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Best climbing bikes 2023 | Lightweight bikes for when the road points upwards

The top lightweight road bikes for climbing

Male cyclist riding the Canyon Ultimate CFR Di2

The best climbing bikes are low-weight, helping you conquer the longest (or steepest) ascents.

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There’s a definite buzz to riding a fast, flyweight machine, and many road cyclists love the fast acceleration and responsiveness of climbing bikes.

A modern lightweight bike has to prove itself not solely through whether it’s under the UCI weight limit, but also by having the aerodynamics to up your ride speed on descents and the flat.

Keep reading to see our pick of the best climbing bikes and to find out more about these lightweight bikes, check out our buyer’s guide at the end of this article.

While you’re here, check out our roundup of the best Black Friday bike deals for plenty of quality kit at tempting prices.

Best climbing bikes 2023, as rated by our expert testers

Giant TCR Advanced SL 0 Disc

5.0 out of 5 star rating
Black Giant TCR Advanced SL0 Disc road bike
The latest version of the TCR only enhances the model’s reputation as a race-bike leader.
Russell Burton / Immediate Media
  • £9,699 / $11,000 / AU$13,499 as tested
  • Weight: 6.7kg (L)
  • Pros: Light, stiff and responsive race bike; top-spec build
  • Cons: Exposed brake hoses; narrow tyres

The Giant TCR has long been a benchmark for race bikes and the ninth generation of the bike remains a top performer.

While the TCR comes in many variants to suit different budgets, the Advanced SL 0 model is unapologetically high-end and its frameset sports an integrated seatpost with a topper rather than a conventional one.

With a full SRAM Red eTap AXS wireless groupset and carbon wheels from Giant’s in-house brand Cadex, it’s ready to race out of the box and is properly light.

Bianchi Specialissima

4.5 out of 5 star rating
Bianchi Specialissima Dura Ace di2 road bike
Stunning ride quality in a lightweight bike with aero tube profiles.
Dave Caudery / Our Media
  • £11,206 / $11,626 / €11,449 as tested
  • Weight: 7.2kg (59cm)
  • Pros: Great mix of speed, handling, control and smoothness
  • Cons: Wheels are a bit of a disappointment

The Bianchi Specialissima is a bike that’s gone from round tubes to aero profiles in its latest iteration, also gaining disc brakes and hiding the hoses, while still ticking the lightweight boxes with a 750g frame and 370g fork. You could lose another 80g by opting for black paint instead of celeste.

Bianchi incorporates Countervail anti-vibration tech into the frame and the bike comes with Shimano Dura-Ace 12-speed shifting and other top-notch kit. The Vision SC 40 carbon tubeless wheels feel a little low-value compared to the rest of the spec though (even at £11,000).

The ride is a mix of responsiveness with great handling, while also composed, smooth and more comfortable than some bikes with tyres wider than the Specialissima’s 26mm Pirellis.

Cannondale SuperSix Evo Hi-Mod 2

4.5 out of 5 star rating
Cannondale SuperSix Evo Hi-Mod 2 road bike
The latest incarnation of the SuperSix Evo remains one of the very best all-round race bikes.
David Caudrey / Our Media
  • £8,250 / $8,300 / €8,999 / AU$11,999 as tested
  • Weight: 7.57kg (56cm)
  • Pros: Excellent handling combined with compliance and stiffness
  • Cons: Vision Trimax handlebar may not suit those with smaller hands

Now in its fourth generation, the SuperSix Evo continues to cement itself as one of the best climbing bikes. The new bike takes much of what made the previous versions so well regarded, but removes the often-maligned PF30a press-fit bottom bracket and replaces it with a 68mm BSA threaded model. The front-end design and down tube have also been refined and there’s a new proprietary seatpost, too.

Out on the road, the SuperSix Evo balances its inspired handling with compliance and stiffness. It’s a particularly adept climber, feeling assured and firm when under the rider and when you want to put the power down, it rockets forward. The new aero seatpost isn’t as stiff as you might expect, offering a good amount of buzz-reducing compliance.

