The 2021 UK Hill Climb National Championships returned to Winnats Pass in the Peak District for the first time since 1977 on Sunday, where 300 riders faced biblical weather conditions on one of the toughest courses on the circuit.
With an average gradient of 16 per cent over the 900-metre course, maxing out at 23 per cent for a sustained section at the top of the climb, uncompromisingly lightweight bikes were the order of the day, with just about every weight-saving trick under the sun employed across the field.
Hill climbs in the UK are run by Cycling Time Trials, so they aren’t subject to UCI rules. This means sub-6.8kg bikes and exotic ultralight components are the norm – you really can run whatever you want so long as it’s not a trike or recumbent.
We were at this year’s event and have picked out six of the most exciting builds – from a bespoke hill climb-specific steel bike to the fairly conventional Rose that won the men’s event, there’s something in here for every flavour of bike nerd out there.
Rebecca Richardson’s 4.7kg Specialized Aethos
Rebecca Richardson’s 4.7kg Specialized Aethos stole the show, with a smattering of lightweight components making it one of the lightest disc brake road bike builds out there.
Check out our full standalone gallery for full details of this amazing bike.
Rick Bailey’s custom 5.6kg Gritspoke steel hill climb bike
Rick Bailey (Team Lifting Gear Products / Cycles In Motion) – owner of Gritspoke, a small frame builder based in Sheffield – rode to a time of 4:12:8 onboard this custom steel bike.
The unconventional geometry is said to be similar to a time trial bike, with a steep seat tube angle, short head tube and short rear centre.
Speaking to BikeRadar, Bailey explained the short back-end helps to “keep the weight of the rider more over the rear wheel, helping to maintain grip when climbing out of the saddle”, which can reduce the chance of wheel spin on the typically wet and greasy roads of the UK hill climb season.
The short front-end is also designed to maintain an aggressive position on steep roads, where a conventionally-sized head tube can feel “lofty”, according to Bailey, and you can end up wrestling with the front of the bike to keep it down.
Bailey was further keen to stress that, as the bike is photographed on the flat, it looks a bit strange but “put it on a steep gradient and it makes sense” – a hill climb-specific bike if there ever was one.
The frame is constructed from fillet-brazed tubing (the exact tubeset wasn’t specified) and is paired with a custom, carbon integrated seat mast.
This is a signature design of Gritspoke and is seen across all of its drop-bar bikes. The seat mast topper is a custom design produced in-house by Gritspoke.
The bike is based around a Shimano Dura-Ace R9000 groupset run in a 1× setup with a 38t chainring up-front.
The cassette has been stripped down to just four cogs to reduce weight and improve the chainline of the bike.
The bike is fitted with a set of tubular Zed Wheels, built with Berd String Spokes.
According to the brand, these spokes are made from ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene and are said to be both lighter and stronger than conventional steel spokes. These are fitted with a pair of Pirelli P Zero Race SL tubular tyres.
Tom Bell’s Rose X-Lite
Tom Bell (High North Performance) triumphed on the day, putting seven seconds into the time set by 2020 and 2021 national champion, Andrew Feather, to win the men’s race.
Bell rode the same Rose X-Lite that took him to second place last year, with a few select mods for this year’s course and conditions.
Last year, Bell used a pair of Shimano XTR SPD mountain bike pedals as he found he could clip into them faster than a typical single-sided road pedal from a standing start.
With relaxed Covid restrictions allowing for the luxury of a marshall to hold riders at the start line, Bell switched back to a pair of super lightweight Time Xpresso 15 pedals.
The stock Ultegra brakes have also been swapped for a set of lighter Fouriers BR-DX001 brakes.
Bell ran an unidentified tubular front wheel fitted with a Vittoria Corsa Speed tyre.
Out back, he made a last-minute switch to a Giant SLR 1 30mm-deep wheel fitted with a Pirelli P Zero 4S tyre. This tyre is designed specifically for riding in wet conditions and, given the wild weather seen on the day, seems like a canny move.
Finally, a MT Zoom seatpost and stem are paired with an MCFK saddle and uncut Prime bars.
While very light at 5.7kg, Bell’s bike doesn’t stand out as particularly extraordinary or flashy. As much as we love poring over lightweight tech, if you want to be a hill climb superstar, it ultimately boils down to performance, pacing and training.
Bithja Jones’s Tifosi Mons
Bithja Jones (Pankhurst Cycles) retained her national title in the women’s event, setting a time of 4:00:4 on the same Tifosi Mons she rode last season.
Her bike is built with a Campagnolo Record 10-speed groupset, with titanium bolts fitted wherever possible to shave off every possible gram of weight.
The left-hand shifter has also been gutted of its internals to save a little bit of weight.
Jones made a switch from her Fulcrum Speed 55 wheels in favour of a pair of Fulcrum Racing Zero C17 alloy clinchers. These were fitted with a pair of Continental GP5000 tyres.
Peter Greenhalgh’s 1966 National Championships-winning fixed gear FH Grubb
Peter Greenhalgh rode this fixed gear FH Grubb to take the win and course record on Winnats Pass at the 1966 UK Hill Climb National Championships.
Peter’s son, Mark (pictured), has since rebuilt the bike to better suit day-to-day riding, but the frame, hubs and bars are the same as those ridden by his father 55 years ago.
FH Grubb was originally based in London but the brand name was bought by Holdsworth in 1949.
Holdsworth continued to produce frames bearing the moniker in the company’s Nottingham-based workshop until 1978.
Mudguards may look wildly out of place on a hill climb bike – however, Mark was keen to point out that, on the day his father took the record, he rode the bike to Winnats from his home in Nottingham (roughly 65 miles), took his mudguards off, won the race and then rode home.
To put that effort into context, Greenhalgh’s record time of 3:11:2 had stood until Sunday, where only Tom Bell and Andrew Feather bested it. Heroic stuff.
Andy Nichols’ custom 2017 Orbea Orca OMR
Andy Nichols (Team Lifting Gear Products / Cycles In Motion) took third in the men’s event with a time of 3:11:6 on his custom 2017 Orbea Orca OMR.
His bike is built around a Shimano Ultegra R8050 Di2 groupset run in a 1× setup with a 36t chainring up front.
His rear derailleur has been modified with what we’re fairly certain is a budget-friendly oversized pulley wheel system from AliExpress. Like many riders, Nichols also trimmed his cassette down to just seven cogs.
Nichols ran the same wheelset as his teammate, Bailey, but opted for a pair of Vittoria Crono CS tyres.
The bike is fitted with a pair of Ciamillo Lekki8 carbon brakes. These weigh a frankly ridiculous 134g a piece without pads.
Of all the tasty bits on this bike, Nichols is said to have been most pleased with his rear light solution, running a 2g light designed to go inside a party balloon, taped to the underneath of his saddle.
Jess Evans’s Cannondale SuperSix Evo
Jess Evans (ASSOS Speed Club UK) posted a time of 4:42:5 onboard her Cannondale SuperSix Evo.
This is the same bike she has ridden for several seasons now and is built around a SRAM Red 11-speed mechanical groupset – a long-time favourite thanks to its light weight – and a pair of Hunt Hill Climb SL Tubular wheels.
Another juicy spec highlight includes the Gelu K3 saddle. This is claimed to be the world’s lightest saddle at just 39g.
(Please forgive the rather ‘foggy’ photos of Evans’ bike – the camera used by our photographer, Matt Grayson, finally succumbed to the terrible weather conditions after a hard day’s work. Let’s hope both he and his camera dry out soon.)