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.
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.
This Scott Addict has a non-standard 3T fork, a raised, untaped carbon bar and an inverted stem, a solid carbon saddle, and a single-ring SRAM Red drivetrain.
Roval’s original Alpinist SL Carbon wheelset is rarely seen, but is suitably light, with hidden nipples, and is fitted here with Veloflex Record tubulars – but shouldn’t the dust cap have been removed?
Anything goes in hill climbs, including this original BMC Time Machine Road. An undeniably stiff bike, it’s not the most hill-friendly, with a lowest gear of only 46×30, and a very specific saddle position.
The BMC did have this questionable valve stem fairing installed on the front of its Campagnolo Bullet Ultra 50mm hybrid wheelset though.
This Ridley was spotted with a pair of super-light Tune Schwarzbrenner 25 tubular wheels.
Note that rear lights are compulsory in all Cycling Time Trial events.
A mechanical Campagnolo Super Record drivetrain is supplemented by the hill climber’s favorite Rotor 3D+ crankset with a single Rotor chain ring, which is fitted in reverse fashion. Note the front derailleur cable taped to the frame for when the bike is reverted to use with two chainrings and a front derailleur.
A Colnago M10S built for hill climbing with Campagnolo Chorus levers and rear derailleur, Dura-Ace crankset with a left crank power meter and single ring, plus a USE Ultimate seatpost, and solid carbon San Marco saddle.
The PRO Vibe carbon handlebar has had its drops chopped below the levers to shed a few more grams.
Cane Creek’s feathery ee rim brakes are a popular choice among the weight-obsessed.
A light and slick 24-hole Tune hub with minimalist quick release skewer carries a close ratio 11-speed cassette, and shallow Farsports carbon tubular rim.
Almost at odds with the care taken to construct some of the bikes, is the willingness for riders to lay them down as fast as possible after finishing.
This recovering rider’s Scott Addict has taped and chopped drop bars, a single ring, and shallow Planet X carbon wheels with Continental Sprinter tubular tires.
A thoroughly modern Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7 has a single Wolf Tooth 46t ring on its Ultegra 4iiii power crankset pushing the limits of the derailleur with its 30 tooth largest cassette sprocket. The front Di2 derailleur has been removed, and the wheels are Roval’s Alpiniste CLX, with clincher tires.
Reigning national Veteran 55 champion Steve Thomas finishes his effort.
Steve Thomas rides a Cervelo R5 with mechanical Dura-Ace levers and rear derailleur, single-ring Rotor crankset, and partly taped 3T Ergonova Team carbon bar.
Bontrager’s Speed Limit rim brakes, first seen in 2008, are sought after for their weight — just 270g per pair. The wheels are FFWD F2R, with Vittoria’s Corsa Evo SC 23mm tubulars.
The custom headset cap is a limited edition, fundraising tribute to the UK’s National Health Service staff superheroes, and their extraordinary work throughout the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Steve’s son, Harvey Thomas is already tearing uphill aboard his Supersix Evo, with Dura-Ace mechanical gearing, single-ring Rotor 3D crankset, and some very flashy (borrowed) wheels.
The original one-piece carbon bar and stem are untaped, has no bar end plugs, and was spray-painted by Steve.
Another set of Bontrager Speed Limit brakes slow the Lightweight Meilenstein wheels, which are fitted with blacked out Vittoria tubulars.
The Meilensteins have carbon hubs with carbon spokes bonded into place, and a minimalist quick-release lever.
San Marco’s solid carbon saddle and USE’s Ultimate zero setback carbon seatpost are popular hill climber choices.
Harvey’s Cannaondale features this aluminium out-front GPS bracket, made by his dad. There are plenty of competitors who’d see this as a candidate for some additional drilling.
Power to weight ratio and bike efficiency are everything, but for headwear, anything goes!
VC Walcot’s event climbed the winding Claverton Hill, finishing just before the American Museum on the outskirts of Bath. The course covers 900m, and climbs 81m, on a mostly tree-covered road.
Kate MacTear’s Bianchi Sempre Pro matches a Zipp 303 Firecrest rear with a shallow carbon tubular front wheel. The double Ultegra chainrings have been removed and replaced with a single ring, but the front derailleur remains. The bottle cage bolts have also been removed.
The logo on Elita’s ONE all-carbon saddle has a passing resemblance to the original EDGE (later ENVE) logo. The Toray T700 carbon saddle has a claimed weight of around 95g.
This Cube Litening has a blacked-out head badge, Cane Creek ee brakes, Profile Design SVET-R carbon wing base bar, and Dura-Ace Di2 time trial levers with grip tape on top.
The external Di2 junction box is mounted on a steerer tube bracket, and the shift wires run externally until they enter the frame.
Garmin power pedals are fitted to a single ring Dura-Ace crankset, with no front derailleur. The bottle cage bolts have been omitted and their holes taped over. The wheels are Hunt tubulars with Vittoria tires.