Why Cycle Tour Operators are Careful About Using the H Word

 Gary Corbett

More than any other there is one word that the vast majority of cycle tour operators use in their tour descriptions with the greatest of trepidation – hills.

Why? Simply because if the H word is used, more often than not the route or tour is not chosen by the vast majority of social cycle tourists as a cycling holiday option.

Sure, this is not the case for road bike riders who most of the time are expecting hills - and lots of them - on their tour of choice, on occasions up and over some of the most famous mountains in the world. But in the world of organised cycle touring the truth of matter is that the vast majority of people who book a cycle tour are ‘leisure’ riders who are only interested in booking a tour that is difficulty rated in the “easy” to “medium” range.

As a result for the majority of cycle tourists – who are overwhelmingly in the over 40 years of age category – the fear factor associated with any cycle tour with a “hills” description is very real.

Broadly speaking, people who react with horror to the mere thought of having to battle steep hills on their cycling holiday fit into one of three categories.
  1.  Those who believe their physical fitness is not up to scratch resulting in an often unfounded fear that they will be either left behind, will be forced to push their bike up hills or even worse still, won’t be able to complete the tour.
  2. Those who believe the pain associated with tackling steep hills on their cycling holiday is just not worth the effort.
  3. Or those who in the past have purchased bikes with inappropriate gearing, meaning that they now have a very real fear of hills given their perception that even moderately steep hills pose an unattainable target.
The good news is that all of the above fears can be cast aside and forgotten if you pick the right tour operator for your long awaited cycling holiday.

Sure, you will still need to do some physical training before leaving home in line with the difficulty of the tour you have chosen, but for all intents and purposes a correctly geared bike as supplied by your tour operator in combination with some basic hill climbing knowledge will see you breeze up and over hills you never thought possible.

So what is the secret to hill climbing for novice riders who in many cases are preparing for the first organised cycle tour?

Basically the trick is to choose the “right” gear that allows you to pedal at your optimum speed. Choose a gear that is too low and you will spin the pedals too fast with the result that you will tire quickly or conversely choose a gear that is too high and you will have to expend too much energy with each turn of the pedals with the result that you will tire quickly.

But engage the right gear and while the hill may seem longer than you expected it should not be harder.
Once this concept is understood it makes ‘ignoring’ hills not only possible, but totally achievable for cyclists of even moderate fitness.

Everyone, no matter how fit they are, has a maximum power output that they can maintain for a considerable amount of time without becoming exhausted. The trick is to find the right gear on your bike that allows you to spin the pedals on an uphill climb at your personal “maximum power output” pace. You will know when you have got it right when you can use just one gear all the way to the top without feeling as though your heart is about to jump out of your chest or your legs are about to seize.

Once you have mastered riding hills – just remember that for every up there is a down - you will view them totally differently. Most experienced riders consider hills to be ‘variety’, with the resultant free ride downhill the bonus earned for conquering the previous hill.

It won’t be long before you are eagerly looking out for changes in gradient, small climbs, long uphills climbs followed by adrenalin rushing downhills.

It is then and only then that you realise that riding on flat terrain is just plain boring. Throw in a vicious headwind on a flat ride and you will find yourself wishing that you were back climbing one of those previously dreaded hills!

The bottom line when searching for an organised cycling tour that ticks all of your boxes is not to be put off  by tours that advertise “hills” as part of the tour. Embrace the diversity hills bring to the tour and you are sure to have a wonderful holiday experience.