The Shimano Ultegra R8100 groupset on this build is BikeRadar’s pick of the Japanese brand’s latest groupsets and we were impressed by the newly updated flagship HollowGram R-SL 50 wheels, too. Although Cannondale specs Continental Grand Prix 5000 tyres, they’re in a 25mm width and we’d be keen to run wider rubber. We also suspect the Vision Trimax won’t suit those with smaller hands because the tops are very deep.

Canyon Ultimate CF SLX 8 Di2

4.5 out of 5 star rating
Canyon Ultimate CF SLX 8 Di2 road bike
The Ultimate CF SLX outperforms its pricier sibling.
Russell Burton / Our Media
  • £6,199 / $5,499 / €6,499 / AU$9,899 as tested
  • Weight: 7.26kg (L)
  • Pros: Cheaper than Ultimate CFR; smother than Ultimate CFR
  • Cons: Can’t customise components at purchase

The Canyon Ultimate CF SLX 8 Di2 sits below the range-topping CFR, but our tester found it to be smoother with the same handling and stiffness as the pricier model.

In short, you get better value for money with this Shimano Ultegra-equipped bike and a more balanced ride, earning it a place on the very top shelf of current road bikes.

It’s a shame you can’t customise the build at the point of purchase, which might be an annoyance if you prefer an inline seatpost.

ENVE Melee (Ultegra Di2 build)

4.5 out of 5 star rating
ENVE Melee (Ultegra Di2 build) road bike
The ability to mould the Melee to your needs makes it a real winner.
Steve Sayers / Our Media
  • £5,500 / $5,500 / €5,500 for frame ‘chassis’ | £10,400 / $12,834 / AU$19,220 as tested
  • Weight: 7.8kg (58cm in this example build)
  • Pros: Outstanding handling balanced with great comfort and geometry
  • Cons: Expensive and you can’t buy a full build off the peg

The ENVE Melee took our 2023 Performance Bike of the Year crown, thanks to its outstanding handling and balanced comfort. The brand’s second bike after the Custom Road has been aerodynamically optimised, albeit with a slightly taller ride position than you’ll find on longer and lower bikes. The Melee also fully integrates its cables and hoses and uses a D-shaped seatpost.

We found the Melee to be one of the easiest-handling race bikes on the market and we were struck by how stable and composed it is in every scenario. It deals with everything with real calmness.

A stable and composed ride can sometimes be a little boring, but there’s none of that here. The Melee’s reaction to inputs is quick and it’s unperturbed by crosswinds.

Unlike the other bikes on this list, the Melee is sold as a ‘chassis’ – a frame, fork, stem, handlebar, seatpost and thru-axles. You then build the bike up with your preferred electronic groupset, wheels and tyres. Even in a modest build, that means the Melee is far from a cheap proposition, but the ability to mould it into your own makes it a real winner.

Our example build came with a Shimano Ultegra R8100 groupset, and ENVE’s Foundation 45 carbon wheels and SES tyres in a 29mm width.

Focus Izalco Max 9.7 AXS

4.5 out of 5 star rating
Focus Izalco Max 9.7 AXS
The ride is brilliant – firm yet forgiving.
David Caudery / Immediate Media
  • £5,699 / €6,199 / AU$8,999 as tested
  • Weight: 7.9kg (L)
  • Pros: Racy handling; decent value
  • Cons: Grey paint scheme

Similar to many other bikes in this category, Focus has evolved its Izalco platform to be more well-rounded.

The latest version takes both weight and aerodynamics into account, but doesn’t go so far as to ignore practicality completely – the aero cockpit, for example, uses a standard stem and handlebar setup to make fit adjustment and maintenance a little easier.

At 7.9kg (size large), it’s not the lightest bike we’ve ever tested, but this does include 50mm-deep aero wheels and, with a frame weight of just 890g (claimed), it could certainly be lightened up considerably with a few weight-weenie optimisations.

There’s also a slightly cheaper version, the Izalco Max Disc 8.8, that has Ultegra R8000 mechanical gears, but performed similarly well in our testing.

