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)
- Nick O Pendle – 16% (Lancashire)
- Burrington Combe – 8% (Mendips)
- Westclose Hill – 16% (Mendips
- Shap Fell - 4% (Lake District)
- Dovers Hill – 12% (Gloucestershire)
- Long Hill Climb 3% – (Buxton)
- Ripponden Bank – 16% (Lancashire)
- Rake Hill Climb – 22% (Lancashire)
- Kirkstone Pass – 25% (Lake District)
- Catford Hill Climb - 25% – Surrey
- Wrynose Pass – 25% (Lake District)
- Harknott Pass – 33% (Lake District) the Climb of Hardknott pass from West to east is the hardest in the UK in my opinion because of length and steepness
- Fleet Moss – 20% (Yorkshire)
- Buttertubs – 20% (Yorkshire)
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!
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)
- Hill climb bike – weight 6.7 kg
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%
- 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
Review of 100 Greatest Hill Climbs – a great list of 100 top climbs
My Own Hill Climbs -
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.
- 2005 National Hill Climb Championship – 11th - The Rake, Lancashire
- 2006 National Hill Climb Championship – 7th – Devon – I finished 7th in a time of 5.13. Winner – James Dobbin.
- 2007 National Hill Climb Championship - 7th in a time of 7.14. Winner - James Dobbin.
- 2008 National Hill Climb Championships – 14th – Matlock, Derbyshire. – Winner – Matt Clinton
- 2009 National Hill climb Championship – 12th – Halifax – Pea Royd Lane — Winner – Dan Fleeman
- 2010 National Hill Climb Championship – 4th – Dovers Hill, Gloucestershire – Winner – Dan Fleeman
- 2011 National Hill climb championship – 5th Long Hill, Buxton. Winner – Gunnar Gronlund
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)
- 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.