Are hills harder than mountains?

I have just returned to the UK after a couple of months in Italy and whilst I loved the Italian experience I must admit I’m pleased to be back home. Living just next to Lake Como was amazing and one of the best aspects of it was getting to ride all the mountain passes, though I kept thinking to myself; this isn’t as hard as I thought it would be.

The great thing about cycling is it is as hard as you want it to be. Riding up a mountain is by no means an easy feat though the gradients are much shallower and most are around 6% – 12%. Having lived in Devon for a few years these mountains seemed quite chilled in comparison.

I have been left pondering the question; are mountain easier than hills? Whilst the hills in Devon are obviously shorter they are arguably much steeper, the gradient varies from 12% to a whopping 25%! I’m sure many people will argue that mountains are harder and there is no doubt that they are plenty of steeper ones, I am just speaking from my personal experience.


I recently rode up a mountain pass in Italy twice in just over three hours, covering over 4000 meters of climbing, and to be honest it wasn’t that difficult. Having arrived back in the UK I hopped straight on my bike and went out for a ride across the hills of Dartmoor, the ride took roughly the same length of time and covered just over 1000 meters of climbing. It felt much harder!

This is why I have been asking myself are hills harder than mountains? Maybe it is just the way I ride, or my build? I’ve always considered myself as more of a sprinter, hills were never my forte, well, until I moved from the flat land of London to the hills of Devon. I think that it’s possible that the steep gradients of Devon thoroughly prepared me for the mountain passes. I could happily sit in my easiest gear and plod my way up – at times I found that this gear was actually a bit too easy for the passes.

The gearing on my bike (for those interested!) is 53/39 11-25. I do spend a lot of time riding a large gear on a track bike so maybe that strengthened my legs enough to make hills seem like light work on a geared bike.

Whether people agree with me or not I have come to the conclusion that the hills of Devon are harder to ride than the mountain passes of Italy. Maybe harder isn’t the best word, I should really say different. I found Devon’s steep, short sharp climbs offer no time to catch your breath or the option of switching into an easier gear. The mountain passes are hard don’t get me wrong, riding full pelt up a mountain for over an hour is tiring, but being able to slip into a steady rhythm seems a bit more pleasant.

Maybe it’s the way I ride or as I said my build, but I definitely know that riding 100 miles in Devon is tough, and my 100 mile rides in Italy felt slightly easier. The great thing about cycling is that it is very personal and what is hard to one person is not necessarily hard for another. Every ride is as hard as you want to make it and no matter how hard you push it’s always enjoyable (mostly). I love riding all my bikes and am happy on any terrain, but I must admit it’s nice to be home.


About Dave Noakes

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