The Perfect Downhill

May 13, 2011

Coasting — to effortlessly glide down the backside of a mountain pass after grunting up to the summit — is one of the ultimate rewards of cycling.

What is the perfect downhill?

Mine involves sunshine, no wind (unless it's at my back), mountain scenery, and a gentle enough grade that no brakes need be applied. Oh. And it is LONG.

I know some folks like to pedal down a mountain pass, but after all that hard work ... I want as much time as possible to relish the fruits of my labor.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Sani Pass in South Africa — Descending from the Drakensburg Mountains and the highlands of Lesotho, I had a tire literally explode on me. The scenery was so incredible, the incident barely dampened my mood.

Going to the Sun Highway, Glacier National Park, Montana — This pass is so amazing, you want to turn around and do it all over again.

Volcán Irazú, Costa Rica — The road winds up this active volcano, and summits at over 11,000 feet. You can take a breather, soak in the view, then turn around and giggle with glee all the way back down.

The Road to Ooty (or Uti), Tamil Nadu, India — I remember hearing some friends talk about this amazing downhill with thirty-six switchbacks. I forgot where it was. Then I cycled in India and realized I was actually on the road they described. There was only one problem ... I was going the wrong way. What a climb. Wow.

Paso del Cóndor, Venezuela (pictured above) — Get to the top of the highest pass in Venezuela and a reward awaits: 65 kilometers of paved highway descending over 8,000 feet to the city of Mérida.

Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park, Washington — This is an up and back. The road dead ends at the summit (unless you want to continue with a dirt path). The visitor center offers incredible views of the Olympic Mountains and sells both hot chocolate and ice cream! The gentle grade back down for 17 miles is a delight. I've climbed this pass a dozen times and may never grow tired of it.

What and where is your perfect downhill?


Photos by Willie Weir

SIGHTS AND SOUNDS is posted every other Friday. Willie Weir is a columnist for Adventure Cyclist magazine. His latest book Travels with Willie: Adventure Cyclist will inspire you to hit the road and just might change the way you approach bicycle travel. He lives in Seattle with his wife Kat. You can read about their adventures at


Moritz Kobel June 1, 2011, 5:26 AM

My favorite downhill is in New Zealand: the road from the Lindis Pass summit down to Omarama.

On our tandem tour trough New Zealand, we've been more than 5h on the bike to reach the summit. But afterwards on the downhill, we had less than an hour to reach Omarama (32km). It was an absolutely great finish of the day!

spacetosimplify May 16, 2011, 7:53 PM

My favorite downhill is not nearly as exotic as any of these, but it's still a lovely experience (provided the lights turn green at the right moment): down Marshall Avenue in St. Paul, going West to cross the Mississippi River, hopefully gaining just the right amount of speed to crest the bridge's hill and make it to the first light in Minneapolis without having to brake or pedal.

~Lauren M.F.

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