Bicycling uphill: why?


When I was a student, I had a bike. But I rarely pedalled it.

All the way to the campus was downhill, One long wind-whistling-past-the ears harum-scarum helter-skelter journey aided by my partner in crime, gravity. The route looped steeply uphill right at the end, but the momentum just kept that bike right on going until I reached the student’s union.

Going home, I was not about to cycle. Uphill all the way? Not likely. I walked stolidly, pushing the go-faster wheels upwards to reach my house and make a much-needed cup of tea.

My birthday bike – an upright Mary Poppins velocipede of a vehicle – has elicited a renaissance in my relationship with two wheels. But the developments in biking technology mean that light aluminium frames and sophisticated gears make hills slightly easier than they were 28 years ago.I like my bike.  I have grown accustomed to its pace.

But I regret to report that Uphill still remains an issue.

This is in direct opposition to findings by researchers from Montreal’s McGill University. Researcher Devon Paige Willis asked 5,600 of its students about the way they got to college. 268 of them were cyclists; those who rode out of eco-conviction got the most satisfaction because of the ‘halo effect’ – they felt virtuous. They were satisfied because they were living their values.

But as they talked on it became apparent that they really valued Uphill.

“It’s not intuitive and it’s something we have not entirely explained,” Willis told DCStreetsBlog. “My personal hypothesis is that because cyclists are cycling a lot of the time for exercise and health, the slope is not an inhibitor to them.”

My personal hypothesis is that that hypothesis is a load of donkey dung.

Because I have a nice easy journey to work. Felix and I positively fly to his school, and then I glide serenely the ten or so minutes onwards to a bike rack situated right outside the main door of the Victorian mansion in which I work.

But the way back has one hill which is arduous.

Every day, I say, “This is the day, Felix. This is the day when I will make it all the way to the top of the hill on the bike.” And every day I dismount wheezily half way up the hill, watching my A-type son disappear over its brow. Darn, I curse, or severe words to that effect.

Today I collect Felix and a girl from school is cycling the same way. We pootle industriously to the foot of the hill and I brace myself. Today is the day, Shrewsday, I think. And I notice the girl is doing the same thing. But when I say, encouragingly, “This hill gets me every day!” and smile, she retorts: “I’m not getting off ’till the top,”

Driven. This girl is driven.

It might be the sight of Felix flying effortlessly up the steep gradient. It’s enough to ignite the competitor in even the youngest of us.

She pulls away, as I pedal with a measure of desperation. Zounds. To be trounced by not one, but two Primary schoolers. The ignominy.

The stigma of being trounced by mere children spurs me on. I experience a surge of energy. The bike shoots forward. Victoriously, triumphantly, I stand on its pedals and will it up the hill, past the bus stop. I will triumph over physics. I will.

I make it all the way to the middle.

My heart pounding, my blood rushing in my ears, my sight blurring imperceptibly, I make a swift decision.

Tomorrow. Tomorrow  is the day when I will make it all the way to the top of the hill.


21 thoughts on “Bicycling uphill: why?

  1. The last time I rode a pedalbike (as opposed to one with a little engine) was in Holland. There they generally don’t have UPHILL, but then nor do they have downhill. Nice and safe – if you don’t count the fact that it was all on the wrong side of the road for me.

  2. In my mind I live in a flat, dry, beautiful place with no cars, and I pedal about sedately with Jake in a wicker basket in front. I have flowing locks and a bagette in a panier.
    In real life I live on a city hill and it rains a lot. I don’t even have a bike. But I dream

  3. An allegory for life at times, isn’t it, Kate; a bike up a hill? I’m feeling it a bit lately. Yep. I’ll stick to my diet, tomorrow. I’ll get busy on that story I want to write, tomorrow. I’ll ride all the way up that hill . . . tomorrow.

    We’re in an area of forest preserves and hilly terrain carved out eons ago by glaciers, that are training areas for bicyclists. Enthusiasts and mountain bike teams in tandem, with their sleek suits and helmuts and gear in packs of five or ten, like wolves. I poddle around in my my famous mocha VW with its latte interior, thinking I’ll get my bike out, tomorrow.

    Great post.

  4. That uphill stuff has always gotten me. What is worse is that we live in a nearly flat area, so what I call a hill is more of a speed bump to anyone else. If I could muster which gear to be in, it might help.

  5. I sympathise, Kate. Just from reading about it I’m pretty sure I couldn’t make the hill on a bike, and maybe not even on foot without using my hands! You see, I have a fear of steep gradients! 😦

  6. I love biking uphill. I’m not a fan of going downhill, for some reason I have a tendency to fall…not so much fun. Also, even if you have to walk the bike – well, the bike is like a walking stick, much easier than not having a bike. 🙂 Tomorrow I will think of you successfully climbing/riding that hill to the top…and I hope you have a cupcake (or some type of sugary goodness) at the top as a reward. Go Kate Go!

  7. A valiant attempt, anyway. You WILL make it! Do you *ahem* have a Grannie Gear? Painfully slow, but steady.
    My route to High School was downhill. Going home was painful. I had the same route to my first job, but I soon fitted a small Mosquito engine. Joy! Gravity to work with engine disengaged. Power-assisted pedalling back home.

  8. The ride to the Junior College I went to was mostly uphill, with two steep sections. One was short enough I could huff my way to the top. The other, I often gave up on about midway.
    However, what I like about riding uphill first is the thrill of riding downhill later. It’s a free roller coaster, with breaks.

  9. I’m smiling in sympathy and an understanding rooted in a very distant past. Around here I am constantly amazed by the cyclists I see pedaling determinedly up mountain roads. Sometimes miles and miles of up. It tires me just to see them. But then I remember their reward — miles and miles of effortless down. What a kick that must be!

  10. I sympathise. I don’t cycle often, but when I do I try to avoid hills at all costs. I have friends who positively relish the challenge and seek out ever steeper ascents. My personal hypothesis is that these people are barking mad!

  11. Hooray for you! I’m a strong believer in successive approximations! I’ll bet Felix is your cheerleader and he can also be your trainer. In response to his encouragement, you’ll get there one extra pedal-push at a time! I must tell you that there is a HUGE effort to put more cyclists on the road here in Los Angeles, and talk about a crazy set of circumstances. With our traffic it’s an enormous problem, creating all sorts of unintended consequences. I took pictures the other day of some new bike lanes and will at some point get around to sharing them. You’ll find them hysterically funny. Any logical person will look at them and wonder what “they” were thinking! I took a photo of the bike lane going up a steep hill. I probably shouldn’t have assumed no one was interested in going up that hill!

  12. I don’t mind gentle undulating waves of up and down as I cycle. They’re rather pleasant. But extreme uphill climbs and downhill rushing descents are NOT on my Bucket List. Slow and steady is more my speed . . . even if I am the only one plodding rather than pedaling. 😀

  13. You’ll make it, this I am certain (something tells me you have already…) I shall think of this post tomorrow eve while peddling hill per se, just one gradual climb that seems hard at the end of week (oh, and 20-30mph headwind predicted, ugh!) Bravo at being so green, Kate… not to mention instilling great values to Felix!

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