Lapierre Xelius SL 9.0

4.5 out of 5 star rating
Lapierre Xelius SL 9.0 road bike
The Lapierre Xelius SL 9.0 is the French brand’s take on the jack-of-all-trades road bike.
Dave Caudery / Our Media
  • £7,399 / €7,799 as tested
  • Weight: 7.5kg (L)
  • Pros: Good-value spec; racy geometry
  • Cons: Limited sizing; can be twitchy in the wind

Another lightweight bike with aero features, the Xelius nevertheless stands out thanks to the design of its seatstays. The navy blue fade glitter paintjob looks stunning and the racy geometry leads to sharp handling.

If you’re at either extreme of the size range, the five sizes available may not work for you though.

The spec is really good for the price, with 12-speed Dura-Ace Di2, a carbon bar and stem and Lapierre’s own-brand carbon wheels with 25mm Continental GP5000 tyres that measure 27mm on the 47mm-deep, 21mm internal-width rims.

Merida Scultura Team

4.5 out of 5 star rating
Merida Scultura Team performance road bike
The Merida Scultura Team is the latest update to the brand’s lightweight, all-round road bike platform.
Dave Caudery / Our Media
  • £8,000 / €9,999 as tested
  • Weight: 7.1kg (M)
  • Pros: Great value for a pro-level spec; exciting ride
  • Cons: Tricky fit adjustment

The Merida Scultura Team took our 2022 Performance Bike of the Year crown, thanks to its superb, exciting ride and racy handling. It’s also great value, with a Shimano Dura-Ace 12-speed groupset, complete with power meter.

Merida has shaved 4.2 per cent from the previous Scultura’s drag numbers, while also lowering weight slightly to a claimed 822g for a size M frame. It’s well kitted out; we particularly liked the Vision Metron 45 SL wheels, their 1,372g weight leading to low inertia on climbs. They’re shod with 28mm Continental GP5000 tyres for a comfortable ride.

The one downside is the lack of narrower options for the integrated bar/stem.

Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL8 Dura-Ace Di2

4.5 out of 5 star rating
Pack shot of the Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL8 Dura-Ace Di2 road bike
The Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL8 might just be the finest race bike going.
Ashley Quinlan / Our Media
  • £12,000 / $14,000 / €14,000 / AU$19,900 as tested
  • Weight: 6.76kg (56cm)
  • Pros: Exceptionally well-balanced handling; aero bike speed
  • Cons: Wider tyres would be beneficial; cost

The Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL8 is the brand’s latest flagship road bike.

The SL8 rides like a dream with exceptionally well-balanced handling. It has the speed of an aero bike and it’s a fantastic climber.

Our tester described this no-expense-spared build, featuring Shimano Dura-Ace, as one of the finest race bikes available. But he cautioned that it doesn’t shift the goalposts far enough from the performance of the previous-generation SL7 to warrant upgrading.

Basso Diamante Ultegra Di2

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Pack shot of the Basso Diamante Ultegra Di2 road bike
Like other climbing bikes, the latest iteration of the Diamante sees some aero tweaks.
David Caudrey / Our Media
  • £7,199 / €8,299 as tested
  • Weight: 7.58kg (58cm)
  • Pros: Sharp but stable race geometry
  • Cons: Long and low cockpit won’t work for everyone

The eighth-generation Diamante is a thoroughbred race bike, while remaining classic in its appearance. The tube shapes are rounded, which Basso says is designed to improve stiffness and efficiency, while minimising weight.

The geometry is in pure race bike territory – long and low, so you’ll want to have a long think about whether it will work for you and carefully study the geometry chart. That said, in testing we found the Diamante to balance its tactile handling with satisfying stiffness. It’s surprisingly comfortable, too, thanks to the slim seatstays and carbon seatpost.

There’s little to criticise with the Ultegra Di2 specced. The second-tier groupset delivers identical shifting and braking performance to Dura-Ace with a compelling cost saving. We also rated the Microtech RE38 wheels – many own-brand efforts can vary in design modernity, but these are on the money with a 23mm internal rim width.

BMC Teammachine SLR 01 Two

4.0 out of 5 star rating
2021 BMC Teammachine SLR 01
There’s very little to fault about the BMC Teammachine SLR 01 Two, but it’s very expensive.
  • £9,800 / $10,999 / €10,499 as tested
  • Weight: 7.09kg (56cm)
  • Pros: Lightweight and fast
  • Cons: High price

The latest iteration of BMC’s excellent Teammachine learns lessons from the Timemachine (BMC’s aero road bike) to improve its aerodynamic efficiency, without adding too much weight.

