Struggling on The Struggle
In the UK we don't have the 20km climbs up the sides of mountains that are commonplace in the Alps, Dolomites or Pyrenees, but what we lack in length, we more than make up in steep gradients.
We recently made a very short trip to the Lake District, and found ourselves free for just an hour to get a quick ride in. Being fans of circular routes rather than out and back, we decided on a trip up the perfectly named 'Struggle', with a descent down Kirkstone Pass.
When you think of famous climbs in the Lake District, the likes of Hardknott Pass, Kirkstone Pass, and Honister Pass all immediately spring to mind. Often, The Struggle is one of those climbs you need to be reminded to climb. But if you do, you'll remember it forever. It was also the scene of one of Bradley Wiggins more famous moments, in the 2016 Tour of Britain where he dismounted his bike and ran a short section.
Beginning from the scenic lakeside area of Ambleside, almost as soon as you cross the roundabout onto Kirkstone Road, the climb appears. There's no warm up, no gradual welcome, it's straight into 14% for a good few hundred meters. Made worse by the fact that at this point you're climbing past a housing estate, so there's no way to see what's in front of you, and when the harsh gradient may ease.
Ease it does, to around 8%, before the haunting road sign politely informs you of what's to come. 20% and dangerous conditions in the winter. We're thankful we rode in June, and according to the Garmin, in a tropical 27c.
As you pass the road sign, the gradient rises again. The entire climb is just 4km in length. An average gradient of 8.3% but that in no way tells the story. There's a descent in there, and gradients of 22%.
After a good 500m at around 15%, the road does flatten slightly, the views start to open up, looking north it's soon possible to see the summit, a fairly welcome rest post and pub where The Struggle joins with Kirkstone Pass.
After another push at over 10%, there's 1km of rolling terrain and even a descent, before the final push over the final section of 4 switchbacks where the gradient reaches 22%.
By now, the legs are tiring, it's been short but painful. We find ourselves needing to stay seated to stop the rear wheel spinning on the steepest switchback. All the while the sight of Kirkstone Pass is above us, the descent ahead taunting us.We reach the summit, the lungs relax.
We head right onto Kirkstone Pass, for the downhill back towards Windermere. It's a quick descent, but the road isn't the best, old tarmac with frequent potholes and the odd sheep looming ominously close to the road means our speed never quite meets our expectations. Still, speed wasn't why we came. Suffering was the goal, and for a 1 hour ride, there are few tougher places to ride.