Uphill or Downhill, Pedal All Along!

In this last of the 5-part series on Mountain Cycling, Milind Date shares Pune-based cyclist, Dr. Ajay Nandgaonkar’s advice on uphill and downhill bicycle riding techniques!

(First-person account as transcribed by Milind Date)


  1. Ride with a good cadence (number of pedals per minute).
  2. Learn good pedalling technique (
  3. Ensure good posture: different people are comfortable with different postures depending upon their fitness. Don’t try to copy the posture of Tour de France riders right-away unless you are that fit. 
  4. Keep the chain straight as much as possible for effective transmission. Suppose you have 3 gears in the front and 9 gears at the back, then the divide is 3 rear gears per front gear — outer ring in the front with outer 3 gears at the back. The chain is more or less straight this way.
  5. Avoid cross chains, i.e. lowest (inner most gear) in the front and highest (outermost gear) at the back, and vice versa.
  6. Think of a rotor instead of a piston for your leg movements while riding.

Climbing the hills: 

  1. Don’t be shy of going in a lower gear. Maintain proper cadence. 
  2. The lowest gear in front is called the “Granny Gear”. Don’t be shy of riding using that. 
  3. Try maintaining the same cadence even on a climb. Don’t try to hammer up a climb unless you are practicing for racing or actually racing. 
  4. Shift gears so that they are comfortable on a climb. You would still find climbs that are uncomfortable even in the lowest gears, but that is what riding is all about.
  5. Try to keep your upper body free and loose while climbing. Freeing your arms helps. Most people tend to stiffen up during a climb. That tires you more. 
  6. Breathe well — there are breathing tricks that will keep you going on a climb no matter how long the climb is. 
  7. Some people are natural climbers. They are very good at going uphill. Find out if you are one. 
  8. Avoid swaying of the bike while climbing. Sit steady on the seat and keep pedalling. The climb does get over eventually. 

Downhill : 

I personally find downhill harder than a climb. Some people who are naturally suicidal go absolutely fast down the hills. I find it quite hard to go fast on a downhill. The maximum speed I have achieved on a downhill (from Katraj Tunnel to Sinhagad Road) is 67 kmph. 

  1. Safety Tip 1: Pedal when you brake on a downhill as this avoids the rear wheel locking up. This way you shall never slip, no matter what gear you are in on a downhill (typically you are on a high gear). Make sure you don’t brake if you aren’t pedalling. 
  2. Safety Tip 2: Focus on the road on a downhill ride.
  3. Turns: If you are going downhill on a left bend, put your right foot down on the pedal as that helps you balance and negotiate the turn better. 
  4. There are a range of downhill techniques and loads of expert videos available on youtube. Watch them in your spare time. 
  5. Remember that downhill is the reason we ride, for you have those minutes of bliss where you are doing nothing and the bike is doing everything for you. 

Negotiating Himalayas: 

  1. The fitness levels in a group vary drastically. There is no point comparing.
    FYI for males: there would be ladies in the group who would be fitter and faster than you! 
  2. It is a ride and not a race. Ride is for pleasure. Finding your own pace and sticking to it is crucial. If you feel you are going too slow, speed up. If you feel you are going too fast, slow down. Ride at your comfortable pace all through. 
  3. Keep a clear head. Don’t get bogged down by who went ahead, or be elated with whom you left behind. It changes every day and frankly it does not matter. 
  4. Don’t bother yourself with how much is left. Don’t try to look up far away on the climb and think there is so much to climb. It can be very frustrating and demoralising. Stick to the present. One pedal at a time.
  5. The best thing about a ride is that you get to see the surroundings for a longer time. Himalayas offer stunning vistas and moments with the play of light and shadow, which is easily missed in a car. Bicycle offers you the unique opportunity to absorb it. 
  6. If the weather goes bad, protect yourself. If you are protected, you can ride further. If not, most likely your ride is over then and there. 
  7. Altitude Sickness: Keep drinking a lot of water through the ride, and through the day and night. This helps deal with Altitude Sickness. If you see symptoms, don’t ignore them. Drive away to lower altitudes. Many riders in our group had to abandon the ride and get to a lower altitude. It is crucial not to ignore the symptoms.
  8. Listen to the locals — our support staff was local. They knew the roads, mountains, weather conditions far much better than us. They were our guides. We could complete the rides because of their expertise and advise. Trust them completely and your ride would be successful.
  9. Respect the mountains — do not litter and throw garbage on these beautiful mountains. These are the mighty Himalayas and they are known to be moody. Remember that. 
  10. Focus on the ride. You are there to ride. Everything else is secondary. Enjoy the beautiful camp sites, food, vistas, every single day of the journey.
Photo: Dr. Ajay Nandgaonkar

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