Page Contributor(s): Ron Hawks, Las Vegas, Nevada
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Cycling Kaloko Drive, North Kona, Hawaii, a Top 10 US Bike Climb
Ride 11.6 miles gaining 4,989’ to elevation 4,985’ at 8% average grade.
“Kaloko Drive is a fearsome climb above Kailua on its southwest coast of the Big Island of Hawaii that will challenge any rider. It has always been incongruous to me that such challenging climbing can be found in a tropical and vacation like environment but that is the way with Hawaii. A bit congested to start, the initial phase of climbing on this hill does not seem to suggest bigger things are ahead. After riding over a moderately variable grade, after just under 4 miles with a few steeper pitches on Hina-Iani Street turn left on Route 190 (Hawaii Belt Road) to continue over fairly shallow grade and more traffic much of the time. Shortly Kaloko Drive appears inauspiciously on the right and it is here that the real climb begins.
This last segment is a crux stretch of climbing on the hill as these last 7miles average just under 10% and include multiple sections of double digit grade sprinkled in along the way. The actual Kaloko Drive is an hours climb all by itself and with true tropical scenery. After a moderate start the road soon gets and stays mostly steep (although over a variable grade on this section with multiple sweeping curves along the way with double digit grade popping up in many of the turns. Little traffic most days results in a pleasant ascent and you may find yourself forgetting you are in Hawaii at times as you grind up the steep slopes on this section of this beyond category hill. Keep focusing on each switchback segment as you continue up the mountain. As you near the top of the climb you are in a cloud forest with great views on clear days but that also means you may get wet on this one at times (and cold) so carry what you might need. Near the very end of the scenic hill, turn left on Huehue Street for the finishing torture. This narrow road takes you up toward the cell towers at the very top of the mountain over the steepest sustained climbing on the hill. Take time to enjoy the setting and scenery on top as you have earned it if you reached this point…” (This quote is presented with the approval of John Summerson, from his book, The Complete Guide to Climbing (by Bike), 2nd Edition, pg. 182.)
Before heading to Hawaii on your cycling adventure, be sure to rely on our list of Things to Bring on a Cycling Trip, and use our interactive checklist to ensure you don't forget anything.
As with all volcano ascents, the initial portion of the climb is shallow, giving way to steeper pitches as we approach the top, the first two miles gain a modest 501' at 4.4% average (7.7% maximum) grade. The following 9.7 miles double the grade of the first two miles (8.8% average) and gains 4,441' with no literally descent -- there is not one foot of descent on this 11.7 mile climb). At mile 4.5 we encounter our first major switchback (there are eight in all as you zig-zag up the volcano). Two of these switchbacks reach or exceed 20 percent grade during portions of them. The final 0.7 mile after turning left off Kaloko Drive onto Huehue Street has an average grade of 13% (according to RideWithGPS) and 14% (according to Strava). However, we have ridden this stretch four times, and the last time I watched my Garmin the entire way. It never went below 14%, and was often at 17% (exceeding 20% briefly). All that to say, I believe my eyes...and screaming quads!
Go, Go PJAMM!
Traffic and Roadway Surface Report: The first four miles of the climb (Hina Lani) are on a major artery between Queen Kaahumanu Highway (Highway 19 that skirts the west side of the Big Island near the Kona airport), and Mamalahoa Highway (Hawaii Belt Highway), and are thus busy with fast moving vehicles. However, the road is wide and there is a very comfortable bike path most of the Hina Lani portion of the ride. You are on Mamalahoa Highway for less than 50 yards before turning right onto Onaona Drive, and then immediately left onto Old Mamalahoa Road. Traffic is light for the remainder of the climb and the road is in good condition, although it is narrow with no bike lane.
Descent: Beware of this descent, as it can be very hazardous. It is often moist at the higher elevations on the islands and you will definitely encounter very, very steep descents along several of the switchbacks (remember, a couple of them boast 20%+ grades). The road can be slippery, beware of moss which can grow on the road higher up. Be alert and careful on the descent. It is a good idea to assess the roadway as you ascend, you will have plenty of time to do so if your climb is anything like ours!
Keep an eye out for Rainbow Eucalyptus on Kaloko Drive.
The only eucalyptus tree that lives in the rainforest.
Kailua Kona is a very touristy but mellow Hawaiian town. The prices here compared to 4 to 5-star resort areas with golf courses and their private beaches are very reasonable, particularly in the off-season. Kona is on the "dry" side of the Island, opposite the "wet" side (Hilo). There are many reasonably priced houses and condos along the beachfront that can be rented through VRBO. Dining in Kailua is generally informal and reasonable. You can rent road and mountain bikes at The Bike Works in town near the famous Kona Brewery. The Ironman Triathlon course (held every year in August) starts and proceeds through downtown Kona on Ali'i Drive known for its many shops, eateries and bars along the bay.
Finally, much thanks to author/cyclist Ron Hawks for his photo contributions to this page.
That’s a wrap!!