Hilly Rides

Ade's Road Cycling Blog

Battling up Mow Cop

I’ve had many conversations with fellow cyclists over the last couple of years about hills, and riding up (and down) them.  I guess they are a bit like marmite – most people either love them or hate them.  I’m not sure I love them but I’m definitely nearer the former than the latter.  I see climbs as a personal challenge, a goal to be conquered or an achievement to tick off (I’ve so far ticked off 14 from the 100 Greatest Climbs book by Simon Warren).  And I’ll be paying a visit to the French Alps in May with some mates in order to tick a few more famous ones off.  But I digress.  Hills are also great for training purposes – because if you can maintain a decent pace on a hilly ride then you’ll be surprised how much easier (and therefore quicker) a flatter ride will be.  In fact, if you are stuck for time and want to do a quickish ride but still get a lot of “bang for your buck” fitness-wise then a short route with a few stiff climbs could be just what you need.

What constitutes hilly is a subject of much debate.  Total climb is possibly one method.  Here’s a list of the top 10 rides I’ve done by total climb (as recorded by my Garmin GPS)

  1. Tan Hill 200 – 132 miles and 12,071ft
  2. Ryedale Rumble – 111 miles and 9,064ft
  3. Pistyll Packing Momma – 132 miles and 8,905ft
  4. Todmorden Loops – 72 miles and 8,900ft
  5. Goyt Peak – 69 miles and 8,530ft
  6. Northern Dales – 125 miles and 8,287ft
  7. Lejog Day 1 (Cornwall and Devon) – 111 miles and 8,259ft
  8. Season of Mists – 64 miles and 7,535ft
  9. Up and Down to West Riding – 78 miles and 7,463ft
  10. Macc Monster – 64 miles and 6,981ft

There are a few scientific methods for measuring how tough a climb is, such as the ClimbByBike-Index or the Fiets-Index, but I tend to use a very much simpler measure.  Basically, if a ride has anything over about 60ft of climbing per mile then I consider it hilly.  If it has around a 100ft of climbing per mile then I consider that to be very hilly.  Here’s a re-sorted list of the top 10 using ft climb per mile ridden as a measure

  1. Todmorden Loops – 124
  2. Goyt Peak – 124
  3. Season of Mists – 117
  4. Macc Monster – 109
  5. Up and Down to West Riding – 95.7
  6. Tan Hill 200 – 91
  7. Ryedale Rumble – 82
  8. Lejog Day 1 (Cornwall and Devon) – 74
  9. Pistyll Packing Momma – 67.5
  10. Northern Dales – 66

It’s not a perfect method by any stretch of the imagination but it’s something I’ve arrived at after riding a lot of hilly routes and events, and I can confirm that the two at the top were probably the toughest of the bunch on that list in terms of sheer climbing.

So if you are planning your training for the year, then have a go at a few hills.  I have a standard “quick” route that I use which is 32 miles and has just over 2,000ft of ascent, or a rating of about 63 – good enough for training purposes.  I also occasionally add The Rake into it for a quick burst of 25% challenge!  If you draw up a similar route for yourself and use it repeatedly to build up your hill-climbing ability then I suggest that your overall capabilities will improve, and your overall enjoyment of cycling too.

Hills, hills, hills…

The mind is both a wonderful thing and a terrible thing.  During last weeks Bowland Forest audax my mind had convinced me that I was struggling more on the hills, that I was not as fast and that I was more tired.  One of the advantages of being a data geek like me is that you can actually take a subjective view like that and use some data to analyse it.  So I did.  Up until the end of May last year I did 2,428 miles and 94,659ft of climbing.  Using a not-really-very-scientific-formula, that works out at around 39ft of climb per mile ridden.  The equivalent period this year sees me having done 3,146 miles and 101,729ft of climbing – or around 32ft per mile.  That would tally with me focusing more on quicker rides than hilly rides.  But there’s not much in it – certainly not enough to worry about.

But me being me I decided to do a few hills this weekend.  I warmed up on Saturday with a quick 32 miler including The Rake – which you can find on page 126 of the excellent 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs book by Simon Warren.

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Saturday - 32 miles and 2000ft of climbing

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Can you spot The Rake?

The weather was grey and overcast with wet roads but little or no rain.  The surface of The Rake is broken and difficult at the best of times but it was glistening with the wet, rainbow spectrum of spilt petrol/diesel/oil.  Picking a line was difficult, with my bike wheel spinning on occasion and I reached the top with a higher heart-rate than I expected and feeling it in my legs.  I must have been right, I thought, I’ve not done enough hills.  But on analysis of the data I found that the probable reason was that I had gone up the hill about 1mph faster than my previous two rides on this loop.  That doesn’t sound much but over a mile of climbing including 20%+ gradients it’s enough!  And overall I knocked 5 minutes off my previous best time for the ride.

Today I decided to go north again but heading over to Hebden Bridge – which if you like flat riding would be your version of cycling hell.

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There was a stiff wind this morning and the route took in a mixture of short, sharp climbs, like Widdop, and long gradual climbs, like Cragg Vale.  Something for everyone!

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Sunday - 76 miles and 6,339ft of climbing

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Anyway, my legs felt very heavy today.  My time and average speed wasn’t particularly good.  I’ve noticed some riders who struggle to maintain a pace in a group but post some fantastic averages when out on their own.  I’m the complete opposite.  I need company to motivate me to go faster – on my own I just settle for “comfortable”.

