THE GENTLE ART OF HILL CLIMBING.
Useful Hints for Amateur Competition Riders.
By A. A. R.
NO sooner does the average motor-cyclist become
possessed of a mount with a fairly good performance, than his attention turns in the direction of mastering some hill of a more or less unelimbable nature, and as feats of this character have had some influence on the design and construction of modern motor-cycles, it may be interesting to look into the subject from the viewpoint of the amateur rider, who specialises in this particular phase of the sport. The three outstanding methods of testing motor
cycles are Speed Events ; 2. Reliability Trials ; and 3. Hill Climbs, which are usually included in reliability trials as the crucial tests. To a very large extent, speed trials depend more upon the machine than they do on the rider, for whilst smart gear changing, a knowledge of one’s machine and of the track surface are very important in splitting seconds over the flying mile, the success of any attack on Father Time rests almost entirely with the tuner. Hill climbs, on the other hand, have quite a different aspect, for the human element comes far more prominently into play, which to my way of thinking adds a special charm to the conquest of hills. In the following remarks, I propose to deal with what may be termed ” Slow Hill Climbs,” that is to say, slow in comparison with the speed of the events we used to enjoy at Kop and other places, before the R.A.C. ban put an end to these brilliant spectacles.
Whilst such climbs as Kop were in vogue, speedmen recognised the enormous amount of trouble that had to be taken to ensure anything noteworthy in the way of performance. For instance, the engine of a competing machine had to be super-tuned, steering dampers and clutches needed the attention of an artist if the best results were to be got from the machine during the thirty or forty seconds duration of the test.
The possibility of wheel wobble at speed and the negotiation of known bumps on the surface led to a close study of tyre pressures and modified riding position; and, on the part of the rider, supreme judgement had to be combined with great skill and faultless gear changing.
In attempting to set up records on such a hill, the thirtieth of a second may mean failure, therefore everything is sacrificed to the moment. Reliability, wear and tear, the chances of subsequent damage are points which do not interest the competitor to any great extent, and it is significant that the engines for such tests are only allowed a smell of oil, in fact, only just enough to last for the few seconds in which the actual climb is made.
This, then, is one phase of hill climbing, but is less interesting than that which comes more within the sphere of the average rider ; who, whilst casting affectionate eyes on such inclines as Alms, realises that his chances of winning a Gold in Reliability Trials would be very remote, if he concentrated his attention entirely upon splitting seconds up such hills without paying due tribute to ordinary riding conditions.
Suiting the Method to the Hill.
One of the most fascinating things about hill climbing by motor-cycle is that nearly every well-known gradient has its own characteristics, so that the successful rider is forced to modify his plan of action for almost every ascent. Some hills we know can be surmounted with a rush, where velocity alone is relied upon ; in other cases it is essential for the rider to pick his way amid obstructions with the greatest caution ; and so on, one might give many different examples of how well-known hills should be tackled.
In spite of modern machinery, failures are still to be found in massed attempts to climb any hill with a reputation. But, let me say, it is not always the machine that fails, for mesmerised by the rumours he may have heard, bewildered by the spectators who have assembled to see spills, rather than climbs, the beginner is often beaten before the first few yards are covered. In the face of exaggerated reports, riders will sometimes drop into an unnecessarily low gear, and thereupon set up wheel-spin, which defeats more riders than anything else. Time after time, we have seen climbs spoilt when the rider has had every chance of success, simply because he has persisted in trying to make a fast
climb on first gear, when he could have done so much better with less throttle, or even by going up on second.
How to Climb Alms Hill.
Alms Hill is one of those where it is practically impossible to make a slow and dignified ascent, and is an incline up which I have never known anyone to take a machine, without having previously reconnoitred up to the famous Cannons. In a dry condition Alms presents nothing more than a very steep gradient, but as readers know it is seldom dry and that the surface suffers proportionately with the degree of wetness. Some hills may be said to improve as the result of rain, others seem to be unaffected by a downpour, but in the case of Alms, a shower is sufficient to add to the perplexities of its assailants, who struggle with the slimy chalk, which seems to churn up terribly as the result of a downpour.
Most of the successful ascents of Alms have been made by riders who have made a point of keeping their eyes fixed well ahead of their machines and maintained a resolutely straight course. On a normal machine, the second gear should be used and the engine opened out full right from the very start. Any attempt to pick a course, especially near the top, invariably results in a quick dive for the bank, if not a complete somersault.
On a dry day, the ascent of Alms is nothing to write home about, for with a good engine, the climb should be made easily on second gear and possibly on third, if one takes the precaution of keeping on the right hand side, where it is dry and smooth, the only ruts on the way up being those at the Cannons, which are easy to avoid.
Facts About Fingle.
