Complete Guide to Road Biking Mt. Lemmon

Tips and advice for climbing the world’s most popular cycling climb

Road Biking Mt. Lemmon: What should I wear?

TUCSON, ARIZONA  – Most important: No matter what the weather forecasts say, be prepared for the worse! There can be a 25 to 30 degree difference in the weather from bottom to top. Forecasts are unpredictable and you ALWAYS want to carry rain gear. If the forecast says everything is perfect, carry a rain jacket anyway. Carry several thin layers of clothing that are easy to roll up and put into your back pockets or preferably your cycling vest. Insulated and water resistant gloves are quite valuable to have as well. You will be starting out in a desert, biking up to an alpine climate, going through four weather zones. Be prepared.

Web cams for Mt. Lemmon?

Check out the web cams of The Arizona Bicycle Association here to get a good understanding of the current weather.

Best Tucson climbing rides to get ready for Lemmon? Alternative road climbing rides if the weather in Lemmon is bad?

Tucson and Southern Arizona is loaded with great road climbing rides! If you have the time and are looking for the best “tune up for riding Mt. Lemmon” rides, here is what we recommend in this order. Note: All of these alternatives are in different climate zones. So, if you don’t like Mt. Lemmon’s weather, these are great alternatives to biking Mt. Lemmon.

Madera Canyon offers great roads, low traffic, stunning views for cyclists.

1) Road Biking Madera Canyon – Top Mt. Lemmon Cycling Alternative

GREEN VALLEY, ARIZONA – Just a half hour or so from Tucson in beautiful Green Valley, Madera is a very worthy Southern Arizona road biking experience.

Road biking Madera Canyon is only 12 miles, but it finishes with a 14 percenter! This ride is the number 2 or 3  choice for most pros who come to Tucson. A big plus to Madera is that there is VERY little traffic. It is a very, very safe ride. The top of Madera is just over 5,000 feet. Many cyclists use Madera Canyon as their first climb because it helps them get acclimated some. If biking Lemmon is looking iffy, this is often a very good alternative.

Fore more information:

Bonus Green Valley Hill Climb Ride: Hopkins Observatory

Once you are done with biking Madera Canyon, ride on the frontage road and bike several miles to Elephant Butte road, take a right, bike another 2 miles and bike seven plus miles to Hopkins Observatory. WOW! This is a moderately challenging hill that averages around 4 percent grade with very little traffic. This will turn your Madera Canyon cycling outing into a 20 plus mile ride. Many Old West films were filmed in this area. Bill Gates has a compound out here – so it must be a great place. Good enough for Bill. Good enough for you.

For more information, click here.

Mt. Hopkins Observatory/Scenic Ride

2) Road Biking Kitt Peak Observatory

TUCSON, ARIZONA – Only 12 miles up, you start at 3,200 feet and climb just over 6,800 feet. If Lemmon is not looking good, this is a great Tucson cycling alternative as well.  Steep. Scenic. Tough. If you have it in you, do this top Tucson climb ride twice.

For more information, click here.

Things to do at Kitt Peak

3) Road Biking Mt. Graham

SAFFORD, ARIZONA – A little more than 100 minutes away from Tucson, this is Arizona’s most challenging climb ride. If you want to grab a notch in your cycling belt, this is a fantastic option if Mt. Lemmon has weather issues. Many pros prefer Graham over Lemmon. This is not a Lemmon “tune-up ride”. This is the real deal.

For more information, click here.

Mt. Graham Observatory official site

How much water should I bring for biking Mt. Lemmon Is there anywhere to get water on the way up to Mt. Lemmon?

When you leave Le Buzz, there are no water stops until you get into Summerhaven.

In the fall and winter months, three large size water bottles is enough to make it to the top. May through September, be thinking four water bottles. Avoid backpacks as they are cumbersome and put stress on your neck and back. Include some electrolyte mix in your bottles. Drink plenty of water before you go up and while you are riding. Having proper hydration 24 hours before the big ride is key.

Are getting flat tires an issue when cycling Mt. Lemmon?

Flat protected tires are a must!

