Although Mauna Kea may be rated as the hardest bike ride in the world, there are plenty of other hard cycling climbs worldwide to check out as well. The top 10 hardest cycling climbs around the globe, all of which we have personally documented, are:
World’s #1 Bike Climb -- Mauna Kea
Sign at the Visitor Center: Still 8.3 miles to go at 10.4% average grade to 13,712’.
PJAMM Cycling has personally documented all of the World’s Top 10 Bike climbs. This has been quite the adventure that has taken us to four different continents to document the world’s top 10 climbs, which we accomplished in May, 2019. In reverse order, the following is a summary of the Top Hardest World Bike Climbs as defined by the FIETS index (developed by the Dutch cycling magazine Fiets):
#10 OF 10
MOUNT ETNA, ITALY
This climb will take us to the top of that volcano.
This photo was taken along our route to Mt. Etna -- it is a LONG climb!
Cycling Mount Etna, Italy
Ride 26 miles gaining 8,990’ to elevation 9,180’ at 6.5% average grade.
The Mighty Mount Etna: The third hardest bike climb in Italy (just behind the incomparable Scanuppia and Alpe Fuori), is located in the east coast of Sicily, between the cities Messina and Catania. This is our second volcano in the World Top 10 after World #1 Mauna Kea. The last 8.5 kilometers at 11.4% from Rifugio Giovanni Sapienza are dirt and volcanic dust better navigated by mountain bike (we used a cross bike with 40mm and that was a chore and barely manageable.
#9 OF 10
Cycling Breithorn, Switzerland
Ride 8.5 miles gaining 5,280’ to elevation 8,085’ at 11.6% average grade.
This is the only Top 10 World Bike Climb in the great climbing country of Switzerland. The climb is beautiful and there was no sign of life whatsoever for the last 10 kilometers -- it is as private and as peaceful as a double digit 13 kilometer climb can be. There are no visual obstructions to impede the distant views after climbing above tree line at about kilometer 11.
#8 OF 10
Cycling Rila, Bulgaria
Ride 9.4 miles gaining 5,590’ to elevation 8,310’ at 11.2% average grade.
A bit of a chore to get to (that’s an understatement) if you are not living in Bulgaria, this climb is an unbelievable 11% average grade for 15 kilometers along a desolate stretch of broken roadway to two beautiful reservoirs at the finish. The one caveat we submit is that the road is private and there are no guarantees a cyclist will be permitted to ride to the top, although it is certainly possible, as reported in our Climb Summary on the Rila page.
#7 OF 10
PICO DE VELETA, SPAIN
Cycling Pico Veleta, Spain
Ride 19.4 miles gaining 7,820’ to elevation 11,148’ at 7.6% average grade.
Photo clockwise from top left
Top left - PJAMM at the top; top right - riding toward Pico de Veleta; bottom right - hairpins ⅓ up;
Bottom left - hairpins just past the gate; Center - Virgen de Las Nieves altar.
This is another of our favorite world climbs. The first two kilometers are incredibly steep (our two wheel drive support vehicle was put to the test over this segment) while the full climb does not disappoint at an average 7.6% for 31 kilometers. The road above Hoya de la Mora (kilometer 19) is closed to public traffic which makes for a very pleasurable and peaceful climb (if you can ignore your screaming thighs).
#6 OF 10
ALPE FUORI, ITALY
Cycling Alpe Fuori, Italy
Ride 7.3 miles gaining 5,210’ to elevation 6,140’ at 13.7% average grade.
Alpe Fuori is in the Pennine Alps (also the home of the Matterhorn). This is one of three Top 10 World Bike Climbs situated in Italy. With a 13.7% average grade (23% for one kilometer), this climb deserves its high world ranking. We climbed this one in the summer of 2018 and there will be no rematch!
#5 OF 10
DEATH ROAD, BOLIVIA
Cycling the Death Road, Bolivia
Ride 39 miles gaining 11,640’ to elevation 15,200’ at 5.5% average grade.
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!
Post Card Corner - Death Road
Atop one of the highest roads in the world.
#4 OF 10
Ride 4.5 miles gaining 4,200’ at 18% average grade.
Warning: The sign at beginning says no bikes.
This is a KILLER bike climb - extremely steep (although we believe the sign above may be overstated). Scanuppia averages 18 percent grade for its entire 7.3 kilometers. We have ridden this nearly impossible bike climb twice and even with a 28t chainring and 42t cassette on a high-end stiff cross bike, we barely managed it. On the steeper segments (steepest 500m is 24%; our Garmin read 30-32% in a couple of spots) it is very difficult to keep the front wheel from lifting off the pavement.
#3 OF 10
LA MUERTE, ECUADOR
Ride 45 miles gaining 14,670’ to elevation 13,595’ at 5.4% average grade.
This beast is 72.5 kilometers up to 4,144 meters at 5.4% average grade. Unfortunately, on the day we climbed this one by bike, the weather conditions were horrendous and we have no scenic shots from our ride.
#2 OF 10
WULING PASS, TAIWAN
Cycling Wuling Pass, North
Ride 14.8 miles gaining 7,855’ to elevation 10,746’ at 9.8% average grade.
This climb has what you’d expect in the #2 Top World Bike climb: a 10% average grade for 15 miles (3 miles at 16.5%!).
#1 OF 10
MAUNA KEA, BIG ISLAND, HAWAII
TOP RANKED CLIMB IN THE UNITED STATES AND WORLD
40% less oxygen at 13,000’ than sea level . . .
. . . makes 12% feel like 20+.
The hardest bike climb in the World is Mauna Kea, Big Island, Hawaii, and is 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).
Enough said 😟😟
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.
We have climbed Mauna Kea 4 times - 2011, 2013, 2014, 2018.
Diving into the clouds at 13,700’
 This website is primarily about climbing by bike. We have chosen to use an objective index to quantify and rank climbs - The Fiets Index (developed by the Dutch cycling magazine Fiets).
The actual formula is: [H^2/D*10] + (T-1000:1000; but only if greater than 0)
H = ending elevation minus starting elevation in meters.
D = total distance traveled in meters.
T = Height in meters.
Note: Only add T-1000 if that number is greater than zero.