Managing Inclines: 7/9/00

By Mike King

Well, the basics behind riding uphill is torque and power. You need lots of both! You can easily get more torque by using longer cranks on your MUni. But this is entirely personal preference and depends on what other riding you use your MUni for. I prefer 5.5" cranks on a 24" wheel and 6" or 6.5" on a 26" MUni. If you ride both, use 5.5" on the 24" and 6.5" on the 26" so that the crank to wheel radius is proportional which makes switching between MUnis easier because they will both "feel" about the same.

You also need lots of power in your legs to propel yourself up the slopes. And you know there is only one way to get that! Get out on one wheel and ride! You will also want to use a GOOD grip (knobby) tire for climbing. Generally, the wider the better.

So to learn to ride up steep slopes you need somewhere to start.

1. Learn to ride as slow and straight as possible over rough terrain. You need to train yourself with near perfect balance over rough terrain and recovering from slight bumps should be natural. This is because I'm talking about riding up rough dirt and rocky hills, not lame flat pavement.

2. Next, find a relatively low slopping hill that you can already ride up and attempt it at very fast speeds, low speeds and with stalls (pausing rotation for a second and balancing) as riding up it.

3. Now if your not holding the seat with one hand, shame on you! Hold on to it by pulling up underneath it as hard as you can so that you can deliver way more force to that forward pedal. The extra force generated by pulling up on the seat will let you climb hills over twice as steep providing you can stay balanced on the way up with only one balance trim arm.

4. Keep hitting the steeper slopes until you simply can't push that pedal over hard enough. At this point you might think that is as steep as you can go. Wrong again! Read on. Hopefully at this point, you are coming at the bottom of the hill as fast as you can possibly ride and launching yourself with speed part way up before you really need your power climbing techniques. Use as much speed as possible to get part way up the hill. BTW: Try to pedal as smooth as possible and deliver power over 360 degrees of your wheel rotation. A big heel on your footwear makes a MASSIVE difference in this department. The heel will catch the back edge of the upper pedal allowing you to continue applying torque. This makes rotating the cranks through the vertical dead zone much easier.

5. One technique that works excellently for me is using half rotation power launches up the hill. What I mean is that when you get to the point you simply can't pedal at a smooth uphill speed, don't. Let the wheel come to a stop, let momentum carry your body over top of the wheel and lean forward towards the hill. Just before you face plant into the side of the hill (OK, I might have exaggerated that a bit) pull up hard on the seat as if you were doing a big bunny hop forward and pedal another half rotation. Don't actually lift the wheel off the ground when you hop (lunge) but you do need to lift weight off the tire so that you can lunge it upslope and do another half rotation. When your next pedal is forward, stop rotation, let your body momentum carry forwards and then lunge upward again. Do this every pedal rotation and you will learn to ride up slopes about 20 degrees steeper than you can simply ride up. This method is very tiring though and you'll need tons of balance for when you stop the wheel on the hill and let your body carry forward. I told you to practice that!

6. If you master the technique in step 5 and anybody sees you, you will probably already know what I call it. It's the chicken climb. Everyone who sees me do it says I look like a chicken as my head is bobbing forward and back each time I lunge the MUni up the hill. Oh, well, I've climbed up many hills past mountain bikers pushing there 21 speed bikes. So I could care less if it looks like a chicken!

7. Once you can chicken climb up some seriously steep hills, there is one more thing you can do to climb steeper. Most off road hills I ride are about 30 to 40 feet high and start gradually sloping upward and often get steeper as they climb to a very steep drop-in area near the top. I ride up the bottom part as smooth and as fast as possible to usually get about half what up and then I start using the chicken climb to propel straight up almost the rest of the slope. Near the very top, where it is too steep to climb, my last lunge upward I turn the MUni 90 degrees and stand up on the pedals. Then I proceed to bunny hop sideways up what is left of the hill. Obviously you need to bunny hop very well to do this, so master that first. Make sure you can bunny hop up stairs sideways as they are very similar to up hills. Just don't fall, because if you screw up a bunny hop at the top, it can be a painful fall! Have fun with it...

Off to the slopes I go...