Tucson is the world’s greatest cycling destination, but those darn goat heads “a form of cactus” have stiff needles that easily penetrate regular road bike tires. We highly recommend Gatorskin or Armadillo tires. They really work.

“We have clients who rent our bikes, switching out our Gatorskins in favor of a non-flat protected tire,” says Jon Westmore, bike mechanic for Oro Valley Bike Rentals. “Over half of them report getting a flat tire while in Tucson.”

The first 10 miles of Mt. Lemmon is loaded with goat heads and thorns. Listen, when you get nailed by a goat head, it sure sucks. Make sure your road bike has flat protection or you will be like many cyclists stuck on the side of the road.

What kind of road bike should I have to climb Mt. Lemmon?

Any high quality (preferable a full carbon) 10 speed with a 28T on the back will do the job. Remember:

road biking Mount Lemmon is a long slog. The average gradient is only around 4.2 percent. This is not Pikes Peak. Weaker riders may want a 30t on the back.

Make sure you have a full bicycle repair kit.

Duhhhh! Don’t be a boob. Carry a tube! Easy to forget and oh so basic. Make sure you have a full repair kit with a tube.

Are there any Mount Lemmon Group Rides

There are regular Mt. Lemmon group rides once the season starts. GABA (Greater Arizona Bicycle Association) does frequent Lemmon road bike rides.

The University of Arizona Cycling Club also offers rides – better organized and prepared than GABA.

For all Tucson group road bike and mountain bike rides go to:

Ben Philippi says safety and Lemmon road is spectacular.

Mount Lemmon Bike Rentals

There are only two road bike rental companies left in Tucson.

Tucson Bike Rentals

Oro Valley Bike Rentals

Both companies are located around 35 minutes from base camp on the Oro Valley/Tucson Loop 130 mile car free loop bike path. And they rent top of the line carbon road bikes from major manufacturers. They offer free delivery to Oro Valley hotels and night before pickup with the ability to return the bikes late. Both companies rent very high end road bikes with flat protected Gatorskin tires. Oro Valley Bike Rentals offers contact-less pickup and return.

What are the best times of year to bike Mt. Lemmon?

February through April is the high season for road biking Mt. Lemmon. March and April is absolutely idyllic. However, we really recommend the shoulder season of Tucson road cycling which is October/November and May. There is less tourism and you get better lodging deals. The peak season for cycling in Tucson is February through April. Our coldest months are December through about February 15. During those times you really want to bundle up!

Those of us who are locals LOVE biking Lemmon during the summer. We leave base camp (Le Buzz) and go straight up. Lemmon is a very doable ride during the hot months. You just have to get up early!

Weather Averages by Month Summerhaven and Tucson, Arizona

How to Prepare For Road Biking Mt. Lemmon?
Road bike Mt. Lemmon with a clear strategy

Biking Mt. Lemmon is not a sprint. It’s a marathon. Pace yourself. You have almost 29 miles ahead of you. Start out with a slow and deliberate cadence. Don’t empty out the tank too early. Be sure to drink plenty of water before you start and do plenty of stretching.

And avoid taking too many stops. Depending on your endurance, try not to make more than three stops. Riders who have to take too many stops often are overdoing it too early. If this is your first time biking Mt. Lemmon, play things close to the vest until you get to Windy Point. Then pick up the pace.

We really recommend bikers who are less than confident to start out with one of the other recommended Tucson road climbing rides. Madera is perfect – but it does a 14 percenter! Kitt Peak is a great alternative. It’s a very good idea to warm up on one of these climbs first.

Adjusting/Acclimation to Altitude and Preparing to Road Bike Mt. Lemmon

If you are coming from sea level, keep in mind Tucson is at 2,400 feet. While not all that high, you are preparing for a ride taking you to 9,000 plus feet. Are you acclimated? If you have time, nothing wrong with stretching yourself out with some great distance rides in Tucson or one of our other recommended climbing rides.

When you get to the top of Mt. Lemmon….

Give yourself a fist pump and let out a yell! You just climbed one of the most difficult mountains in the world. Now go get something to eat at The Sawmill Run Restaurant and then cap it off with some delicious fudge at the Mt. Lemmon General Store. This is serious fudge that make the ride SOOOOO worth it!

