Tips for Climbing Mount Lemmon

Get ready to experience Mount Lemmon, the crown jewel of Tucson riding and one of the best climbs in North America. Many professional cyclists have made Tucson their winter home for the access to this iconic climb, which switchbacks its way up the Catalina mountain range, topping out at 8,000+ feet.

The ride starts with a 4-10-mile warm-up, depending on how you approach it, en route to mile 0 of the 20.5-mile main climb. Mile markers and elevation signs mark your progress, while the amazing views up to the high alpine forest help take your mind off the uphill challenge. You’ll ascend nearly 5,500 feet, climbing at a 5-8% grade over the 20.8 miles. At this point the highway descends and climbs, twice, finishing in the small town of Summerhaven at 24 miles. If you want even more climbing, you can turn off the highway just before Summerhaven, and continue to the small ski area which is an additional 4 miles.

The reward for your efforts is a fun descent on impeccable pavement with sweeping turns. Mount Lemmon is a challenge for everyone, but with proper pacing, good fueling and determination, it’s a very achievable goal. Guests staying at The Cycling House will finish with a chef-prepared lunch, ready when they arrive back home.

Tips for Climbing Mount Lemmon

  1. It is not a threshold workout.  In most cases, you never climb continuously for 2-4 hours.  We are all riding much punchier style climbs.  It’s really hard to replicate what a 2-4 hour effort looks like.  Ironman Triathletes seem to have a beat on this pace.  Regardless, keep it below threshold until you are at least 1.5 hours from the top.
  2. It can be a group activity.  The grade is shallow enough that riding with folks is totally possible.  I find it to be a really good climb to try and pace off someone.
  3. Windy Point or bust.  Once you get to Windy Point, I feel like you can dig deep.  Not saying full on Z5, but you can start emptying the tank.
  4. Take support, but avoid too many stops.  If you do this climb with The Cycling House, our van will come by or be stopped 3-5 times throughout your climb.  Slow and steady does win the day in the case of Lemmon.  Stay on the bike, find the pace and take hand-ups from the support car.
  5. First 5 miles means nothing.  Literally….don’t blow up.
  6. Jackets, Legs, Ears, Gloves.  Bring all these things and if you are on the fence, lean towards bringing more.  Stash it all in the support car.
  7. Gearing.  TCH rental bikes have a 32 in the back, that’s a lot for Lemmon, but it’s nice to have just in case.  I’d recommend at least a 30 in back if you’ve never climbed it.  Just being able to spin is a great rest.
  8. Standing, stretching, shouting.  Standing gives your bottom a nice break and also stretches the legs, while you’re at it give a shout.  You’re on Mount Lemmon!
  9. The descent is not flat.  You have to pedal in places.  Keep that in mind before totally putting the tank on E towards the top.
  10. It’s possible to bring people back.  Don’t worry about a fast start, you can catch your buddies :)

Thanks for reading! Check out some other great rides we do in Tucson, AZ.