Keeping your front wheel down on climbs

When you are doing a seated climb up a steep trail, do you ever feel like the front end of your bike is wanting to pop up? This is really a result of a couple of things and can be easily thwarted by making an adjustment. There are a few adjustments you can choose from. I will discuss three below.

Most of us, when we feel the front end of our bike wanting to pull an untimely wheelie, will try to compensate for this by scooting our weight farther forward on the saddle. Instead of riding on the body of the saddle, we may start riding on the nose. This pushes more of our weight forward onto the handlebars keeping the front end of our bike down. The trade off of this technique is that: 1. you lose body weight on the rear tire which can lead to loss of traction and 2. it is not comfortable! Riding on the nose of the saddle is awkward and unsustainable.

Another common tactic that can help with this problem is to remove some headset spacers before you start the ride. Most of us like to run a few headset spacers between the headset and the stem. Doing so increases your handlebar height which many times makes for a more comfortable riding position. By removing one or some of these spacers (removing 5-10mm will make a big difference) you can lower the whole front part of your bike’s cockpit. This will put a little more of your body weight on the front end of the bike keeping your front wheel down while climbing.

The drawback to this strategy is that you will need to adjust your body to a new position. As you are doing this, your arms may become more tired with more weight on your handlebars or your back might ache a little as it gets used to the new position. For many mountain bikers this new position will be more “racy” and less comfortable.

The strategy I have recently learned that has really alleviated this problem is to smooth out my pedal stroke. Many times the front wheel wants to pop up because of a choppy pedal stroke. To smooth things out, you really have to focus on the bottom of your pedaling stroke. As your foot is passing through the bottom of the stroke, pretend you were scraping gum off the bottom of your shoe and pull your leg up accordingly. This will smooth out the bottom of your stroke which is the most difficult part of smooth pedal strokes. Get this down and you will drastically reduce the front wheel popping up affect.

What are the downsides? It takes practice and concentration. It is not easy to switch over from a choppy pedal stroke to a smooth one but as you practice smoothing out your pedal stroke you immediately become more efficient in both power transfer and energy expenditure which are cool by products of this technique change.