Jordy Smith knows a thing or two about hill climbing. As co-owner of the Widowmaker Hill Climb in Croydon, Utah he’s seen thousands of people attempt to crest the top of the 1000′ hill, which is the second stop in the Rockwell Championship Hill Climb Series.
How steep is the Widowmaker? Out of 4800 some-odd attempts by motorcyclists only 35 were successfully completed. The Widowmaker used to offer a professional snowmobiling climb in the winter, but the sanctioning body backed out after too many sleds became totaled from careening back down to the bottom. They’re still finding wreckage on the hill!
Before Jordy moved behind the scenes of professional hill climbing he was front and center as an active participant. Starting in 1968 he began competing at the original Widowmaker venue in Salt Lake City, which eventually succumbed to property development 20 years later. Jordy also became National Hill Climb Champion in the Over-40 Class for several years running. These days he enjoys mentoring young riders and working with his son Jon Smith, a successful Pro Hill Climber in his own right. Jon, who has a day job as a manufacturing engineer, and Jordy also own Brookhart Machining where they custom-build motorcycle frames specifically for hill climbing.
So without further ado, here are the four basic rules of hill climbing from Jordy Smith:
#1 STAND UP!
Jordy says the biggest mistake he sees riders make time and again is trying to assault a hill sitting down. Stand up! This golden rule applies to every type of bike and every type of hill. Body position should be as far forward as possible on the bike with the front wheel ideally no more than 6 to 8 inches off the ground. Finding the balance point of having weight forward enough to keep the front end in check and enough weight on the back of the motorcycle for maximum traction can require the rider’s stance to change and adapt in accordance to the severity of the incline.
#2 CLUTCH CONTROL
The throttle should be held mostly wide open, with the clutch being used to keep the front wheel exactly where the rider wants it. Slipping the clutch may sound easy but the most challenging inclines require a good dose of clutch finesse – especially when navigating over large rocks, deep ruts, and inconveniently placed fallen trees along the way.
#3 DON’T SHIFT
Most bikes should be in second gear for the steep assaults. Put there and leave it there, don’t downshift. If second won’t cut it consider bumping your rear sprocket size up a few teeth.
#4 DON’T OVER THINK IT
Another common mistake riders make is concentrating so much on one aspect they forget about the others. Or concentrating on everything so much they end up staring at their bike’s front fender instead of focusing on what’s coming further up the hill. With enough practice body position and clutch/throttle control become second nature.
Unlike Aerospace Engineering, hill climbing isn’t complicated – although in the case of Jordy’s son Jon it seems that having an engineering degree sure doesn’t hurt anything. While the basics and fundamentals remain the same regardless of hill or rider, the steeper the slope and longer the hill the more crucial technique and skill are. Again, a lot of practice helps to refine the basics.
There are those that have a good dose of natural ability as well. At the pinnacle of hill climbing you’ll find professional athletes steeped in talent who are at the top of their game and elevate these techniques to new heights. (Editor’s note: My apologies to the reader, I decided to consolidate all my puns in one sentence.)
Jordy also pointed out to me that competitive hill climbing on any level has a significantly lower risk of injury compared to other forms of two wheel off-road competition like Motocross or Desert Racing. I might argue that this is restricted to physical injury – watching my bike hurtling down the Widowmaker would undoubtedly cause severe emotional trauma and financial duress.
Anyone who’s interested in attending the Widowmaker Hill Climb as a spectator or participant should pencil it in their calendar for the third or fourth weekend in June. This 3 day event is family fun at it’s finest with classes to accommodate just about everyone 3 years old and up. They even had an 88-year-old show up to make a run on his birthday! If you do want to participate don’t delay, the entry list fills up every year. Contact Jordy through their website for more information!