There’s a place in North Wales, UK, called the Horseshoe Pass, and for obvious reasons, its name describes the landscape as it is a huge rock amphitheatre. On one side there is an impressive limestone escarpment and on the other side, old slate quarries. There are two roads that navigate the pass from the valley below. One of these is the ‘old road’, which is the original single track road. I’ve only ever got up this road on a mountain bike and by riding its lowest ‘granny gear’, although I’ve seen some riders do it on road bikes with much higher gears. Much respect! The new road is a fabulous winding, climbing ribbon of tarmac from bottom to top. Cyclists, motorcyclists and car drivers all use this road to enjoy some ‘real road’ riding & driving. There’s also a cafe on the top, as you might imagine.
The ‘new road’ hosts an annual cycling hill climb, which is on the UK National hill climb calendar, so it attracts riders from all over the country. The event is also one of the last of the year, in October, so its good luck with the weather! The course the riders will use is 2 miles and 585 yards in distance and the height gain is 800 feet. The record to date is 9 minutes 3 seconds.
To train for the event, some riders use both the old and the new roads. The old one is used to build absolute climbing strength and the new one is used to develop speed. The old road is equally, if not more popular with ‘couples’, who park up at the side of the quiet road for some ‘fun’. Sometimes, its hard to judge if the cyclists, riding out of the saddle, are bobbing up and down more than the couples in the cars. Of course, different levels of satisfaction are achieved by cyclists and car inhabitants when emerging at the top of the hill.
Hill climbing is a serious thing – fact! This is reflected in the bikes used to conquer the hill. There are special, shorter frames available to buy and some riders will used a single, fixed gear and some will use a range of gears. Carbon Disc wheels, dependant on the wind direction are also used as an aerodynamic advantage. Brakes are not that important in a hill climb, unless of course, you’re going to park at the top and cycle down to the start line. Anyone trying to ride a fixed wheel bike down to the start line is likely to have their legs unscrewed, and is unlikely to find themselves high up on the leader board at the end of the race.
On race day, the big car park at the top of the hill provides some good social observation of a big cross section of society and their interests. Firstly, the cyclists make up several groups: the racers with nice vans, which are great for sheltering in from the weather if its bad. The cyclists who ride up there to watch. The down-hill mountain bikers who have been playing in the slate quarries nearby, and finally, the cycle shop owners, who’ve brought some stuff up to sell out of the back of their cars/vans. Then there are the motorcyclists. The sports motorbike riders, dressed in colouful leather suits and looking a bit like Power Rangers, are standing around, either smirking or frowning at the people wandering around in lycra suits, and who have probably ruined the motorcyclists ‘racing line’ on some of the corners as they’ve raced up the hill to the cafe with their armour clad knees and elbows sticking out like real racers. For these motorbikers, its also about the sound. A rubbish sounding bike on the Horseshoe Pass is errrr……..rubbish! The big adventure bikes are next and they’ll be lit up like ‘Xmas trees with their many ‘adventure LED lights’ blazing out. There is always at least one of the really big touring motorcycles up there and with a stereo or radio playing out from somewhere inside the mass of plastic and chrome.
The car driver is represented strongly as well. Mr & Mrs Black BMW, and the classic car enthusiasts, who’ve all probably got pissed-off with the sports bike motorcyclists for trying to overtake them always ‘in the wrong place’. There’s always a handful of stereotypically, bearded (potentially both sexes) off-roaders, in their big wheeled 4X4 trucks. The younger drivers will be parked up at the top in their Citroen Saxos and Vauxhall Corsas, all of which will have dark windows and and exhaust so big, that you can stick your foot up it. The family estate cars full of kids, dogs or both. Finally, the camper vans, probably a retired couple, and maybe Dutch, who are doing a full tour of the UK and who are feeling lucky that they’ve just driven into the event, although with all of the different people there, they’re not sure what the event actually is.
The big car park is also a place to find stuff. Its like people actually go there to lose stuff. The cafe will have gloves, scarves, hats etc that have been left, found, handed in. There is also the really good stuff like bike stands, tools, wallets, mobile phones etc, which are always left in the car park, although not of all of them find their way back the their original owners.
And then there’s the actual cycling race. Basically, just a load of cyclists trying to get up that hill as fast as they possibly can.
FYI – This week, I have been mostly listening to Pink Floyd’s, Dark side of the moon.
Photos by Andy Morgan