Friday, August 6, 2010

Maui Cycling “Facts” and Opinions

Maui 2010 had the potential to be the perfect holiday for Tracy and me, and it was (almost). Tracy got the beach and pool, and I got to ride my bike somewhere new, including to the top of Haleakala, one of the longest climbs in the world. Perfect would have been a trip without the crazy Tradewinds, and where a swarm of people were not congesting the roads with cars. Forget Island Time; people must have to be On Time on Maui.

Of course, I am not a “water person,” and those who are might be totally content with the overall Maui scene. We were staying with our friends Mike and Jen, and Mike is most definitely a water person. Mike and I were both leaving early every day, because the Tradewinds smash down the already small summer swell, making surfing (and even boogie boarding) almost impossible. And if you are a golfer, those winds would not be kind to you. But there definitely is a lot of water for water people.

OK, I’m getting ahead of myself with too many opinions! Here we go:

Fact: there are not many roads on Maui, but most of the major roads and highways have a shoulder or bike lane, as indicated on the Maui County Cycling Map (just assume that any road marked “most suitable” has a shoulder):

The Maui County Cycling Map lists the heavily traveled divided wide shouldered four lane highway between Lahaina and Kapalua as “most suitable for cycling.” Conversely, once the shoulder narrows on the upper reaches of Haleakala, this smooth road normally almost devoid of cars is designated “unsuitable for cycling.” Perhaps “suitable for cycling” conditions on Maui are almost totally evaluated by width of a road shoulder.

Opinion: Maui is (sort of) cycling friendly, but not really very “cycling compatible”. Many of the major roads have a bike lane or shoulder, but cycling appears to be mostly an afterthought as far as planning goes. Since there really are not that many roads on Maui, car traffic is heavy on most of them.

Fact: Speaking of afterthoughts, it’s worth noting that the really nice new bike path that parallels the Mokulele Highway (350) offers no access at all to Kihei Rd., an almost unbelievable oversight. Are they trying to tell us something?

Opinion: Maybe they are, because even when you have a shoulder to ride in, one gets the feeling that most of the car drivers really don’t think that cyclists deserve the space. You always get the sense that car drivers begrudgingly yield shoulder space to cyclists, and drivers rarely slow at all as they blow by you.

Fact: The Tradewinds are the most consistently strong winds that I have ever experienced on a bike.

Opinion: The Tradewinds suck big time.

Yes, I know that when these winds are at your back, you feel like a Cycling God.

Fact: The Tradewinds really kick up and become strong around 11 AM.

Opinion: I’m not sure what they mean by “strong.” Most mornings it was blowing hard by 8. Between the winds, heat, and traffic, I found it best to roll out between 6 and 7 AM. No problem, as I like the heat, and it was hot already at 7, but the sun is much more intense in the afternoon.

Fact: Every planned route needs to first and foremost consider the prevailing winds, as one really does not want to return into the Tradewind. Several times, I found myself in the 50/11 rolling along on a flat road without much effort as a huge wind shoved me along. I didn’t try it, but I imagine I would have been in the 34/27 in the opposite direction.

Fact: Some people refer to these winds as the “Summer" Tradewinds.

Opinion: This is the first time I have been to Hawaii in the summer, but every time I have been there in the winter, it has been windy. Not as windy, but windy.

Fact: You really don’t see many serious cyclists on Maui. There are a lot of people riding bikes (and motor scooters) the wrong way in the bike lane at night, wearing black but no helmet, and sometimes talking on their cell phones, but I didn’t see a lot of dudes with shaved legs.

The only time I was passed by a “bike” during my four rides occurred during my last ride through the Upcountry. I was on a climb, and I noticed a fast approaching bright headlight in my rear view mirror. I expected one of the ubiquitous scooters piloted by a helmetless local, but I was somewhat shocked to be passed by a recumbent powered by some type of electric motor on steroids. As he went by, he lazily twirled the pedals, but he gave up that pretense after he was 50’ ahead of me. Maybe this is the type of motor that Fabian Cancellara was using:)

Opinion: Maybe there are more people taking cycling vacations to Maui in the winter when the Tradewinds are less powerful?

Fact: For about $200 round trip, you can disassemble your own bike (twice) and bring it with you on the plane.

Opinion: Renting a bike is the way to go. It’s possible to get a nice bike for $50 a day or $200 a week, and while it may not have your favorite component group, you can make due. Yes, I know it’s cheaper to rent a car on Maui.

Fact: Andrew at the Island biker hooked me up with a zero mile 2011 Specialized Secteur bike, and he was super helpful in giving me some of the local riding beta. With the bike, you get a helmet, pump, water bottle, tube and tire levers, a multi-tool and a car rack with a weekly rental:

Riding Day One: The morning after we flew in, I did the incomparable and magnificent climb to the summit of Haleakala (starting from sea level at Paia 73 miles/10,100’ climbing). A lot of blogs have been written about every detail of this climb:

Rather than rehash the minutia, here are some of my impressions.

