Wheel spin in hill climbs

Wheelspin is not a pleasant experience, it can throw you off rhythm and make you feel like you are going nowhere. A reader asked for any advice after experieing several wheel slips on Streatley.

Rake photo Paul Jones (from 2012)

Factors which make wheelspin more like include

  • The steeper the hill it is
  • Riding style. Big jerky effort, low cadence, out of the saddle efforts may make wheelslip more likely
  • Rear tyre pumped up high

Personal experience of wheel spin

The first time I had bad wheel spin was 2005 National hill climb on the Rake. The ground was damp and it was the first time I had raced on a climb as steep as the Rake (22%) It really knocked my rhythm. It felt like you were grounding to a halt. Since then I might have had some at the Cat and Bec hill climbs, which are also similarly steep but I can’t remember now.

When I went back to the Rake in 2012, I didn’t have any wheelspin, I think I reduced tyre pressure to 65psi because it was damp.

How to avoid wheelspin

  • I find the best way to avoid wheel spin is to avoid entering climbs like the Rake or Cat and Bec!
  • On a serious note, I’m not an expert on avoiding wheelspin, because I preferred longer climbs rather than the very short and steep. A few riders say they experienced wheel spin on Streatley Hill (max gradient 18%) but I never have. Possibly because I spin slightly higher cadence than average or my tubs are good. In 2020 on Streatley, I reduced tyre pressure to 80psi – but only because others were talking about wheelspin.
  • Of course, if you can remain seated whilst climbing, wheelspin will not occur. But, this is not really useful advice as no-one wants to climb the Rake or Streatley seated. (For what it is worth I did the first 150m of Streatley seated and then the rest of the climb out of the saddle)
  • Lower psi to 60psi. If you think wheelspin is a big issue, the best is to ride 25″ tyres and reduce tyre pressure to as low as 60psi. Choosing wider tyres gives more traction

Best tyres to avoid wheelspin?

After the 2005 experience, I spent a long time researching the best tyres to avoid wheelspin. I eventually asked Jim Henderson and he advised some particiular tubulars as being fantastic for avoiding wheelspin, I regret to say I can’t remember what he said!

Since 2011 I have used

  • Vittoria Chrono Evo tubulars (165g) 22″ which are super light and have been very good for avoiding wheelspin. For me these have been good, but there might be better. I’m not sure whether the Chrono Evo are still available.

My Vittoria may need replacing, and if it is Winnat’s Pass next year, it will be another steep one. If any reader has any tyre recommendations please share!

8 thoughts on “Wheel spin in hill climbs”

  1. Isn’t wheel spin more down to weight distribution rather than anything else when the roads are slippy? Usually when people ride out of the saddle they shift their weight forwards so less pressure is on the back tyre. Staying seated keeps the weight further back. It doesn’t feel quite as natural but you can ride out of the saddle with your weight further back which can stop that back wheel from slipping. I’m sure I read something about Contador would keep his weight evenly balanced between front and back wheels when out of the saddle which is probably further back than most people’s position.
    I do lots of gravel riding on the very steep gravelly trails of The Peak District which are perfect for finding the sweet-spot for body position and riding style to maintain traction.

    • Agree with this. I find dropping heel (compared to normal put saddle effort), pushing more at right angles to the hill (rather than vertically down) and pulling bar towards me helps keep the weight back while standing. I think I lose a bit of power like this, but worth it if it avoids wheel spin.

  2. Good experience with Continental Competition tubs. For a HC you can get away with extremely low pressures, since rolling resistance does not form a significant chunk of the forces you need to overcome you can err on the low side.

  3. Tejvan, can a smaller gear not make wheel spin more likely? Thinking starting your car in a higher gear if you’re stuck in the mud.

    Maybe it’s – 1. easier to keep your pedal stroke smooth in a small gear, which helps avoid wheel spin but 2. if you don’t keep it smooth, then a small gear is worse.

  4. I bought a Continental 5000 recently (having been unable to find a GP 4000). Once I’d managed to force it on to my Ksyrium wheels…it was incredibly tight…I found that on my local 10% kickers I was getting wheelspin where I’d never experienced any before. I even tried letting a little air out just to see if that made any difference but it was barely noticeable. I have an 18% ramp which, when damp, is now almost impossible to climb on the 5000. Avoid like the plague in anything other than dry conditions.

  5. spend time on an MTB and you will spin the rear wheel on a trail, even when sitting. but you will also get a lot more experience in handling it..

    the more weight you can keep over that rear hub the better….you should aim to keep your body mass over it. even sitting upright can gives you better traction than leaning forwards on the front wheel. though on sufficiently steep climbs you need to do that to keep the front wheel under control.

    it’s better to pull the cranks carefully round at constant torque than stamp really hard in a higher gear -its at that moment of peak force though the cranks which is when the wheels spin.

    and of course friction has a lot to do with it…MTBs tyres are run at lower pressure for that grip, especially now tubeless means “no more snakebites”.

    probably the thing to do is make the most of the muddy season by trying to climb forest trails on gravel tyres, working on that body position…get climbing over a challenge while sitting, then try standing. have fun!

  6. Yep, ride a mountain bike regularly in mucky or loose conditions on steep climbs and you will not struggle to control grip so much on the road when it gets slippy on climbs.
    MTB riding is great for keeping you upright on a road bike if things get sketchy.
    Not sure if the 2 disciplines compliment each other in fitness training but doing off road intervals on steep tracks could kill 2 birds with one stone.


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