6th Rule of Saturday Cycling – find a good hill climb

I was in Weston-Super-Mare for the weekend and had the opportunity to have a brief ride on Saturday morning.  Without any hesitation, I decided to have a go at Monk’s Hill, Kewstoke.  Sorry, no photographs as such but here’s a screenshot from Strava:

Screen Shot 2013-11-17 at 22.10.58

Monks Hill is in the top right corner of the route on the above map.  The Monks Hill is notorious in Weston-Super-Mare as the steepest hill around.  It is short at 0.2 mile but at about 1:4 it is really steep.  At the very start it could be 1:3 for a few yards.  It rises through a wooded area, reasonably straight and wide enough for most of the climb.  Being on a wooded hillside it is nicely sheltered from the wind but I suspect it might often be rather damp.  Near the top there is a sharp turn to the right and then another to the left where the gradient levels off.  Don’t make the mistake I made and ease off at that point – you need to continue until the first junction.

In general terms of cycling up Monks Hill, there isn’t much around on the web about this.  So although its a short sharp ride, it doesn’t appear to register on the cycling scene in that part of the world.  Now that’s strange because I think it’s a great hill to tackle having run up several times before.

Growing up nearby in the 1960s I remember hearing stories of cars not making up this hill and having to reverse back down.  Cars struggling up the hill have been known to jump out of gear or find out any worn clutches.  Modern cars hold be able to handle this incline much better.

My attempt

I did the climb in 2 minutes 45 seconds which places me roughly in the middle of the 80 other Strava-using cyclists that have tackled this climb.  I think I can shave a few seconds off by having a good push towards the finishing line (now I know where it is!).  A part of me thinks I ought to be content with this time: perhaps it’s not too bad for a bloke in his 50s and on a touring bike.  It represents good training and perhaps that is enough.  And yet have a bit of a “type A” personality, I cannot be satisfied so easily.

In terms of improving my time on the climb itself, I’m not sure.  Perhaps if I started off a little quicker, that could help.  I know I could take the turning from Kewstoke Road faster, instead of fiddling around to get into the right gear first of all.

Talking of gears, I had been considering using the middle chainring (36T) but combined with my 26T large sprocket I figured it might be a little high.  So I decided to use the Granny gear which is 26T and gives a 1:1 drive.  This is handy for such climbs.  I stayed in the same gear all the way up, huffing and puffing and feeling grateful I had chosen that gear in the first place.

I didn’t stand up on the pedals at all.  Instead I tried to make the most of the handlebars by pulling on them and I could feel many more muscles working (great feeling).  The slight disadvantage was that I could sense the front wheel was lifting off the road!  Easy enough to shift some of my weight further onto the front wheel and then there’s less “pulling” power.  Hmmmm I need to practice at this.

Probably my heart and lungs were working to their maximum capacity.  I can tell you now, there’s no flipping’ way I could have held a conversation has I gasped my way up.  If you were lucky you may have had a grunt but definitely not any kind of meaningful conversation.  Nevertheless this kind of climb is brilliant training – just like the interval training I have done as a runner and truly benefitted.  It’s fine for short bursts, providing you’re in good shape and fit.

Why make it a rule?

Four reasons:

  1. It is brilliant cardiovascular training
  2. It is relevant training for the Coast to Coast challenge next year
  3. My cycling ‘windows’ are limited quite often, perhaps an hour here or there.  By including a hill I get more of a work out; a bit more huff and puff and I feel the benefit far more than riding on the flat
  4. You get to whiz down the other side – fun!

Following on from that second point, it is hills like Hardknott Pass that are getting me worried for next year’s event.  While I can contemplate 150 miles, the prospect of doing that distance and with involving some of the country’s toughest climbs adds up to some serious self-doubt.  And yet, I’m a born optimist – I’m giving it a go and don’t want to regret not having attempted it, at the very least.

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6 Responses to 6th Rule of Saturday Cycling – find a good hill climb

  1. MJ Ray says:

    I used to live near the foot of that climb, opposite the New Inn: don’t try riding up Monks Hill after a beery visit there). I think you started half way up 😉 so if you’d like a bit more of a challenge, start at sea level by the Commodore Hotel and ride up Sandy Lane first.

    I used to think more local training rides went in the other direction, up Milton Hill – maybe after doing Spring Hill Worle, to reduce the risk of stopping part-way up – and then down Monks Hill – I guess to practise braking on descents.

    Me? Most of the time I rode around the hill instead of over it. I never quite rode all the way up on my back-heavy tourer because of the front wheel lifting at the top hairpin. I have run with it up the steps too, though!

    • doug says:

      Hi MJ, interesting comment, thanks, especially going up the steps! You’re right you could start lower down, at sea level. I cycled from WSM along the Toll Road, and then up from the bottom of Monk’s Hill itself which is where Strava picked me up.

      Must be the steepest hill for miles?

  2. iklektik disleksēk says:

    I’m almost sure the first and second corners are 30% upwards and that Monks Hill is steeper than 25%. Yeah, it’s short, but boy it’s a hard climb if you start from the Commodore Hotel at sea level.

    The hardest climb around is Draycott Steep (aka Draycott Hill). You’ll find it on the left hand side has you come into Draycott from Cheddar Gorge. It’s down a road or should I say up a road called “New Road”. At the very top of the climb there is a hang gliding club.

    • doug says:

      Hey thanks, I might just try out Draycott when I’m near there with my bike. I appreciate the suggestion. Glad I’m not the only one who thinks Monks Hill is on the steep side!
      Regards, Doug.

  3. Good luck Doug. Hardknott pass is no joke – 9 minutes of 20-33% !

  4. Pingback: A long training ride | The Cycle Hub

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