World’s Longest Paved Climb: Maui Cycling Adventures

On top of Haleakala

Alpe d’Huez. Col du Tourmalet. Passo Stelvio. Hautacam. These are cycling’s holiest ascents, the majestic stages where the sport’s most magnificent dramas have unfolded. Men have literally elevated themselves from mere mortals to divine beings of the cycling realm upon these slopes.

But these infamous climbs pale in comparison in length and elevation gain to the volcano I scaled in the middle of the pacific ocean. Maui is home to Haleakala, deemed the “World’s Longest Paved Climb” on Strava. While most people spend their Maui vacations sprawled on the beach sunning like glutenous Hawaiian Monk Seals, I spent a week sharpening my jersey tan lines. When I wasn’t on my bike, I was catching tasty waves at Honolua Bay, but the highlight of the trip was the time I spent on two wheels.

Here’s the stats for the climb to the top of the “House of the Sun”: 34.5 miles, 9,710 feet of elevation gain, 5.3% grade. The grade is gradual and steady, but nowhere on earth can you ride uphill for that distance continuously. Start in the town of Paia near Kahului and the Hana Highway. Make your way south for about 13 miles before heading east onto the lower slopes of the crater.

Somewhere in my oxygen-deprived jaunt up this behemoth I had a revelation. Why aren’t there any ProTour races on Maui, or any Hawaiian island for that matter? The weather is idyllic, the scenery spectacular. In a tourism-based economy, it seems like a logical state to host a major event.

Cycling Haleakala

Looking west somewhere around 4,500 feet up. By the time I rode down, the clouds had moved in and limited visibility.

Giro d’Italia winner Ryder Hesjedal discovered the wonders of Hawaii’s cycling potential. He hosts an 8-day training camp in December for cyclists looking to trade the gloom of dark trainer workouts in their garages for tropical, sun-drenched adventures.

Besides climbing Haleakala, I also rode the West Maui loop, a 60-mile route around the “head” of the island. There’s a stretch of twisty, one-lane, gravely road on the north side of the island with views of the coastline that make you want to stop and pull out your camera after every turn. It’s a little dicey dealing with cars around some of the blind switchbacks, but for the most part motorists are considerate and attentive to cyclists. If you make your way to Maui, find time to do this ride. It will be the highlight of your trip.

Maui cycling

One of the stunning vistas on Hwy 340 near Kahakuloa Bay.

Cycling Haleakala

Around 6,000 feet up Haleakala, pine trees curiously line the road. These trees aren't native to the island, but they create a weird, tropical-alpine environment.

Nene bird

Why did the Nene cross the road? Hawaii's state bird apparently inhabits the arid upper slopes of Haleakala.

Cycling Haleakala

The temperature was about 55 degrees at the summit. I was glad I packed a light jacket for the descent.

Summit Haleakala

The last half-mile is the steepest, but the view makes it worth it.