Author Simon Warren is well known to the cycling fraternity as the creator of the ‘100 Greatest Hills…’ series of books. We grabbed a few minutes while he was eyeing up his next pedal-powered climb…
When did you first get serious about cycling?
In 1988, I bought a nice racing bike but just used to clean it and ride up and down the village, and didn’t really have a focus. Then my uncle, who raced bikes, dragged me to a 10-mile time trial on the A1 and I never looked back.
What was the initial attraction?
After that first race, I just wanted to go faster. I wanted to win, I wanted to train hard and be the best. I wanted to take a different route to my peers at school and had no interest in experimenting with drugs. I decided I wanted to be an athlete.
Have you ever wanted to go professional?
Only every day of my life, but there are at least 100 reasons why it never happened. Number one being I’m simply not good enough, and I have the race results to prove it.
Are hills your speciality, or just something you get a strange enjoyment from tackling?
When I first started riding, I immediately found that I could climb better than most of my club mates. It’s just what my body was suited to. I may not have had any genuine talent, but I had a power-to-weight ratio that enabled me to be competitive whenever the road went upwards.
What attracts you to cycling uphill rather than just going down them?
I have the ability to hurt myself getting up a hill quickly, but I don’t have the courage to risk hurting myself if I crashed going down one too fast.
What led you to writing about the world’s most punishing hills?
Two things: for a long time, I had this idea of a little black book, like one James Bond would carry around containing phone numbers of supermodels, but mine would let cyclists know where all the best hills were. The names were well known, such as Rosedale Chimney and the Rake, but my book would tell people where these hills were. Secondly, I was watching too much rubbish TV and realised I could be doing something far more productive with my evenings.
What is your favourite hill to ride up?
This is a very hard question as I’ve climbed so many; all of which are great for different reasons. If you were to plonk me anywhere to ride one more mountain, I’d pick the Col de la Bonette in the Southern French Alps. It’s an utter beast to ride but the desolate beauty at the top is without parallel.
What’s the most punishing hill you’ve climbed?
The hardest hill I’ve been up, and again it’s a mountain, is the Angliru in Asturias, Northern Spain. It’s so unbelievably hard that I had to put my foot down more than once just to stay upright. Riding a road bike with standard gearing, it almost snapped my legs.
Are there any hills you haven’t had the chance to climb that are on your bucket list?
Last summer, I managed to finally ride the Stelvio Pass in Italy, which was right at the top of my list. There are plenty more I need to visit, such as Monte Zoncolan in northern Italy, and I’d love to ride the Grossglockner in Austria.
What country would you like to base your next book around?
I have loose plans to document the climbs of Italy and I’ve actually made a start, but it will be a work-in-progress for a while. I’ll just tick a few off each time I go on holiday, which gives me the excuse to take my bike.
What do you do to unwind when you aren’t cycling?
With two kids and two jobs, unwinding is falling asleep on the sofa watching Newsnight.
What’s in store for hill climb fanatics in your next book?
At the moment, I am working on a set of eight books, one for each region of the UK. The first volume, Cycling Climbs of South East England, was released in 2015. Yorkshire will be next this spring, and the other six will follow in quick succession. If I can get them all ridden in time, that is!