In fact, its 7.09kg weight makes the BMC Teammachine SLR 01 Two one of the lightest bikes on this list, and that’s seriously impressive considering it has aero wheels, disc brakes and plenty of other aero features.

The omission of a Dura-Ace crankset in favour of Rotor is perhaps the only minor criticism we could make of a bike that’s otherwise extremely hard to find fault with. There’s no denying it comes at a very high price though.

Canyon Ultimate CFR Di2

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Pack shot of the Canyon Ultimate CFR Di2
The CFR is top of the Ultimate range.
Russell Burton / Our Media
  • £10,399 as tested
  • Weight: 6.3kg (L)
  • Pros: More versatile than ever
  • Cons: Inconsistent spec

The Canyon Ultimate CFR Di2 is tremendously expensive and light at a mere 6.3kg in size large.

The top-dog Ultimate retains its race-winning stiffness, agility and climbing ability while becoming ever more aerodynamic.

However, the shallow-section DT Swiss wheels undermine the Ultimate’s versatility, while the Schwalbe Pro One TT tyres are a puncture risk on all but the smoothest roads.

Cervélo R5 Disc Force eTap AXS

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Cervélo R5 Disc Force eTap AXS road bike
The Cervélo R5 is a classic road-racing bike in every sense of the word.
Dave Caudery / Our Media
  • £8,599 / €8,799 / $8,400 as tested
  • Weight: 7.4kg (56cm)
  • Pros: Stiff, but not too stiff frameset; includes power meter
  • Cons: Expensive compared to competition

Cervélo claims a 703g frame weight for the latest R5 and, like all Cervélos, there’s an aero edge, with Squoval tube profiles and smooth frame edges, while internal hose routing saves a claimed 3W at 48km/h.

The SRAM Force AXS chainset comes with a power meter and the bike is equipped with Reserve 34/37mm carbon wheels, although they’re planned to be swapped out for Zipp ZR1 wheels from 2023. The 25mm Vittoria Corsa tyres measure around 29mm on the wide rims.

Cervélo has a reputation for stiff frames, but the latest R5 is slightly less stiff than its predecessor. The geometry is racy, leading to an agile, predictable ride, and the light weight and good power transfer make for sprightly climbing.

Colnago C68

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Colnago C68 road bike
The C68 retains Colnago’s lugged construction but with a look much more like the V3R.
Russell Burton / Our Media
  • £11,753 / $15,772 / €14,065 as tested
  • Weight: 7.3kg (58cm equivalent)
  • Pros: Beautifully built; superb handling
  • Cons: Saddle should be better at this price

Colnago uses its lugged construction on the C68, but the tube shapes are more reminiscent of the monocoque V3R. Colnago fits its own comfortable one-piece cockpit with hidden cable routing.

The ride position is long and low, although not too aggressive for less flexible riders and leads to great handling from the taut frame.

There’s a full Dura-Ace R9200 build, including C50 wheels with 28mm Pirelli tyres, although the Prologo saddle isn’t the range-topping carbon-railed version. It’s a great bike that merits its superbike rating.

Colnago V4RS

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Colnago V4Rs Dura-Ace Di2
If you measure a pro bike by the performances of the riders atop it, the Colnago V4Rs has quite the growing palmarès.
David Caudrey / Our Media
  • £5,000 / €12,630 as tested (UK price is for frameset only)
  • Weight: 7.23kg (57cm)
  • Pros: Pinpoint handling
  • Cons: Seriously expensive

Ridden by UAE Team Emirates (and perhaps most importantly) Tadej Pogačar, the V4RS is Colnago’s monocoque carbon race bike, where a balance of lightness, stiffness and speed is the name of the game.

Colnago claims the V4RS is 3 per cent more aerodynamic than the outgoing V3RS and the new CC01 cockpit alone is said to be 16 per cent more aerodynamic. There are some new tube shapes too, with a reprofiled head tube, although many will be glad to hear the brand has reverted back to a round steerer tube.

Out on the road, the V4RS is unerringly poised, with direct handling and sharpness. It felt particularly confident on descents, driving hard into an apex and the bottom bracket laps up power when climbing, the bike keen to accelerate when you get out of the saddle.

