Uphill v downhill power

In the podcast today, @Jonathan said “I don’t care who you are, it’s easier to do 300W uphill than downhill”

I can’t do 300 for very long but at my more modest FTP, I can hold it more easily downhill than up. There’s an exception for change of gradient. If I’ve been digging deep on a steep climb, when the gradient relaxes or goes downhill, I’m useless for a while. Doesn’t help when I shift. I just don’t do well with a sudden change from low cadence climbing to a sudden downhill.

But take Lefthand Canyon for example. Whether I do the super steep Lee Hill and then ride down LHC or take LHC all the way to P2P (15 miles at 4% and then last 1.5 is over 10%) and then go back down, I can do higher power than my climb and for longer on the downhill.

One of my favorite high intensity rides is take the flats to Lee Hill, do the ~2 mile climb all out, rest on the descent over to LHC and then do that descent all the way to Longmont all-out … usually at a higher power than I climbed at (while tired from my hard effort over the hill). Felt great working the legs going up and working the lungs coming back.

1 Like

At 300W Jonathan would be absolutely hauling ass on a downhill and typically there comes a point where there isn’t enough resistance.

Comparatively there’s many ways to sit on the 300W going uphill with different cadence/force combos etc.

I have only just turned the pod on, sorry if I’ve missed something key.

Low gradient descents are possibly different as it’s a more mentally stimulating/rewarding sensation going fast.


To be fair, I was commenting on the “no matter who you are” in his comment. :slight_smile:

Still, 300W at -4% is only 36mph at that power assuming in the drops, 160lbs, 17lb bike, 70 degrees. I doubt anyone can’t still pedal at 36mph. WRT the force, that’s what I’m saying. I can make more power when low pedal force is required (through pedal speed) than the other way around.


I think that’s a function of strength. You’re more of an aerobic engine than muscular one.

I guess your statement is just that it’s not a universal statement and I can’t argue that.

Are you saying at those stats it takes 300W to maintain 36mph?

ETA: I think Jonathan is quite a bit less than 160lbs. I’m right on that I think, and I would say there’s no descents I’ve done that are straight enough for me to pedal at 100+rpm and 60km/h where I wouldn’t feel safer (and be faster) to tuck and be able to lean the bike on descents.

Any context on the gradient? And like you said, some of us can’t do 300W for long as its above threshold. My ftp is around 270, so 300-ish is a target for short 2-4 minute above threshold efforts.

I’m prone to unconsciously push harder going downhill or with a wind at my back. Mentally easier to put down more power when speeds climb above 25mph. Fast is fun. Like in the movie Top Gun “I feel the need for speed!”

That’s not usually a problem on -1% or -2% grades, but steeper descents require a headwind or sitting upright to create some aero drag, in order to keep the speed down. Because on the roads I ride, keeping speed below 35mph “feels safe” when cars zoom past at 60-70mph.

1 Like

I wonder if hip angle influences this feeling at all. Going downhill, one usually sits more upright, which is a more open hip angle.
Going uphill, there’s usually more bodyweight over the front of the bars for climbing and other reasons, which would make for a smaller hip angle.

But that seems like it would run counter to @Jonathan ’s point that power is easier to generate uphill than down…

I don’t know, but I’m interested to find out!

Force is force, up, down, or flat, it all feels pretty much the same. My context - I ride the same basic position on most terrain, too long (15 seconds?) out of the saddle and I’ll start losing power because standing is a great way to burn mini-matches. I’m no Contador. I’ve looked repeatedly and outside I don’t see any real terrain dependent power production differences.

I’d bet people like Contador can generate more power climbing, with a fair bit of time out of the saddle.

For me it comes down to perception. Fast is fun, therefore fast (downhill) feels easier to me. Its a more diesel perspective I guess.

1 Like

My bet is it’s cadence differences. 300W (or FTP effort) at 70, 90, and 110rpm are quite different sensations.

I agree with Jonathan’s comment and I think it’s mostly psychological for me.
Going uphill, I’m pushing against gravity and as soon as i don’t push the watts, i feel the bike slowing down so it’s an instant reminder to not slack off. I don’t need to focus as much, I just need to push those pedals.
Going downhill, if I slack off for 3seconds, the bike doesn’t slow down as much. So I am to keep a high wattage, i need to focus hard.

