The outdoors is our playground. The hills, mountains and valleys, the cliffs, the paths, ridges and rivers. All offer huge adventure. And for many of us, in many parts of the world, they are free to explore. But at what cost? The entry price may be zero to our park, but as we travel for our fun, in our cars and vans and planes, the planet takes a beating.
I’m no saint, I fly and drive. But I try and do a little to help, and every little helps. Quick journeys to the crag, or the local indoor wall; it’s easy to jump in the car for just 10 minutes: independent, fast, effortless, reliable. But those short and regular journeys, they add up to a lot.
Bike & Climb
Cycling is my ‘short journey’ transport, unless I’m carrying a huge box of tools, a new sofa, or an essential boulder pad. If I’m going climbing, a bike gets me there warmed up and ready to go, and gets me home fitter than when I started. And usually cycling isn’t slower than a car, well not by much, especially downhill, and through busy traffic. Even cycling uphill has many benefits, above the pushing of exhaust fumes into the air; your lungs work hard and your energy systems are on fire: you will climb harder for it. And you can have that cake and eat it too!!
I’m one of the lucky ones who live in a city, but also close to the hills, its only maybe 10km to some amazing spaces with great climbing and a feeling of true isolation. But still, 10km is still a distance, and it’s mainly uphill; hard to convince many people to hop on their bike when a car will work just fine. Cycling uphill can be hard indeed, but there is now a solution that is sweeping across the cycling world; the electric bike, or ‘e-bikes’ as they are known. Just a few years back they were rather overpriced, and over clunky. But you could see it was early days, and wow!!, how fast things have changed. I’ve noted a steady increase in people cruising up the hills, overtaking me with apparent ease. The e-bike is taking off! My good friend and mountain guide Cain Olsen from Finale in Italy, the self-proclaimed capital of the mountain biking world says ‘absolutely everyone is on the e-bikes now, they allow so much more terrain to be covered, so much more fun’.
A perfect match: sustainabilty and performance
The e-bikes have an assistance cut off at 25km/hr, up to this speed you still have to pedal, but the amount of help is amazing. And this is plenty fast enough to feel like you are really zooming up-hill, Above this speed you are on your own, so you are still working, it’s not a motor-bike! So we get the best of both; all the benefits of cycling, but without the slow and exhausting grind uphill (I know – some people do love that grind!). But for me I’m arriving at the cliff ready to climb. And I can get closer than with a car, and hop between different venues in minutes with ease. No parking, or boring walks along tracks, or long ways round. The e-bike is a game changer on many levels, for most it will simply be the difference between cycling and not cycling, where previously it was either too hard or too time consuming. For myself there are also other factors that affect climbing performance.
Hard rock climbing, where I’m pushing myself to the maximum, requires the very best of myself, and that’s probably a bit more than what would be left after an hour of slogging up hill on a bike with a rucksack. I’ve often noted I’d be arriving at the crag invigorated and motivated after a lovely ride, but somewhat ‘overly’ warmed up, and actually more like exhausted. My climbing performance would be below par. The e-bike has totally changed this, and I arrive ready to climb!
Active recovery after climbing
And there is another important consideration, especially for the older climber, perhaps those in their 40’s and beyond, where performance is important but recovery is slowing down. ‘Junk miles’ are often the killer, giving the body too much to recover from. Gains from hard climbing sessions are compromised by too much exhausting cycling or running. Ironically it’s the older climbers who often get into more endurance sports, for fun, but often to apparently compliment their climbing, but end up tired out from doing too much stuff. The e-bikes allow all the fun of the ride and being in the outdoors, but without getting so tired. Or, if you choose, you can ride just as hard, and end up just as fit, you’ll just go further and faster!
Cycling is the way to go. Obviously there are distance limits, and with a bag full of ropes it’s no fun. And with a huge boulder pad you’ll want the wind in the right direction to say the least. But for those shorter journeys a bike will get you there fast and fit, and with the air as fresh as it was before you started.
Photos: Sam Taylor photography and Cairn Cycles