9%+ hills


Did my first free ride with hills (Richmond) and what is it hard. My ftp is 208 watts, to get up the hill i was on my lightest gear and was pushing out 240-280 watts at 55rpm. I normally cycle 85-90rpm.

Where I live we have some high dunes, don’t know the percentage (my guess is 6%) and irl I have never switched to my lightest gear or even my small blade up front. How come these Zwift hills seem so terribly hard to do?

You think that’s hard?!? Try Richmond in reverse!

Back when I still rode outdoors, I could barely make it up a 13% grade in my granny gear.

Assuming you have a compact double, you can “simulate” the smallest chainring in a triple by turning down “trainer difficulty” to about 75%.

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I now have it on max difficulty. Maybe I should change that?

If you can power through the short steep grades without hurting your knees, maybe not. If the longer steep grades (e.g. Ven-Top, Alpe du Zwift) are too hard to do at a comfortable cadence, maybe so.

If you haven’t already seen it, this article might be interesting:



  1. It gives you a wider range of gearing,
  2. it is easier for your trainer to control if you have a bit higher rpm giving you more consistent power
  3. and it is easier on your trainer; the higher rpm generates more cooling.

For example: The tower road, 0.75 miles @ 13-17% @ 100% (Saris H3) 250 watts, 45 rpm. I overheated the trainer halfway up…could not get above 180 watts. Not that I am a big boy…

I now run 50% or so and I can turn a good rpm and not overheat the trainer. Still close to the wattage but since the trainer is spinning more, it is more efficient cooling itself.

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One of the most appealing features of Zwift is that it gives ordinary cyclists the chance to ride (at least virtually) climbs and road grades we would never encounter in our normal lives.

I started cycling in the US midwest. I knew cyclists who would practice their climbing by riding in a multi-story parking garage. That was, quite literally, the only piece of tarmac for hundreds of miles with any sort of grade about ± 5%. (Once I moved to southwest England, that was no longer a problem for me. Steep hills that required much harder efforts seemed abundant.)

Why do these Zwift hills seem hard? Because they are.

As the road grade pitches up much beyond about six percent, cyclists used to flat road run into a problem. Even their smallest gear doesn’t allow them to spin comfortably at a cadence they are used to. Instead of spinning away at 90 or 100 rpm, the rider needs to grind away at 70 or even 60 rpm. Getting your leg muscles used working at a lower cadence, but much higher torque (force), is one of the skills you can develop with Zwift.


Yep, they’re hard, because they’re hard.

I find all hills hard because I’m a big lump, but the more you practice the quicker (never easier!) you get.

I would recommend doing some of the training programs; build me up is a really good mix of training including pedalling drills so you’re doing single foot spins and high/low cadence at differing power levels. It really helps you to deal with real world obstacles.

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I am doing built me up, week 9, havent missed a training so far. Increased FTP 2 x in that time :)))

My point was, that I can take a 5% Dune here, quite comfortably, don’t even have to switch to the smaller front blade. On Zwift however, it’s very hard even in the granny gear (1-1). Perhaps I should change the difficulty setting (it’s on max now).

(ps I am also a big lump at 1.87m and 114kg)

Same bike? Or at least, the same gearing?

I personally think that Zwift climbing is actually easier than real world climbing. But a 9% incline is a lot more difficult than a 5% one. I’m sure someone who knows more about physics than me can explain but it’s not just 80% harder, i.e. I don’t think the difficulty is linear.

I’ve never really change the difficulty setting, it’s always been on 100% for me.

I’m 1.93m and 115kg; those kg’s aren’t helping either of us!!! :wink:

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You are heavy, it’s really hard on climb, you can’t find it confortable in real life at 5/6%, it’s less, 3/4% i think
each other % increases enormously the power required

Average figure, no wind, normal road
3% climb, 125kg (cyclist + bike) 15 km/h = 210W
At 4% 15 km/h = 260W
At 5% 15 km/h = 311W
With 10% climb 15 km/h = 564W
10% 10 km/h = 370W

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Crazy how the world is so different. Wherever I go out I encounter 5% climbs at a minimum. And the steepest I’ve encountered until now was 17% I think. And 93 kg + bike don’t help one bit :slight_smile: Luckily it’s at least brief and then goes to only 11-12% :smiley:

Strange… I had the opposite idea… I had my difficulty on Max, I moved that to half and see if that helps.

I decided to leave things the same as when I first started using them. That way I can compare progress without having to thing about changes to the difficulty etc.

That’s why I hate what Zwift have done with the road surface effects.

Changing the “difficulty” setting does not prevent comparison of progress. It changes the effective gearing, not the power required to climb x% at speed v. If you can make it up the Alpe in 60 minutes at 100% setting, you will make it in 60 minutes at 50%, albeit on a different gear.

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Cool, thanks for clarifying.

I’m not sure that’s a good example. If you can get up the Alpe in 60 minutes at 100% TD, you can most likely get up it more quickly at 50% TD.

It doesn’t change the total power output required to get up a climb, but changing the gearing can totally change how easy or hard you find it (because of the different cadence), and therefore the time that it takes you.

You are correct in principle - that’s why I started with “60 mins at 100%”, not at 50%. You would be faster at 50% if you were limited by your gearing at 100%. But the (unwritten) assumption was that if you can do the Alpe in 60 mins at 100%, you are not limited by gearing.

It depends on what gearing you have on your bike. with a 50/34 in front and a 11/34 you can go up the alpe in any TD at exactly the same speed. But with a 52/46 and 11/24 you will run out of gears just like IRL.

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I’ve not encountered any problems with the gradients to be honest. But I live in Yorkshire (England). It doesn’t matter which direction I leave my house I will be running in to gradients of 15% within a couple of miles. They are only short sharp climbs as I avoid the longer ones, but I guess they condition your legs to get used to dealing with them.

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