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Do you coast down hills?

When you come to a significant hill, do you peddle down to keep your momentum up, or do you try to conserve energy for the long days ride and coast. I personally try to limit my energy output and tend to coast down, so as to not expend too much effort. 75 miles for me is tough enough, so I take advantage of gravity every chance I get.

15 Replies

SFC JKL 2, April 14, 2018 at 12:10 am

It depends on the hill. More important is attacking on the way up. Shift up and spin at a high cadence before the hill then shift down to keep the higher cadence as you ascend. That way you are using stamina to climb rather than brute strength which will help you in the long run.


Michrider !!!, April 14, 2018 at 7:46 am

I prefer to coast up hills. The bigger the hill, the more I coast!!!

BTW, RAGBRAI don’t care!!!


Roy Trent, April 14, 2018 at 1:51 pm

Usually on longer rides (more than 50 mi) I tend to focus on consistency. For me, keeping the legs moving is better than coasting. So while I cruise along pushing fairly low watts (170-180) I will tend to find a gear/cadence combo on the up hills(real hills, not rollers) that keeps my watts just under 250, for a sustained climb, to keep me from getting fatigued. Then, as I crest the climb I shift up and continue to peddle. Mostly to keep the blood moving in the legs and to keep the lactic acid from setting in. Going down hill I rest a little by letting the watts dip to 140-150 but it keeps the legs moving. Lastly, I take very short breaks at the rest stops. Again, just so I keep everything moving. I have found that the older I get, the longer it takes me to get warmed up. So, stopping and resting at the top or bottom of a hill does not work well for me.
If you are new to riding, try some different styles as you are training to find what works for you.


LawnchairMan, April 14, 2018 at 6:42 pm

As JFC says it depends on the hill. If the road flattens out at the bottom I will pedal easy. If it rolls to an incline I will try to pick up momentum on the downhill that will carry me at least part of the way up. If it is really a steep descent, my recumbent will pick up a lot of speed just coasting. At the next hill I try to maintain that momentum with high cadence and shifting down as needed. I tend to rest or coast a bit at the top of a challenging hill, but not for long. Main recovery is on the flats at a pace I can maintain the whole day.
With so much food at Ragbrai I don’t usually need my energy gels, but that is something that could help get you through the day. Don’t wait to use them when you bonk. Have a little as you go.


Chris Harbaugh, April 15, 2018 at 8:02 am

I will fall in behind Michrider for an uphill coast draft


Ragbrai Nation, April 15, 2018 at 3:21 pm

So much figures into this, making it A SCIENCE! Type of bike, age/sex of rider, distance remaining, current weather, impending weather, traffic, terrain, any special need to get to the meeting or overnight town at some particular time, ETC… But ya, riding a recumbent I coast downhill until wind resistance checks my speed, then I pedal just enough to increase my speed another 2-3 mph. This technique will get me quite a ways up the next hill before needing to pedal. At that point I have recovered (and cooled) enough to handle any remaining uphill there is without a problem. In real hot weather this technique also keeps me the coolest.


RDaryl Daryl, April 15, 2018 at 7:54 pm

Memories of Saggy Thursday on XXIII . . . . . You HAD to pedal downhill or you would lose speed.
Yup, it can depend on the Heat, Humidity, and HEAD-WINDS.
For those who choose to ride in the pack, the crowd should also impact your safe downhill riding strategy. On another note, I am always saddened for a local who sets up a vendor table at the bottom of a steep hill.


Marla Shifflett, April 15, 2018 at 11:01 pm

On RAGBRAI, I just hope to not have to brake too many times downhill. Except on Twister Hill, I RODE the brakes on that one (and still was riding above my comfort level)! The crowds and pavement quality dictate my hill “strategy” more than anything. We southern Iowans like the hills WAY better than the FLAT parts/years. No coasting on the flats. The hills break that Iowa wind, too! A day with winds out of the east on the flat on RAGBRAI = Ugh. Thankfully that doesn’t happen toooo often. Just call us southern Iowans “Coasters!” :)


KenH, April 16, 2018 at 8:50 am

Personally I just hope that I do not have to brake too often going uphill but at RAGBRAI it will happen!

