9 Bucket List Climbs Every Cyclist Needs To Ride

Cycling the Stelvio Pass
Who doesn't enjoy taking on monster Alpine climbs? (Credit: @danielhughesuk)

There’s nothing quite like conquering a big climb on a bike.

That sudden release of endorphins when you crest the peak of a mountain and look back on your jaw dropping surroundings. The scenery just looks so much better after a lung busting cycle. Here, we give you some ideas of the sorts of climbs we think are bucket list-worthy. Tick them off as you go along and send in your photos if you have tackled these great passes.

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Col de la Madeleine

An Alpine monster, the Madeleine connects the Maurienne and Terentaise valleys and takes you from town to nature in just under 15 kilometres. The views atop this twisty climb are truly remarkable, the lush green valleys and view across to Mont Blanc certainly make it worthy of your bucket list.

It is one of the toughest climbs in the Alps with an average gradient of 7.7% but afterwards you can say that you have ridden in the wheel tracks of Tour de France greats. For even more climbing, how about tackling the 18 dizzying hairpin bends of the extraordinary Lacets de Montvernier on your way to the Madeleine?

Location: French Alps
Length: 14.4km
Average gradient: 7.7%
Maximum gradient: 11.1%
Elevation gain: 1,118 m

Prato-Passo Stelvio

Cyclist riding one of the 48 hairpins of the Stelvio Pass
The Stelvio Pass is a true icon of road cycling culture (Credit: @danielhughesuk)

Why not make the most out of your Alpine excursion by crossing over to the Italian end of the range? There you will find one of the most picturesque climbs in all of cycling, the Passo Stelvio. The climb is frequently the Cima Coppi (highest peak) at the Giro d’Italia and it’s actually so high that sometimes the peloton doesn’t even get to the top because of avalanches and frequent changeable weather.

Certainly, the main attraction of the mountain is the famous 48 hairpin bends that can be found on the North side of the climb. Each corner is marked by a stone plaque and you may well get sick of them by the end. Don’t forget to turn back and see the incredible valley you just rode through.

Location: Italian Alps
Length: 24.1km
Average gradient: 7.6%
Maximum gradient: 11.7%
Elevation gain: 1,829m

Col d’Aubisque

Cyclists cycling in the Pyrenees
The spectacular backdrop of the Pyrenees (Credit: @danielhughesuk)

A climb steeped in Tour de France myth and legend; they don’t come quite as historic as the Col d’Aubisque. Famous for its brutish nature, the Aubisuqe was first used by the Tour de France in 1910 and it immediately wrote itself into cycling folklore when Frenchman Octave Lapize crested the peak and bellowed at Tour officials: “Vous êtes des assassins! Oui, des assassins!” (“You are assassins! Yes, assassins!”). While the story is probably not true, the sentiment certainly rings so for anyone who has conquered this monster.

On the way to the top you pass through some of the most extraordinary carved out features including a remarkable looking man-made tunnel. A picturesque climb with oodles of history, the Col d’Aubisque is the Pyrenees’ must-climb mountain.

Location: Pyrenees
Length: 16.8km
Average gradient: 6.9%
Maximum gradient: 12.6%
Elevation gain: 1,167m

The Koppenberg

The shortest climb on our list, to the untrained eye the Koppenberg looks like nothing special in comparison to the rest of these 20km+ mountains. However, in just 500 metres, this cobbled climb arguably packs in more history, brutal climbing and lung busting effort than the rest put together.

From the bottom, the climb looks relatively straightforward, but you need all the momentum and gears you can muster to stay upright on the mid-section that peaks at an eye watering 21.6%. Even the pros struggle. Every year, cycle fans descend on to the hill with the Tour of Flanders in spring and the Koppenbergcross in the fall, this is Belgium’s Aubisque.

