Taking the Bike for a Walk (uphill)

I came across an article on the Guardian bike blog the other day. It had the saucy and provocative title; “Is it OK to get off your bike and walk up a hill?“.

It’s not ok to get off your bike and lie down

It’s very much a bike boom piece of writing, as is most of the Guardian Cycling Blog; a lefty liberal and metropolitan take on what it means to be a cyclist. Nonetheless, it refers to a particular issue that bedevils us all: when is it OK to get off and walk? I have to be honest and confess that I have walked up a bit of a hill once before. In 2004 I was riding up the Wyche on a road bike which had jammed in the 53 plate. I wasn’t very fit and found it hard to cope with the incline whilst pushing a massive cadence. It was too much hill and not enough gear. I can’t think of any other episodes which have ended in such ignominy. I have been close to the edge, especially when riding fixed and misreading the contours or elevation of a route. On such occasions I have forced my way up and over the crest, usually at about 15rpm, because I can. I also think that most hills can be ridden up in pretty much any sensible gear; it’s a question of willpower and not physical capacity. The article in question challenges the mentality that it’s not ok to walk. I agree in one respect; if you’re wearing flip-flops or a suit and commuting to work (and don’t necessarily class yourself as a cyclist) then feel free to walk if it gets tough. It’s not worth the aggravation and there is no badge of honour.

The article goes on to quote Chris Balfour: “Some of the snobbery and sneering which exists towards riders using ‘granny gears’ or who occasionally walk is really quite divisive and disappointing. We should celebrate [cycling’s] ‘everyman’ appeal, not slide to the worst of golfing ‘etiquette’ where newer and less able players are excluded or mocked behind their back in the clubhouse bar for ‘having the wrong swing’ or ‘wearing the wrong gear’.” I do celebrate cycling’s everyman appeal, but I don’t think anyone I know has ever mocked anyone for having the wrong gear (unless that means no mudguards, in which case get to the back and stay there you slurry-spreading infidel) or the wrong bike, or sticking it in the granny and shaking it around a bit. Quite the opposite, the guy on the hybrid who smashes everyone to bits seems to be a staple of most club runs. It’s the materialistic guys in the ‘right’ kit, typically the full castelli europro lycra show, who have purloined an entry ticket to an inclusive club in the mistaken belief that it confers some sort of bragging rights. All sports or activities have a degree of snobbery, cycling included; it’s integral and important. As cycling broadens outwards, dragging in everyone and anyone, it’s fine to celebrate inclusivity, but also important to recognise that there is a justified exclusivity at the core, of those who train hard and ride hard, race and follow an unspoken creed, writ with obsessional traits and a commitment to cycling and the past. This isn’t snobbery, it’s the long traditions of the sport. You gain entry through learning from others, picking up the hand signals and not making stupid mistakes. Entry is not pilfered through the impulse purchase of a BMC Impec and full Rapha kit. And if you are riding an £11k bike with £500 of clothing, you should damn well ride it to the top of the hill.

16 thoughts on “Taking the Bike for a Walk (uphill)

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  1. I once killed myself to cycle up Wrynose pass (with full hill climb fitness). There was a roaring headwind and a wrong gear of 39*25. I somehow managed to cycle up at a speed of 3mph. But, spent the entire climb thinking why didn’t I fit a compact?

    It would have been easier to get off and walk (even in clipless pedals) but it became a surreal challenge or perhaps a matter of hill climbers pride.

    1. I’m still scarred by a boxing day encounter with Birdlip on a 68″ gear, with winter fitness. I didn’t think i’d make it. Somehow inbetween thinking I wouldn’t make it and getting to the top I managed to stay on the bike. Draycott is the other one that sometimes gets to me; but it becomes a pure challenge of survival.

      If the National Hill Climb Champion is reduced to walking up a hill then what hope can there possible be for the rest of us?

      Alea Jacta Est!

      Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate!

