here are some tips to help you climb to new heights.

Lenosky Steep 1

1. The Approach

The run up to a climb is just as important as what you do on the actual climb. If you are approaching something steep, loose or slippery you want to use the run in to build speed and gain the momentum necessary to make the ascent. In most cases I’m seated for the approach.

Tip: A common mistake I see people doing is upshifting too early and spinning out before they hit the hill. Pedal a gear a couple cogs harder than what you expect to need at the top to keep your speed up.

Lenosky Steep 2

2. The Compression

Depending on the type of climb you should have some type of compression at the base of it. I like to stay seated as long as possible but I shift my weight to the nose of the saddle and get my upper body closer to the bars by dipping my elbows down. As you start to run out of speed shift to easier gears to keep your cadence up, don’t wait too long so you can keep the changes smooth.

Tip: I always try to run a slightly harder gear if I can turn it, this helps give me a little less torque so I have better traction.

Lenosky Steep 3

3. Find Traction

This particular rock was really steep, in this photo you can see I’m keeping my head up looking ahead and scanning for the best route up the face of it. As I start to lose speed I stand up and begin to slightly traverse the rock which lessens the incline of the climb and allows me to keep going.

Tip: If you have the room, climbing something on an angle will make it easier however you’ll be on the side of your tire and will sacrifice some traction. Be careful not to spike your uphill pedal on the ground and pay attention to your rear wheel.

Lenosky Steep 4

4. Focus to Finish

After I’ve shifted down to the lowest gear I have and I’ve begun traversing, the main goal here is to just focus on finishing the climb. In order to maximize traction my elbows are bent and my hips are low and forward which gets my center of gravity low and keeps my front end down.

Tip: On technical climbs where you struggle to keep the pedals turning, try focusing on pedaling quick smooth circles instead of stomping down hard side to side.

Lenosky Steep 5

5. Crest the Top

As you a get near the top look beyond it, most mistakes are made by focusing on reaching the peak and easing up before you finish. Pay attention to your pedal timing if there is a knuckle at the top of the obstacle so that you don’t strike your crank on the ground.

Tip: You should start the climb with momentum and try to smoothly shift through gears when necessary to keep a consistent speed and pedal cadence. Keeping your center of gravity low and arms bent will help give you the traction necessary to scale up just about anything.

Lenosky Steep Climb

For more of Jeff Lenosky’s monthly how-to tips, click here.

Photo Thumbnails (click to enlarge)

About the author: Jeff Lenosky

Jeff Lenosky helped pioneer urban mountain biking, fusing his background in BMX and observed trials, then taking it to the streets. Featured in dozens of mountain bike movies, the New Jersey native travels constantly doing trials demos at bike shops, festivals and races, and even jumping in the occasional cross country or enduro race.


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  • Jeff Lenosky says:

    Esteban,
    It’s all relative, this rock was really steep so it made for the best photos, a loose gravel hill would require the same exact techniques I talked about but it wouldn’t look as cool. Hope the info helps you out!

  • FredNo says:

    Disagree fully, Jeff. Unless the loose gravel is evenly distributed across the entire width of the trail. It never is. Usually, the loose gravel is concentrated in the middle of the gully. You have to stay on one side or the other until you need to traverse to the other side to firmer ground. You need a quick burst before the nadir of the gully to get across the loose rocks to the firm dirt on the other side. Two pedal strokes in the loose cobbles, and you’re toast (I am…I’m not that good). And BTW, that rock was not really steep. The average rider (with a little experience) needs advice on climbs where we’ll lose traction. The fitness part is up to us.

    • Jeff Lenosky says:

      FredNo, The main takeaways from those tips should be 1) Look forward and scan the terrain for the best traction 2) Elbows bent and chest lowered to the bars 3) Slide forward on the seat and 4) if you can handle it, run a harder gear so you don’t spin out. If you’re climbing a gravel road like you said, you’ll want to use these techniques to help you out, and a surge before crossing the loose stuff will definitely help like you pointed out. Hope that helps, and trust me, that rock is steep.

  • Ken Haggett says:

    Rock does not always offer unlimited traction. We have a lot of shale type rock here and if it’s wet or humid it is slippery making good for essential. I agree loose gravel can be challenging as well but you can afford a slip or two on gravel. The slightest slip on a rock slope means you’re going down and going down hard.

  • Rob says:

    thanks for the great tips Jeff. appreciate the effort to help us all get a little better.

  • TNT says:

    That rock is steep, look at the side view photo 1.

  • Chaz says:

    “Tip: A common mistake I see people doing is upshifting too early and spinning out before they hit the hill.”

    Don’t you mean “downshifting”?

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