accessibility · cycling · holidays

Sam changes her thinking on walking her bike up hills. These days it’s less shame and more beautiful scenery.

I remember the first time I walked my bike up a hill. It wasn’t fun. I was embarrassed. I’d also fallen over because I slowed down quickly and couldn’t unclip in time. Ouch. It was also a group ride and everyone was waiting for me at the top. Double ouch.

That first time was just weeks after getting my first road bike. I was in my late thirties. It was early days of clip in bike shoes and pedals for me. I was still learning to shift on my new bike. I was a pretty strong rider, out with a triathlon training group from the Running Room but I was very much a beginning cyclist. I’d heard cyclists talk about serious hills but I hadn’t yet encountered one.

When we started out on River Road in London, Ontario I was fine, just a gentle incline. “What were they talking about?” I thought. But after turning the corner and seeing the steep hill ahead I was worried. I tried to race up it but that was a recipe for disaster. I shifted frantically and ran out of gears. Rookie mistake. When I came to a stop, I just fell over. Thump. I scraped my shoulder falling over but other than my pride really I was fine.

In the weeks and months ahead I mastered the skills that made stopping on hills less dramatic. I unclipped and got off the bike in a controlled fashion when I needed to. I learned, although I’m still not great at this, to start again on a hill. Tip: if you can cycle across the road to get going that helps. Walking my bike up very steep hills became a thing I could do. But I often felt ashamed. If only I were smaller, fitter, faster, weighed less….

Hills have been a weight loss motivation for me since the early days of the blog. See Fat, fit, and why I want to be leaner anyway. In November 2012 (nearly 7 years ago!) I wrote: “My main reason I want to get leaner is sports performance. An awful lot of what I do depends on a power to weight ratio. For an explanation of power to weight ratio and its importance when it comes to cycling, read The Pursuit of Leanness over at Australia’s Cycling Tips blog. I’ll never be a hill climber. I’m a reasonably powerful sprinter and time trialer (for a recreational cyclist in her midlife years!). I know my place in the cycling world. But I’m sick of getting dropped on hills.”

This year in Newfoundland, I noticed my attitude had changed. I was smiling walking up some of the hills. I wasn’t just putting on a brave face either. I was happy all the way inside. What had changed?

Four things, I think.

1. I was riding with friends. No one was going to drop me. I didn’t feel I had to prove myself to anyone. We’ve been riding together for years. On all sides there’s a lot affection, trust, and goodwill in the bank.

2. It was breathtakingly beautiful. I loved the scenery, the dramatic landscapes. When you’re focused on “wow” and wonder at the world around you, it’s hard to care that you’re walking rather than riding up the hill.

3. Then there was a practical thing. I’d switched to spd pedals and shoes for this trip in anticipation of walking up the occasional hill. They’re a lot easier to walk in and there was no wearing down the metal cleats.

4. Finally, it helped that we all walked some of the hills, at some point. If the hill was short enough either David or I would make it to the top first and we’d wait for Sarah. If it was a long hill at some point we’d slow down and she’d patiently pedal on by in a spinny gear. There were some hills that defeated all of us.

These photos capture the beauty but they don’t capture the steepness of the hills. Trust me. They’re steep. (Oh and yes this is July in Newfoundland, midsummer, and yes, that’s snow.)

Image description: Sam walking her bike up a hill in Newfoundland. David is behind her also walking his bike up the hill.
Image description: Sarah looking back down another hill.
Image description: David walking his bike up a hill in Newfoundland.

Question: Why not ride a bike with gears to get up all the hills? There’s no shame in a having a triple, a granny gear as they’re called? And I agree. No shame. But it’s not gearing we need around here. I like the gearing range I’ve got.

I suppose I could get a touring bike with a triple chain ring but I’m not sure I want or need a touring bike either. They’re great for carrying stuff, loading down with panniers etc. But the kind of bicycle tourism I like to do has other people carrying things for me. Touring bikes are great for riding on gravel and other surfaces but my bike tourism is all or mostly on pavement. See Cate’s recent post for a description of that kind of bike holiday.

Things could change. It’s not impossible.

But for now if the only price I pay is walking up the odd hill, I’ll take it.