Hill Climbs

hill climb agonyHill Climb Agony (photo by Bernard Thompson)

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Hill Climbs are a uniquely painful and challenging cycle race. The ideal is simple – ride up a hill as fast as you can. It’s just you, your bike and your fight against gravity. At the end of the climb, your legs will be screaming with pain, your lungs at bursting point and your head can feel light headed due to Oxygen debt. Yet, whatever your time, there’s a great feeling of achievement for completing the hill. You may not enjoy it, but something brings you back for more.

Of all the multifarious aspects of cycling, the one thing I love the most is cycling up hills – as fast as you can. I don’t know why. I just love racing up hills. I often start racing in March, but for me the real season is September and October when I can do as many hill climbs as I have time.

There are hill climbs in other countries, but the short steep hill climb season seems a speciality of the UK. The first national hill climb championship was held in 1944 and is the climax of the time trial / road scene. They are often short, between 1km and 2 miles, but they can be as steep as 25%. There’s something about challenging gravity which makes the hill climb special. The burning in your chest, the stinging in the legs, the feeling of helplessness as your back wheel slips on wet leaves at the steepest part of the climb, the sheer exhaustion and relief on reaching the summit.

Starting at the bottom of a hill climb can be pretty intimidating, there’s no chance to settle into a rhythm like in a 25 mile time trial. You know that to do well, you have to push your body to its absolute limits; they say, if you can walk at the end – you just haven’t tried hard enough. :)


How To finish a hill climb

List of Hill Climbs

(steepest section in brackets)


hill climb

Tejvan Pettinger during Otley CC | Guise Edge

Pacing in a Hill Climb

Pacing a hill climb is not easy. The temptation is to sprint from the start, but, if you do that you will suffer immeasurably on the last part of the climb. You have to leave enough in the tank for the last 1-2 minutes where you can really push yourself over the edge.

  • Go hard, but try to keep increasing your effort right to the end.
  • Try to remain seated where you can; it is more efficient.

Psychology of Hill Climbs

In this kind of race,  you need to be able to push yourself really hard. It is easy, amidst the pain of racing, to back off a little bit. I find it helps to have a clear mind and avoid any negative thoughts before or during the race. You also need to have  the confidence and determination to push yourself really hard. It is not something to be done half-heartedly.

Sometimes on very steep climbs, you can actually feel like you’d  like to just get off the bike – especially if it is long and steep like Kirkstone pass or Park Rash.

Bad Experiences in Hill Climbs

I often did a two stage hill climb in Otley CC. Usually there was a 3 hour gap between Norwood edge in morning and East Chevin in afternoon. However, this year, they had reduced the gap to two hours. The problem is I had been eating cakes in the clubroom expecting to have another hour to digest. I later realised I was racing soon, with quite a few pieces of Victoria Sponge in the stomach. -  Racing up East Chevin in 4.08 was not the nicest of experiences!

Weight Weenies.

When it comes to hill climbs, weight becomes really important. Shaving 1kg off your bike, can make a few vital seconds. It can easily become obsessive as you seek for ways to reduce weight. I once got my geared hill climb bike down to 6kg, which I was pretty pleased with. But, that involved pretty drastic measures such as filling off the ends off brake blocks, cutting brake levers in half… (don’t try this at home)

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Different Types of Hills.

There are 2 main types of hill climbs;

1. Short and  steep, e.g. the Rake in Lancashire, Streatley hill, the Cat and Bec hills climbs. Gradient upto 25% (1 in 4)

2. Longer and Shallower longer shallower climbs like Cheddar Gorge, Cat & Fiddle, Burrington Combe. Gradient perhaps 4-8%


Rob Hayles on Long Hill, National Championship 2011 (gradient 3.2%) using time trial bike and aero helmet. Average speed 21mph


  • The short climbs tend to favour small, powerfully built riders. They require explosive bursts of speed. I tend to prefer the longer shallower climbs; it is not a sprint but a more measured time trial of 6-10 minutes.

