Unorthodox and uncomfortable: Hill climb season
Vivienne Westwood, Morris dancers, Grayson Perry and cheese rolling contests... Britain is a country famed for its wonderful eccentricities and though relatively late adopters of bike racing, we've predictably nurtured one of the more peculiar racing events in the sport: the hill climb.
Generally requiring no more than a five minute exertion, for racers of this end-of-season discipline, the effort is not confined to the hill itself, some travelling for hours across the country each weekend throughout September and October to pit themselves against other fans of pain. That’s right, through the latter months of the year many cyclists treat themselves to a 6am alarm to drive, often hundreds of miles, across the country to race for less time than it takes to make a cup of tea.
Unlike their traditional time-trial counterparts, hill climbs attract vast crowds of spectators thanks to the slower racing speeds and shorter courses. Steep sections create a carnival-like atmosphere as fans amass to roar encouragement in the faces of racers as the gradient goes up. It’s not just the fans who have a good time at hill climbs either – there’s a well-regarded social scene to the races with so little time actually spent racing, there’s plenty of time for chat.
In all areas there’s a notable amount less ‘geekery’ than is involved in the traditional time-trial counterpart making, for some, hill climbs a more friendly culture. With much lower speeds, aero bike kit is exchanged for sawn-off handlebars, stripped-back saddles and holes drilled in anything non-essential (and, in some cases, essential). A true connoisseur of the hill-climb circuit will go as far as removing his or her bartape. The aero helmets are thrown aside, some replacing them with a cycling cap to keep sweat at bay, others for nothing at all.
Mid-way through the British hill climb season now, riders are maximising a summers worth of riding before the Autumn indulgence begins for many. One of the longest running, and most important climbs of the season, Bec Hill Climb draws some of the countries best racers and eager crowds which, in 2014, included a certain David Millar. The 10 Grand Tour stage winner chose to tie up his career, not on the world tour circuit, but instead on a bumpy country road in Surrey surrounded by plastic tables, flasks of tea and camping chairs: "These races are what it used to be like when I started off, going to random places in the English countryside. It's good to be reminded of where it all began" said David. "It was a good way to learn the ropes of being a racer. It's different now, it feels nice and homely and there are no nerves – it’s all a bit of fun."
And now, four years on, ‘fun’ is still very much the name of the game. On Saturday the 29th September the Urban Hill Climb takes place upon London’s infamous Swains Lane. Taking to the start line we have two riders representing CHPT3 and our culture of fun: one paying homage to the Grand Tour just gone in our Vueltadata colours and the other preparing to unfold his CHPT3 x Brompton racer in earnest for the first time.
See you on the hill-side.