Fingle Bridge was a new discovery made in selecting the course for the recent A.C.U. Six Days’ Trial and for
the riders a hitherto unknown climb, concerning which Dame Rumour had been very busy. Whilst in the district recently I Was dikussing• the hill with’ a loCal motor-cyclist, who informed me that it was not the habit of riders to attempt the climb. In fact, he did not know anyone who had done so for a long time. Opinions about this particlar climb were collected from the various competitors in the Six Days’ Trial, some of the old hands pronouncing it as quite easy, others said it was a good hill, whilst a large number admitted it took all their time to get to the top at all. It is certainly a low gear climb, and without doubt puts the Porlock, Lynton and Beggars Roost bunch quite in the background. All the latter are quite easy in dry weather, as it is possible to ride a small power machine up any of these ascents with something in hand, even over the roughest portions. Fingle, however, has a surface bestrewn with Devon rocks and has a constant succession of bends. The ascent calls for very good steering as one’s front wheel is being continually wrenched from side to side by the boulders. During the recent trials, Fingle Bridge found out weak steering on two or three well-known makes of machine which would not corner well on rough ground, and had so pronounced a tendency to lie down against the bank, that the most skilled riders had-difficulty in getting up the hill.
For and Against “Footing.”
A fair amount of controversy rages round the question as to whether ” footing” on rough surfaces is beneficial or otherwise ; but most riders of experience are agreed as to the tendency towards wheel-spin when the machine is being helped with the feet. When one has to be assisted up a hill by ” helpers ” it is certain that both feet should .remain on the footrests, as in this case, the weight is needed on the saddle to keep the rear wheel in contact with the ground.
In general, the best riders will go through a stiff trial without taking their feet from the rests ; but I am inclined to think that it is occasionally advantageous to lift one or both feet in certain circumstances. I recollect climbing a long hill in the Isle of Man this year, the surface being marred by one rut about 6 in. wide and 6 in. deep. During the ascent I was obliged to keep my feet off for the simple reason that the footboards (of the folding type) were being continually bent up against the crankcase. On an English machine with low footrests it would have been impossible to have climbed this particular hill at all, but though my feet were off, I never felt that the stability of the machine suffered in any way. I am inclined to think that the ideal form of footrest would be in the form of a stirrup, so that the weight could be transferred from side to side, according to the nature of the ground and the angle of the corner, but this would depend a good deal upon the design of the machine. For example, when riding the long-barred American machine, one pulls on. the bars for ordinary work, but to maintain a satisfactory
control, both feet must be kept on the rests, and the removal of one foot usually upsets one’s calculations altogether.
On English machines with sports bars, the action is quite different, for the removal of the feet from the rests throws the weight of the head and shoulders on to the bars, thus relieving the weight from the back wheel, and the practice is only to be commended on occasions when the front wheel appears to want holding down. Some riders are gifted with a natural sense of balance, especially those who have ridden horses from infancy, and to such the lifting of the feet is immaterial, as they know by a sort of instinct when the feet should be lifted and the effect it has upon the control of the machine even though they may be at a loss to explain the” Why and Wherefore” of the matter.
Lessons from Horsemanship.
The impression that a rider who swings his legs about when climbing is unstable, is in the main correct ; but some riders manage to ride ” feet off” without affecting their performance and without appearing too untidy. This is a thing that one also notices in connection with horse riding, for whilst the majority of good horsemen will sit tight, without varying the angle of their legs, except when jumping ; others ride very loosely. I have distinct recollections of riders of the latter class, who were very good across country, and never came off. Of course, the Colonial rider never grips his animal, but the use of “bucket seats ” accounts for a great deal in his case.
I think the average Englishman, however, is a great stickler for style whether he be mounted on horseback or on a motor-cycle, and the quiet unobtrusive rider of a silent machine is most impressive at a hill climb and demonstrates a style which ought to be cultivated as it tends to show the public what easily controlled machines motor-cycles really are.
Tyres and Chains for Hill Climbs.
The design of the tyre tread certainly has a tremendous influence upon success in a hill climb, and whilst most treads with good wide spacings are effective for this work, preference should be given to square treads of,the three stud type or to the bar design. For combination work, the sidecar wheel should be provided with a chain, or if expense is to be considered, rope may be used with
equal effect. As a matter of interest, I once had the opportunity of testing the durability of a rope as an alternative to chain. On a One Ton Ford, with solid rear tyres, a length of one inch diameter No. 3 Manilla rope would last from three to five miles over soft clay and was actually more effective than a small diameter chain. In the case of a rider entering one trial per year the rope has great advantages, as chains generally hang about one’s shed or garage and fail to put in an appearance when they are wanted for the next trial.
Proficiency in Bumping.
From the exploits of some of the riders in the last Six Days’ Trial, it would appear that they had spent a considerable amount of time in practising “bumping.”
The rider and his passenger who are able to bump together at the exact psychological moment can very often bring a bad wheel-spin to a sudden stop and the practice is much resorted to in trials where sidecar passengers are not allowed to sit on the carriers of the motor-cycle. It is obvious that a hard saddle is most effective to transmit the action of the bump to the rear wheel, but few riders would care to pat the chances of a few effective bumps against the comfort of a long reliability trial. Finally, in connection with hill climbing, the need for a four-speed gear-box is indicated with the greatest
emphasis and manufacturers are gradually realising the fact. The fourth gear permits of a reverse bottom gear for freak hill work without sacrificing the top gear ratios, which is a very important point where the sports rider is concerned. In a few years’ time we shall see all except very high-powered machines, and some of the cheaper productions, fitted with four-speed gearboxes; unless in the meantime some cheap and efficient form of torque converter has been applied to motorcycles, in which case, we shall have to hold our hill climbs in the Alps to make sure of getting adequately