CYCLING CLIMB GUIDES SERIES
Author: Simon Warren
Publisher: Frances Lincoln
Hills, climbs, mountains: call them what you will, gradients influence so much of our cycling. Routes are defined by them, equipment choice is dictated by them, and races can be won or lost on them. It is something of a surprise therefore that no-one had compiled the definitive guide to road cyclists’ climbs in the UK until Simon Warren started the task in 2010.
In his first book (‘100 Greatest Cycling Climbs’) Warren encouraged us all to “get out there and ride them all” – and many have done so. You even get a checklist in the back to complete as you go.
In his second book (‘Another 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs’) apologises to those who have completed all the climbs in the first book and thought that the challenge was complete, because he had “gone and doubled your work load”.
It was no surprise that a second book was required, as with a limit of 100 Warren knew that difficult choices would have to be made for the first book and worthy climbs would be left out; in addition the initial focus had been on climbs that were famous as hill climb courses, whereas the second book had no such constraint.
REVIEWED BY RICHARD PEPLOE
The second book also invited suggestions from the public for “a real monster I’ve overlooked”, and there must have been an enthusiastic response because Warren is off again. However, the result is not ‘Yet Another 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs’, but instead a series of eight regional guides. First out of the blocks was South-East England, followed by Yorkshire, Wales, and Midlands – with the South-West to follow in early 2017.
The general principle is that all of the climbs in each region from the first two books are repeated, and then that number is at least doubled by new climbs to give you a total of 75 (except for the South-East, which only has 60). Owners of the existing books might be aggrieved that up to half of each regional guide is a repeat of what they already have, and some might question why the price is still the same despite the lower page count; however others will be pleased that the challenge of riding them all might be more achievable.
The format remains the same, with a reasonable map, key facts and figures, and the all-important elevation profile. This all leads to ‘marks out of 10’, where “the rating is an amalgamation of gradient, length, the likely hostility of the riding conditions, and the condition of the surface”.
Actually, Warren has decided that two climbs (so far) deserve the “Spinal Tap-esque rating of 11/10”: Bealach-Na-Bà (in Scotland), and Great Dun Fell (in England).
In the guide for Wales Warren introduces us to a climb that he says is just as “utterly awesome” as those two, even though it only merits a rating of 8/10. Stwlan Dam shows that it is not just about being the longest or the steepest that makes a climb worthwhile: the right mixture of location, features, and terrain can also make for a memorable ride that should be on your ‘to do’ list.
As Warren says, “any hill ridden hard will hurt you”, but he still set himself the challenge of describing the experience of riding each hill in the paragraph that accompanies its entry. Many and varied are the ways in which he can say essentially the same thing: “your legs scream”, “you’ll be ready to collapse”, “the hurt begins”, “grapple with gravity’s pull”, “fighting to stay upright” – and so on.
Each little vignette is packed with useful tips on how best to tackle the hill, what to expect on the way up, and a reminder that there is always a reward when you get to the top - whether it be a view, the descent, or the opportunity to go on to other climbs as part of a longer route.
You might rightly assume that Warren is rather good at going uphill himself, having ridden all of these climbs and more. However, he can still suffer like the rest of us: he gives the example of his first attempt on Brown Clee Hill, where he “had to stop and walk three times” – but what do you expect if you are using a gear of 39 x 26? He did return with a different bike and managed it in one go.
I doubt that Warren appreciated quite what he was letting himself into with his first book, but I am glad that he continues to bring some great climbs to our attention. My holiday destinations are often influenced by the climbs in his guides, and I look forward to that continuing for many more years.
What might happen when you read one of Simon Warren's guides .... Richard Burt and Mike Pridmore-Wood did .... and here's the result!
Published so far;
Cycling Climbs of .... South East England .... of Wales .... of Yorkshire ....
and "coming soon" (as of January 2017 .... of Scotland .... and of south West England ....
Read our review of Cycling Climbs of South East England for a flavour of the regional/national guides.