Overall though I’m pleased with the rides, and I think it shows the value of recording data so you can test your subjective thinking and get to the real story.

Ride Stats:

Saturday : 32 miles in 1hr 54m at 16.7mph average.  2,000ft of climbing, 1,591kcals and average HR of 146bpm

Sunday : 76 miles in 5hrs 24m at 14.1mph average. 6,339ft of climbing, 4,167kcals and average HR of 139bpm




Climbing The Rake from @100Climbs – Some Thoughts on Climbing

I decided that my route this morning would take in The Rake, which I’ve written about before.  It’s in the 100 Greatest Climbs book and coupled with the rest of my ride up Grane Road is part of a shortish hilly loop I like to do from time to time.

1864ft ascent

The Rake is in Ramsbottom.  As you cross the main A676 onto Carr Street the road starts to rise.  You have maybe a hundred yards grace and then you are into a 19% gradient.  That’s relatively short and as the road dog-legs left at the Rose and Crown pub onto Tanners Street the gradient settles down to the mere teens giving you a bit of a breather!  It then flattens further still as Tanners Street gently arcs to the right.  These are narrow residential roads and are not in the greatest state of repair but so far I’ve been lucky and not met any cars on them.  At this point you’re probably thinking “is that it?” but then round the


apex of the arc you spot the sign.  The sign that says 25% on it!  And you realise you’re not done yet.  Turning slightly right you find yourself on Rawson’s Rake.  It’s steepness is a bit like one of those roads Wily Coyote paints on a cliff to trap the Roadrunner.  As well as that there are two things you notice.  One is how bad the surface is, which makes it even harder as you need to be aware of your line rather than just head down and grind.  The second is the fact there is a handrail for pedestrians!  The rake runs out into Chapel Lane and gradient drops down below 20% again.

As opposed to my heart-rate which carried on at quite high rate for some time!  The climb is over when you reach the junction with Helmshore Road, at which point a passing cyclist simply nodded at me and said “Well done!”


Mark’s cycling blog contained some great technical and scientific tips for hill climbing in this post here.  Here are some non-scientific tips that have helped me actually enjoy hills

  1. Practice, practice, practice!  The only way to get better at hills is to ride them.  I hear lots of people say that they aren’t good at hills and they avoid them.  Find yourself a hilly circuit and do it regularly.  You will get better, and it will benefit all your riding.
  2. It’s all in the mind.  Half the battle with hills is in your head if you ask me.  Mow Cop, for example, defeats lots of riders before they’ve even tried it.  They watch the video, listen to the stories and mentally they are beaten before they start.  Be mentally strong and think positive.  Your body will keep going for quite a while after your head is telling you to jack it.
  3. Go at your own pace.  Don’t be suckered into racing people if you don’t want to.
  4. Smoothly does it.  Gear changes, cadence, changing riding position – do them smoothly and as efficiently as possible.  Your aim is to lose as little energy as possible.
  5. Use the terrain.  If there’s a down before an up then use the momentum – don’t bleed energy yourself by changing gear too early, but do it smoothly as your momentum starts to stall.
  6. Cadence – try to keep a good cadence or you will hurt your knees.

Ride stats : 32 miles in 2hrs 4m @ 15.4mph average.  Total climb 1864ft, energy 1574kcals and average HR 136bpm.




No 72 – The Rake

Climb number 72 in Simon Warren’s excellent book, 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs, is The Rake in Ramsbottom.  It’s given an 8/10 rating in the book.  I plotted a ride that diverted from my usual Grane Road loop to take in this hill and chalk up my seventh climb from the book.

The weather was overcast when I set off, and chilly too considering it’s bloody August!  By the time I returned the heavens had opened and I was drenched!  The ride to the Rake was uneventful apart from the fact that my Garmin was playing up – claiming it had no saved routes even though I could see them when it was hooked up to the Mac.  More on some Garmin hints and tips in a later post.  I started up the climb and the road quickly becomes around 15% gradient for a while and then swings 90 degrees left and flattens out.  At this point I was thinking “is that it?”  Then the road turned right into a section that looked like the ramp from Mow Cop!  This section is marked as 25% on the sign at the start, and even has a handrail on the wall for pedestrians!  Although my heart-rate was maximum at this point I felt relatively comfortable, especially when the road flattened to a “mere” 20% gradient.  It was still very tricky – the road surface is very poor so you have to concentrate on line rather than just slogging upwards!  The hill is only about three-quarters of a mile and was over fairly quickly.  I’m not sure I’d rate it an 8/10.

The rest of the ride took me (very, very soggily) back onto my normal Grane Road loop.  I tried to really attack the remaining hills to get some training in, hitting max heart-rate a few more times.  Interestingly, GPSIES reports this ride as having a ClimbByBike index of 55.43 which is seemingly quite benign (by way of contrast – the Tan Hill Challenge had a ClimbByBike index of 210.04).  This is a method for rating climbs – click the links for more information.

Total Ascent - 1873ft

Overall, a very good ride, if a little damp.  Enjoyed the Rake – not sure what hill to tackle next!

Ride stats : 32 miles, 1hr 59m, average speed 16.1mph, 1873ft ascent, 1598kcals