Designer & bike rider in British Columbia, Canada

Road Cycling the Big Island

I’d rank the 10 days I spent road riding and training on Hawaii’s Big Island as likely (highly likely) the best riding I’ve done anywhere. I based all of my rides out of the Waikoloa Resort area, which is 40km north of Kona. Most of the ride distances below are based on starts in Waikoloa.

Here’s a Google Map of some routes I did, either from reading online forums, riding with a small club on the Island, or discovering on my own. It’s usually straight forward (there aren’t that many roads), though there are two side roads in particular that get you away from traffic:

If I could only do one ride, it’d be Mauna Kea for sure. Epic. Next best is the North Waimea + Hawi loop, followed by the one around Kona.

There’s some riding in the south and south-east, too, that I never got around to, and of course the east coast. But as I understand it the west and north-west stuff I did is the best riding with the most options.

80–100km, 1300m: North Waimea + Hawi Loop
Probably one of the best rides, period. Big 24km climb starting from sea level near the Sam Spencer Park up to just before Waimea (halfway point), and hang a left to go north to the top of the hill in the grassy farmlands. The downhill to the very north tip is super fast, smooth, great turns, from the high plains down through the rainforest. Except for the first half of the climb to Waimea, very little traffic. Snack in Hawi, then cruise back along the coast.

162km, 3500m: Mauna Kea
The big volcano, where the telescopes are. From sea level it’s an 80km climb, 70km of which aren’t too hard. You go through all sorts of landscapes. The first part, Waikoloa road, from the west coast to Saddle Road, is gradual-ish climbing. I recommend hitting that portion in the morning: the rush-hour traffic flows east-to-west from 6–8am, so you want to be going against it (you’ll have more of the lane to yourself). The next section is old Saddle Road (it’s the road that cuts across the whole island between the two big volcanoes) is super awesome going up or down. Seriously one of the best 20km I’ve ever ridden. Then you’re on the 4-lane Saddle Road past the military base and through a lava field before a sharp left up the mountain. This last 10km going up to the visitor centre is super hard, like 14–15%. It’s paved, though (and the Visitor Centre is still very high elevation)—there’s a dirt road after that for another hour to the top and the telescopes. I didn’t try it: you should, might be doable on 25mm tires and your easiest gear.

52km, 800m: Kona Loop
I started and ended this one in Kona. Great little loop. I did it multiple times. Basically it goes south through Kona, then climbs up and east (mostly 5–8%, with a 2x 500m of steep ass shit), then 180º back towards Kona, but elevated on the hillside along the old Mamalahoa highway above Kona—narrow, but traffic isn’t too bad, and it’s super great pavement and twisty and fun. Descends back to west coast highway, then back into Kona. The local club showed me the route. There’s a little out-and-back extension at the southern most portion into Captain Cook area, further south, that I hear is nice.

90km, 1000m: Waimea Loop
Starts on the same climb that the epic Mauna Kea ride does, but instead of going all the way east to the volcano on Saddle Road, you cut north half way up and head to Waimea. OK little town for a snack stop, lots of ranch land. Then you descend on a super fast, wide shoulder, nearly straight shot to sea level again (it’s actually going down the first half of the climb in the North Waimea + Hawi Loop above). Prety much the fastest single long descent I’ve ever done. Again, start out early against the morning rush hour traffic (or do the loop backwards in the evening).

125km, 1750m: Waimea Loop + Honokaa

Same loop as Waimea Loop above, but with an out-and-back tacked on half way. Nice because you’ll see you can skirt off onto the parallel Old Mamalahoa Highway which is nearly as fun as the north loop, and has the same amount of traffic—almost none. When you get to Honokaa (sleepy little town, with a teenage-run diner on the main drag with ice cream and burgers) you could even head north-west another 30km to the Waipio Valley lookout (which is where the excellent Waimanu hiking trip starts from). Note: the Waipio Valley Lookout is where the “Steepest Road in America” is, which you walk down to start the hike, and which Lance Armstrong has the KOM on. I didn’t ride it because it was wet the day I was there and you need hella traction (26% grade or something).

Old, very fun, Mamalahoa highway above Kona.
The desolate lava fields at the base of Mauna Kea. It’s about 10km of this flatness, after you’ve climbed up from the west coast and passed the army base, before you turn left and finish the final 10km (at 14% grade) to the visitor’s centre.
Ranch land heading east and later north to Waimea (near those mountains on the left).
The top of the old portion of Saddle Road. It gets twistier after this. Make sure you turn right onto this when heading west on Saddle Road, and don’t take the new 4-lane Saddle Road all the way to the coast.
Steepest Road in America at Waipio Valley Lookout.
Very sweaty when you stop during a climb.
Start of the 80km of climbing to Mauna Kea.
It’s direct, and has a wide shoulder, and is famous for the Iron Man, but I avoided the Queen Highway between the Waikoloa resorts and Kona as much as possible—just too noisy, too many cars.
One of the steep bits climbing up from the west coast to the Mamalahoa Highway above Kona.






8 Responses to “Road Cycling the Big Island”

  1. DougC Avatar

    Thanks, so much, for this write-up. I referenced it heavily for my recent trip to the big island! Very helpful!

  2. Laura Avatar

    Did u rent bikes? If so, from where? Thanks for your info!!!!

    1. Jeffrey Werner Avatar
      Jeffrey Werner

      Laura: I brought my bike with me, but the girlfriend rented hers from…from the bike shop in Waikoloa Resort area—the only bike shop in that area, I believe. Probably a few in Kona will rent, too.

  3. Johan Avatar

    Very useful info for my upcoming trip to the big island. I want to do at least one bicycle ride and you showed me the options.
    The Mauna Kea looks very heavy

    Thanks for the info

  4. Serge Morin Avatar
    Serge Morin

    Hi Jeff !
    Thanks a lot for the info.
    You convince me to Go to Waikoloa for a cycling getway.
    I went for 10 days on May 4th
    My #1 cycling trip.
    Your info was great and really useful.
    Thanks again.
    Serge ( the french canadian from Quebec )

  5. Will Avatar

    Thanks for these recommendations! FYI, The strava link does not work for me – says “no record”. I have strava app installed.

    1. Jeffrey Werner Avatar
      Jeffrey Werner

      Thanks for the heads-up re: the Strava link. It works on desktop (or desktop mode on a mobile browser), but I often find the app buggy for opening links.

  6. Karsten Theess Avatar
    Karsten Theess

    Great recommendations, Jeff and thanks for taking the time to write this all up. I opted for the Kona loop with an extension past Captain Cook down to the coast and back up. Has a scenic section starting at the painted church and a long but gentle incline back up to the big intersection. I most enjoyed riding along 180 after climbing up Hina Lani St. Started at the Kona BikeWorks with a rental and opted for Ane Keohokalole instead of 19 after I saw the nice bike lane on Google Maps.
    Bottom line: 180 from Palani Junction down to Captain Cook is a must-do ride

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