Monday, 4 September 2017

Milking Mamhead ....

Over the years I have often wondered what it would be like to live near or next to an iconic climb. Haytor, Cheddar for example though noting we do not have mountain ranges within the UK. Just yesterday on the Tour of Britain live they discussed how much of Britain's road went up and over rather than around as per France, Italy and co. I have always wondered if it would compel the rider to hit it as much as possible and decide to monster the climb as often as possible. The old adage of hills hurt rings true, but the question I ask myself would you get better at it, faster, easier or burn out ? I suspect that in relative terms speed would come, but that could be based on the rider weight and ability.  

In reference to living near a mecca climb, it has not happened, as Cheddar and Haytor have always been a ride away or a drive away if you want to start at the bottom. However, I had a rubicon moment last week when I realised I do indeed have a great climb ten minutes from my door which is the lamentable Mamhead. The climb that gave me the fear for the best part of three years. I am not the only one, a lot of local riders worry about it, but perhaps a tad unduly. I have ridden harder roads for sure. But and it is a big but I have decided to take on the climb as much as possible and given I had some time off work and thus feeling much fresher legged I rode it four times last week and I intend on riding it once a week  at least til' the weather renders it otherwise.

I created a private segment on Strava which I called golf club cross roads to t junction as to me, this is the complete climb before I turn right and head towards Exeter race course. The metrics are as follows -

1. Sea Level to 790 feet.

2. The latter part I suspect is 8/9% to the top - some corners feel steeper, I must use the Garmin to evaluate.

3. After the cross roads a false flat leads you to the very top of Haldon where again you hit 834 feet approx give or take Garmin and it's in ability to deal with height.

Now, in relative terms this is not a huge climb. Haytor is 1350 feet, Gospel pass is 1350, Cheddar is 802 feet once up-to Charterhouse, Frocester Hill is 778 feet,  So it is a good 500 feet less that the two big boys, but it is steep and relentless and there is corner after corner, shrouded in tree line and mist most of the time. You feel like you have ridden into Forks; Washington as featured in Twilight !

In the 5 times I have ridden it every ascent felt different and I had no memory recall of where the 'end' of the climb proper is as I call it. It is a test for sure and hopefully it will put me in good stead for some of the aforementioned bigger climbs when the time comes. I still do not know if I will develop as a climber by doing this. The usual cycling idioms apply when training hard but in reality, if I can get a sub 20 minute time going up then I would be delighted. Regarding development I did 13,000 feet this week - in context the most I have ascended in one month is 23,000 feet as when you convince yourself you cannot climb, you avoid the climbs.

My current PB sits at 23.18 mins - I have gained 2 mins already, but lost time on another day ! What I am yet to work out is do I monster the first half and smash that as fast as possible then drop back into recovery and suffer in zone 1/2 going up or try it the other way around. The first half is the easier half but you need to spend energy wisely. 

Time will tell. I love cycling. I need a climbing bike !


  1. I have the same approach to mamhead. Although I usually come from Kenton lower road because it's a bit rolling with a kick. The false flat from Starcross encourages you to go too fast and sucks your legs dry, especially if there's a head wind. I'm new, old and crap, but mamhead is my yardstick. I haven't figured out the descent yet but somehow managed a pb today when not trying. The blast to Starcross is so much fun but too tempting. Nice article.

    1. Magic. Thanks for the comment ! Appreciate the comment.

  2. Great article. And very much like my experience with Mamhead. The false flat leading to the foot of the climb really saps your energy, I resisted the temptation to go into my small ring, and save it for the climb proper. It's (nice)! going up through the treeline, and the swicthback makes it feel slightly Alpine. Nice roll over the top too.