Cycling uphill – sit down or stand on pedals?

IMG_0508Coast to Coast team mate Phil and I went for a ride yesterday afternoon which included tackling Bison Hill twice.  This has led to a debate about standing up on the pedals or staying sitting down when cycling up a steep hill.  Which is more efficient?  Which is kinder on our knees and legs?  Which is better for the bicycle?

Firstly, let me introduce you to Phil and his bicycle

Although I’ve known Phil for quite a few years now, this was the first time we’d cycled with each other and we are hoping this was the first of many rides.


Phil’s bike is the one on the left, an Olmo road bike with ridiclously big gears.  Just as well Phil has a naturally muscular build as I wouldn’t want to ride up anything using those gears!  As you can see Phil has a chain set with 52 and 42T chainrings.  This combined with a narrow range of gears at the back lends itself to fast time trials over a flat course.  Alternatively it is a quick way to give yourself an injury through over straining those tendons and ligaments.  Ouch.

As for Phil, he’s got a natural sense of adventure and determination.  He’s also got the battle scars from time spent playing rugby but thankfully he’s now seen the light and taking up cycling.   Although he’s not been cycling much lately, you wouldn’t believe that when you see him in action.  When we come to actually doing the Coast to Coast event, I dare say he’ll leave me for dust.  Off he’ll go, zooming ahead all the way to Whitby.

Nevertheless we enjoyed our Sunday afternoon ride in the somewhat damp conditions .  Our ride included Bison Hill twice, this is a decent local hill on the edge of the Chilterns.  There I was plodding away up Bison Hill saying “don’t expect [gasp] me to [gasp] hold a [gasp] conversation [gasp] with you [gasp]” and he simply replies “Just dig in Doug” and then zoomed ahead.  I felt as if I needed an oxygen mask!

Cycling uphill – stand up or sit down

With Phil outclassing me on Bison Hill, we had a mini debate about the pros and cons of standing up on the pedals to haul ourselves up a steep hill.  Mind you, Phil probably had little choice with his high gears.  It can be very tempting to stand up on those pedals but does it really give much of an advantage?

  • You’ll use different muscles, so it gives your quads a bit of a rest (although it doesn’t feel like it!)
  • Allow the bike to sway from side to side as you get into a nice rhythm.  Don’t get too carried away, just a few inches either side: think of your bike as a pendulum in a constant movement
  • Don’t use a gear which is too high as you’ll be putting too much strain on yourself and the bike itself.  Avoid running a gear from a large chainring to a large sprocket as that can cause chain links to come apart (and believe me, it happens).  It is not unknown for handlebars or stems to snap under pressure – you could be pushing and pulling them sufficiently to expose a weak spot and if it snaps you can’t do anything apart from fall off!
  • Remember that when you’re standing on the pedals, you’re using your weight to push those pedals down.  You are also using some energy in supporting your own weight too – so how much of an advantage are you really getting?
  • By staying on the saddle you can still use your arms in order to pull on the handlebars.  Doing this neatly illustrates how your upper body muscles also have a role to play and doing this is brilliant exercise
  • Often more experienced cyclists do both i.e. stay seated and stand up on the pedals which is okay.  Sometimes it’s useful to stand on the pedals in the last few yards of a hill or maybe to avoid changing into a lower gear over a short distance
  • When standing you can only push down.  When sitting and using “clippy” pedals you can also push forward and pull up
  • Standing is useful for an extra burst of power
  • Standing is also useful when there is no other choice (i.e. you have gear ratios like Phil’s bicycle)
  • Cycling up hill is brilliant exercise – cardiovascular and strength building



This entry was posted in cycling, cycling with others, people and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply