Haleakala Climb Overview
This is the world famous "Cycle To The Sun" a 10,000ft/3048m climb over 36mi/58k that takes you from Maui's North shore Pa'ia (Pah-ee-ah) town through Makawao (mah-kah-wow) town then up to Kula (koo-lah) and finally on to the famous "ribbon road" to Haleakala (Hah-leh-ah-kah-lah) summit. Don' be fooled, it is no easy ride. The gradient is an average of 5% with many corners reaching 8-10% and one short steep climb of 10% for 1/4mi/.4k just out of Makawao. The hardest leg is the last kick to the summit where you are just below 10k and you are faced with another 10% at the summit when you have the least amount of oxygen and your legs are like lead, full of lactic acid.
The weather always rolls in around noon so if it looks clear in the morning there is a 50% chance it will be cloudy on the descent or half way up. Make sure you have enough electrolytes and emergency food (gels), if you don't normally cramp you will on this ride! Fastest time up is 2:30 that is a blistering 14mph/22.5k pace that very few can sustain. The average time up is 5hr (with water breaks) and the average ride down is 1.5hr. Plan on this being an all day ride, if you are renting odds are you will not be able to return your bike by the time the shop closes so plan accordingly.
Paia Town Starting Point
The route starts in Paia at the the intersection of Hana (Hah-nah) Hwy and Baldwin Ave (It does not start at the intersection of Hana Hwy and Haleakala Hwy). You climb out of Paia up 6.5mi/10.5k to Makawao where you can get more food and water at the Rodeo General Store on your left. Just past the store is an intersection where you will need to make sure that you go straight through the 4-way stop sign onto Olinda Rd. If you make a right turn onto Makawao Ave which many people have done thinking this is the route (suggested by Google) you are put onto a local main thoroughfare with no shoulder, bad pavement and fast moving cars that don't appreciate cyclists on the road.
After the 4-way stop sign is the first steep climb as mentioned before. It mellows out and your next turn is the most important and easiest to miss. On your left you will see a Rodeo arena 1mi/1.6k after the intersection, you will need to make a right turn onto Hanamu (Hah-nah-moo) this is where you get your only rest on the ride as you traverse over to the next climb.
After your traverse you will come to an intersection, there will be homemade signs pointing you left that are left over from the race. You will make an uphill left turn (you don't want to go down...) onto an old section of Haleakala Hwy. This is a nice little section of road before you merge with a left turn onto the new Haleakala Hwy and make your way up to Kula.
Kula Market water stop
Kula Market will be on your right 4mi/6.5k after you have merged onto Haleakala Hwy. The market is located on the lower lot around the back on the left, this will be your first and most important water stop. By this time you should have gone through 2 large water bottles. If you haven't finished both of them, chug and re-fill so you have water to make it up to the next water stop in the National park bathroom. Take all sodium supplements that you have because the next section is where the cramping begins. We recommend Hammer Endurolytes for all riding on Maui for their small potent size. You can either refuel at the Kula Market located on the lower parking lot to the left of the Lodge. They have a restroom on the backside as well.
Once re-fueled you will make a left hand turn onto Crater Road and continue on the 22mi/35.4k leg of the ride to the summit. Pace yourself on this section as some of the corners are steep and if you exhaust too much energy here you won't have enough in the reserves for the summit push. At the 5,000ft mark is where the weather usually rolls in, which consists of clouds, mist, rain and winds. Riding through the clouds is extremely cold and has been known to send people into hypothermia on the way down (even those from Cananda and Alaska!) so don't be ashamed to hitch a ride if you didn't pack enough warm gear. A ride from a visitor is much better than a ride from an ambulance.
Haleakala Park Entrance
The Haleakala park entrance will be just below the 7,000ft mark. You will need $8 to get in on a bicycle, but if you have paid for a park pass at any other national park while here on Maui you can use that for your entrance (as long as you have it with you). The next and last water stop is located 1mi/1.6k after the park entance. It consists of restroom facilities that have hand dryers (remember this) for warming up your numb hands when descending in the cold. The temperature here is usually 20-30 degrees cooler than when you started at sea level. Like the previous water stop if you haven't finished your bottles do it here and top off, you'll need it.
The summit is now 10mi/16k after the restroom. Remember there is no shame in turning around at this point if bad weather has moved in. Like I mentioned before it is not unlikely to get hypothermia at this section when descending regardless of where you are from. The air will be a lot thinner here so again pace yourself and don't push into the red zone, you still have to ride back down. Once you have made it to the summit parking lot put on ALL extra clothing. We recommend wind jacket/vest, arm warmers and full finger gloves. Remember many drivers will be happy to give you a lift down if you can't make it.
The Long Way Down
On the descent keep mindful of your hands, they will be very numb and braking becomes hard to manage. If you find yourself getting speed wobbles it is due to your upper body being stiff on the bike, so relax your grip and loosen your upper body posture so you can navigate the road safely. You will have noticed many people riding down on cruisers followed by a car, they make frequent stops so pay attention to them and the cars wanting to pass them. Sit back and enjoy the longest descent of your life, half way down you will wish it was over. Once back in Paia be sure to go to Flatbread for an ice cold recovery beer to help replace some of the 5,000 calories you just burned.
Clothing to bring
Your standard cycling kit will be great, try to pick some shorts/bibs with a larger pad as you will be in the saddle for a long time. You don't need to wear any of this on the way up but it will be a lifesaver on the way down. Here is a list of what we recommend:
- Wind breaker jacket or vest
- Arm warmers
- Rain jacket if rain is more than 20% expected
- Full finger gloves
Nutrition to bring
Here in Hawai'i you are more likely to cramp than where you are normally accustomed to riding so please listen to local advice on nutrition, it will make or break your day in the saddle. We have all found that bringing supplemental electrolytes have a greater benefit than trying to drink them in a mix, especially when you really need it. Due to the length of the ride your system gets put through the ringer so make sure whatever you have you can digest it easily and quickly.
- ELECTROLYTES! (Hammer endurolytes and salt tabs)
- Electrolyte mix for bottles
- Gels (for making it through some of the switchbacks)
- Bars that are easily digestable
- Energy chews (our favorite is Clif Shot Bloks especially Margherita)
- 2 tall water bottles minimum
- BEER for recovery
Below you will find a click through gallery of all the major points you will need to know about while climbing up to the sun. Click though to familiarize yourself with what to look for.
If you are in need of a great bike to ride up Haleakala we rent the new 2014 Specialized Roubaix with a compact crank and the best climbing gear ratio you can get on two wheels.