Giant TCR Advanced Pro 2 Disc

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Giant TCR Advanced Pro 2 Disc 2021
The Giant TCR has finally gone aero.
Simon Bromley / Immediate Media
  • £2,999 / $5,199 / €3,100 as tested
  • Weight: 7.87kg (M/L)
  • Pros: Solid all-round spec; lively ride quality; generous tyre clearance
  • Cons: Limits aftermarket upgrades

The legendary TCR has finally gone aero, but that doesn’t mean a huge increase in weight, fortunately.

At 7.87kg, it’s not the lightest bike on this list, but it’s very competitive in its price range and could likely be lightened considerably with some component upgrades.

It also offers a noticeably smooth ride, with confident handling and clearance for up to 32mm tyres, which is very welcome.

Giant’s sister company Liv offers a women’s version called the Langma Advanced Pro Disc, which is one of the best women’s road bikes.

Scott Addict RC 10

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Scott Addict RC 10 road bike
The Scott Addict RC has good adjustability despite the integrated cockpit.
Dave Caudery / Our Media
  • £5,949 / $8,000 / €6,599 as tested
  • Weight: 7.9kg (56cm)
  • Pros: Quality ride; power meter
  • Cons: Middling wheels and mediocre tyres

The Scott Addict marries sharp handling with a predictable and compliant ride quality that’s similar to the Cervélo R5. There’s integrated cabling that works for mechanical and wired electronic, as well as wireless shifting, and it’s reasonably easy to work on.

Scott includes a power meter with the SRAM Force AXS electronic groupset and you get decent, if not outstanding, Syncros Capital 1.0 35 Disc wheels with a claimed weight of 1,574g a pair.

We were disappointed with the fitted Schwalbe One TLE tyres though, with their higher rolling resistance than many of the best road bike tyres. Tyre clearance is a little narrow at 28mm too.

Although this mid-spec Addict weighs just under 8kg, you can spend a lot more and get the bike’s claimed weight down to 6.7kg.

Specialized Aethos Comp

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Pack shot of the Specialized Aethos Comp road bike
The Aethos Comp feels fast on climbs, even if it doesn’t match the light weight of the flagship S-Works bike.
Russell Burton / Immediate Media
  • £4,500 / $5,000 / €5,400 / AU$6,900 as tested
  • Weight: 8.2kg (58cm)
  • Pros: Rapid handling, but stable ride quality; climbs well
  • Cons: Wheelset and tyres limit performance

Although the Comp spec of the Specialized Aethos weighs over 8kg, the top-spec S-Works Aethos brings that down to a claimed sub-6kg, definitely earning a place on our lightweight bikes list. The classic frame profile with round tubes goes against the aero-is-everything modern trend.

The Comp uses a lower-spec carbon than the S-Works, but still has a 700g frame weight and comes with a SRAM Rival AXS groupset and lower-priced, heavier wheels. These make it feel less skittish than the S-Works bike, while it retains its rapid handling and shares its geometry with the Tarmac SL7. It still feels light when climbing too.

Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7

4.0 out of 5 star rating
2021 Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7
The Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7 with SRAM Red eTap AXS is a serious piece of kit.
Matthew Loveridge / Immediate Media
  • £10,500 / $12,000 / €11,499 / AU$18,000 as tested
  • Weight: 6.7kg (54cm)
  • Pros: Stiff, fast and responsive
  • Cons: Ride might be too racy for some; that price tag

The Specialized Tarmac SL7 has now been replaced by the Tarmac SL8, but you can still find this bike for sale.

The Tarmac SL7 is disc-only and has clearance for 32mm tyres. It’s a fast and uncompromising race bike that will delight riders who can kick out big power numbers.

In its halo S-Works spec, this is a seriously expensive bike, but more affordable models are available, with the second-tier frame claimed to weigh a respectable 920g.

