Learn the mountain bike hill start in 90 seconds

Whether you’re new to the hill start technique, or have always had trouble doing it, you’ll learn how to do a hill start on a mountain bike with confidence and ease with these simple step by step instructions and 90 second video.

And don’t forget to check out the Super Tips further down.  There you’ll find several essential tips that make learning how to do a hill start so much easier, and a lot less frustrating.

How the Hill Start can make you better

The hill start, the skill you need to be able to re-start a climb after you’ve stopped part-way up, is a very handy mountain bike climbing technique.  But, it’s more than simply ‘handy’.  The hill start has the power to elevate your skills and make you a far better climber.


Because each time you do a hill start, you’re having another go at getting further up that hill.  And that’s crucial for your skill development.  With each new attempt at that climb you’re fine-tuning your mountain bike climbing technique, and growing your strength, tenacity and perseverance that little bit more.

Every time you try another hill start you’re getting closer to becoming the Hill Starter and the climber you really want to be.

How to do a Hill Start on a mountain bike

1. find a patch of stable terrain for your rear wheel and rest the back of your rear wheel against a rock, solid log or tree if you can.  A stop behind your rear wheel helps three ways

  • it prevents you from rolling backwards and reduces your need for brakes
  • it gives you more confidence to perform the hill start by keeping you steady
  • it gives you something solid to pedal off
  • it prevents wheelieing on the first pedal stroke

2. sit on the nose of the seat with one foot clipped in and the forward crank parallel to the ground, or slightly higher (just like in the video)

3. look ahead to where you want to go.  The Golden Rule of Mountain Biking: Your wheels will follow your eyes.

4. relax your mind, your breathing and your grip on the handlebar

5. push off with your grounded foot, while pedaling down the with other at the same time, to begin the Hill Start.  Apply strong, yet smooth pedal strokes

6. swiftly return your free foot to its pedal, and cycle several smooth pedal strokes to establish momentum before thinking about clipping that foot in

  Super Tips – Learn the Hill Start faster and easier with these

Think like this – focus solely on achieving those first four or five strong, yet smooth pedal strokes to establish momentum, positive traction and climbing rhythm

Bum cheat – if your bum can’t reach the saddle try to find a low point just for your wheels, or a high point to ground your free foot.  Both options make the saddle closer to the ground and easier to reach.  Another option is to lower your saddle height slightly, though this can make the hill harder to climb.

Attitude IS everything – approach the hill start with a ‘Can Do’ attitude.  Be positive, keep trying and don’t get frustrated if some attempts fail.  But if you get tired, leave more practice for another day, because tired riders crash!

For better grip 1 – lower your tires pressures to between 22 – 30 p.s.i. for better traction when you’re practicing hill starts
For better grip 2 – the right tires can make a huge difference to your climbing traction. Look for tires that have block lugs and bar lugs across the tread to improve your climbing traction in all conditions.

Easy practice – Practice your hill starts on a grassy incline at the park if you’re not ready to perform them on the trails just yet.  Sticks and stones may break your bones, but grass is nice and soft!

How to choose the right gear – A gear selection that’s too hard to pedal will make it difficult to start the hill start, and easier to wheelspin on loose climbs.  A gear that’s too easy could make it difficult to gather enough momentum and balance to get your free foot on to the pedal.

For most hill starts you’ll need to be in the granny (smallest chainring) at the front, and first (biggest), second or third gear at the back.  Choose a gear that allows you to spin at a high cadence.  The more practice you do, the better you’ll become at choosing the right gear for any hill start scenario.

Before you hill start – make sure you follow up any trail-side gear shifting with three full revolutions of the cranks by hand to ensure your chain has shifted properly.  Or SNAP! could be the next sound you hear.

For better balancethis practice drill will help you develop better control and balance for slow speed riding.  Just what you need for Hill Starts!

How to climb steeper – Climb steeper than ever before with the climbing technique that mtbtips made famous!  View the 90 second instructional video here

The Three P’s of the Invincible Climber – Want to become invincible up climbs?  Yes please.  It’s not out of your reach, so long as you learn The Three P’s

Where to Next:

How to Climb Better on a Mountain Bike in 90 Seconds – viewed over 500,000 times!
How to Ride UP Stairs on a Mountain Bike
How to Ride Switchbacks with More Speed and Control

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