100 Greatest Hill Climbs

Book Cover at Amazon.co.uk

Review of 100 Greatest Hill Climbs – a great list of 100 top climbs

My Own Hill Climbs -

Nick o Pendle, 2011 – time 3.34

National Hill Climb Championships

In 2005, I finished 11th in my first National hill climb championship on the Rake. A climb through the centre of Ramsbottom, it reaches 25% at the top. My time was 2.39. It was won by Ben Greenwood in 2.26.5. There was a big crowd which made it exciting.

1st Place in Open Hill Climbs

  • 2004  – 1 out of 9
  • 2005 – 1 out of 9
  • 2006 – 1 out of 4
  • 2007 – 1 out of 2
  • 2008 – 1 out of 2 (check may have entered more)
  • 2009 – 2 out of 5
  • 2010 – 7 / 10
  • 2011 -  10 / 11

Total 24 / 52

(I count individual stages in 2 stage hill climbs as separate event, but not the overall result)

Course Records

  • Saintbury Hill Climb  1.2 miles – 5.52 – 25/09/2011 (Warwickshire RC)
  • Guise Edge Hill climb 0.8 miles – 3.25  – 1/10/2011 (Otley CC)
  • Long Hill (Buxton CC) 4.44 miles – 12.26 – 12/09/2010 (Buxton CC)
  • Jubilee Tower 1.70 miles – 7.13 – 04/10/2010 (Lancaster CC)
  • Burrington Combe 1.8 miles – 6.51 – 16/10/2011 (Bristol South CC)
  • Snake Pass, Glossop 3.2 miles – 11.41 – 02.09/2012 (Glossop Kinder Velo CC)

How To Enter A Hill Climb

Open events need to be entered 10 days in advance. ‘Club events’ you can just turn up.

See: How to enter event at Cycling Time Trials – You can find a list of events in the cycling time trials book, online. It is also good to meet some local clubs who will be able to tell you about local events.


34 Responses to Hill Climbs

  1. Bob October 30, 2013 at 8:44 pm #

    I honestly think Stuart Dangerfield would have carried on winning the national hill climb championship perhaps another 5 or 6 times if he’d wanted to. The week prior to the 1998 champs we went over to Dovers hill, on what was a very ordinary day, & I timed him up the climb. I know the course very well so the timing wasn’t far out & he went up about 19 seconds faster than the winner did in that years championship. His view of the hill ‘ not f**cking hard enough for a championship’. He had entered the event but had just returned from the worlds & he’d had enough for the season, so he didn’t ride. As a rider I probably new Stuart better than most & without a doubt the hillclimb was his strongest event. At that point in his career he hadn’t even reached his peak & I don’t think Gordon Wright was coaching him then. On the way home from Dovers he said ‘Ive had with hill climbs now, they just drag the season out’ & he never rode another one. Shame really because he’d have certainly put that record on the shelf.

  2. Joo Mong February 18, 2013 at 12:30 am #

    Where I live, highest hill less than 200M. Longest uphill I found, about 1Km. Longest road between road junctions, just over 6Km.Thats all, until we manage to cycle across the sea to other islands some day.

  3. Dave Randall October 9, 2012 at 9:01 pm #

    I’ve just bought a copy of 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs off amazon, the preview looks interesting and I can’t wait to build some of my winter training arround the climbs local to me (County Durham). Lets hope the winter ain’t too harsh this year!

    • tejvan October 9, 2012 at 9:48 pm #

      Good luck Dave. There’s plenty of good climbs up there!

  4. marco August 8, 2011 at 1:13 am #

    Hi TJ. am building up my HC bike for his year, im running 10 speed campag gears, but single ring at the front – however when i change from 13 to the 12 cog, the chain ships off the ring to the outside. how much do you shorten the chain for your yellow bike or do you use a chain watcher like K-Edge? thanks for any help… Good luck for the HC season. marco

    • tejvan August 8, 2011 at 6:33 am #

      Even with single ring, I’d use a front mech chain, to keep the chain in place. The weight is minimal, but if chain comes off it’s the end of the race.

