Last time I tackled this hill was in the company of my friend Jeremy. On that occasion he had no difficulty in leaving me behind as he stomped his way up Bison Hill, occasionally looking back to make sure I hadn’t past out and then continuing to the top. I well remember getting to the steepest part in a lowish gear (36/26) and being tempted to drop down to the granny ring. No flippin’ way!
Despite my lungs feeling as if they were going to explode and my legs burning like anything, I was determined to press on and reach the top. Sure enough I did and I managed to compose myself and stop panting for breath as I was greeted by a grinning Jeremy, politely checking I was alright. He was waiting by the car park entrance to Whipsnade Zoo and was ready to zoom on just as soon as I got there.
“Yes I’m fine, thanks”. Gasp.
“Great, fancy going back down for another go?”
I can’t quite remember my response, strangely enough.
So yesterday, I decided to tackle the hill again and see how I might have improved my fitness and hill climbing ability. Firstly, as a reminder, here’s a few bits of info about Bison Hill:
- Runs from the junction of the B4506 near Dagnall up to Whipsnade Zoo.
- 0.6 miles
- Average gradient is 8.2% but the steepest is just under 25% (1 in 4!)
- At the time of writing the Strava best time is 2.25 by Jonathon S.
- The quickest female cyclist is Melanie W with the [still] excellent time of 3.59
- Nor far from the Whipsnade Zoo is the Gateway Visitor Centre, run by the National Trust and well worth a visit, an excuse not to immediately go back down to repeat the torture
- Counts as a category 4 hill climb (the easiest!)
So for this ride yesterday I didn’t really go out with the intention of taking on the Bison, although I probably thought I might have a go. I had ridden about 10-12 miles before I got to Dagnall, the nearby village and this included swooping down a nice lane, by the Whipsnade Golf course. I can tell you this has proved interesting for its wildlife in the past – deer, frogs, squashed frogs and this time clouds of midges / gnats. Just as well I had my sunglasses on as I could feel them splattering against my face as I shot through.
I got to the bottom of the Bison and just started to plod my way up. From the T junction and heading towards the hill, there is a straight and gentle incline, ideal for getting into a good rhythm. I went past a gate and a footpath on the left leading to some steps that follow the road – I have run that way before and yep that was steep. Just as it was starting to get steep I could hear the roar of tyres and a group of mountain bikers came down the hill, each one grinning as they leaned down to be more aerodynamic. They were soon followed by a bunch of roadies and they were rapidly catching the other guys up.
By the time you reach the car park the steep part is over and I wanted some photographs, so this was a great place to stop. Another cyclist on his own whizzed down (see above photo) and then I carried on, clicking into some higher gears.
While I was tacking the steepest bit of the hill I was doing about 5 – 6mph and still sitting down. Physically I was fine, not at all at my limit so I am feeling encouraged by that. All these recent miles are starting to pay off so my leg muscles weren’t burning at all. I have a pretty good cardiovascular capacity through running for the last few years, with interval training on the hills.
As for whether I stand any chance of catching up with Jeremy some other time? No, I wouldn’t stand a chance. I know he’s even fitter than before and he’s been doing plenty of hill climbing training. Maybe if I stripped my bike down a little that might help – seems a bit daft having lights, mudguards and a pannier rack fitted and trying to go fast!
So as for getting the timing sorted…. I know Jeremy has his timing for this hill. I guess the start line is the T junction but where is the finish line? I guess 0.6 miles is somewhere around the Zoo?
The rewards of this ride were tremendous, just like a good run. If ever there is a time when I got the “cyclist’s high” this was it. I can’t think of a better way of spending an hour or so before breakfast!