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British hill climb bikes: wild and wacky ultralight uphill racing rigs

Riders in UK hill climbs are not bound to UCI rules, can race on almost anything they see fit.

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Hill climbing is an almost unavoidable element of being a cyclist, but in the UK, it’s also a discipline in its own right.

The Catford CC Hill Climb in south London started in 1886, and is said to be the world’s oldest cycle race still running today. Hill climb season is short and marks the transition from the regular road season into autumn, and then winter, with races usually taking place between late August and October, culminating in the National Championships.

Hill climbs are run as low-key, day-of registration, club events or “open” events — which require advance entry and usually attract more riders. It’s very common for there to be morning and afternoon events that are local to each other, on both Saturday and Sunday, in many areas of the country, giving riders plenty of access to races.

Also read: British hill climbing bike: A sub-11-pound Focus Izalco Max

Essentially an uphill time trial in which riders usually start at one-minute intervals, hill climbs are managed under the regulations of Cycling Time Trials, which differ from UCI rules in a number of areas. Approved protective helmets are recommended, but are not compulsory for over-18 riders with many riders preferring to race with a bare head, or cap. Speeds are rarely high enough to warrant aero headgear; heat dissipation and comfort usually take precedence.

Hill climb courses use suitable urban or rural roads, which are mostly also open to vehicular traffic, but occasionally closed for the largest events. All kinds of hills, from longer, power-climbs to short, steep efforts, and everything in between can be used, with race durations from around two minutes to 20 minutes, although most last fewer than 10 minutes.

For the serious hill climber, power-to-weight ratio is key. Aside from the physical challenges, the technical aspects can be fascinating. Unlike the UCI’s tightly controlled bicycle regulations, riders in UK hill climbs can race on almost anything they see fit, and this opens the door to some fantastically focussed tech geekery and a fascinating obsession with defying gravity and physics.