Climbing is the most physically challenging part of road cycling, it is where the cyclists test their stamina, their fitness and their tolerance for pain. For this reason, victory in major road bike races tends to revolve around hill stages and climbing. The same reasons that motivate a biker to take up the sport in the first place, the desire to push themselves, the desire to overcome, those are what motivate bikers to take on a climb. California, with its unique geography and road-faring culture has a perfect setting for this type of adventure in self-discovery. Southern California in particular has a variety of challenging hills for the serious road cyclist.
1. Onion Valley Road
Almost universally recognized as the most challenging bike climbing road in California, Onion Valley Road is 13 miles long and goes up 5,000 feet. The road offers 11 switchbacks and a variety of differing climate extremes. There is much beautiful scenery to be enjoyed on the ride, including vistas of the majestic Sierra Nevadas.
2. Owens Valley Whitney Portal
A little over 11 miles long, the ride elevates to a breathtaking 4330 feet and starts out in blistering heat to end in very cool temperatures at the top. Along the way riders get to enjoy spectacular views of Owens Valley.
3. Mount Palomar
The ascent of Mount Palomar offers 11 miles of switchbacks and an elevation of more than 4,000 feet. The traffic is often busy with many Indian reservations and Casinos in the area. The ride is particularly difficult when undertaken in the summer, due to the heat.
4. Figueroa Mountain Road (Eastern Ascent)
An east side ascent of Figueroa Mountain offers some of the toughest climbing in SoCal, with more than 3,000 feet of hard riding punctuated by peaceful scenes of rural California. The California theme of hairpin turns continues here with several switchbacks along the way. The ride is a little over nine miles long.
5. Figueroa Mountain Road (Western Ascent)
Like the Eastern Ascent, climbing the west shoulder of Figueroa Mountain involves starting out in the picturesque town of Los Olivos. This side also offers switchbacks and some hard, steep stretches. The length of the ride is about nine and a half miles and takes the rider up to an elevation of a little over 3,000 feet.
6. Refugio Road
This climb is in the hills north of Santa Barbara and take riders up to an elevation of almost 4,000 feet. There are many hairpin turns along the 10 mile ride, and the road eventually narrows to a single lane. Riders should note that the Refugio Road is poorly maintained for much of its latter stretches.
7. Gibraltar Road
With an elevation of about 3,500 miles, the Gibraltar Road Climb offers a little over 10 miles of rugged yet beautiful landscape. The road is both full of switchbacks and unpaved in sections.