Going Going Bike

May 092011
Swain's Lane

Swains Lane 134M
Length: 1.2KM
Maximum Gradient: 18%
Height Gain: 87M

Swain’s Lane attracts cyclists from all over London in search of stiff gradients to grind up. Not all know that 24 ascents of this great road climb is equivalent to summiting the Giant of Provence, Mont Ventoux.

Shallow gradients to start

As you turn right off the Highgate Road the tarmac remains at a shallow gradient. You pass by a cluster of café’s which offer you a final chance of a coffee or something stronger (the Bedouin of Swain’s Lane?) to galvanise you for the road ahead.

The Victorian cemetery on the right comes in to view as the road curves to the left. The gradient remains slight but the profile of the cemetery wall indicates it does not remain so for long.





A burst of 12 per cent.

All of a sudden the road appears to ramp up in front of you. You are hit with an initial short, sharp burst of 12% to break your rhythm and for the hill to remind you who is the boss. The gradient then recedes. This inconsistent gradient is a mixed blessing. At once offering a breather but also lulling you into a false sense of security. The worst is yet to come.

As you climb slowly up this one way street the monumental gates to the Highgate Cemetery (resting place of Karl Marx) momentarily distract from the suffering. However, as the road narrows it also straightens and heads upwards faster than before. No hairpin bends to alleviate the pain on Swains’ Lane.

Into Swain’s gorge

With the tall, buttressed brick wall on the left the road feels like a pyreneen gorge. Even on a bright day this section of the climb remains dark and somewhat eerie. If you’ve got gears, now is the time to use them. The gradient rockets to 18% and remains at this crushing level for too long.

Finally, after 75M, the summit can be seen as the road opens up a fraction and the gradient eases off. At this stage, with 1.2 KM of climbing under your belt and with your heart rate pulsing you might just be able to raise a smile at the positioning of an Osteopath at the summit with a sign calling you to “get back in shape”!




See also:

Great Hill Climbs of London: Richmond Park – Broomfield Hill

Great Hill Climbs of London: Highgate West Hill

  16 Responses to “The Great Road Climbs of London: Swains Lane”

  1. A personal favourite of mine,5 climbs of this are enough to make you feel like you’ve had a good but brief training session.
    The fact that its one way means that you don’t have to worry about meeting a car head on too.

  2. It’s been part of my training ahead of the Etape Caledonia.
    I used to hate climbing, but I’ve worked up gradually from being able to do one lung-bursting, out of the saddle ascent to now being able to stick in a half-dozen laps.
    I really does help you work on your technique. Fingers crossed the effort will show this weekend.

  3. A favourite of the Central London CTC 3* riders — five reps of the climb on Tuesday evening, followed by coffee in the toney caff at the foot of the Lane. Does wonders for one’s endurance on the Sunday clubrun!

  4. Used for London’s forst ever closed-road Hill Climb, the Rollapaluza Urban Hill Climb, this will be happening again in July 2011…..details soon!
    Also fatures in Simon Warren’s excellent 100 climbs book.

  5. Anyone know if this features in the nightrider route?

  6. Both Highgate West Hill and Swains Lane is hard work. To get up this hill in one shot, you have to be fit, period. Yes there are tougher climbs, but that shouldn’t detract from this climb.
    I have to say, this climb is worse when fumes from traffic is kicking out. Makes it 3x as hard. Your chest burns. Not ideal.

  7. This is a really useful description. I did Swain’s Lane for the first time after reading your description this afternoon. It was great knowing how to pace myself and when to “put down the hammer”, as Phil Liggett keeps saying in his Tour of California commentary.
    so – THANK YOU!

    • Isobel – thanks a lot! I love the idea of “putting the hammer down on Swains Lane”…for me it’s a question of not putting my foot down!

      How did you find the ride?

      • Yes … I don’t quite get the “putting down the hammer” thing – as I think he means “bringing down the hammer” – like  a blacksmith hammering out a relentless pace. We cheer every time he says it now!
        The ride was fun! It is steep at one point, but press on and the top of the road is not far away. Only thing missing was someone to pat me on the back when I got to the top.

  8. [...] the race route the same asin "The Great Road Climbs on London" http://www.goinggoingbike.com/blog/t…n-swains-lane/ [...]

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