• Uphill cycling decreases efficiency. What you can do about it when riding indoors.

    Any cyclist that has been riding on the flats can tell you heading to the hills makes cycling much more difficult. Most riders think of strength-to-weight ratio as the cause for increased effort. Certainly carrying excess lard on your frame is one cause.

    Something that most cyclists don't consider is that riding uphill changes gross efficiency, pedaling technique and muscle recruitment. One study1 compared cycling at 0-percent, 4-percent and 8-percent grades and found that efficiency was significantly decreased at the 8-percent grade. As hill grade increased, there was an earlier onset of muscle activity in the pedal stroke for vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, gastrocnemius lateralis and gastrocnemius medialis.

    Your pedaling technique changes on hills.

    It stands to reason that if you can improve the muscle recruitment patterns so that you are trained to ride the hills, you can mitigate the negative effects. Those that live in flat regions and race in hills or those that are stuck on indoor trainers might be thinking they are doomed.

    Good news, you're not doomed. You can simulate body position of uphill riding on your indoor trainer. Engineering friend and avid cyclist Ed Shaw created the chart below to help you simulate grades up to 10-percent on your indoor trainer.

    If you are stuck inside or live in Flatville and you're training for a hilly race, you might be well-served to prop up your front wheel on the indoor trainer, in addition to adding pedaling resistance to simulate hills. The change in position trains your muscles to activate earlier and the varied increases in resistance train muscles to handle more load.


    Blocks Under Front Wheel for Percent Grades on a Bicycle Trainer
    Ed Shaw ©2014


    Wheel base (55 cm frame)


    % Grade


    Boards needed to simulate grade percentages


    2.0 0.8

    (A nominal 1" board is 3/4" (0.75") -- Boards 6" wide and about 10" long make stable blocks.                                     

    38 4.0 1.5

    (A nominal 2" board [a 2 by 4, etc.] is 1-1/2" [1.50"] thick) -- One board 2" tall X 6" wide, 10 inches long works well.


    6.0 2.3

    (A nominal 1" board plus a nominal 2" board)


    8.0 3.0

    (2 nominal 2" boards together are actually only 3" high) -- Two, 2" X 6" boards work well.


    10.0 3.8

    (Add a nominal 1" board to the two above.)





    Larger frame:




    4.0 1.6

    You can see that a different size frame makes only an insignificant difference.


    * These inches of rise for given % Grade are in addition to whatever blocks it takes to make your bike LEVEL on the trainer. Usually the rear tire is 1" to 1-1/2" off the level floor, so the front tire had to be resting on a block or commercial front wheel trainer rest to level the bike to begin with. For example, if you have a 2" x 6" under the front wheel to make it level to begin, add the above blocks to get the given % Grades. If you have three 2" X 6" blocks and one 1" X 6" block, all about 10" long, you can combine them for about any grade up to 10%.


    1. Arkesteijn, M., et al, "Effect of gradient on cycling gross efficiency and technique," Med Sci Sports Exerc., 2013 May; 45(5):920-6.
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