      1. I still recall the humiliation at having to dismount on a mere single-arrow slope among the flocks of sheep in mid-Wales. In my defence I was hauling two full panniers and (someone else’s) gold standard bike lock that weighed as much as the bike, but still. The rout was repeated on the next monstrous hill, but not in the six years since.

        S’io credesse che mia riposta…

  2. Love that last sentence. Spot on.
    I have a number of bikes and to be honest the one I love the most is the one that bike snobs would scoff at the most – an aluminum raleigh hybrid with 28/38/48 up front. I dare say that bike has taken me more miles than many a weekend cyclist with some expensive kit.

    I’ll never forget doing the Isle of Wight Randonnee the other year, a guy in full uber gear had all kinds of advice for me & my (now) husband about what kind of shoes we should be wearing etc… we’d hired a tandem for the day, having never ridden one before and Stephen hadn’t done more than 12 miles in one go at that stage. 70+ miles later after completing the ride and delivering the tandem back to the shop, we were beaming at how great the ride was… and then we discovered the kitted out gentleman hadn’t actually finished the ride at all.

      1. Full stormtrooper – I like it!
        Epic cols? Naaa not like they mek em in Calderdale.
        The gentleman in question was from Windsor, is there maybe one hill there? The one with that memorial on top and a 2cv that lives part way up it…

  3. club kit on, 36-27 minimum, non strava mentality of “i did that one” to any hill we meet and
    being the tail end charlie nearly always results in a fun club ride and some zig zagging, although
    zig zagging on frocester is not recommended !
    it does make me wonder why my Ti kinesis seems to get up hills quicker than some carbon
    whizz machines though 😉
    an well, last man up or not i still ride em all 🙂

  4. Moving to somewhere hilly (Devon) was a humbling experience, 39-29 wouldn’t cut it on the short, but bonkers hills. So I swallowed my pride and now have a super-granny of 24-36 to winch myself up anything. You know the hill is steep if you stop and the bike starts sliding backwards with the front wheel locked-up!

    1. I know of a few bike shops that have told me they keep having to convert gears on fashionable new road bikes for lads that just dont have gears low enough. There’s nothing wrong with grannies, it’s why they invented them after all eh! Hmm or was that just for off-roading…

      Really must get myself down to Devon, everyone tells me how much I’d love cycling there. And if a 29 wouldn’t cut it, I’m very curious indeed. My lowest if 28 – 28 which seems mostly ok on roads around here (not always on off roads though). You must have some real crazy inclines. Triple chevrons?

      1. Maps don’t really do justice to the hills, often they aren’t more than a single chevron, but you get a short section, say 15m or so that is bonkers steep. Plus the roads are always wet/gritty/slimey so you have to stay seated or the back wheel start spinning. Sometimes I get on the drops because the front wheel starts lifting up if you pull too hard on the hoods. No joke. I love these hills, who needs timed intervals when you get them for free!

  5. It’s guys like you who make clubs unwelcoming with your resentment of the growth in the sport. I guess it’s the equivalent of giving your website a pretentious name and referencing French post structuralist philosophers to ensure only the right types read it. Get over yourself and relax matey. Im a long standing club cyclist of 20 years and just don’t share your feelings about wanting to keep racing exclusive. You wrote well though, I’ll give you that.

    1. Thanks for your comment Jim. I’m struggling to understand it though, and can only conclude you’ve misunderstood this post. I have no desire to keep racing exclusive, far from it. Saying clubs are unwelcoming is lazy and inaccurate. And it’s perfectly OK and appropriate to question someone who has just spuffed a gazillion quid on an out-and-out professional race bike but struggles to ride it uphill. I am keen to see cycling grow, but not that keen on the wanton consumerism and shallow myth making that goes with it. Happy cycling.

      1. I’m sorry for my mildly trollish and schizoid comments. I must have been having a bad day. Reading it again, I had misconstrued your point. i do take your point that cycling is becomng an equipment sport rather than a physical one, and that the marketing that goes with it is meretricious. My comments about your site were totally out of order. It’s actually excellent so keep it up. Best of luck.

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