Challenge yourself to cycle 4 of London’s toughest hills

When you think of cycling in London, you don’t tend to imagine killer hills.

But if you’re training for an event or you just want to keep fit over the colder months, these short bursts are an easy way to score a high intensity workout.

I’ve tried out four such inclines and, as you’d expect, three of them are clustered in the north.

And yes, I know that anyone who’s from the north will tell you how feeble these hills are compared to the likes of the Peak District and the Highlands (I should know, I’m from Scotland!), but London has a few considerable climbs.

You’ll also see how long it took me to tackle each hill to give you some idea of what to expect. I’m not an elite cyclist, and Strava has way too much data to calculate an average time, so these are just a guide.

Timings are approximate because I was timing myself and, y’know, it takes a few seconds to get my stuff sorted.

So, are you ready to feel the (thigh) burn? Here is a handful of hills to get you started.

Muswell Hill (N10)

  • Length: 0.6km
  • Average gradient: 11%
  • Time taken: 3:48

 Where can I find it?

You might find yourself pedalling onto Muswell Hill by accident. Found on a mini roundabout just off the west side of Alexandra Park (where you’ll find another 5% gradient if you make your way up to the palace), the incline looks modest at first.

Then you start the climb – try and fix your focus on the solid red line of the bus lane to charge your way to the top, where you’ll find Muswell Broadway. It’s got loads of cafés and shops to peruse in. And the best news is that it’s all flat from there.

Highgate Hill (N6)

  • Length: 0.9km
  • Average gradient: 10%
  • Time taken: 5:50

Where can I find it?

This one is located at the Archway end of Holloway Road.

Archway has recently undergone some regeneration, so the centre is looking fair swanky now. Not only that, the pedestrianised area makes it much simpler to pinpoint where Highgate Hill begins.

It’s almost as if you have a personalised starting block, with a bike marker and a well-placed traffic light. It’s not as strenuous as Muswell, plus you have relief points on your ascent in the form of more traffic lights. It’s the one time you’ll be happy to see them.

You’ve got some distractions when the climb’s gradient peaks with St Joseph’s Church and a smattering of dainty shops. The cafés will snap you back into focus with displays of cakes and carbs to spark your appetite.

If you’re even more of a masochist, you can whack on Highgate West Hill at the beginning of your climb which apparently adds on another 0.9km and up to 12.9% gradient.

Swain’s Lane (N6)

  • Length: 0.6km
  • Average gradient: 8.6%, peaking at 14%
  • Time taken: 6:00

Where can I find it?

On the other side of Highgate Cemetery, conveniently. The start seems innocent enough but the strain kicks in fairly quickly.

The tightness of the road means it’s harder to move if you get tired, but you’ll get some respite at the end of the first section with a chance to visit Karl Marx’s tomb before the next part of the jaunt.

You’ll then be lured into a passage where it feels like you’ll meet your own doom, but it’s actually not too bad.

The road narrows even further so you’ll need to give it full throttle to climb this stretch, boasting a majorly steep 14% gradient.

Once you reach the top you’ll be greeted by a peaceful patch of London with plenty of spots for your next café stop.

Dark Hill (TW10)

  • Length: 0.5km
  • Average gradient: 6%, peaking at 12%
  • Time taken: 8:00

Where can I find it?

Just inside Richmond Park, on the tail-end of Queen’s Road.

I’m not sure how much of this constitutes a hill, but the initial climb is ideal for a pre-ride warm-up, despite its sinister name.

It took me about three minutes, but I was rewarded with a lovely section of flat followed by a mega steep downhill which made this whole cycle a treat, especially being surrounded by Richmond Park’s lush greenery.

 Tips for mastering those demanding hills

 Hill climbs are treacherous at times, but if you know some tricks it can make your ascents that much easier:

  • Stay away from larger gears as it’ll just add to the struggle and drain your energy
  • Remain in the saddle as it puts less strain on your cardiovascular system (at least that’s what I hear)
  • Practice hills as often as you can – it’s the best way to improve

A large part of climbing comes down to your mental state: if you believe you can make it, you will. It also helps to think of the descent as a prize because, come on, who wouldn’t?

Over to you – what would you say are the toughest hills in London?  Do you ride them in the saddle or out the saddle?

Let us know in the comments below.

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14 Responses to Challenge yourself to cycle 4 of London’s toughest hills

  1. Dave 09/11/2017 at 5:20 pm #

    My favourite has to be Shooters Hill

  2. John 10/11/2017 at 10:20 am #

    For a short but sharp one look at Vanbrugh Hill. Google tells me it’s an average gradient of 7.3% but maxes out at 18.3%

    • Francis 10/11/2017 at 11:29 am #

      Or Crooms hill the other side of Greenwich Park which feels a little longer and might well be as steep towards the top. I dont have the data on it. Gave up Strava and enjoying my commute a lot more!

    • Rob 10/11/2017 at 11:53 am #

      I’d echo that – I made the mistake of trying to ride up it on a fixed gear with full panniers one evening. Almost made it past the railway bridge… but not quite :-(. It’s only marginally easier up the parallel Maze Hill.

      Back on t’tother side of the river, if you’re going to try Swains Lane and Highgate Hill, you may as well try Highgate West Hill too and claim the full set.

      • Bob 12/11/2017 at 2:06 am #

        You can add on Fitzroy Park which is safer and no traffic. Runs from Millfield Lane that comes off the bottom end of Highgate West Hill. Nice run along the side of the heath before the climb to the top. Comes out in Highgate village opposite the reservoir.

  3. Nick Cole 10/11/2017 at 10:43 am #

    As a stroke survivor I ride a recumbent trike as I can no longer balance on two wheels. I use a turbo trainer to build my stamina and stay fit and active all year round. My personal best is making it up Sawyers Hill in Richmond Park back in the summer. Next year my goal will be Dark Hill!

    • Ian 10/11/2017 at 1:28 pm #

      Good luck. I rode up Box Hill with a mate who uses a trike and his arms!

  4. Steve 10/11/2017 at 11:00 am #

    I like Golding’s Hill up from Loughton to the Epping Road. It can be a bit busy (it’s an A road) but that can help to motivate! It’s got a steep bit at the bottom that it’s easy to come at with no momentum if traffic at the roundabout is against you, but after that there are a couple of flat bits to help catch the breath between gentler inclines.

  5. Chude OG Egbuniwe 10/11/2017 at 11:35 am #

    Anerley Hill in the Crystal Palace area is quite nice (hard)

  6. Trek man 10/11/2017 at 11:40 am #

    Brockley Hill, Stanmore

    Distance .6

    Gradient 6.5% Max 16 %

  7. Ian 10/11/2017 at 1:26 pm #

    Near to Dark Hill but outside Richmond Park is Nightingale Lane. Average 10.5% but ramps up steeply at the top. Only short, it’s .1 of a mile. I can’t get further than just past the hotel on a single speed 44/16. A loop clockwise 3 times is a Strava segment.

  8. Lukas 13/11/2017 at 12:44 pm #

    easy – I’ve been doing one of those hills in the North everyday for the past 20 odd years. I live that way. For a real challenge try Hillway (between Swain’s lane and Highgate West Hill) Apparently the steepest gradient in London. And the view 2/3rds of the way up is fantastic.

  9. Matthew 14/11/2017 at 11:10 am #

    Kirkdale in Sydenham is quite long and steep. There must be a reason they choose Sydenham hill to put the transmitter mast on!

  10. Louisa 02/12/2017 at 10:48 pm #

    South Norwood Hill… It seems to go on forever…

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