Fixed Magazine (Article)

Fixed Magazine Issue #13 distributed across the UK. Never a foot down. When I began cycling fixed gear 5 years ago I would have never imagined becoming so obsessed with hills. But as my enthusiasm for bikes has grown, so has my passion …

Fixed Magazine Issue #13 distributed across the UK.

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Never a foot down.

When I began cycling fixed gear 5 years ago I would have never imagined becoming so obsessed with hills. But as my enthusiasm for bikes has grown, so has my passion for them.

It was only in September last year that I really began setting myself what I first thought were unachievable goals. I’d recently decided to fully commit to cycling by purchasing a mid-range road bike which would not only ease my commute at times but mean I could enjoy longer rides. 

My commute to work was Huddersfield to Bradford; a very hilly route with 2 steady, but long climbs along the way. The two climbs were a push on gears, let alone fixed, but my 5 day commute helped me develop an appreciation for hills. Commutes can often be boring and monotonous but lucky for me, mine began from the outskirts of Huddersfield heading through countryside into the outskirts of Bradford. To begin with I used my geared bike all the time, which wasn’t the best idea given the grit and mud pretty much ruined both my hubs, destroyed a chain and took its toll on the rest of the components. It was only when I had an issue with the bottom bracket, rendering my geared bike off the road that I took up the commute fixed. 

This is where the mindset began: my focus to not give up on a hill, never a foot down.

As I began getting stuck in to cycling as a hobby, attending sportives, alley cats and the like – hills were simply a challenge to get up without pushing my bike. I remember the first sportive I did with the Coffee & Cake Cycling Club – 75 miles through the Yorkshire Dales with some pretty steep and long climbs. There were about 10 of us, all of different abilities with varying levels of physical ability. We came to one hill in particular, Trapping Hill, where me and my housemate-to-be Meg, began talking about gearing just before the climb. Neither of us really used the lower chain ring and we both saw it more of a challenge to get to the top in the lowest gear but the biggest chain ring. We both agreed it wasn’t the best technique, especially with another 40-50 miles ahead, but we preferred the challenge and knew we weren’t looking for a fast time to finish.  We started at a steady pace, keeping our momentum up. As we reached the first corner there were already quite a few cyclists getting off to push, some of those who didn’t actually look so physically destroyed, it just looked like they had already resigned themselves to pushing before they’d even reached the hill. At times, my right hand would reach for the gear lever to click down a gear, to keep reassuring myself I was in the lowest (this happened a few times). I’d also tap tentatively on the left gear stick toying with the idea of clicking down into the small chain ring but I knew if I clicked down I’d have felt disappointed, almost as if I had cheated.

It was only when the others got to the top of the hill and expressed their shock at how the two of us smashed the hill that I realized how beneficial cycling fixed gear the last 3 years had been.

I believe cycling is as much about mental ability as it is physical. I’ve always been quite an upbeat & pro-active person and tend not to give up too easily on things, but I realised I had actually (subconsciously it seemed) written off a number of hills and routes (one of those being my commute to work) on a fixed gear.

Mentally I’d told myself I couldn’t do it, so I didn’t. 

It was only after the sportive that it really kicked in, to stop making excuses.

When I began attempting some of these hills, it became massively apparent that my mentality played a huge part: not to quit, to keep pushing, to know you can get to the top without stopping. Once you have the right mindset you can climb anything. The minute you’re half way up that hill and you say to yourself ‘no more, I can’t do this, I can’t push anymore’, then you fail, and all that elevation and climbing was for nothing. Push through the pain knowing you’ll be at the top soon and don’t lose sight of that immediate goal. Do that, and you won’t stop.

I won’t lie: the first few weeks cycling fixed to work were tough, my knees suffered and my body was beginning to break, but after those first few weeks of pain it grew noticeably easier. I found myself getting faster, improving my climbing time and found it less of a strain. 

Hills have always been an indicator of my level of physical endurance.  It’s never been about how fast you can get up them, simply getting to the top is a big enough success for me. However, once I’d realised that in fact these hill climbs were achievable it became more of struggle to document progress – was the climb getting easier etc? This is where Strava came in. I don’t completely approve of Strava to be entirely honest – it has its pros and its cons, but after climbing the hills I’d originally written off, it was a useful way to record my physical improvement, more so for the personal satisfaction of time improvement and less about beating anyone else on the scoreboard.

The launch of The North Race saw 30 riders tackle some of the longest and steepest hills in North Yorkshire. Along with Jon and ‘Super Ted’, I managed to get up every climb without putting a foot down, one of the climbs being Buttertubs Pass, 5.5 miles at an elevation of 675 metres high, with many of the sections verging between 20% & 25%. I thought this would have been my biggest challenge to date, but I was so very wrong. 

Earlier in the year I was asked to ride for the reputable artist Death Spray Custom in the Hunt Race down in London.  Having only done perhaps 3 or 4 alley cats since I’d begun riding, and no organised races, I felt unprepared, nervous and unsure what to expect. 

Lined up at the start I remember my body shaking, my heart already racing and my mind worrying about where I might be able to finish. The first heat was very fast – I managed to keep in the front peloton and come 5th out of 30 riders, a result I was incredibly happy with. Once the first heat was over I had the initial come down, relaxed and managed to shake off my initial anxiety… until my friend reminded me that the top 15 went through to the final heat.

I was already exhausted, my muscles were already tensing up and I was now beginning to get even more anxious than before. The second heat was equally as fast as the first. I thought I’d experienced full physical exertion before, but it was clear that I hadn’t come close. I was with the back end of the front peloton when they broke for a sprint. I put everything in to keep up but I found myself slowly dragging behind until I was on my own, split right between the 2 packs, riding a full lap on my own with no one to take the wind. This was physical exertion. Rudy (The 5th Floor) and Ed (Hamilton Wheelers) eventually caught up and took me through the final laps to finish 13th overall, a result I was once again very pleased with.

The experience of racing made me realise that although the mental exertion seems the same, it’s completely different. I’m not a racer: the anxiety, nervousness, uncertainty and competitiveness all make me feel uneasy, on edge and I completely lose my love for riding a bike. The best thing about setting your own goals is that it’s only you who can beat them. You’re not racing against anyone else, there isn’t anyone else that’s outdoing you. It’s just you versus the hill, you pushing against the gradient. Would I race again? Without a doubt. But I wouldn’t enjoy it half as much as riding towards what looks like the longest, steepest and most ridiculous hill I’ve seen, preparing myself to continue pushing and not give in. 

For me, It’s about hill climbing, for someone else it might be about sprinting. Me v Me keeps the challenge personal but without losing the fun.  Since ‘The North Race’ video shoot in the Yorkshire Dales I haven’t dismissed a hill as un-climbable. In my mind I know there isn’t a hill out there that I’m not capable of climbing. And even if it does beat me, it’ll only make me more committed to climbing it the next time.

The last hill I climbed was Langbar, near Skipton, a 20% lengthy climb. I was full of cold and there was no reason for climbing it. It wasn’t even en route, it was just a challenge a friend had suggested having a bash at. There were many times I came close to putting a foot down, but when I was on it, I was on it and there was no point giving up by then. There will always be times like those, times when you want nothing more than to give in and stop.

Keeping pushing the pedals, use every last breath to get up that hill as you know the feeling of undefeated success as you reach the top will be like no other.

Never a foot down.

Tim Pulleyn