Trek Emonda SL 6 Pro

4.0 out of 5 star rating
2021 Trek Emonda SL 6 Pro
Trek says the 2021 Emonda was designed around the legendary Tour de France climb, Alpe d’Huez.
Felix Smith / Immediate Media
  • £3,350 / $3,799 / €3,799 / AU$5,499 as tested
  • Weight: 8.13kg (56cm)
  • Pros: Stiff, exciting ride; great-quality components
  • Cons: 25mm tyres harm performance; uncompetitive weight

In line with market trends, Trek has amended the Emonda’s design parameters to encompass a broader, all-round riding style, with the obligatory disc brakes and aero optimisation.

This does mean builds won’t quite be able to match the positively feathery lows of previous models, but Trek is, unsurprisingly, adamant they are faster most of the time. Our tester broadly agrees with this sentiment too, heaping praise on the Emonda’s speed and stiffness.

It’s also worth considering Trek’s beautiful Emonda ALR. Not only are there rim and disc brake versions of that frame (as things stand), but it’s also substantially cheaper. We think it’s an absolute peach of a bike.

Trek says the Emonda is now a unisex bike, and offers a broad range of sizes (from 47cm to 65cm) with the intention of fitting all different kinds of cyclists.

What we’ve included (and what we haven’t)

This buyer’s guide features lightweight bikes at a range of prices, reviewed by BikeRadar and having scored at least four stars in our testing.

While lighter bikes may be available (including custom builds and different models within a given manufacturer’s range), these are bikes we have tried and tested, and can confidently vouch for as a result.

Buyer’s guide to climbing bikes


Rebecca Richardson's Specialized S-Works Aethos at the British Hill Climb National Championships
How low can you go? 4.5kg in this case.
Jack Luke / Our Media

It perhaps goes without saying, but when you’re riding uphill, gravity is always trying to pull you back down.

Reducing the total rider plus bike system weight means less energy (or power, in cycling parlance) is required to maintain a given speed while climbing.

Therefore, if you want to ride uphill faster, or simply make the hills a little easier, a lightweight bike helps a lot.

It’s for this reason we see hill-climb obsessives chopping and changing practically every component to bring their overall bike weight down to its lowest possible limit.

The only issues are that high-end, lightweight bikes and parts can be eye-wateringly expensive, and the weight-weenie bug can be hard to shake once you get started. However, some of the best road bikes under £3,000 are good for climbing.

5.1kg with pedals, pretty good for a bike with an aluminium frame
Former BikeRadar staffer Joe Norledge built this 5.1kg aluminium bike for the 2016 British hill climb season.
Matt Grayson /

Cheaper still is improving your power-to-weight ratio. You can do this by becoming more powerful at the same weight or losing weight through cycling and maintaining power.

Top-quality carbon fibre is prized for its incredible stiffness-to-weight ratio, and rightly so – this is the reason it’s used in Formula One. If you can afford it, the lightest bikes and parts will almost always be made out of high-end carbon fibre.

At the lower end though, good aluminium is competitive with, or even better than, cheap carbon fibre. That applies not just to weight and stiffness, but also ride quality and strength.

The very last of those characteristics is also a general worry for ultra-lightweight carbon fibre frames and parts. You have to be very careful about sticking to recommended weight, torque and clamping specs, or else it’s very easy to break these feathery items.

Aero vs. weight for climbing

Canyon Ultimate CFR Di2
Modern classic climbing bikes have moved with the aero times.
Russell Burton / Our Media

Until fairly recently, climbing bikes made no concessions to aerodynamics, leaving drag-reduction to the best aero road bikes. But with the rise of computer modelling, on-bike aero sensors and other advanced testing techniques, this has all changed.

Even dedicated climbing bikes are now launching, with brands touting their aerodynamic efficiency.

Take the Trek Emonda, for example. Trek says it has been designed specifically for the rigours of iconic Tour de France climbs such as Alpe d’Huez (a 13.85km monster in the French Alps), yet still features extensive aero treatment.

Cannondale SystemSix Hi-Mod Dura-Ace Di2; 'the fastest bike in the world'
Cannondale says its burly SystemSix aero bike is its fastest bike on gradients of up to 6 per cent, regardless of the weight penalty.
Aoife Glass / Immediate Media co

True hill climb aficionados will no doubt be tearing their hair out at this point, exclaiming ‘anything under 10 per cent isn’t even a proper hill anyway!’, but if you want to go fast, aero always matters, regardless of the gradient.