Location: Belgium
Length: 500m
Average gradient: 13.3%
Maximum gradient: 21.6%
Elevation gain: 57m

Willunga Hill

The Richie Porte climb – or, if you’re a British cycling fan, the Matt Holmes climb – is a stalwart of the Tour Down Under. As synonymous with the race as the ochre leader’s jersey, Willunga Hill has become well known as the definitive moment of the Tour Down Under.

This gradual climb packs its most difficult sections in the first few kilometres, so if you can get through the steep ramps at the beginning, the rest of the hill should be relatively plain sailing. Catch the views and a treat at the top as a reward for your effort.

Location: South Australia
Length: 3.6km
Average gradient: 6.9%
Maximum gradient: 10.2%
Elevation gain: 249m

Mt Baldy

Another famous queen stage climb is Mt Baldy in California. The Amgen Tour of California’s answer to Mont Ventoux, this moonscape-looking road draws many parallels to the giant of Provence. Emphasis on giant.

Coming from the bustling LA suburbs, the road starts to climb at quite an unforgiving gradient. There’s some respite towards the final kilometres and this acts as a crucial leg stretcher before the final eye-wateringly steep push to the top.

This being LA, there are plenty of potential refreshment stops on the way and at the end – so you can really make the most of your day in the saddle.

Location: South California
Length: 7.2km
Average gradient: 8.7%
Maximum gradient: 14.5%
Elevation gain: 632m

Mt. Hehuan

The location of the annual Taiwan King of the Mountain Cycling Challenge, Mt. Hehuan is one of the most stunning looking roads in all of East Asia. A festival that celebrates the area’s cycling culture, an assault of Hehuanshan is best done with other like-minded riders at the challenge.

A continuously difficult climb, there’s no real let up, so you might need to use the stunning surrounding flora to tap into your happy place.

Location: Taiwan
Length: 14.3km
Average gradient: 6.6%
Maximum gradient: 14.7%
Elevation gain: 940m

Transfăgărășan

Hairpin turns of Transfăgărășan cycling climb
The snaking hairpins of Transfăgărășan (Credit: Antony Stanley)

Another spectacular looking road, the Transfăgărășan is a valley climb to the beautiful Bâlea Lake in Romania. The route is a lesser-known European gem but with plenty of hairpins, viaducts and five tunnels, this is one of the most picturesque bike tour routes you could ever wish to take.

It’s a proper pass with stunning ascents from both north and south and to cycle the entire thing up and down would be a 90km ride in and of itself. If you’re accessing it from Bucharest then it’s likely the south face you’ll be riding – of which 25km is ‘roughly’ the climb proper.

We’re deep in the heart of Dracula country here so maybe pack some garlic just in case.

Location: Romania
Length: 25km
Average gradient: 4.7%
Maximum gradient: 7.1%
Elevation gain: 1,191m

Mauna Kea

Lava fields of Mauna Kea in Hawaii
The lava fields of Mauna Kea (Credit: pedrik)

We’ve left the best until last. Arguably the world’s hardest climb, the Mauna Kea is a brute that only the hardiest cyclists can conquer. The climb is a veritable Hollywood blockbuster of cycling and like any summer mega movies it comprises of three acts.

The long road from Hilo Bayfront means you literally start from sea level and climb all 4,018 metres of Mauna Kea. After 45 kilometres of gradual climbing, the ocean pass turns on to the access road that will eventually take you to the peak. This is where the real climbing hits you and after a day in the saddle it will be incredibly difficult with percentages that max out at 23.3%.

You may as well be on another planet for the final stretch, forget moonscape, Mauna Kea looks frankly Martian. With many challenges to overcome on the way (we haven’t even mentioned the sea winds), this surely is the Everest of our bucket list. Some altitude training is strongly recommended for this ride, to allow your body a better chance of coping with the enormous change in oxygen availability.  

Location: Hawaii
Length: 67.7km
Average gradient: 5.9%
Maximum gradient: 23.3%
Elevation gain: 4,018m

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