While riding up a hill as fast as you can in pursuit of a Strava KOM is now a global practice, in the UK hill climbing has a particular, and some might even say peculiar, significance.
Hill Climb Season is a distinctly British phenomenon; one that sees participants compete against the clock on hellish climbs with gradients steep enough to make heads and wheels spin.
Both the terrain and the full-gas efforts required to navigate them in as short a time as possible means that every gram counts. Hill Climb bikes are usually as lean as their riders, devoid of anything that might be deemed an unnecessary luxury. Bar tape is removed, parts are cut down and modified and tyres widths not seen since the 80s become the norm.
The result are bikes that are often far more interesting than their professional peloton equivalent. At this year’s National Hill Climb Championships it was certainly the case. On Old Shoehorse Pass in Wales there were many a ‘Frankenbike’ on show just a few days ahead of Halloween.
Here's a closer look at our favourite bike from the weekend plus some details on the winning machines in both the men's and women's events…
Rebecca Richardson's Specialized S-Works Aethos
Rebecca Richardson's featherweight machine is built around a Specialized S-Works Aethos frameset. One of the lightest production frames currently available, the carbon Aethos tips the scales at under 600 grams, making it an ideal centerpiece for any hill climb bike. Richardson's hand-painted graphics add to the bike’s unique set-up and are inspired by her home country of Wales.
The tubular wheelset is courtesy of German brand AX-Lightness. Richardson has saved yet more grams by using Berd Polymer String spokes. The wheels are shod with a Vittoria Corsa Speed tyre up front, presumably for a little extra grip on the steep and slippery gradients of Old Shoehorse Pass. Note the lighter Ashima rotor used in place of the stock SRAM offering.
Who needs brake hoods when you’re only riding for a few minutes? Illustrating that hill climb specialists will leave no stone unturned in the pursuit of a lighter bike, Richardson has done away with the rubber hoods on her SRAM Red shifters, replacing them with a bit of cotton bar tape. Darimo, a small Spanish brand, supplies both the the bars and stem. Naturally there’s no bar tape here!
Richardson favours a 1x drivechain and uses SRAM’s Red eTap groupset with a XX1 Eagle mountain bike crankset as yet another adaptation. The 28t chainring is recognition of the harsh reality of cycling up Old Shoehorse Pass with the clock ticking. Clearly it worked, with Richardson finishing seventh in this year’s women’s race.
Darimo’s saddle and T1 Loop seatpost save weight over more traditional offerings. The seatpost replaces a regular clamping system with cables, while the sparse-looking saddle looks suitably lightweight. It all adds up to a bike that tips the scales at just 5kg.
Andrew Feather's Cannondale SuperSix Evo
Andrew Feather won the men’s race in a time of 5-29, some two seconds faster than the runner up Tom Bell and over 30 seconds quicker than 10th place.
The hill climb supremo chalked up the win on his trusty 2019 Cannondale SuperSix EVO. But like the name suggests it’s a bike that continues to evolve, with Feather trimming and tweaking it as required. Judging by his Instagram account, the drivechain has recently been adapted from an 11-speed to a 9-speed.
Illi Gardner’s Factor O2
Wahoo Endurance Zone p/b Le Col’s Illi Gardner proved unstoppable at the championships, winning in a time of 6-46, the only competitor to break the seven-minute mark in the women’s event. She did so riding a Factor O2 that, by hill climb standards, has remained pretty untouched.
The rim-brake equipped O2 is pretty svelte as stock, but Gardner has shaved additional grams off the bike’s weight with a switch to a pair of AX-Lightness rims. The result is a bike that weighs just a tad over 6kg.
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