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Mountain Bike Blog



The most important MTB climbing tip for big guys!


I'm a 110kg bloke with an enduro bike who struggles to climb steep hills and gets very demoralized when he fails to get over seemingly easy waterbars.  With so much weight up high I've found it really hard to keep the front end down and the power to the ground.  I thought it was purely a weight vs fitness issue until I found the secret of the wrists.  Now I'm climbing things I never thought possible!

This blog article is for riders with a high centre of gravity like me. It will probably help riders of all sizes, however there are plenty of big units out there who don't realise how much more they can achieve with some minor adjustments to their body position.

(The tips here are specific to climbs where you want to keep both wheels on the ground, not relevant for technical climbs such as steps, roots and rocks)

Body Position

Hand and arm position is critical for good climbing. When you descend your wrists and arms are high with elbows out, I've found the opposite works best for climbing.

Sit on your bike in a comfortable position and pull your elbows close to your body.  Adjust your grip so that your wrists drop down towards your feet and while remaining seated drop your chest towards the bars.

  • Wrists down
  • Elbows in tight
  • Chest down

Keeping the wrists down has a huge impact in your whole body position, it forces you to get low by dragging your shoulders down. Bringing your elbows in will make it much easier to remain low while keeping the bars straight. Also if you accidentally pull on the bars you will be pulling down and in towards the crank rather than up, out and back.

Climbing with your elbows out requires far more core strength.  As most big units don't have a lot of core strength keeping your elbows in will assist in keeping the bars and your body straight.

The most important MTB climbing tip is to get your wrists down.

Another trick when learning is to take your thumbs from under the bar and place them on top. This means you're not gripping the bar but hooking over it. This helps fight the instinct to lift as you can't pull up without your thumb. Obviously its far easier to lose control with your thumbs up so I only recommend this while practicing, don't ride with your thumbs up at any other time.

Slide your butt forward on the seat and rotate your pelvis so that it's level. If you are sitting back on the seat then your pelvis will be tilted backwards and throughout the climb your natural instinct will be to sit up.  You will climb far more efficiently if you slide forward and change the angle of your pelvis.

With your pelvis level, your wrists down, your chest down and your arms in your body will be tight and low over the top tube and handlebars.

In order to hold this position you must keep your core strong. Your strength, power and balance come from your core muscles. Keep your body straight, the handlebars straight, your arms in tight, your legs running parallel to the frame and your pedalling smooth.

If your arms, head, legs or bars are swinging around you are doomed to fail.


Everyone talks about the importance of ride line but just as important is where you are looking.  Do your best to block out other obstacles - DON'T LOOK AT THEM! If you focus on the rock you want to avoid, you will hit it for sure.  Remember where the things are that you want to avoid, but focus intensly on hitting the right line.

For you, the easiest line may not be the common line. I regularly find the final foot of a steep waterbar is where everything goes wrong, so at times I choose a line where the final push is more rounded or maybe slightly across the hill. A line where I have the ability to remain balanced and powerful.

Power and momentum are key when climbing but that doesn't mean you *have* to carry a lot of momentum into the climb, its more about knowing where on the climb you need momentum and finding the power to build it. Even on torturously long climbs you can find extra power if you really want it. 

Focus on getting strength from your core. I'm regularly amazed at how I can push some really strong strokes by focusing on different muscles.

Finding that power is a combination of mental and physical strength. But mostly it's mental.

How many times has a hill defeated you before you even started climbing?

On climbs where I have previously failed (either by stalling or not dealing with a rough patch) I set myself a goal of mentally and physically powering up at my fail point. About a metre or two before (depending on how steep it is) I will concentrate intensely on how Iím going to approach it and call on my core for 2-4 slightly more powerful strokes to build momentum. BUT NOT AT THE EXPENSE OF BODY POSITION!  Wrists down, elbows in, bum forward, chest down, core locked, body straight, bars straight .. powerful, smooth and even pedalling.

When you manage to put it all together you will be amazed at how much easier climbing is not to mention how many more climbs you will conquer.

Have you ever tried a REALLY steep climb on a road? With the body position mentioned above you might be amazed at how steep you can ride and how far you can go when the trail is perfectly smooth. It might give you more confidence and set a new benchmark for dirt climbs.

Practice tips

- On every climb, regardless of size, practice dropping your wrists and getting into the right body position.
- Concentrate!  Keep body position, ride smooth, straight and powerful, look at where you want to go not the stuff you want to avoid.
- Defeat the hill by pre-empting the hard bit, be ready to power over it then hold momentum on the other side by changing up gears.

  • Wrists down
  • Get low
  • Keep straight
  • Ride smooth
  • Concentrate

Setup Tips

Suspension: A firm suspension setup will return more energy however having the suspension too hard will cause the bike to bounce on an uneven surface.  Once you bounce youíre in trouble as it can throw you off line, break traction, put you off balance or pop your front wheel up. Don't lock out your suspension, instead set it up so that it will absorb bumps smoothly without too much bob - maybe even slow your rebound rate.

Seat height: Typically you want your seat at full cruising height, however if you are struggling to keep the front wheel down on very steep climbs then lowering the seat by half an inch or so may help lower your whole body. Remember that you want your legs to be running parallel to the frame, if your knees are swinging out to the side then your seat is too low and you will find it almost impossible to keep the bike straight and your pedalling smooth.

Gears: Gear selection is very important, you need the ability generate additional speed with a couple of strong pushes, if you're already spinning quickly you wonít get the power you need. Gear selection comes from experience and so is knowing when to change gear so you don't lose momentum. While you are working on your technique make a mental note of what gears you are in when you fail and whether it was too high or too low. Next time try the climb in a different gear.

I hope this helps, feel free to send in any thoughts you have on climbing.

Some good tip videos on climbing

IMBIKEMAG - The Wrist Tip - I wished I'd watched this video a long time ago! (before I wrote this article) I had to work the wrist thing out for myself but these guys cover it BEAUTIFULLY!

MTBTIPS.COM - Chest and nose technique (getting down). 
Notice how Chris' elbows are out, this will give him greater ability to steer however its much harder for a big guy with a weak core to keep the bike straight.

IMBIKEMAG - Pedalling technique

MTBTIPS.COM - Smooth not stomping



This website is brought to you by MTB weekend warrior Aaron Markie.
There are plenty of great websites out there with a wealth of information about Mountain Bike Trails,
however in my experience its hard to get a good mix of info, maps, photos and videos of trails I've never ridden.
The idea of this website is to tie those 4 elements together and give you a more detailed look at the MTB Trails I ride.
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