The Hill Climb Project

The lightest paint is no paint so the frame is half painted and half raw stainless.

With the 2021 British National Hill Climb Championship taking place on Winnats Pass in the Peak District National Park, the event’s close proximity to The Service Course Wilmslow prompted a conversation with ISEN Workshop’s award-winning framebuilders Caren Hartley and Matt McDonough. The goal? To design and fabricate a steel frame to help hill climber Matthew Cleave conquer the 20% gradients in the fastest time possible. Tricked out with lightest components and with a paint finish taking design cues from autumnal colours and the climb’s contours, what resulted was the perfect marriage of form and function in a steel bike weighing 5.4kg.

The Plan

“I’ve been involved in the hill climb scene for about four years. It’s the time of year when many cyclists are taking a bit of a break or winding down. But there’s a small minority that race each other up some of the steepest, craziest climbs in the country.

The plan was to create our version of the perfect hill climb bike. And then for me to race the bike throughout the 2021 season leading up to the National Hill Climb Championship. So this was a bit of a dream project for me—combining the passion I have for the hill climb scene with our experience at The Service Course in creating custom bike builds with the best bespoke bike builders from around the world.” – Matthew Cleave

The Bike

“I started building bikes about 8 years ago. I trained as a metal worker before spending a number of years as both jeweller and artist. Over a period of time I fell out of love with the art industry and decided I wanted to use my skills for something a bit more practical. Making bikes seemed like the perfect match.

Our main ethos is building everything from start to finish in our London workshop. And we’d been thinking about how we could make the lightest steel bike for quite a while—what it would look like and how we could shave off every spare gram. We started with Matt’s geometry and then got the lightest tube set we could. Mostly Reynolds 953. After hours spent fabricating and machining, we ended up with a frame that weighed 1,150g before paint. We were quite pleased with that.

We’ve become known for our candy fades—strong colours with quite bold, in-your-face paint schemes. But I wanted to do something a bit different for this bike so I started by looking at what the bike was being used for and then added colours that signify the end of the season—reds and oranges with a little bit of purple to bring it back to ISEN.” – Caren Hartley

The Climb

“We’re in the Peaks on Winnats, it’s pouring with rain and the wind is howling. And there’s hundreds and hundreds of people walking up the hill ready to cheer us on. That says it all really—had it been anywhere but Winnats I think the conditions would have deterred spectators from coming out to watch.

At the sign-on, one of the organisers had asked me if I was the guy with the bike. Pretty cool but also adding a bit of pressure. And then when you’re in line waiting for your number to be called, the nerves do start to build.

My family and friends were standing on the lower part of the climb and it was incredible to ride past them. And towards the top where you’re trying to throw everything left through the pedals, catching my 30-second man gave me that little extra push to get across the line.

The bike was amazing and having those conversations with Caren and Matt from the very start – being able to visit the workshop – was really valuable and I was absolutely blown away by the job they did. And placing 31st in a time of 3:39? To be honest, I felt over the moon.” – Matthew Cleave

The Hill Climb Project

ISEN Workshop

Images with kind permission of The Service Course

Additional photography by Josh Heaton

The Service Course / Off-piste in the Peaks

It’s 7:30am and the sky is brightening. The forecast rain has failed to arrive and the day promises to be dry. A fact not lost on the riders as they roll up outside The Service Course in Wilmslow ready for an epic day in the nearby Peak District. Signed on and with coffee in hand, talk soon turns to the route and tyre choice. With an entertaining mix of trails and moorland pathways all stitched together by quiet country lanes and a profile that suggests every gear ratio will be required, this will prove a challenging day in the saddle but one that offers stunning scenery, a sense of shared purpose and the reward – on finishing – of a pie and freshly pulled pint.

Vinny / The Service Course

Riding: A brand new Open U.P. in raw carbon. It was only built yesterday which might be a little bit of a no-no.

Gravel Bonanza is a big thing for me personally, and for The Service Course Wilmslow. To do events like this is such a privilege—to see people sign up because they want to ride with us. And this is just one event out of a number that we have planned. Kind of a nod to the future but inspired by rides that started in Girona. Yes, our version ends at a brewery—which might suggest it’s got a little of me on it.


