Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Kaloko Drive--Terror at 5,000 feet.

Do you remember the classic Twilight Zone episode with the monster that is trying to tear the plane apart in mid-flight while William Shatner freaks out? Kaloko Drive is that monster, and your legs are the plane. And you will freak out. Madame Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess, will beat your Haole ass.

How bad is Kaloko? It is hands down the toughest climb I have ever done. Lance rides it multiple times when he is here.

The legendary Alp D'Huez is about 8 miles long with an average gradient of 7.7%. Kaloko Drive itself is 6.5 miles at 8.5%, with 6 monstrous switchbacks where the road takes a lazy turn straight up the side of Hualalai volcano. You can spend minutes on the switchbacks, because they kick up into the teens (I saw 19% briefly on the Garmin) and slow you to a crawl. Kaloko alone would be HC by Tour standards at the end of a long stage (perhaps only 1st Category if it were early?). But at the top of Kaloko you take a left turn on HueHue St and you have another 0.75 miles at a ridiculous 15% average gradient, shown in the picture on the right. I have seen the video (here) of Lance climbing this section and he looks to be in severe pain. He is standing the whole way up HueHue. It literally broke me....I had to stop halfway up it. Lance did it in 46:44....I did it in about 70 mins [update: I cut 5 mins off Kaloko proper on 1/1, but did not do the last section].

But wait, there's more! Kaloko starts around 1400ft and climbs up to 5,000 at the top. I chose to get to it via Pia Lani St, which is 3.5 miles at 6.5% before flattening a bit (4%) on the Belt Rd and connecting to Kaloko.

To put this all in perspective, the climb from Alpine Dam to the top of Bofax, which I consider to be quite unpleasant, is 2.3 miles at 7.1% from the first switchback.

Taken as a whole, from when you point the bike uphill to when you stop climbing, it is 11 miles with an average gradient near 8%......that is Trés Hors Categorie. Ah, but the problem is that average. There are sections where it is only 4%. And you despise those sections. Because for every foot under 8%, there is a foot over. Enjoy the 4-6%, Haole, because Madame Pele's monster is waiting for you at the next turn to rip your legs off.

Look closely at my Garmin readout at right. I am turning over the pedals at 52rpm to make a bit over 5mph. I am at lactate threshold, and have been climbing for 76 mins and 10 miles, so the worst is still to come at the top. At this point I remember thinking I am in Hell, but really, I am just on the front porch. HueHue St awaits.

The trip up Kaloko took me 100 mins of ride time from when I turned off the Queen K and started climbing. That does not include breakdown time (physical, not mechanical).

The next day, my legs just hurt. My knee tendons and ligaments were sore from the low rpm grinding. My arms were sore from stabilizing my body to put power down. On the top section, my cadence was in the 30s. I missed my 34 tooth chainring....the Ritchey has a standard 39x53. Of course, having a 53x11 proved handy for the way down. Kaloko is pretty smooth, and you should be prepared to deploy your parachute if you really want to slow down, because brakes alone may not do the job. 45mph is a lot more exciting on a bike that was in 2 pieces not long ago.

I highly recommend doing Kaloko if you get the opportunity. Make sure you start the climb with 2 bottles. I did not really ride Kaloko so much as survive it, like when a green skier slowly stumbles down a black run. Nevertheless, it was a great test of will to keep going, and I feel like I am mentally stronger for having done it.

On an equipment note, my ridiculously expensive Assos FI13 kit really shined, as did my Time summer gloves. Getting up Kaloko is hot, sweaty work. The ridicujersey (my pet name for it because it costs so much) really did wick better than any other jersey I have, and the shorts are super comfy with good compression. Who cares that I could buy a whole bike for what the set costs. You need gloves in Hawaii. Normally I don't wear them, but your hands get really sweaty here, and you need to clean off your tires periodically to avoid flats.

More pics here...
Kolako Drive


  1. Did this climb today, thanks for the report

  2. Hope you enjoyed it. I did Kaloko again a couple of weeks ago, and enjoyed it much more with a 34x28. Even got the Strava KOM.


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