Conquering Cambodian Climbs: Tips and Strategies for Gravel Cyclists
Tackling the climbs of Cambodia on a gravel bike brings with it a unique set of challenges and rewards. Unlike the soaring alpine ascents found in Europe or the steep inclines of the American Rockies, Cambodia's topography offers a different form of elevation gain. Here, cyclists encounter a blend of undulating hills, especially in areas like the Ratanakiri province and the Cardamom Mountains, and shorter, steep pitches that can surprise the unwary rider. This guide is tailored to help gravel cyclists conquer Cambodian climbs, combining strategic preparation, pacing, and technique to make every ascent achievable and enjoyable

1. Know the Terrain

Before embarking on your cycling adventure, research the routes you plan to tackle. Understanding the type, length, and gradient of the climbs you'll face is crucial for mental preparation and strategy. Tools like GPS cycling apps can be invaluable for scoping out climbs, allowing you to visualize the elevation profile and plan accordingly.

2. Bike Preparation

  • Gearing: Ensure your gravel bike is equipped with appropriate gearing for climbing. A wide-range cassette and a compact or sub-compact crankset can provide the lower gears necessary for sustained efforts on steeper slopes.

  • Tire Pressure: Lower tire pressures can increase traction on loose or slippery surfaces, which is vital for maintaining steady progress on climbs. However, balance is key, as too low pressure can lead to rim strikes or pinch flats.

3. Pacing is Key

Unlike road cycling where the smooth tarmac allows for consistent effort, gravel surfaces demand a more nuanced approach to pacing. Start each climb conservatively to gauge its difficulty and save energy for steeper sections or technical challenges that may lie ahead. Listening to your body and adjusting your effort to maintain a sustainable pace will help prevent premature fatigue.

4. Climbing Technique

  • Positioning: On milder gradients, remaining seated can help maintain traction, especially on loose gravel. For steeper pitches, a standing climb might be necessary to apply more power, but try to keep your weight slightly forward to prevent the rear wheel from slipping.

  • Cadence: Aim to maintain a cadence that balances power and efficiency, typically between 70-90 RPM. Too low a cadence can quickly lead to muscle fatigue, while too high a cadence can be inefficient on steep or loose surfaces.

Mr Biker Saigon, Cycling Indochina: Vietnam to Cambodia Adventure Trip
Mr Biker Saigon, Cycling Indochina: Vietnam to Cambodia Adventure Trip

5. Hydration and Nutrition

The heat and humidity in Cambodia can exacerbate the challenges of climbing, making hydration and nutrition crucial. Drink regularly, even if you don't feel thirsty, and consume easily digestible, energy-rich foods or gels to keep your energy levels up throughout the ride.

6. Recovery on the Go

Use the descents and flatter sections following a climb for active recovery. Lower your heart rate and relax your muscles without coming to a complete stop. This can help flush out lactic acid build-up and prepare your body for the next ascent.

7. Mental Resilience

Climbing, particularly on gravel, is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one. Set small, achievable targets along the climb, such as reaching the next corner or tree. Reward yourself mentally for each mini-goal achieved, maintaining a positive mindset throughout.

8. Training for Terrain

Incorporate hill repeats into your training regimen to simulate the demands of Cambodian climbs. Include a variety of gradients and surfaces if possible. Cross-training with activities that build core strength can also enhance your climbing ability by improving stability and power transfer.

9. Respect the Environment

As you conquer the climbs, remember to respect the natural beauty and cultural significance of the land through which you're riding. Stick to established trails and leave no trace, ensuring the pristine nature of Cambodia's landscapes remains for future cyclists to enjoy.

Mr Biker Saigon, Cycling Indochina: Vietnam to Cambodia Adventure Trip
Mr Biker Saigon, Cycling Indochina: Vietnam to Cambodia Adventure Trip


Climbing on gravel in Cambodia offers a distinctive blend of physical exertion, technical challenge, and opportunity for exploration. By preparing meticulously, employing strategic pacing, and applying smart riding techniques, cyclists can conquer any climb the Cambodian countryside presents, turning formidable ascents into rewarding achievements.

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