Understanding my climbing performance

I’m trying to wrap my head around my ability to climb… Over the course of using TR for 5 years I’ve built a decent cycling fitness, reaching 9-10k km a year. During this time I joined a local group of avid cyclists and went from hanging on for dear life at the back to setting the pace at the front and mingling in the friendly competition. So far so good…

However, as soon as the road starts pointing upwards I’m struggling to keep up (read, get dropped, sometimes hard), and I can’t fully wrap my head around as to why that is.

For context, we’re not talking long climbs around here. 10 min max. Yet, on a 5 minute climb I loose about 45 seconds.

These things are all going through my mind:

  • I’m definitely one of the heavier guys in the group, but the others are not flyweights either. They would be about 5kg lighter I’m guesstimating. Not such a big impact I would think.
  • A couple of them run more that they cycle. Does running actually help with climbing? They certainly climb easily out of the saddle.
  • Given that the others in the group are also pedalling hard on the flats (no more talking), I’m guessing they are not turning up their watts that much more when we go uphill. Unfortunately they don’t have power meters so I can’t compare easily. So perhaps they are effectively pumping out more watts going uphill, and I need to work on my 5-10min power efforts.
  • I’m happy to churn out 300 watts @90 rpm in the big ring, but I seem to struggle with the same 300 watts @90 rpm in the little ring, it simply feels a lot harder in the little ring. Do I need to practice riding in the little ring more?
  • Am I just bad at pedalling in the little ring? Would an oval little ring help?
  • Do I simply need more yearly elevation and build up climbing experience?
  • Do I just need to HTFU? I’m definitely not enjoying riding uphill, so as soon as I see a climb my mind goes: ‘oh boy here we go again’. My power numbers stay good though and remain within what is to be expected based on my FTP.

Any insights would be appreciated!

What sort of gradients are we talking about? I’ll often stay in the big ring until it goes too steep. Whilst it can be better to be in the wee ring some folk change down to early IMO. I’m one of the lighter riders though so what works for me may not be for everybody. Ganna of late and further back Eros Poli are good example to me that a bigger rider can get up hills too :+1:

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On a climb w/kg is king. I run and weigh 61kg - I TT and know plenty of people who are quicker in a flat TT who I can beat on a hilly sporting course. That said I find it easier to put out power on a climb…most do and that is why a lot of people do VO2max intervals on a climb. I don’t think running makes you better but most runners are lighter. My road bike FTP is about 275W - which isn’t high but it’s still 4.5W/kg when you weigh 9.5 stone…If you are 90kg which plenty of cyclists are you would need a 400W FTP for the same w/kg…In terms of advice the main thing is training on climbs or maybe drop a bit of weight if that is a healthy option.

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true but look what Roglic did to Ganna and everybody else on the v hilly Olympic TT course

w/kg definitely matters a lot.

However, I do find the same on my club spins sometimes - but coming into that, I’ve hit my 3 key workouts with TR, whereas this is the main activity for some/ most of the group. They come into a Saturday spin way fresher than me - I’m carrying some training fatigue in.

The other thing I find is there’s lots of people there with years of cycling in their legs, not just 5 or 6 years like myself. This seems to count for a lot, whether that is experience or built up watts.

Yes, this is also the case for my group. Lot’s of people with years and years of cycling under their belt.

That is a huge impact.


They are…it is basic physics. To go fast up hill, you have to increase your wattage


The old adage of “watts is watts” doesn’t always hold true. There tends to be a subtle difference between the same wattage climbing vs. hammering. Some of it is momentum / inertia, some of it is gravity, etc. you don’t necessarily need to be in your little ring more, you just need to climb more and adapt


Yes. See above. Climbing can be a skill that can be trained. Some are natural climbers, others need to “learn” how to do it.

Losing some of that extra 5kg vs. your buddies can’t hurt either. I’ve been struggling trying to lose the last ~2kg to get to my normal race weight. After getting my ass dropped hard from the front group on a gravel ride yesterday on some climbs, I am focusing on both my VO2 max efforts and dropping those final kgs.


6-8% average, nothing too steep. If it’s steeper than that I know my place weight-wise :wink:

Thanks! Currently I’m about 81kg, with a 3.8 w/kg ftp. I’m not keen on dropping a lot of weight as that would turn me into a stick. I try to be at or just below 80 at peak fitness.

