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Group of road cyclists pedaling uphill

Bike Shorts: How To Properly Clip in When Starting on a Hill

Every cyclist has been there. 

You’re starting the bike on an incline and before you can get those pedals moving enough, you’re swerving off course or toppling right over. The technique most cyclists use to deal with this isn’t great — and it can look awfully silly. Here at Selle Anatomica, we want to help you climb like a pro. In this article, we will explain how to properly clip in when starting on a hill.

Our friend and cycling mentor Coach Darryl MacKenzie sums up the real solution to this problem: “Be a user, not a pusher.” 

Confused? Let us explain how to properly clip in when starting on a hill.

Clipping in on the Flats or a Slight Incline

Even when starting on the flats or a slight incline, some cyclists use a method that forfeits a lot of momentum up front. For the sake of our illustrations here, let’s assume you’re pushing off with your right foot and starting your pedal stroke with your left.

In many cases, cyclists will start with the left foot clipped to the pedal in the six o’clock position with their right foot on the ground. They’ll push off with the right foot, then try to get pedaling from the bottom with their left and awkwardly clip into the right pedal as they wobble up to speed. 

A better way to handle this — and this will be foundational to the technique you’ll need for steeper hills — is to start by pedaling backward with your left foot. With your right foot still on the ground, pedal back so that your left foot is now up and over the top, somewhere around the 10 or 11 o’clock position. Now, start pedaling forward with your left foot, using the weight of your body to push. Then clip in as you get moving.

“This allows you to get up to several miles per hour before your right foot even touches the pedal,” says Coach Darryl. This is the perfect example of how to properly clip in when starting on a hill that has a slight incline.

Clipping in on a Moderate Incline

It’s when you’re trying to start on a legitimate incline that you really see that simply pushing off with your foot won’t work. If you’re like most cyclists, you probably use what Darryl calls “the canoe method” to compensate.

With this awkward technique, you use your right foot to push repeatedly as you try to gain enough speed to balance and start pedaling. You look like you’re struggling to paddle a canoe on one side, and you may just end up capsized.

This is where Darryl’s big advice comes into play: “Be a user, not a pusher.” In case you wondered, he’s not talking about drugs.

In this uphill cycling technique, Darryl means that instead of pushing with your right leg, use your body weight to get going. Start with the left foot up (like we discussed above) and begin pedaling. Use your body weight to ease forward as you lift your right foot. If you have the correct pedal type, you can catch the pedal and quickly clip in as the right pedal comes around, then start pedaling full strength right away. (What are the correct pedals? We’ll get to that in a later post, but any kind that allows you to clip in from either side will do.)

Clipping in on a Steep Incline

Finally, there are those hills where even the canoe method won’t work. These inclines are so steep that you’re not going anywhere without both feet on the pedals. In that case, the rules for cycling up steep hills are a little different.

“Don’t worry about clipping in with that right foot in this situation,” says Coach Darryl. “Your objective is just to get that right foot onto the pedal — anywhere on the foot — and pedal far enough until you’ve got enough speed to pause your stroke and clip in.”

The goal here is simply to keep your forward propulsion going until you can afford to lose momentum for a second and clip in.

One way to make sure you can start on any hill more easily is to practice one-legged pedaling on the stationary trainer. That gives your legs the extra strength they need so you can get moving and clip in faster. That little extra boost goes a long way. While conquering the steep incline, make sure you provide your body with comfort and the proper support on an anatomical bicycle seat.

If you would like to learn more about how to properly clip in when starting on a hill, please contact our team of cycling experts at Selle Anatomica.


Look for more insights from Coach Darryl over at his website.

Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash