hill simulation for distance training

I had a brainstorm which I need to confirm with the more experienced riders: If I live in a flat area but want to prepare for hilly riding conditions, would any of the following tricks be of any use?

~ fitting a drag brake and setting it to drag just enough to feel, and leave it on for a few miles here and there

~ letting some air out of the tire, riding it softer than usual

~ putting some weight in a backpack (or on the frame of the uni)

I know that for the RTL qualifying rides there is a mileage factor to compensate for lack of mountains, but I can’t help thinking that riding a few extra miles isn’t quite the same, and when I hit a real mountain incline I won’t really be ready for it. Would any of the above techniques do me any good for this purpose? (or is there something else I haven’t thought of)

Some options I considered but crossed off the list because they’d be impractical for me: riding against the wind all day, traveling to a hilly spot to practice.

Thanks for any advice!

I think any of those would work, especially the drag brake.
Another thing you could do is ride with a small parachute in tow, some runners do this for resistance training. it might throw your ballance off a bit though.

The best thing to do would be to find a really big hill and ride it over and over again.


Hill climbing doesn’t only require exerting yourself more. You also have to pedal on an incline. So, your pedals line up differently when you climb, and so does your body.

I think your ideas will make you stronger and more ready to climb hills, but the only way to improve your hill technique is to actually ride on hills.

if you have a treadmill maybe set it to the hill setting and ride on it?

Your first suggestion should definitely help with the fitness level, though it may lead to stinky brakes.

Your second suggestion will probably just annoy you and wear out your tires faster.

Your third suggestion might be good in terms of balance training, but probably won’t have any effect in terms of riding hills.

There is no substitute to actually riding hills, and the best thing you can do is go find some. I have the same problem, living in the Central Valley it’s very flat, nothing like the larger group of Bay area riders who mostly have hills right out the door. I have to drive half an hour or more to get to “real” hills. Depending where in the Detroit area you are, there must be something you can head for, at least some of the time. When in doubt, ride around where the rich people live; Bloomfield and Beverly Hills. Or a little farther north, around the lakes there are plenty of hills, though they’re not mountains. For best results, talk to your local road bikers. Ask around in the bike shops that cater to roadies and they can probably hook you up with route maps or web sites.

A drag brake won’t simulate the narrower range of balance you have when riding uphill, or any of the psychological factors of dealing with long or steep climbs. Also there’s no good way to simulate the downhill, and that takes getting used to as well.

A good headwind is the next closest thing. Don’t pass up the windy days.

Do you live in an absolutely flat area? No little hills at all?

If there are any little hills, find the steepest paths up them, and ride them repeatedly without stopping. That’s good hill training that is.


Although maybe not the safest place to ride, you might try a local car parkade that has numerous levels with lots of ramps.

Tom’s right. When you’re training hard on a unicycle, don’t pass wind.

The thing about riding up hill is that the wheel doesn’t roll so much with momentum. On the flat, once you are rolling along, you can keep spinning smoothly. On a hill, at the weak part of the pedal stroke, the wheel slows down. Therefore, riding up hill is a series of deliberate accelerations and forced decelerations.

The nearest equivalent is riding into a strong headwind.

I think the parashoot would force you to lean forward more, partially simulating a hill. The slightest gust could throw you off though (like a care driving by).

For strength, riding standing up for long periods should work, or an UW.

Big thanks to everyone who offered comments. I anticipated that nothing can substitute for the real thing, I just wanted to see how useful my ideas might be otherwise.

Parachute? I have trouble imagining any parachute that would stay open and offer any resistance at the speeds of a runner or a unicyclist.

There are numerous small-scale hills I could get to. I guess they’ll have to do. I was hoping not to have to do it though, because my work schedule makes it hard to fit in anything that requires some driving time to get to. (in addition to the fatigue factor: I drive a few hundred miles a day while on the job, I don’t want to drive anymore when I’m not working. This is the only time I envy office workers)

If I were the kind who collects quotes to put in a sig line this would have to go there. :smiley:

Practice with 89mm cranks. Even on slightly steep terrain you will feel much more resistance. That’s like swinging two bats, then one seems easy.

I think that’s good advice. I recently got some 110s, and after a few rides on them, my 130s felt like “muni cranks”.

To stray only slightly off topic, I’ve been trying to work my way down to shorter and shorter cranks. One of the things I’ve tried to do each time I shorten is go back to the steepest hills I could do on the longer size and try climbing them until I can do it reliably without falling. I started with 150s, then went up briefly to 170s, then back to 150s, then 140s, then 130s, and now just recently 110s. I was able to get my 140s up everything I could on my 150s. I was able to get my 130s up almost everything I could do on my 140s. Generally I could get up all the same short/steeps, but it was the long sustained climbs (3/4 mile plus) that got me. I’m less efficient on the shorter cranks while climbing. Now on the 110s, I haven’t started testing them on my favorite climbs yet. I’ve done some rollers, but have deliberately tried to focus on just getting comfortable on the buggers. They seem really short, and they scare me on any significant downhill. And on uphills, it seems like even the slightest grade has me standing up and using the handle. So back to Terry’s point, yup short cranks make small hills bigger.

But the best thing about his advice to practice on 89-ers is that maybe you’ll just get so good you never switch back longer.