It’s true that aerodynamic drag becomes a smaller part of the equation as gradients increase in severity, but the absolute amount of air resistance you experience remains the same for any given speed.

On top of that, the power to overcome any increase in air resistance is proportional to the cube of speed. So, if you want to ride your bicycle twice as fast, you’ll need eight times more power to overcome the extra drag force, unless you can reduce your aerodynamic drag.

In an ideal world, then, you want a bike that’s both lightweight and aero for smashing hills.

Computational fluid dynamics modeling of the Kamm Tail tube shaping on Trek's new Madone 7-Series frame
One of the first brands to use Kammtail tubes was Trek. It discovered that a cut-off airfoil shape retained some of the benefits of a full airfoil, but in a shape that was lighter, stiffer and fitted within UCI regulations.
James Huang/BikeRadar

“Weight weenies should be Crr weenies”

So said Robert Chung, Professor and Theoretical Mathematical Demographer at the University of California-Berkeley. Chung is perhaps most famous for devising the ‘Chung Method’ of calculating aerodynamic drag, but he also reminds us of the importance of not ignoring rolling resistance.

Using a power equation for wheeled vehicles (such as the one found at, he showed that even a relatively small difference in rolling resistance (Crr stands for ‘coefficient of rolling resistance’) can be worth as much as large changes in weight, even on steep gradients.

Chung’s graph plots the difference in Crr between Continental’s GP4000S II and GP5000 tyres in terms of the equivalent efficiency found through weight loss on different gradients.

On a flat road, it’s clear that even a relatively small decrease in rolling resistance is worth more than practically any increase in weight. What’s really interesting to note though, is that changing from a GP4000 to a GP5000 is still worth more than 500g of extra mass even on a 10 per cent slope.

Yes, that’s right; the small difference in rolling resistance between two of the best road bikes tyres can have a greater effect on your efficiency than 500g of extra weight even on a 10 per cent slope, and that equivalent mass penalty only increases as the gradient gets shallower. On a 6 per cent slope, the difference is equivalent to a kilogram of extra mass.

The key takeaway is that you shouldn’t just look at weight figures when shopping for tyres. The differences in rolling resistance between tyres will be worth far more to your climbing speed than any minor weight variations.

Gearing and cadence when climbing

Jack’s Canyon Ultimate CF SLX Haute Route Davos Horse for the Course
An 11-30t cassette is increasingly the norm for climbing bikes.
Olivier Penpenic / Haute Route

Some riders apparently enjoy using singlespeed or even fixed-gear bikes for climbing hills. But most people are going to want bike gears.

For a long time though, back in the days when riders only had five or so cogs on their cassette to choose from, gears such as 42×21 were considered adequate for climbing mountains.

Thankfully, though, things have moved on and we now have access to compact/sub-compact chainsets, long-cage rear derailleurs and much larger bike cassettes.

Used together, these can allow practically anyone to spin up steep climbs at a comfortable cycling cadence, rather than turning them into a series of leg presses.

Shimano 105 R7000 crankset
Smaller gear ratios, like this sub-compact 52/36t Shimano 105 R7000 chainset, allow for higher cadences on steep hills.
Simon Bromley / Immediate Media

Muscling up a steep hill in a massive gear might feel heroic, but it’s probably slower and it’s costing you more energy too, as anyone with a power meter will be able to attest to. These days, even the pros know you need to gear down when the road goes up.

Rim or disc brakes

Jack’s Canyon Ultimate CF SLX Haute Route Davos Horse for the Course
The rim brake isn’t dead (yet) on climbing bikes.
Olivier Penpenic / Haute Route

Another thorny issue. In our opinion, there are two answers to the bike brakes debates – a simple one and a nuanced one.

The simple answer is that rim brakes are, generally, lighter, and therefore are better for climbing bikes.

There’s a more nuanced answer, however. While disc-brake equipped bikes generally come with a weight penalty (though this is becoming harder to measure because, despite what we wrote in 2017, new high-end rim brake road bikes are uncommon), the advantage of better braking will be keenly felt on the way down the hills.

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If the only thing you care about is going uphill as fast as possible, then rim brakes could still be the right choice. Otherwise, the advantages of road disc brakes might tip the balance.