The world’s most epic bike climbs. Photos clockwise from top left:
Stelvio, Italy; Punta Olimpica, Peru; Wuling Pass, Taiwan;
Mauna Kea, Hawaii; Death Road, Bolivia (center)
Summary by PJAMM’s John Johnson.
What makes a bike climb “epic”? Well, since this is a subjective issue, we will give you our thoughts on the topic, but by no means do we consider this an end-all list. And, while we can surely debate what are truly the most epic world bike climbs, we feel there is no debate that our Top 10 list includes only epic climbs. We also welcome your thoughts on this category via our Contact Page.
The word “epic,” when used in our context means: extraordinary, exceptional, once-in-a-lifetime, bucket list, and “must do.” The cleats-on-the-ground working definition of “epic bike climb”: At the finish of the climb you say to your riding partner with great enthusiasm “*&%$!, that was an EPIC climb!!!!”
Another rule of thumb on epicicity is: Would you pack your bike, leave your family behind, and fly at least 10 hours to a foreign land that speaks a language you don’t know, using your last five vacation days of the year to do this climb?
With that simple guideline in mind, here we go . . .
#10 OF 10 WORLD’S MOST EPIC BIKE CLIMBS
PIKES PEAK, COLORADO, USA
Cycling Pikes Peak
Ride 24 miles gaining 8,037’ to elevation 14,115’ at 6.1% average grade.
For cycling in the US, it just doesn’t get any better than Pikes Peak. Located in the Rocky Mountains an hour outside Denver, Colorado, this one has everything you will ever want in a road bike climb: length, challenge, altitude, and breathtaking scenery.
We have ridden Pikes Peak three times and consider it one of the most epic climbs in the world. The climb is extremely challenging (#4 US/#22 World), scenic, and unique in that it is the second highest paved road in North America (a mere 15’ behind Mt. Evans). The hairpins at 12,500’ are extraordinary and give us unobstructed views to the Colorado plains over a mile below.
#9 WORLD’S MOST EPIC BIKE CLIMBS
GOTTHARD PASS, SWITZERLAND
Gotthard rivals Stelvio, Alpe d'Huez and Lacets de Montvernier . . .
. . . but it is the hairpin + cobble combination which make this a Top 10 Epic World Bike Climb!
It’s that one-two punch of amazing hairpins and ancient cobbles that make this climb one of the most remarkable cycling experiences in the world -- and worthy of most bucket lists. This is a bike climb that deserves to be on every adventuring cyclist’s “Must Do” list.
Start of the cobbles.
#8 WORLD’S MOST EPIC BIKE CLIMBS
AL JAADAH PASS, ASIR MOUNTAINS, SAUDI ARABIA
Ride 7.7 miles gaining 5,820’ at 14.5% average grade
This is the second most difficult bike climb in the world and it is an absolute BEAST! The scenery is stark and powerful and the is gradient absolutely unrelenting. This climb is unknown to the cycling world (we posted the first Strava segment for it in September 2021) and is located in the middle of the Asir Mountains, the hardest cycling climbing area in the world. Seven top 30 and 11 top 100 world bike climbs are within a 100 mile radius in this area.
#7 WORLD’S MOST EPIC BIKE CLIMBS
ATACAMA, ATACAMA DESERT, CHILE
Ride 21 miles gaining 7,400’ to one of the highest paved points in the Americas.
At 15,578 feet of elevation, this is one of the highest paved passes in the Americas. In contrast to Central and Northern South America (e.g. Colombia), this is a stark climb in the high Andes desert with minimal to no vegetation to be seen. Yet this is a dramatically stark and beautiful climb which we are very glad we spent the time to get to.
Start the climb at 8,300’.
Finish at 15,587’
#6 WORLD’S MOST EPIC BIKE CLIMBS
ALPE D'HUEZ, LE BOURG-D'OISANS, FRANCE
The most famous road bike climb in the world.
The Tour de France made and keeps Alpe d’Huez famous. This climb was first included in the TdF in 1952 and has been included 30 times thereafter (as of the 2022 Tour).
Photo clockwise from top left:
Start; Turn 21 (first turn); Turn 1 (last turn); finiish; Turn 1 (center).
#5 WORLD’S MOST EPIC BIKE CLIMBS
MAUNA KEA, BIG ISLAND, HAWAII
Mauna Kea -- THE hardest bike climb in the world.