Haleakala Facts:

1) Haleakala is one of the longest and hardest climbs in the world-I doubt anybody would dispute that. With 36.5 miles of climbing at an average grade of 5.2%, you wind up with 10,000’ of climbing.
2) As a point of reference, Haleakala aligns almost perfectly with two Hurricane Ridge (18.2 miles and 5020’ at 5.2%) climbs linked non-stop back to back.
3) Climbing straight into a 50+mph wind on the 22% section near the top was likely the single hardest short section of riding I have ever done.
4) Above 3000’ (once you make the left onto Crater Road) the road is magnificent by almost any cycling inspired definition. The surface is mostly pool table smooth, there are too many wonderful switchbacks to count, and the grade is pretty consistent.
5) Descending for over an hour is a bonafide rush.
6) The winds were pretty benign my first time up, but simply brutal on the second ride.

Haleakala Opinions:

1) Haleakala is one of the best climbs in the world.
2) It’s not an alpine climb, but the scenery is no less stunning.
3) Thank God for all of those switchbacks; that guarantees that you are downwind at least part of the time!
4) The lack of trees above 4500’ or so permits stunning views.
5) At times, the landscape resembles what the moon’s surface must look like, and that is one thing that makes this climb so unique.
6) It’s worth going to Maui just to ride up this sucker.

Haleakala is so big that it deserves its own write-up. Shortly I will post a blow-by-blow full account of my two rides up this monster. As a very cool intro, take a look at how Ryder Hesjedal does Haleakala:

Riding Day Two West Maui Mountains Loop from Kihei (70 miles/3000’ climbing):

Fact: If you enjoy riding on a crowded highway with a good shoulder, you will enjoy the ride from Kihei to Lahaina and then to Kaanapali. Traffic thins out between Kaanapali and Kapalua.

Opinion: With tourism (and therefore traffic) greatly reduced on all of the Hawaiian Islands, I can only imagine what this road would be like on a bike with the hotels full. Now that I think about it, it might be better, as the cars would be gridlocked at 15mph, instead of the 50-60mph that I experienced. It might be a little like cycling in Manhattan with more room for the car exhaust fumes to dissipate.

Fact: The first 10 miles or so north from Kapalua are absolutely stunning to ride on a bike. There is hardly any traffic, and the road winds its way up and down the mountainside above numerous little beach coves.

Opinion: As I neared Kapalua, I was praying to the road and cycling Gods that the rugged and poorly surfaced road around the northeast head of the West Maui Mountains (past the stunning section) was not washed out. With the headwinds, heat, and traffic, there was no flipping way I was returning from whence I came. This was indeed actually a “fact.”

Fact: After I made it through the super narrow and rough section, I had some more great coastal riding before I headed south back through the very crowded Wailuku. From there back to Kihei, I had a screaming Tradewind blowing up my tailpipe. I shudder to think about doing this ride in the reverse direction, and finishing into the wind.

Opinion: Rent a car, drive to Kapalua, ride your bike until you feel like turning around, and then head back. I wouldn’t do the entire loop again.

Riding Day Three: Haleakala Redux with my cousin Michele—I loved it so much that I went back (please see my previous post):

Riding Day 4 Upcountry (55 miles/2800’):

Fact: Andrew told me that it was not pleasant to do the 2200’ climb starting up from Hansen Rd. at the Maui Landfill with its stinky poo-poo smell, so I asked Tracy to drop me off at the intersection of Omaopio Rd. and Rt. 37.

Opinion: After I got rolling along, I found the Upcountry a spectacular place to ride. It’s really what Michele and I should have done together, as there was pretty light traffic, interesting roads and terrain, and incredible views.

Fact: It also didn’t hurt that at 80 degrees, it was around 10 degrees cooler than the lowlands. The Upcountry is in the “wind shadow” of Haleakala, and since Haleakala is incredibly broad as well as 10,023’ high, the wind is normally amazingly light in this shadow. Compared to the incessant howling on most of the island, this was really appreciated.

Fact: The ride started off with a moderate grade 700’ climb to 3000’ and then I headed downhill around the south end of the island. Looking down, I could see Kihei, Wailea, and Makena. All this time, I was losing about 1300’ of elevation. When I finally turned around at about 1700’, Rt. 37 had become Rt. 31, and I could see Mauna Loa on the Big Island, Molokini, and several other islands. I was now in the desert, which exists because of the huge rain shadow that Haleakala casts. This area is incredibly remote, which is a nice contrast to the many highly developed areas on Maui.

Opinion: Rt. 31 continues all the way to Hana, but from what I have heard, you have to be a real masochist to do this. It’s hot and remote, the desert landscape is boring, and there are some extended sections of dirt and rutted paved roads. Best to do this one with company.

Fact: The return trip started with the 1300’ great climb on curvy and quiet roads back to the 3000’ high point of the ride. There is even a winery along the way.

