6 Toughest Rides in the United States

Some people like to amble along on the bike path, perhaps by a serene lake, maybe stopping for ice cream on a casual afternoon. This list is not for them. This list is for the rider who wants to suffer. The kind of person that sees triple-digit mileage as just another Saturday or believes that going uphill is mandatory. The kind of person that looks up mid-ride with sweat stinging their eyes and their quads burning and says, “Is that all you’ve got?” So, for those people, here is a list of the nastiest, hardest, most epic rides in the U.S. They’re leg-burning killers—and you’re going to love them.

1. The Colorado Trail

Denver to Durango Mileage: 485 Climbing: 82,000 feet

In mountain biking, the word “epic” gets thrown around a lot. However, if one trail is the embodiment of epic, it’s the Colorado Trail, it exemplifies outdoor adventure. Imagine 485 miles of prime alpine riding of mostly singletrack that traverses through six national forests, crosses five major river systems, and tiptoes up and over eight of the state’s legendary mountain ranges. Ride the entire thing from Denver to Durango and all told, riders will have climbed a quad-searing, lung-burning 82,000 feet! That’s not a typo. That’s like climbing from sea level to the summit of Mount Everest almost three times.

For mountain bikers, few places offer such a perfect combination of everything that they love. There are endless ribbons of flowy, swoopy singletrack; rocky, rooty, technical sections; tight forests of pine and aspen; huge climbs to awe-inspiring vistas, and massive descents that water the eyes and blur the scenery.

2. Mount Haleakala

Maui, Hawaii Mileage: 36 Climbing: 10,000 feet

Known as the Cycle to The Sun, this ride goes from Maui’s North Shore and climbs 10,000 feet over 36 miles to the summit. The average grade is 5% with plenty of switchbacks and short, punchy sections hitting 8-10%. Then to keep things spicy, there’s a final 10% pitch to gain the summit. The temps average a reasonable 80 degrees, but the average humidity is in the 70s; it’s going to be a sweat fest.

3. Mount Washington Hill Climb

New Hampshire Mileage: 7.4 Climbing: 4,618 feet

OK, 7.4 miles doesn’t sound like much. But, what this race lacks in distance it makes up with steepness and altitude. The average grade is 11.6 percent, that’s steeper than any of those hors catégorie climbs that those slackers do in that little race called the Tour de France. If that wasn’t enough, there’s a sting at the end of the tail: the very last pitch is 50 meters at a lung-searing, quad-burning 22 percent.

4. Dirty Kanza 200

The Flint Hills region of Kansas Mileage: 200 Climbing: 11,000

The official motto of the Dirty Kanza is, “If you break down or become injured, do not call us. We will not come rescue you.” That should hint as to the nature of this ride. This is 200 miles of windswept, undulating gravel roads through the backcountry of the nation’s heartland. Because doing a century is so, blah. No big deal, this is flat Kansas, right? Oh, so very wrong. There’s more than 11,000 feet of climbing on this route. The vast portion of the course is on primitive dirt or gravel roads that receive little to no maintenance; they’re rough, rutted, and wild. If it rains, forget it—it’s a mud fest of epic proportions. And every rider is 100% responsible for themselves, there is zero SAG, course signage, or water stops.

5. Leadville Trail MTB 100

Leadville, Colorado Mileage: 100 Climbing: 14,000 feet

One hundred miles isn’t too bad, right? Lots of people ride 100 miles. Well, have a seat, because this ride starts at 10,152 feet and climbs up to 12,424 feet. Also, the course is actually 104 miles, just because. There is also the feared Powerline climb that punishes riders with a 3,000-foot climb around the halfway point. And, this is happening across the gnarly, technical Rocky Mountains. There’s a reason they call it the “Race Across the Sky.” If this sounds like a cakewalk, do the ultramarathon on the same course held just a week apart. Do them both within certain tight time constraints, and participants get the title “Leadman” or “Leadwoman.”

6. SM100

Stokesville, Virginia Mileage: 100 Climbing: 12,500 feet

For the East Coast mountain bikers who like to feel pain in their quads, there’s the SM100. This 100-mile ride goes over six mountains as it winds its way through Virginia and West Virginia. There is a section aptly named the Death Climb, which is about 15 miles and 2,400 feet long. That doesn’t sound so bad until people realize it comes at mile 60! After that, strap in for an 8-mile descent. The climbs are brutal, and the descents are rocky, rooty, and often wet and muddy. In other words, good, clean, suffery fun. And yes, “suffery” is a word.

So what do you want to wear on your epic ride? How about cycling jerseys from Ashmei, Katusha or Rivelo which feature 37.5 Technology. The high-tech fabric helps regulate your body’s temperature and humidity levels. Whether you’re riding in the heat or cold, it will help keep your body at the optimum 37.5 degrees Celsius. Why cyclists like to punish themselves in such ways, we may never know, but that is a whole different article. In the meantime, it’s nice to know that there is a fun, healthy outlet for these maniacs.

Written by Shaine Smith for Matcha in partnership with 37.5.

Featured image provided by TRAILSOURCE.COM