Riding: A Specialized Diverge with some random bits and pieces that happened to be in the cellar.

I actually live over in Bradford so this is a new area for me to ride. A good excuse to check out some new trails. What I love about a gravel bike is diving down those little hidden pathways you notice out on a ride—not gravel with a capital G but it’s off-road and entertaining. What more do you need?

Ali / Wahoo

Riding: A borrowed bike from The Service Course. It’s a very beautiful Curve and quite possibly beyond my gravel ability.

We’re here representing Wahoo to help out with our bike computers. And for the good vibes [smiles].

Sarah / The Service Course

Riding: No bike for me today as I’m staying at the shop to look after our other customers.

I wasn’t a cyclist when I started working at The Service Course. But I soon saw first hand how cycling brings so many people together. They meet here over a coffee before heading out on a ride—a real sense of community. So now that I’m also riding a bike, I get to join in and I really love it.


Riding: A Bellé that I had built up at The Service Course in Girona. A custom frame with a road bias but this adventure mini-mullet set-up is really proving itself today.

At the beginning of the pandemic, I needed to get out of London so I came up to the Peak District. One, I never realised how easy it was to get here and, two, it has great roads, great people and great coffee. Today we’ve done gravel, tarmac, cobbles, some technical single-track—and that’s on one ride. We have nice riding down in Kent and Surrey but it’s not as challenging and the people are kind of mean [laughs].

Luke / Outdoor Provisions

Riding: There’s two of us – me and Christian – and we’re a Manchester-based energy snack company. We’re both big into bikes but, today, we’re providing the food at the feed stop.

We put the route together for this Gravel Bonanza. There’s a few gems on the west side of the Peak District like Macclesfield Forest and the Midshires Way which we’ve included. And there’s also some bumpy bits which people might be upset about later on [laughs].


Riding: My all-in-one Specialized Roubaix. You can be cheeky and put on some 35s with just enough clearance.

I was looking forward to the camaraderie. A ride that’s a little bit more chilled without all the cars—in the Peak District when you’re not on trails the roads are pretty quiet. And if you want to get lost – in a good sense – then this is the place to come.

Nil / The Service Course

Riding: An Open. But it has reverse brakes – I’m from Girona – so maybe a little tricky on the descents [smiles].

It’s my first time riding in the Peak District but if the weather is okay, then everything will be fine. When I left Spain yesterday it was 20°C – sunshine, shorts – so I just don’t want it to rain.


Riding: An Open Wi.DE Ultradynamico Limited Edition on 48s.

I’ve ridden gravel for quite a while and this looked like good fun. Not sure about the views on the route as I’ve been staring at my stem all day.


Riding: An Orbea Terra on WTB Riddler 700c 37s. Beautiful tyres on this terrain.

Back in 2019, I went to ride the Gravel Bonanza in Girona. I met Vinny down there so when I saw The Service Course in Wilmslow was organising their own version, I decided to return the favour. And to show them how to actually make a flat white [smiles].


Riding: A Specialized Diverge. The same one that I rode at Badlands but with fewer bags.

The Service Course is my local bike shop. I call in most days and they’ve become good friends so I wanted to support them with this event. There’s a mix of everything with this route – some fast flat, technical sections with a loose surface – which just makes it an epic ride.


Riding: An Allied Allroad. My first gravel ride with this bike and I still need to learn how the bike handles and when to hop off [smiles].

It’s an amazing route and I’ve always liked what The Service Course does. I live in Southport which is totally flat so this is an opportunity to ride with others and enjoy the beautiful scenery.

Matt / The Service Course

Riding: I’m making the coffees at the feed stop.

There’s a far amount of logistical organisation in pulling together an event like this. Having a coffee set-up in the middle of nowhere is the main hurdle to get over. But it was great to see everyone meeting up earlier today—that buzz as they headed out for six hours or however long of riding.

The sense of community that I see through my role with The Service Course is very humbling and quite overwhelming. And a ride like today – seeing that many people at the shop, signing on for the ride, getting a coffee – even though I’m not riding myself, I can still take a lot of enjoyment out of that.

Photography by Matt Tomlinson

The Service Course / Outdoor Provisions / komoot / Wahoo / Track Brewery