The UK hill climb season is defined by bikes and tech pushed to the limit of lightness.
The 2023 UK National Championships had no shortage of boutique lightweight tech, weight-saving hacks and sanded carbon on show.
Let’s take a look at our favourite tech from the day.
Ben Mackinson’s £1,500 Trek Emonda SLR
Ben Mackinson’s Trek Emonda SLR weighs just 5.2kg but cost him £1,500, with every part except the cables purchased second-hand.
The heart of the bike is the frame, which Mackinson bought on eBay for £200. He spent 30 hours sanding it back to a raw finish as a lockdown project, saving 175g.
The lightweight Hunt tubular wheelset is the most expensive part of the bike, purchased just a week before the nationals for £500.
Most modern road bike handlebars – including lightweight models – use a 31.8mm clamp.
It is, however, possible to build a lightweight, albeit less stiff, setup with old-school 26mm-diameter finishing kit.
Here, Mackinson has paired a 2005 Extralight Roadstem UL3 26mm stem with chopped Deda Piega bars for a lightweight budget setup.
Planet X’s CNC Ultralight brakes have a dedicated following in the hill climb world, weighing around 100g apiece.
They can often be purchased second-hand for less than £50 a pair. For comparison, a pair of Cane Creek eeBrakes weighs around 160g a pair (depending on spec) but will set you back £660.
Introducing The Struggle…
Co-hosted by Lakes Road Club and Barrow Central Wheelers, this year’s UK National Hill Climb Championships took place on The Struggle.
At 4.3km long, The Struggle is an outlier in the UK hill climb scene – climbing 444m from Ambleside to the head of Kirkstone Pass at an average gradient of 8 per cent with a mid-course descent also adding to the challenge, few events are as long or technical.
Dannielle Watkinson’s modified Specialized Tarmac SL3
Dannielle Watkinson’s 5.4kg Tarmac SL3 was purchased as a birthday present by her partner.
The bike was stripped and repainted and, at the same time, modified to internally route the rear brake cable.
This, with the updated graphics, lends the bike a surprisingly contemporary look – don’t forget the Tarmac SL3 was released way back in 2010.
The Ciamillo Zero G Ti brakes are of a similar vintage and weigh around 190g for a pair.
The exotic lightweight theme continues with 23mm-wide Veloflex Record tyres mounted to AX Lightness wheels. These are fitted with latex inner tubes.
Watkinson opted for a 42cm-wide Bontrager XXX one-piece cockpit. She said the wider bars provided additional leverage on the steepest sections of The Struggle.
Humble brakes for Chris Mann’s Cervélo R3
Chris Mann’s humble Dia-Compe Gran Compe 9000 Ti calipers stood out among a sea of boutique brakes.
Weighing just 125g per brake, these are commonly available for low prices second-hand. Better still, Mann’s were pinched from a box of spare parts at his work.
While lighter options exist, the brakes certainly didn’t slow down Mann, who took 10th in the men’s event.
Mann added they wouldn’t have slowed him down anyway, noting they are “quite ineffective” as brakes.
Sam Marshall’s rim brake Pinarello Dogma F
Unlike some rim brake fanatics, Sam Marshall’s decision to #savetherimbrake was not made in pursuit of an aesthetic ideal or dislike of disc brakes.
Instead, his choice was made on purely pragmatic grounds because he already owned a top-tier rim brake groupset. It’s a refreshingly non-partisan approach to the most divisive issue in road cycling tech.
Other than a swap to a 1x setup and lighter wheels, the 6.68kg bike is pictured as Marshall would ride it day-to-day.
Jason Holder’s incredible Trek Emonda SLR RSL
Jason Holder’s 5.3kg Trek Emonda SLR RSL is… well, a lot’s going on here.
From a glued-on saddle (which fell off at the finish line) to plastic limit screws, this bike was among the most heavily modified on the hill.
In fact, there’s so much going on that we’ve already published a full standalone gallery on this bike – it is not one to miss.
Chris Hall’s super-light Cervélo R5 disc
Chris Hall rode his 5.59kg Cervélo S5 with a hill-climb specific bike fit for the 2023 Nationals.
By tilting the nose of his saddle downwards and rotating the hoods backwards, he is placed in a more natural riding position on steep pitches.
Hall swapped his usual Dura-Ace crankset in favour of a Shimano XTR mountain bike crankset for his hill climb season.
Hall says this is lighter than a Dura-Ace crankset and provides better small-chainring compatibility.
Reserve carbon rims are laced to Extralite hubs using Berd polymer spokes. These are fitted with a pair of Schwalbe Pro One TT tyres and Tubolito TPU inner tubes.
Hall has replaced his stock alloy thru-axles with Overfast carbon thru-axles – yes, carbon.
These are claimed to be the world’s lightest, saving around 98g versus stock axles, according to Overfast.
A mix of Darimo and Schmolke finishing kit rounds out the build.