Tough on the streets

In the heart of Lon­don lurks a short, steep hill, where the cap­i­tal’s masochists come to do bat­tle against grav­ity. gets to grips with the an­nual Ur­ban Hill Climb

Cyclist - - Urban Hill Climb - Words and pho­tog­ra­phy PETE MUIR

wo min­utes is a very short amount of time. It’s less time than it takes to boil a ket­tle for a cup of tea, or to watch a com­mer­cial break on TV, but if you choose in­stead to spend those two min­utes rac­ing up a 900m in­cline in north Lon­don, it can feel like an eter­nity.

In Oc­to­ber the an­nual Ur­ban Hill Climb re­turned to the re­fined streets of High­gate, where once a year the res­i­dents of Swain’s Lane can peer from their multi-mil­lion-pound homes to see strange men and women in Ly­cra turn red, then green, as they at­tempt to time­trial up a slope that maxes out at 20%. It’s a lung-heav­ing, cramp-in­duc­ing fes­ti­val of pain, which rather begs the ques­tion: what’s the ap­peal?

‘Hill climbs are a quirky, tra­di­tional Bri­tish event,’ says Cas­par Hughes, one of the founders of event or­gan­iser Rol­la­paluza. ‘It’s ba­si­cally: how can you hurt your­self the most, in the short­est time over the short­est dis­tance? It’s a bit like those events where they chase that cheese rolling down a hill, or the Ot­tery St Mary bon­fire night, where they run through the town with lit tar bar­rels on their backs. Who else does crazy stuff like that? It’s UK masochism.’

Si­mon War­ren, au­thor of 100 Great­est Cy­cling Climbs and an afi­cionado of the hill climb scene, adds, ‘I like the niche el­e­ment to it: strip­ping the bike down to a bare min­i­mum. I like pre­par­ing for some­thing so short and so bru­tal. There is no real plea­sure to be gained from ac­tu­ally rid­ing it. You sit at the start line and think, “Why am I do­ing this? It’s go­ing to be hor­ri­ble.” Of course, the en­dor­phins that are re­leased at the end are more po­tent than those from a nor­mal bike ride, so there’s some­thing ad­dic­tive about it. It’s a chal­lenge.’

War­ren in­cluded Swain’s Lane in his book of the na­tion’s best climbs, which seems a lit­tle odd when there are so many im­pos­ing climbs out in the Bri­tish coun­try­side, while this one is less than a kilo­me­tre long and stuck in the mid­dle of Lon­don. His re­sponse is un­equiv­o­cal: ‘It had to make the list. It’s a great climb

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