The Uphill Struggle – Lenny Fairhall 21/11/2017
The road from Llanachaer in Cwm Gwaun over to Dinas Cross rises 250 feet or so in the first half mile, and the initial couple of bends are killers. Actually the next couple of miles are a challenge too, but at least there’s next to no traffic and the views are lovely. As the final stage of a very pleasant autumn run out to Strumble Head this was a great chance to try out a bit of hill climbing technique. There had already been hills on the ride, but not quite like this.
A couple of years before Id been cycling in the same area with the same friends and one had remarked that, instead of hating the hill climbs, you should love them. You have to go up them to get the best views, and the downhills are exhilarating.
So, maybe the hills are really about your head, not your legs and lungs. Of course the head isn’t everything, otherwise you’d end up rolling backwards and falling off. But having a positive attitude certainly seems to help in getting up them, and even more importantly in converting some degree of dread into anticipation. It can help to know what the hill ahead is like, and how long it has taken you in the past. In this case, I knew it was evil at the bottom, but the gradient becomes easier further up.
At an even more basic level, you should be approaching hills knowing that your tyres are well pumped up, your gear shifters are working, your brakes will work on the way down the other side, and the cables are in good nick.
My bike is a fairly standard hybrid (Giant Escape) with straight handlebars. The lowest gear is a 32 rear sprocket with a 28front chain ring. I’ve fitted bar end extensions so that I can hold the handlebars like Im holding a steering wheel, rather than gripping a trapeze, because it seems to be more comfortable like this. You can get a similar position with drop handlebars, holding the brake hoods and of course there’s a million positions available with butterfly bars. I also have strapless toe-clips on the pedals, which means I can pull them up as well as push them down. I can’t be faffed with cleats, and being strapless, the clips let my feet come off the pedals when I need them to.
The road out of Llanychaer doesn’t give you a chance to get a run at the hill. You’re into bottom gear from the off. I always try to get into the right gear a couple of bike lengths maybe before a hill really starts, or the gradient increases. Of course you can get off the bike and walk but then I wouldn’t have written this if I’d decided that was always the way to go. On this particular hill, walking up is almost or as quick anyway.
So I started the climb holding the bar extensions, leaning a bit forward and staying seated. I find leveraging my legs by pulling on the bars with my arms and upper body helps. I never get off the saddle and pedal standing up. (The last time I tried this on a steep hill, the chain snapped and off I fell. Thanks for your concern, but I was unhurt.)
This is hard work, but 10 or 15 minutes of aerobic exercise is not excessive. You are allowed to stop and rest when the road gets a bit less steep and you know youll be able to get started again.
Having both a mental and physical strategy seems to work. Personally I also like an extra-strong mint.
A couple of us stopped to give the lost and slow a chance to catch up. While we waited we agreed another tip for the hills, namely to take it easy early in the ride and on long hills to give your body a chance to warm up, and you leave something in the tank for later on. It’s not a race…er…unless it is, but if you’re into racing, then I’m not writing this for you.
Riding a bike in any area like this part of Pembrokeshire is wonderful, and anticipating rather than dreading the hills makes it even more so. Love the hills!