Photos clockwise from top left:
Haleakala, Maui; Waipoli, Maui; Mauna Loa, Big Island;
Kaloko, Big Island; Mauna Kea, Big Island (middle photo).
The Big Island of Hawaii is home to three Top 100 World Bike Climbs within a 50 mile radius of the center of the climbs: Mauna Kea (#1, Fiets index 29.2), Kaloko (#52, Fiets 14.6), and Mauna Loa (#69, Fiets 13.6). This extraordinary grouping of Top 100 World Climbs makes for the world’s formulaic highest concentration of Top Bike Climbs in a 50 mile radius (cumulative 57.5 Fiets) which is just above the #2 most concentrated set of climbs (Wuling Pass North, West and East in Taiwan). The Island of Hawaii is also home to the steepest segment of paved roadway in the world - Waipio Road at the northern end of the island averages 19% for nearly one full mile.
In all, there are five Top 100 World Bike Climbs in the state of Hawaii (#15 Haleakala and #70 Waipoli Drive on the Island of Maui, Hawaii, round out the five).
US AND WORLD MOST DIFFICULT BIKE CLIMB
MAUNA KEA, BIG ISLAND, HAWAII
Mauna Kea, on the “Big Island” of Hawaii, is the hardest bike climb in the United States, and also by far the most difficult bike climb in the world. Mauna Kea has it all: length (42.5 miles), altitude (sea level to nearly 14,000’), and gradient (the last 10 miles are from 8,120’ to 13,779’ at 10.7% average grade).
The gradient ramps up at mile 30 and averages 10.4% for the final 12 miles from 7,200’ to 13,811’ at the finish.
PJAMM has climbed Mauna Kea four times (2011, 2013, 2014, 2018).
US #2 / #15 WORLD MOST DIFFICULT BIKE CLIMB
HALEAKALA, MAUI, HAWAII
Cycling Haleakala Volcano, Maui, Hawaii
Aerial Sphere Photo:
Center - Haleakala Crater; center right - Summit and approach to summit
We have ridden Haleakala 5 times from Paia, and once up Highway 37 from near the airport in Kahului. We recommend the Paia route as it is more scenic with less traffic. This climb is so difficult because it just wears you out with 36 miles of straight climbing, generally between 5-7% average grade (the steepest mile averages only 7.8%). There are some of the greatest hairpins in the US on this climb -- most are unobstructed (we are on a volcano after all), and the eight starting at mile 25 rival the Horseshoe Meadows Hairpins in length. The five longest average 1.25 miles each! The wind is almost always blowing along the big hairpins, causing you to ride into the wind and suffering for one leg, then once you turn you’ll be loving life for the next mile and a quarter with the wind at your back.
36 miles, gain 10,068’ at 5.3% average grade.
Start the climb at sea level and finish 10,000’ later!!
Top 3 photos are upper hairpins and bottom 3 are lower hairpins.
As with so many of the Top 10 US bike climbs, this is a must do if you are on any of the Hawaiian Islands (either as tourist or resident). Yes, it’s worth the flight to Maui just to ride this spectacular volcano!
US #5 / WORLD #52 HARDEST BIKE CLIMB
KALOKO DRIVE, BIG ISLAND, HAWAII
Kaloko Drive, Kona, Maui, is a beast of a climb -- not surprising for #5 on the list. While, at 11.6 miles, it is not the length of some of the other Top 10s, its 8.7% average grade (10.4% last seven miles/14% last 2.3 miles) edges this cycling ascent into the US Top 5. This is the first of the Top 10 that does not fit the subjective “epic” criteria. The first 4.5 miles are along an uninspiring busy road, and the last seven miles (while trafficless and in a rainforest setting) are not in the “extraordinary” category that Mauna Kea, Haleakala, Mt. Washington, and Pikes Peak are. Nonetheless, this is a must-do for cyclist interested in a top US climb by bike.
US AND WORLD LONGEST BIKE CLIMB
US #8/World #69
MAUNA LOA, BIG ISLAND, HAWAII
As with Mauna Kea, we have climbed Mauna Loa four times (2011, 2013, 2014, 2018).
Just across “the saddle” from Mauna Kea is the great shield volcano Mauna Loa. Beginning from the opposite side of the island from the start of Mauna Kea (coming from Hilo is shorter, but steeper) in Waikoloa we climb 62.2 miles at 3.4% average grade gaining 11,848’ from near sea level to 11,848’.
Mauna Loa Observatory Road (the last 17 miles at 5% to 10,989’).
US #9 / WORLD #70 TOUGHEST BIKE CLIMB
WAIPOLI ROAD, MAUI, HAWAII
This is greatest “unknown” bike climb in the US. Very few cyclists have ever heard of Waipoli Road. This one climbs the backside of Haleakala Volcano on a paved road which ends at Skyline Trail (this trail is manageable on a gravel bike with thick tires, but we end our Top 10 climb at the pavement). The full climb is 12.7 miles at 7.8% but the most fun (well, if you like this kind of stuff) is on the 20 hairpins over the last 4.7 miles which average 10%.
STEEPEST ROAD ½ PAVED MILE+ IN THE WORLD
WAIPOLI ROAD, BIG ISLAND, HAWAII
Cycling Waipio Road
Big Island, Hawaii
Cycle at a 19% average grade for about a mile.
It’s a trek to get to - but . . . it’s worth it!!