On shorter days at RAGBRAI I will coast for roughly two thirds of the way down if there is another hill just after this one. Then I will pedal hard until I hit the upgrade of the next hill. At that point I back off the effort to a comfortable level to sustain and downshift as needed to keep my rpms constant as my speed bleeds off. When the speed falls to what I judge that I can maintain to the crest I dig in again and try to ascend at a constant speed, adjusting that as necessary.

Ideally that is what I do but of course at RAGBRAI the density of the crowd on uphills will frequently force you to just fall in with the masses.

I have a history of bonking during centuries outside of RAGBRAI so I tend to coast more and attack less on hills when I need to ride over 80 miles at RAGBRAI or not. I have never bonked at RAGBRAI however except occasionally to a very mild degree the first day (which is rarely if ever a century day). Over time I have come to realize that once I fall into my typical RAGBRAI eating habit of consuming anything that is offered for sale I will have enough energy to complete any day as long as I do not try to push my speed too high and indeed last year I made the first day a century by taking the gravel loop twice and I had no issues because I spent Saturday eating like I would during the rest of the week.

For me the key seems to be starting with and maintaining the appropriate level of fuel in all stages in my digestive system. I still don’t plan to attack hills as vigorously on long days as on short but I think I can back off on my conservative approach somewhat as long as I keep myself fed properly.

This of course leads directly to my personal axiom that RAGBRAI is the one week of the year when I can eat with reckless abandon!


Andy, April 18, 2018 at 1:18 pm

I ride a Catrike. Last year I was in better condition and could keep pace with most everyone else cruising on a smooth flat road. Up hill is always a challenge for trikes, but we have one advantage, instead of expending huge amounts of energy peddling continuously up a big hill, we can pull over, grab the brakes and rest before continuing to the top. When riding along rolling hills, like any other cycle, I keep up the momentum peddling downhill so that I can more easily continue right over the next hill.

But when it comes to long or larger hills, there is nothing more fun than my Catrike. Last year at one point I hit 43 miles per hour.

Here is a view of coming down some rolling hills and a few bigger drops into Waterville:

Downhill on a Catrike


ratscallion, April 28, 2018 at 6:57 am

Typical hill climbing strategy… I coast down hill softly pedaling to keep blood flow in my legs, gradually spin a little higher cadence through the bottom, adding a couple of MPH’s, then I shift up a gear and easy pedal up the other side, just before speed slows I start shifting into easier gears. If you pedal like a madman “attacking” the hill with everything you got, you will quickly deplete muscle glycogen and you’ll be hating life later in the day when you find yourself out of gas and your legs feel like jello. The keys are conservation of momentum on the bike and conservation of energy in your legs, use your lungs not your legs.

The main concerns I see with hills at RAGBRAI are riders overestimating their climbing abilities. I’m sure you’ll witness it, someone with a brand new $10k bike attacks a hill like a raging lunatic, shouting at people to get out of their way, only to stall about half way up the hill when their legs gas-out… Besides being a douche move, it only serves to create a safety hazard for other riders as they first blast past other riders, then slow and become a hazard for riders steadily approaching from the rear. Please, just don’t be that rider… It’s important to practice defensive riding up the hills, watch out for riders who might suddenly slow in front of you, or a group of riders who may suddenly fan out across the entire roadway, taking up all possible paths of travel, and cutting you off. It happens…a lot.

My advice (kind suggestion) at RAGBRAI is to just relax and have fun. Try to maintain a consistent line and speed when climbing. Stay to the right if you are slower. Resist the urge to change lines going up hills; it’s poor form and creates a hazard because you’ll be cutting off faster riders approaching from the rear. Know at RAGBRAI you will often get stuck behind slower riders. Just use your gears and spin, breath and remember RAGBRAI is supposed to be fun, be grateful you are in good health, be kind and encouraging to others, especially those you see struggling up the hills.


Dockat, April 29, 2018 at 6:11 pm

I like to use my brakes a lot
on the downhill to prolong the love.


Joe Chavis, May 13, 2018 at 5:33 pm

NO I ride fixed gear. I never coast.


Andy, June 30, 2018 at 8:07 pm

Are there any good hills to fly down this time?


Michrider !!!, June 30, 2018 at 8:42 pm

Only one more hill into town!!!

BTW, RAGBRAI don’t care!!!


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