Long, steady climbs on a bicycle are the holy grail of athletic conquests. We hill climbers measure the worth of a landscape by its rise over run
On St. Patrick’s Day, my brother and I rode our bicycles to the top of Conzelman Road in Marin County, and from the overlook above San Francisco, with a view of the Golden Gate Bride, we drank a strong ale from our local Lagunitas Brewing Company. A man, just out of his car and camera in hand, said, “You guys earned your beer, eh? Makes me feel lazy.” We nodded but didn’t have the heart to tell him that we’d actually pedaled to the top, gone back to the bottom, and repeated the mountain ride nine more times. The four-hour stunt was our birthday gift to ourselves (we’re twins)—a 35-mile ride in which we gained more than 7,000 vertical feet. Not bad, but at the end, we were dizzy with the numbing repetition of the feat, and we knew one thing for certain:
“We need a bigger hill, Andrew,” I said to my brother.
Because for hill climbers like us, long, steady, unyielding climbs are the holy grail of athletic conquests. Climbing such roads on a bicycle delivers endorphins to the brain, strengthens muscles and calms the mind. It works like yoga, asking concentration while allowing meditation. Big climbs mean health, nourishment and prolonged youth. We thrive on them, and hill climbers like us can’t help but measure the worth of a landscape by its rise over run. And so we scorn Holland and its tidy flat bike paths, and we dream of mountains and those rare roads that go upward for thousands upon thousands of feet without pause. But where are these monsters—and how high do they climb? The following list includes just a few of the best uphill bike rides in the world. You needn’t be a hill climber to love them, because they’re equally thrilling to ride down. Just check your brakes and wear your helmet.
Haleakala, Hawaii. Rise Over Run: 10,023 feet of climbing in 35.5 miles. The road up the Haleakala volcano delivers one of the longest highway ascents, with the most vertical gain in one push, in the world. It is also one of the most downright difficult rides, as there is virtually no flat or downhill ground once the climbing starts. Moreover, the air grows thin with the altitude, heightening the difficulty as cyclists struggle to catch their breath. Not surprisingly, some tourists come to this mountain for only the thrill of going down it. Maui Easy Riders, for one, offers what is billed as one of the longest guided downhill bike rides in the world.