Weight doesn’t matter too much until you are talking about gradients 6-8+%

Given that most of your mates don’t have PM’s maybe they are pushing harder than you. You have a PM and rationally hold back and pace to the top of the climb. Where as they just go all out. Could this be the case?

I’ve been dropped in climbs, I have a higher wkg and ftp then most of them - simply because they go full gas to the top of a climb for some strange reason, where as I can’t be bothered and stay within my z2/3 range.

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I definitely agree that lighter riders will outclimb most folk but I like to put they examples to my mates when they start moaning about being twice the weight of me as an excuse :joy: There’s folk who weigh more than me but can beat me on a sporting TT because they have like Ganna and Poli have done the work :+1:

I experienced this every Saturday on our club ride. The beginning of the ride has a sharp 7-8 minute climb, a false flat and then another 10-12 minutes of climbing.

Some smaller guys who I think of as weaker cyclists than myself will drop me on these segments. There is a gal BTW, who flies up those climbs with only 175 watts.

The group ride later gets on a very fast, flat 5 mile section where I do really well. The same smaller guys who dropped me on the climb can’t even hold the wheels, take a pull, and eventually get shot out of the back on the fast section.

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I think this is most likely what’s happening. People without power meters tend to go much more by RPE, and for most people putting out watts uphill has a lower RPE than putting out same watts on flat or downhill. Other factors might include:

  • Your position and equipment is more aero (and/or heavier!) than others in the group which is helping you on the flats
  • Others have better anaerobic capacity than you. Even on a 10 minute climb anaerobic contribution is significant
  • You may just need to get better at climbing. It does use slightly different muscles (or uses muscles in a slightly different way), depending on gearing and steepness can involve cadences that you’re less accustomed to, or if the hill has constantly changing gradient requiring you to vary your cadence a lot to maintain steadyish power output then those are all things that take time to develop. FWIW, I’ve also noticed that strong runners tend to do better at climbing on the bike than on the flat. Not just because they tend to have lower weight, think the force production working against a gradient must be more similar to running or something
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Depends on how much weight you are talking about….in this case, 5kg is pretty significant.

Just on the inner ring stuff - I go with train how I plan to race. When I was focussed on hilly endurance sportives/ audax, I used the inner ring on the turbo. Once I was focusing on racing, most of which would be big ring, turbo is in the big ring too. On my v1 Hammer, there’s a noticeable drop in inertia in the inner ring, more reflective of climbing.


:+1: - yep, I figured I switch at least one of my workouts to be inner ring entirely. I have been practicing lower cadence work on the trainer, but have stayed in the outer ring (no gear switching as I was using ERG mode)

Do you know your max HR on your bike and on these 5-10 min climbs with your mates how high does your heart rate get? Sometimes others are going faster simply because they are working at a higher percentage of their capacity. For 5-10 mins climbing you can certainly sit somewhere between 90% and your max heart rate without blowing up.

You also say you are on the front on the flats. Are you spending too much time in the front and giving them all a draft.? Drafting saves an incredible amount of energy. I’ve seen my heart rate drop 20 BPM and speed go up 2 mph when I’ve jumped into a faster rider’s draft. Often why you stick the stronger riders on the front on the flat and the whole group goes much faster with a lot less effort.

yes, definitely sitting there, perhaps even closer to 95% of max.

Which is the frustrating part. I feel like I’m doing the watts (HR-wise), I know I’m doing the watts (powermeter-wise) where I know they also have a hard time when we’re pushing those watts on the flats, yet they still seem to drop me easily when it goes uphill.

Problem is you don’t know the watts they’re pushing on the flats! I spend too much time looking at people’s watts. On climbs they’re very predictable - the steeper the climb, the more accurately W/kg will predict speed. On the flat they’re all over the place, particularly in a group. Aeroness, drafting, knowing how to carry momentum and where to put down power through technical and undulating sections, where to position yourself relative to the wind, all have a huge cumulative effect.

You’ll see this on Strava estimated watts for people without a PM. Algorithm is pretty decent for any sustained climb over about 5%. And not much better than guesswork for everything else.

Even though these other guys don’t have a powermeter, you can get a pretty reasonable estimation of the kind of power they are producing on the climbs. Find one of the hills with a steady gradient of around 5% and filter the starve leaderboard by weight. Find some folk with a similar time to them that are using a powermeter and you’ll get a ball park figure, but make sure you look at the weather data to see if the efforts were wind assisted.

If you don’t have Strava premium post a link to one such ride and I’ll take a look for you…