Holly. The Hills.
- by mercredi
- posted May 20, 2019
This is the story of how the utilitarian DNA of Mercredi was pushed further than before. I think this is also the story of how two incredibly strong minded lasses got to build something amazing together.
Hill Climbing is a discipline I wasn’t too familiar with. At the time, based in London, the only experiences I had of it were tales of White Lane or sights of my teammates turning purple up Swains Lane. Putting oneself in a box in such a way is something I really couldn’t see the appeal of. That was until Holly got in touch with me, to turn her experience into the best bicycle possible for her to do that job.
Holly had something pretty specific in mind. She wanted to race up hills and be able to just throw herself at it. It wasn’t drillium. What she wanted was a fixed hill climb bike.
There is a lot of ego and a lot of showing off in custom bikes. But I see bicycles as tools, and I don’t enjoy making tools to pursue status. In the way we think about design and manufacture, and we both think about it a lot, Holly and I have a lot in common. No bullshit. Solutions to problems. Simplicity. Good vibes only, you know that much by now. So Holly came to me with a problem and we came up with a solution. We challenged each other to make this solution the best we could make it.
The backbone of this bike was the fit.
It is easy to see why the weight of bicycles is front and centre to almost everything we hear about them: weight has quantifiable units that everyone understands. What it feels like to ride a bike that works is something that not everyone can put a value on. There is no universal – or even local – metric to it. In fact, when everything is right, you forget everything is there, so it’s probably impossible to measure at all.
Of course, for hill climbing, the less weight you have to carry up the hill, the better off you will be, kind of. But there is much more to going up than weight. As well as chasing grams, we set off to make a bike that would allow Holly to use her body in the most efficient way possible.
Tony is familiar with the needs of very specific bicycles, and this one was to push the limits a little further. We hacked the jig to replicate 12% and 6% gradients. The aim was to make Holly able to pedal seated for as long as possible – as once you get off the saddle, the movements of your upper body use energy that could otherwise be directed straight in your pins. And that’s wasted.
The bike was designed with two configurations in mind: on a gradient that would be mostly around 6%, Holly could run a 80mm stem over a spacer and a setback seatpost – and for gradients around 12%, she could run a 90mm stem below the spacer and an inline post. That would allow her body position to be closer to optimum for longer, on each type of hill. You know the impression you get of being one with the bike, when you ride fixed? We were hoping to make that happen even more.
The transmission of power through the drivetrain was optimized by using hooded dropouts, machined from stainless steel by Bear Frames Supplies. To add as little material to the frame as possible, we decided for a Columbus XTR Stainless tubeset, all cut and mitered in house and then TIG welded by BTR, as well as a paint-less finish using a mixture of polished and blasted textures executed by Jack Kingston. Everything came together beautifully, as it should when so many skilled individuals get involved to do the thing they do best.
Photograph: Chris Hargreaves
Holly arrived to the workshop with a bag full of parts and we put the bike together with four hands. The energy around the stand, I can’t really describe it. We were both full of excitement and anticipation. In the spirit of the brief, she had collected extremely functional parts. Some new, some used, some she had been carrying up every hill climb she’d ever entered. It wasn’t a case of throwing money at it, everything was thought through and tested before being allowed a place on the bike.
She refused the bike box to carry it back and, instead, left the workshop to tackle London’s infamous Swains. I got a text from the top and it really made me blush.
On her way back North, Holly got off the train one stop earlier than home, to pin a number and race up Brickworks.
“What I found interesting, considering it was my first time competing fixed on a hill climb, was that at no point was I thinking about the bike. Instead of looking down at my gears I simply attacked the course.”
Holly finished her first Hill Climb season fixed by racing up Pea Royd Lane for the National Championships in 04:18.6.
“I like everything in my life to be as straightforward as possible. When I cook it’s one or two pans maximum. And when I design things for the house or the shop*, the simpler the better and it has to work. Otherwise you start covering up any inadequacies and making things more complicated. The whole point of this bike is that it’s just perfect as it is; ‘good vibes only’ as it states on the seat tube. The culmination of a year spent working with someone – someone you really respect – and knowing that you’ve got 5.8kg of the best bike you’ve ever owned.”
Holly, I can’t thank you enough for bringing me onboard with this project. Here’s my public pledge to try a hill climb this year. It’ll be on my cross bike though.
Holly co-owns Rare Mags – a fantastic independent magazines shop in Stockport and online.
Photos were taken by Stephen Smith and Chris Hargreaves, thank you both.
Holly’s bike: http://mercredi.co.uk/hollys-hill-climb-fixed/