Climbing enthusiast Katie Kookaburra talks about what makes the perfect summer climbing bike for hitting the hills.
Hello, my name is Katie and I love hills. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea but I love nothing more than sweating it out up climbs – long, short, steep, gradual, in the UK’s finest Dales, Peaks, the Cairngorms or abroad.
Ok, ok… I think you get the picture, this lass loves to climb. But for me, there are a few things that make my summer bike optimal for getting up climbs. So I’m going to share what works for me to get in those elevation gains over the summer months ahead. My summer bike of choice: the Endurance SL.
I’m fortunate to have a dedicated summer bike – which I actually first ever rode fresh out of the box in Australia in January this year.
I was there to watch the Tour Down Under and it might have been a risk for some people taking a brand new bike away on a cycling trip and racking up 1000km during my stay – but because of the reasons I’m going to talk about, I knew it’d be perfect.
Frame and fit.
This is by far the most important thing to consider when getting a new bike. You have to fit your bike. I think we’ve all seen fellow cyclists struggling up a climb on a bike that is way too small, or way too big. Let’s not make those gradients harder than they need to be. So fit wise, this comes down to these three parts; the frame, its size, and the size of the components.
As an audax long-distance rider and lover of the hills, the Endurance SL was the bike for the job. Its geometry is one to allow for comfort when in the saddle all day, but done in a way that would maximise speed and efficiency.
Its carbon layup makes it is very light and super responsive – definitely what you want when tackling the likes of the 25% gradients of Park Rash in the Dales.
Now it was down to determining which frame size I needed as I was in between a small and medium.
At Ribble’s HQ in Preston, they have a bike jig to assess the right size frame for you. I visited the showroom to get sized up on the rig before choosing my frame size as I was in between sizes (the joys of having a very short body and long legs)! So the guys were able to pinpoint I would be a medium frame in the Endurance SL. Getting a feel for the size of the bike from the adjusted rig certainly helped me to feel confident I was getting the right size. Sometimes switching to a new bike can be quite daunting – you like to stick with what you know – getting comfortable with the correct size new bike definitely helped for me!
I’ve also been lucky enough to spend a lot of time with former Team Sky and British Cycling physio and bike fit expert, Phil Burt. He also found I needed a 38cm width bar and shorter cranks of 165mm. These small spec customisations are all available on the Bike Builder part of Ribble’s website and again are key to helping make sure you have the bike set up to suit you. And ideal too as it meant that straight out of the box, my summer climbing fit me perfectly. Which was just as well, as I was halfway around the world! No more switching up parts and finding alternatives. Built to my spec, first off.
Ahhhh, the age-old debate between cyclists; rim vs disc brake. For me, for a summer climbing bike, it’s caliper all the way. The ease and simplicity of maintenance, zero risk of disc pads rubbing, as well as the weight savings of calipers just mean it’s a no brainer for me. I have the Shimano Ultegra R8000 calipers and they are incredibly powerful.
Rim brakes, I find are also a lot simpler to transport if you take your own bike on holiday – with less risk of rotors getting bent on the trip. That is something I don’t fancy being faced with at the other end – when all I want to do is get out and explore some new gradients. Save the rim brake!
This is another one up for debate as people’s gear ratios can vary to what they are used to. I prefer to spin – keeping my cadence at least 80rpm up a climb so I go for the lowest gearing possible.
At the minute, I have two setups, depending on the climbs and distance of a ride I’m doing or if I’m heading out for a multi-day event.
My base gearing is a 50/34 with an 11-34 cassette on the back – meaning a 1:1 ratio which is great for getting up pretty much anything. This was the set up I chose through BikeBuilder.
But, for long and hilly audax events of 200km plus, or a week away in the mountains I switch to my (rather unique) modified gearing set up for an even broader range – a Shimano 50/34 on the front and an 11-40 cassette on the back. This works perfectly with the R8000 Ultegra groupset using a WolfTooth Roadlink which basically adds a little extra room for the derailleur to shift onto the larger cassette.
I’ve had so many comments about it on rides and sportives. But you can literally spin up any climb without having to grind. The amount of people I see on hilly sportives such as the Fred Whitton, where people are having to push their bikes up the climbs seems such a shame when there is lower gearing out there to help get you up even the steepest of gradients.
Double up! As I spend a lot of hours on my bike, doubling up on bar tape is a really cheap way of getting some extra comfort when powering up climbs. Whether you are on the hoods or on the tops, I’ve found that extra bit of ‘squish’ is most definitely worth the extra tenner.
And then all there is left to do is pick your climb and enjoy the gradients and views.
If you would like to look at the video in more detail, click the video below.
Want more help with buying the right frame size? Read our choosing the correct road size blog here.
Have a brand new Ribble e-bike and want to know what the coloured lights signify? Our latest blog explains all, read it here.