Mauna Loa across “the saddle” in background
Mauna Kea is the undisputed most difficult bike climb in the world. We begin just above sea level and climb without any appreciable descent for 42 miles, gaining 13,736’ to elevation 13,767’. Along the way we pass through four climate zones (eight sub-zones) from sea to the highest paved point in the Hawaiian Islands, adjacent to the highest and most sacred point in Hawaii -- Mauna Kea Peak (13,796’).
The signs just before the last 8.5 miles say it all.
The final two segments are relentless:
- 4.7 miles;
- 11.1% average grade;
- 2,408' gained;
- Begin 9,348’, end 11,756’
- Five murderous switchbacks -- they are generally steeper than the straight road and at the steepest sections cause your rear wheel to slide towards the inside of the turn.
Final segment is paved.
Mt. Evans (14,125’), Pikes Peak (14,110’) and Mauna Kea (13,767’)
are the only paved roads topping 13,000’ in the U.S.
- 3.7 miles;
- 9.3% average grade;
- 2,020' gained;
- Begin 11,756’, end 13,767'.
We have climbed Mauna Kea four times: 2011, 2013, 2014, 2018.
#4 WORLD’S MOST EPIC BIKE CLIMBS
WULING PASS EAST, TAIWAN
This is an extremely challenging road bike climb and the second longest in the world (87 km/54 miles) behind Mauna Loa, Hawaii, USA (100.1 km/62.2 miles).
While the challenge of this climb alone justifies its inclusion on all road bike climbing bucket lists, it is Taroko Gorge that separates Wuling East from nearly all other climbs in the world. Taroko Gorge is within Taroko National Park (est. 1986; 355 square miles/227,000 acres), one of nine National Parks on the island of Taiwan, and is composed of metamorphic rocks, including marble. It is the smooth polished marble walls carved by the Liwu River which is absolutely remarkable. We’ve never seen anything like it -- stunning!
Many tunnels, bridges and rock features along the climb.
Wuling Pass East is also home to Asia’s greatest bike race, the KOM Challenge, which is held annually in October.
#3 WORLD’S MOST EPIC BIKE CLIMBS
PASSO DELLO STELVIO, TRENTINO-ALTO ADIGE, ITALY
The most famous hairpins in the world.
Looking down from just below the pass area.
Photos clockwise from top:
Looking down the mountain, Hairpins 8 (photo bottom) to 24 (photo top); Hairpins 42-35; Hairpins 30-24.
Ultimo tornante (“last turn”).
Stelvio is nothing if not EPIC! This is the most famous of our Top 10 World Most Epic and rightly so. We love Stelvio and have travelled to Bormio and Prato Allo Stelvio three times to climb this extraordinary road.
Stelvio is our favorite bike climb finish in the world.
#2 WORLD’S MOST EPIC BIKE CLIMBS
PUNTA OLIMPICA, ANCASH REGION, PERU
Cycling Punta Olimpica, Peru - one of world’s most epic bike climbs.
Ride 28 miles gaining 6,900’ to elevation 15,515 at 4.5% average grade.
After the Death Road, this is the most epic bike climb I have ever ridden. What makes this climb so outstanding is it’s scenery, challenge, hairpins, glaciers, and finish at one of the highest paved roads in South and North America. The climb finishes in Parque Nacional Huascaran, a Peruvian national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We ride through the Ulta Valley midway into the climb.
Photos of the last segment of the climb.
#1 OF 10 WORLD’S MOST EPIC BIKE CLIMBS
DEATH ROAD, BOLIVIA
Hands down the MOST epic bike ride in the world.
Ride 39 miles gaining 11,640’ to elevation 15,200’ at 5.5% average grade.
This may very well be the greatest road of all! Words cannot describe this climb, but thankfully our photos and drone video do it some justice. It is a magnificent and otherworldly experience: Indiana Jones meets Jurassic Park in the scenery. North Yungas Road, nicknamed “Death Road,” was carved out of the mountainside in the 1930s by Paraguayan prisoners during the Chaco War with Brazil. The road connects La Paz with the town of Coroico, effectively connecting the Amazon rainforest and those who dwell there, with Bolivia’s capital city (Curiosity).
Postcard Corner, Death Road.
The Death Road is our all-time favorite climb by road bike. We included the Death Ride in our 2017 South American Cycling Adventure (also included were Alto de Letras, Colombia, Atacama, Chile and Uturuncu, Bolivia). We spent three days on the Death Road and enjoyed every minute of it -- this is the cycling adventure of all time!
This is just one badass road!
During rainy season be prepared to forge rivers.
There are numerous memorials along the Death Road.
Second half -- no sheer cliffs but a lot of muy loco drivers!
At the finish -- Will and I looked at each and said “!@#$%^ EPIC!!”