  5. Emily :) June 10, 2011 at 9:46 pm #

    Jim Henderson won the national hill climb championships 2003 on a hill very near (like about 2000 metres) from were I live. The climb is very tough but the coolest thing is that I can just cycle up the hill (it takes me a veeerrry long time but then I’m a weakling) :)
    And if you put into google luddenden hill climb the first result gives you more info :)
    Emily :)

  6. peterws October 23, 2010 at 9:23 pm #

    Hiya guys, I do hill climbing for pleasure only, my favourite`s Kirkstone Pass (the struggle) Wrynose is a bit steep, I don`t much like coming back down. Kirby fell road near Dalton in Furness is a cracker. So ia Corney Fell . I love passing younger guys (I`m 62) doesn`t happen often. Girls`ve passed me . . .I`m not a proper cyclist, cos . . . I don`t shave my legs and DON`T wear Lycra lol

  7. Matt August 26, 2010 at 12:29 am #

    Check this video….4 dudes climbing a VERY steep mountain in the US (at night)!


  8. Lycralad October 12, 2009 at 12:46 pm #

    I am trying to find out various hill gradients.
    For example…
    If i want to train on a 1 in 7, what is this in % terms?
    If a road is 12%, what is this in the opposite term?
    Carn’t seem to find anything on the net to resolve this.
    A lot of roads near me are only classed in percentages so i am unsure if i am training up the correct incline.
    Many Thanks.


    • Ken November 14, 2012 at 8:45 pm #

      12% is 12 in 100 or 1 in 8.5
      1 in 7 is 100/7 or 14%

  9. Tom October 10, 2009 at 7:14 am #

    Ok, back to kit, should/ can you use tri bars on a hill climb?

  10. Andre May 16, 2009 at 4:20 pm #

    I’m doing the Mont Ventoux stage of the Tour de France in the summer. Does anyone know where I might find a similar hill in the UK?

  11. tejvan September 12, 2008 at 6:49 am #

    I don’t know of any particular guide to hill climbs. I’m hoping to do the 2 you mention.

    best bet is

  12. Paul September 11, 2008 at 9:38 pm #

    Hi All,

    I was wondering inf there is good source onf info on dates for hill climb events. I am quite new to road cycling but love climbing so would like to give a few races a go. I live in Brisotol so looking for events around there. I have found 2: severn RC on the 4th october and Bristol south on the 19th october. Any info would be appreciated. Oh is there no cheddar gorge climb this year?



  13. tejvan September 11, 2008 at 8:01 pm #

    Hi Rodney,

    It’s an interesting question. But, to enter any UK time trial, you must have a bike which meets general legal requirements. Legal requirements require 2 braking mechanisms. Therefore, if you have a fixed wheel, you can get away with a back brake. But, otherwise you need 2. – They don’t necessarily have to work very well. I know one National champion, who always walks back down the hill. He didn’t trust his cut off brakes on a 25% descent!

    On a random note, I know some who have speculated riding without a saddle to save weight.

  14. Rodney Dunning September 11, 2008 at 7:41 pm #

    These are probably stupid questions, but if the only relevant part of the race is the uphill component, and considering the importance of reduced mass, why not remove the front brake caliper? It seems unlikely you would need the front brake going uphill, and you can save several grams. If the course is closed to motor traffic, why not remove BOTH brake calipers? Has anyone ever tried this? (I’m thinking of course about races that are entirely uphill, where you are not required to come back down.)

  15. Rodney Dunning September 11, 2008 at 7:40 pm #

    These are probably stupid questions, but if the only relevant part of the race is the uphill component, and considering the importance of reduced mass, why not remove the front brake caliper? It seems unlikely you would need the front brake going uphill, and you can save several grams. If the course is closed to motor traffic, why not remove BOTH brake calipers? I’m thinking of course about races that are entirely uphill, where you are not required to come back down.


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