That plus at high wattage going downhill, i may only have 1 maybe 2 gears to push this high wattage using high rpm while going uphill, i can use a wider range of gears & rpm.

My example was -4%. My last time there, I averaged 34mph for 30 minutes. But it works at home too it’s just that I don’t have roads that are that much fun.

I have a few hills at home that are similar. I just shift up, put my hands on the hoods, drop my forearms as low as they’ll go, bury my head and dig as deep as I can. I have some person power records that were set like this rather than an uphill.

Similar sentiment. I am also a small rider and going downhill there isn’t a lot of benefit to pushing the power. Changing for my weight…just used to metric so bear with me… 180 watts gets me 51kph. 220 watts gets 53kph. 300 watts gets 57. It is just easier to get speed up and ease off/coast once the speed gets up. Cadence for me is easier to control going up vs down. I just find I end up with a very high cadence going down and lose the push on the power. The other factor is some of these types of areas dont always have the safest conditions so not the same desire to push going down.

1 Like

it depends more on gearing and cadence, on my outside workouts with undulating terrain, dips in the road are where the cadence needs to be above my comfort zone to maintain the target power.

asking anyone to pedal at a cadence beyond their preferred cadence for an extended period of time is a tough ask!


FWIW yesterday a 3-minute, 300+ watt vo2 effort appeared on my bike computer on a hilly section:

some short 4% ups & downs. Not that well controlled of an effort, wasn’t having a great day after a couple really late nights.

click here to see same pic with elevation

If I were to ride at 300W on a -4% gradient, very quickly I’d be well over 36mph!! Here’s a strava segment with a hill and descent together that I have the KOM:

Nairnside up and down

The descent is about -4% average. The climb I did at 450W, the decent around 200W average, but was a large proportion of coasting. Max speed was 41.5mph and the 1 mile covered in 1.38s. No way 300W down that hill was doable!!! Would run out of gear within a couple of hundred meters.


I have heard that a few times when I have listened to episodes (I don’t listen much). I thought it was Chad, but I could be confused on who is who (or maybe both). Same with the wind, claiming it is easier to produce watts into the wind.

My RPE is significantly lower going DH or with a tailwind. Seems like Chad/Jon can’t acknowledge that not everyone responds the same way psychologically.

1 Like

Yeah, I find tailwinds easier for the same power output. Unless it’s a really ripping tailwind I’m not going to run out of gears. Also it allows a bit more flexibility in position than getting smacked in the face with a block headwind; having to stay as tucked as possible while going at climbing (ish) speeds on a flat road is disorienting.

Uphill feels like the reverse. Less need for aerodynamics so I can open my hips up.


Yup “fast is fun” its all in my head.

The brain doesn’t care until it gets sketchy at higher speeds. At times I’m hitting 40mph on some of those -4% descents and looking at a recent on in Strava that’s about 108rpm in 48x10 AXS gearing. This is the stretch of road from the descent I posted above:

Even though cars are flying by at 60-80mph, there is a large “bike lane” protected by a rumble strip. At 35+mph you can hear cars hitting the rumble strip on the center divide or bike lane. Plus I have a radar. I feel safe and carrying speed is only an issue at the bottom due to pavement cracks at the small bridge (if no cars I’ll cross the rumble strip at 35mph to avoid the cracks and get the heart racing LOL).

Points is that I feel very safe. There is usually a head wind and I can’t hit more than about 38mph even if putting down 330+watts and in full aero position. Road matters.

For what its worth here is Brandon McNulty making it look easy on a descent in Arizona:

on a 3 hour zone2 ride averaging 264W:

Road matters. Mind over matter.

1 Like

Yes! I was going to say this too! I submitted a rapid fire question one time stating this and they said I was nuts! If I have a steady tailwind I can push threshold+ so easily.

I think it’s the same phenomenon on descents, to a degree. When there’s more force working against you, it’s harder to remain steady.

Perhaps like the high-inertia effect on a trainer? Pushing bigger watts in big ring/small cogs is easy, until you slow down slightly and have to get back on top of it.

It’s psychologically easier to put out watts when the resistance is on (wind, climb). The same holds for people who use ERG mode on the trainer.

If you’re gearing is sufficient, it is not different physically (gearing such that you can spin same cadence uphill or downhill).

Some pros ride with a 60t big ring on days with big meaningful descents.

1 Like

Not for me. Fast is fun. Mentally easier with a tailwind or a descent.

1 Like