Descending Mt. Lemmon On a Road Bike

Descending down Lemmon is one of the most glorious and exciting descents you will ever experience. However, it is not all downhill and you will have to use the pedal from time to time. Don’t spend all of your energy going up.

Descending Mt. Lemmon: BE CAREFUL!

Watch your speeds! While this is the most incredible downhill ride in all of Arizona, always be on the lookout for animals! Bikers have hit deer. And others have suffered injuries from a bicycle mechanical issue. This is a ride to enjoy. Don’t ruin it by being careless. Remember: your tires are made in China.

This Lemmon cyclist was going too fast and was hit by a deer.

Mt. Lemmon is a spectacular road biking experience. Take advantage of the many other tremendous road, mountain, open road/gravel biking opportunities offered in Tucson and beautiful Oro Valley. There is no place in the world that is better for road bikers.

Mt Lemmon Potential Hazards

Always be looking out for wild life and road irregularities. Many people have had serious injuries going at high rates of speed who have lost control from interactions with wildlife – such as deer suddenly jumping out. While the Mt. Lemmon road is well-maintained overall, there are periodic small potholes and inconsistencies you should be aware.

Best Place to Start Mt. Lemmon Road Biking Climb

We recommend starting at Le Buzz Cafe in the Safeway shopping center at the intersection of Tanque Verde Road and Catalina Highway. This is an awesome French style cafe with the best breakfast, coffee and more in Tucson.

Mt. Lemmon cyclist hit by cyclist on the way down

Mt Lemmon Rest and Water Stops

Bathrooms & camping at mile 5.5 which is Molina Basin

Bathrooms at mile 12 which is Bear Canyon

Bathrooms at mile 14 which is Windy Point

Water and bathrooms at mile 21 which is Palisade Ranger Station

Restaurants and bathrooms at mile 29 which is Summer Haven

Restaurants and bathrooms at Ski Valley which is about 1 mile up from Summer Haven

Our advice: bike to The Lemmon General Store for the best supplies and fudge. They have AMAAAAZZING fudge.

Food and Drink: Preparing for Cycling Mt. Lemmon

Safeway shopping center located at Tanque Verde and Catalina Highway

Le Buzz Cafe a favorite among the locals located at Tanque Verde and Catalina Highway

Subway located at Tanque Verde and Catalina Highway

Sawmill Run Restaurant located at Summer Haven

Mt Lemmon Cookie Cabin located at Summer Haven
Iron Door located at Ski Valley

Mt. Lemmon Bike Rentals – Great Alternative to Shipping

All too often bike shops are loaded with cyclists who have to miss out on their golden chance to bike to the top of Mt. Lemmon as a result of a shipping disaster or TSA malfeasance. Tucson Mountain Bike Tours and Rentals and Tucson Bike Rentals fer offer excellent big four brand disc brake bike rentals. These companies open as early as 6 AM and some even let you pickup the night before 6 PM to 8:30 PM.

Mt Lemmon Cell Phone Coverage – Dicey at Best

Most people who have Verizon or At&T get coverage up to Molina Basin. From there to Palisades will be spotty at best. Be prepared to lose cell coverage.

What the Experts Say About Mt. Lemmon

“Mt. Lemmon is not the most difficult climbing ride in the world. Mt. Lemmon, however, is the greatest climbing experience that takes you from beautiful desert to snow capped alpine, giving a cyclist the ultimate road biking experience and test of endurance.”

Jim Gressinger

“Lemmon is the world’s “must do” cycling road climb. While Lemmon get’s all of the Tucson cycling accolades, do not forget the rest of the Southern Arizona climbing gems of Madera Canyon, Mt. Graham, Whipple Observatory and Kitt Peak.

Barry Darnell


Tucson Webcams For Cyclists

Live Streaming Web Camera From 4th Avenue, Tucson Arizona

Mount Lemmon Web Cam at General Store
Updated every 60 seconds

Top Of Summit-Radio Ridge Mount Lemmon Web Cam
Updated every 60 seconds

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