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Robin Carpenter takes Mauna Loa KOM on Hawaii

Rally Cycling's all-rounder puts in solid three hour effort in middle of 145 mile training ride.

Cyclists, apparently, are not good at beach vacations.

On a recent trip to the big island of Hawaii with his family, Rally Cycling’s Robin Carpenter wanted to do a big training ride. He plotted out a route from where he was staying in the island’s western hub of Kailua-Kona to the slopes of the massive Mauna Loa volcano and back — a ride of about 145 miles and nearly 14,000 feet of climbing.

A ride with those statistics — that would likely take about eight hours — wasn’t optimal for KOM hunting, but Carpenter was still curious.

“I was looking at some of the segments out of curiosity,” he told VeloNews. “I knew that Phil [Gaimon] still has the Mauna Loa segment from the Access Road so I was pretty sure that was out of reach because I was starting from Kona. There was another segment from the bottom of saddle road, it’s 65k and 9,000ft. Originally I had no intention of doing any sort of segment hunting because I’m doing an eight-hour ride, but I turned onto that road and there seems to always be a favorable wind on that first section. Always a tailwind on the saddle there, so I was like, ‘ya know, let’s just see what happens if I sit in my aerobic threshold as long as I can.'” 

Here’s what happened: On May 23, Carpenter took the KOM on the segment known as Mauna Loa 65km climb, knocking the previous leader off by 17 minutes.

Carpenter didn’t have any pictures from his ride, but this shot from the author’s 2017 trip up Mauna Loa sums up the riding on Hawaii. Photo: Betsy Welch

Before we get into specifics of his ride — and so Stravaphiles and Hawaiiphiles don’t come hunting for me — it’s important to make some distinctions about the Hawaiian volcanoes. The big island of Hawaii is characterized by two massive shield volcanoes — Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea — that are considered the largest mountains on earth. At 13,803 feet, snow-capped Mauna Kea is a smidge taller than 13,678 foot Mauna Loa, but Loa is much more voluminous, spreading its flanks over half the island.

Both offer otherworldly bike riding.

Phil Gaimon currently holds the KOM for the Mauna Kea climb from the west coast, and Dutch rider Levi Heimans has it from Hilo on the east coast. Either 13,000ft+ ride is insane.

Getting to the top of Mauna Loa (at least to where the road ends) can be a much gentler experience, depending on where you start. Recent Haleakala (that’s on Maui) KOM Drake Deuel has the fastest time from Hilo to Mauna Loa. Gaimon has the shorter Mauna Loa Climb segment KOM. Carpenter’s recently snagged segment measures 41 miles with 8,100 feet of elevation gain.

“I knew the time to beat was 3:07,” he said. “I got to the turn-off for the access road and restarted my timer and also had a ripping tailwind there. For a little while, I thought I could go for Phil’s segment, as well, but then I cracked at 10k and started creeping along and it started sleeting so I missed Phil’s segment by a healthy margin. I got the longer one by 17 minutes.”

Since Carpenter’s effort on the Strava segment fell in the middle of a much longer ride, he wasn’t that scientific about it. While he had studied the segment the night before, he didn’t use any live tracking while on the ride — he said that feature is too annoying when just riding around.

“I was just doing the math in my head. I knew roughly what the kilometer markers were, and I knew the average speed I needed to hold. I needed to go faster than 21.5 k/hr and ending up doing about 22.5.”

Part of what made Carpenter’s effort so daresay, pleasant, is that the climb up to the Mauna Loa Observatory is one of the best paved road climbs in the country.

“A perfect ribbon of asphalt.” Photo: Betsy Welch

“It’s this perfect ribbon of asphalt that is a roller coaster through endless lava fields,” he said. “17.5 miles of just up and down, it doesn’t follow a planned gradient. You can see where you’re going from a mile off.”

While Carpenter wouldn’t call himself a “segment hunter,” he does enjoy the occasional effort on a Strava segment, mostly as a way to break up the monotony of interval training. In southern California where he lives, the crowns are harder to get.

“I have to pick my battles — in SoCal, it’s been well picked over at this point,” he said. “I have a handful that I’m proud of. I think everyone does, has local segments that you try and hold on to. It’s a good training tool to keep you motivated, keep you moving around. There are only so many prescribed intervals you can do. It’s more fun to go and do a whole segment instead of a 20-minute effort where  you just stop at some random place.”