Whether you consider yourself a climber or just want to take on the ultimate challenge on the bike, there are certain rides you’ll need to try, at least once.
If you’ve got your lightweight bike ready, proper gearing and energy to burn, these eight cycling events with monster climbs are some of the toughest in the U.S. — and the perfect way to test your strength and fortitude out on the road.
MT. LEMMON HILL CLIMB
Tucson, Arizona — May 17, 2019
This 59.6-mile race is an out and back, going up the Mt. Lemmon Climb during the first half before you swing around for a long descent. While the 4.5% gradient and 6,600-feet of elevation gain might not seem daunting at first, the nearly 30 miles of constant climbing starts to add up, and you’ll definitely feel those occasional kicks to 8%. The descent is your reward, but make sure you work on your bike handling, as you’ll hit some high speeds.
CLIMB TO KAISER
Fresno, California — June 22, 2019
How does 155 miles and 15,000 feet of climbing sound? If you’re a glutton for punishment, the climb to Kaiser is the race you need. Featuring multiple climbs throughout the ride, the two that stand out are the 7-mile Old Tollhouse Grade, featuring pitches up to 13%, and the shorter 3.5-mile climb at Big Creek with sections of 20%. Of course, there are plenty of other steep roads you’ll have to conquer, too, but the good news is this race has a lot of downhill for you to spin easy and recover before the roads head up once again.
VERMONT GRAN FONDO
Bristol, Vermont — June 29, 2019
This beautiful, scenic ride in Vermont is a must for any cyclist. Commonly ranked in the top-10 steepest climbs in the world, this year’s King and Queen of the Mountain timed segment of the Gran Fondo tackles Lincoln’s Gap. Featuring a 24% maximum gradient and a 15% average grade, the climb is reported to hold the record for the steepest mile stretch of any U.S. road. In addition to this monster climb, cyclists will also be required to tackle Middlebury Gap and a double ascent of App Gap, which are no easy feats on their own. Over the entire 109-mile course, you’ll have to climb a total of 11,200-feet to reach the finish.
THE DEATH RIDE
Markleeville, California — July 13, 2019
Five mountain passes, 15,000 feet of climbing and a 129-mile distance make this race one of the toughest in the U.S. Which of the five climbs is the toughest is up for debate, with Ebbets Pass (8,730 feet), both sides of Monitor Pass (8,314 feet) and Carson Pass (8,580 feet) among those you’ll have to conquer. Race directors recommend choosing your gearing wisely, with compact cranks and a 40-tooth cassette being a reasonable course of action if you plan on reaching the finish.
MT. EVANS HILL CLIMB
Idaho Springs, Colorado — July 27, 2019
This iconic bike race takes place on Mt. Evans, home of the highest paved road in the U.S. The event starts in the historic mining town of Idaho Springs before you begin your ascent to the summit, which sits at a whopping 14,130 feet. The course is 27.4 miles long and features 11 switchbacks and maximum grades around 10%. The good news is, once you near the top, you’ll witness some of the most beautiful views of the Rocky Mountains — all from the seat of your bike.
SEA TO STARS
Big Island, Hawaii — August 3, 2019
Featuring three Category 1 climbs and one Category 2 climb, this 48-mile race with close to 10,000 feet of elevation gain is not for the faint of heart. All totaled, the Mauna Kea challenge averages 6% gradient and a max grade of 15%. Other than the length, what makes this ride so hard is the last 5 miles, where the elevation makes it difficult to breathe and the asphalt turns to volcanic rock, making breaks off the bike almost a necessity. There probably isn’t a tougher climb in the world. Give it a try if you’re into bragging rights.
MT. WASHINGTON AUTO ROAD HILLCLIMB
Gorham, New Hampshire — August 17–18, 2019
The famous climbs in the Alps and Dolomites get all the attention because of the professional bike races in France and Italy, but this climb is, without a doubt, one of the toughest in any cycling event. The 7.6-mile climb averages a gradient of 12%, and has multiple sections reaching 18%. If that isn’t enough to make your hair stand up, the final 50 yards is an almost unrideable 22%. Organized practice rides the month before the event are available and are a good idea so you know just what you’re getting into.
SAVE MOUNT DIABLO CHALLENGE
Danville, California — October 13, 2019
While not the most daunting on this list, we like this 11.2-mile climb because it’s doable for most weekend warriors. Starting at Athenian High School before ending at the top Mount Diablo via Southgate Road, you’ll rise about 3,250 feet over the distance. The average gradient is a moderate 5.8%, but the last bit of the climb has a short section that kicks up to 16%. The views along the way are also spectacular, as a good portion of the climb is exposed, allowing you to take in some of those breathtaking Bay Area landmarks.