October is prime time for the hill-climbing season, with most races being held this month before the new national champion is crowned. With the event just around the corner, here are 8 of our favourite facts, both well-known and lesser-known, to keep you entertained before one of the most gruelling times in the UK racing season ends.
“It needs a corner, maybe some geographical drama for a backdrop and most importantly, it must attract a large crowd of spectators, there’s no joy in suffering in silence.” Simon Warren, author of 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs.
1. The Hill Climbing Championship doesn’t always happen on gruelling steep roads
The British National Championship is the climax of the hill-climbing season, and each year riders from all around the country gather to showcase their best climbing skills. But in 2011, the riders met a rather mellow climb, Long Hill, which was marked as disrespectful due to its low gradient. Riders turned up with aero bars and disc wheels, as the average gradient of the course was 3%, with 6% at its “steepest” point. Would you consider this a hill-climb?
“Never in the history of the championships has the event been as disrespected as when Long Hill was chosen as the venue.” Wrote Simon Warren for Cycling Weekly, after riding all seven routes from the National Hill-Climbing Championships in Derbyshire.
2. The oldest running bicycle race is actually a hill climb
Back in 1886, Catford CC organised the first run of the race on Westerham Hill on August 20th, and have continued to do so since then, making the Catford CC Hill Climb the longest-running bike race in history. Back in the 19th century, riders used “safety bicycles” and penny farthings with solid tyres, making it just hard to even finish the race – only half of the riders actually made it to the top! The race has since moved to the steeper York Hill in Kent, with a maximum gradient of 25%. The current record is held by Phil Mason (San Fairy Ann CC) and hasn’t been broken for over 30 years.
3. Women’s category for the British National Hill Climb Championships was introduced in 1998
In the late 90’s a separate women’s category was introduced for the British National Hill Climb Championship. This is rather a late start, considering that women have had their own category in the UCI World Championships since 1958.
4. There is a dedicated smartphone app for hill climbing
If you are a fan of Strava, Endomondo, Wahoo or other similar smartphone apps, which are very helpful for tracking your activities and sharing your rides with your friends (and frenemies), you might be interested in The 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs App. An app set up after the hill-climbing best-seller 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs by Simon Warren. This is the ultimate tool to use when you are on the quest of “Riding them all”! It will help you with the navigation, guiding you to the base of each climb, show you your progress in selected locations and provide you with the vital climb statistics.
5. You can calculate the benefit of a weight reduction in seconds
Would you like to know the exact benefit of shedding a few more grams from your gear or kit and present overly scientific proof of it to another hill-climbing enthusiast? A very smart but, as expected, a 90’s looking website called Analytic Cycling offers a free calculator, which will tell you in seconds the correlation of a weight loss, distance, slope and surface.
The authors disclose that these are only mathematical results, and might not have any real-world meaning, but if we don’t try we will never know.
6. The holder of the most National Championships is Granville Sydney
The record for the most National Hill Climb Championship titles falls to Granville Sydney, who won six titles in 10 years, with his first coming in 1963 and the last in 1973. With Jim Henderson and Stuart Dangerfield sharing the second spot, earning five gold medals between 1998-2003 and 1992-1997 respectively.
7. The 2019 National Hill Climb Championship is held on the Haytor HC
As of 11th October 2019, Andrew Feather holds a strong 12:10 KOM and Joanne Jago a 16:02 QOM for the climb. The Haytor hill climb is 5km long, with a 6% average gradient, which will make for an interesting watch. Riders will need to think more about pacing themselves, to avoid cracking before reaching the finish line. It’s a fairly shallow climb compared to previous years, but still nothing compared to the shame of Long Hill climb.
You can view the Haytor HC segment on Strava
8. 60% is probably the steepest you can go on a bicycle
According to the research completed by Cyclist, 60% is probably the steepest gradient your bike would allow you to tackle. This is due to the traction of your tires and the road surface. Anything steeper than that is very likely to fail, unless you spill tons of glue onto the surface, to allow for higher traction. Even then, whether it is humanly possible to go this slow, without tipping over or generating enough power is another question…