Opinion: I rode all the way back to Kihei, so I did have the stinky smell as I came down that first climb I rode up in the car. Since I was now ripping downhill with a strong tailwind, I wasn’t on the road long enough to really get grossed out. Besides, the views down to the water and West Maui Mountains were great. I was riding through sugarcane fields, and it was kind of cool to watch the pretty green plants sway and bend with the wind.

My last ride out through the Upcountry would definitely the best ride overall for the typical recreational cyclist, and really what my niece Michele and I should have done together.

Just as coming home from a trip to the Tucson area was a study in contrasts:

Returning from Maui was a real eye opener. Many cyclists in the Seattle area probably don’t have a clear idea as to just how lucky we are. As I did the day after I flew home from Tucson, the day after I returned from Maui I did my favorite Seattle area loop through Medina, Kirkland, Bellevue, and Mercer Island.

Honestly, other than the spectacle of Haleakala, I enjoyed this local Seattle ride more than anything I did on Maui. Maybe familiarity has something to do with this preference, but I think the excellent accommodations for cycling around Seattle is the main reason.

Well, maybe the main reason is that the winds were light, as they are most of the time in Seattle.

Yes, having Haleakala makes the Maui cycling experience totally worthwhile, just as Tucson having the incredible Mt. Lemmon climb buys that area redemption.

I would not recommend going to Maui specifically to ride your bike. Forget about doing the “Triple Challenge” (Haleakala/West Maui Mountains loop/100 miles around the island through Hana), and just do the fun stuff.

Cycling on Maui is a real dichotomy. There are some stunning places to ride your bike, and there are some roads that are very uncomfortable to be on due to the heavy traffic and winds.

Go to Maui. Take a family vacation. Go to the beach and enjoy the water. Rent a bike, and ride up Haleakala and maybe out through the Upcountry area. Head back to the beach with the family. Deal with it.


Scotch said...

Hi Tom,

Thanks for the great write-up. I have some cycling experiences from Maui: I lived there from 1994 to 1997. I was an avid Mountain Biker then, and rode my 1993 specialized rockhopper hardtail all over that Island. Maui is even less suited for that sport, or at least it was. There weren't any public trails that I could find, though I did spend some time riding some cow trails and dirt roads on private land (trespassing). Those weren't worth much, so with one exception (below), I spent all my time riding on roads and after moving to Seattle, bought a road bike and hung up the rockhopper for good.

I rode about the every road on the island but I never road all the way up Haleakala (I did a ~3500' section of it once); it's still on my list.

My top three rides:

1. West Maui loop. I started and stopped in Wailuku, went counter clockwise. Traffic wasn't bad the day I went.

2. Around Haleakala - I started in Kula, went counter clockwise. This is a brutal ride, very rough in places, lots of ups and downs, rain, washouts, narrow roads, and oblivious drivers. I got dehydrated on the dry side under burning heat, by the time I got to Hana, I found water and recovered. The road to Hana is more amazing on bike than by car, I was rained on a few times and didn't have to much trouble with cars. I only did about ~80 miles on this ride but it took all day, had to stop outside of Paia when it got dark. Hitchhiked back to my car.

3. Down haleakala, backside (cinder trails, jeep trails, park roads) through Kula and down to Kihei. You need a mountain bike for this, and hefty brakes. My normal cantilever breaks were quite hot. Don't know if this ride is "legal" or not. I also did the frontside road down Haleakala a couple times. Kind of fun but not physically challenging. Passing rental cars the whole way even on a mountain bike, you can really go fast.

Glad you had some fun. My wife and I have been back there a number of times, but I haven't gotten around to getting a bike.

凱許倫 said...


Anonymous said...

有深道,要慢慢感受~~^^ 加油............................................................

Unknown said...

Thanks for the great writeup, Tom. I was just in Maui myself at the end of May with my bike. Luckily I did not have the heavy tradewinds you did. I've done the Haleakala climb in the past so didn't this year.

Like Scott, I loved the West Maui ride. I started near Wailuku, rode out 20 miles and back, about 4500 ft of climbing. It's one of my favorite rides anywhere. The roughness and narrowness were part of the enjoyment for me. I liked it so much I did it again the next day. The other ride I did was to start past Haiku and ride 25 miles out toward Hana and back. The traffic wasn't bad that day and it was a fantastic ride.

In the past I've ridden around Haleakala, a subset of what Scott describes. Starting past Tedeschi winery, riding counterclockwise along the south coast from leeward side to windward, past Kipahulu (one of the most beautiful sites I've ever seen) and back. It's a bit remote but sublime. I did it on a mtn bike with street tires, and it was fine. I can't say what it would be like on a regular road bike.

Also, I brought my own bike. There was no charge on Alaska Airlines -- they are inconsistent about charging bikes. I would rather have my own bike in any case and don't mind at all setting up and repacking.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

happy to read~ thank you!............................................................

江仁趙雲虹昆 said...

若有人問你成功時會不會記得他 試問若你失敗時他會不會記得你......................................................................

Anonymous said...

人不能像動物一樣活著,而應該追求知識和美德................. ................................................

Anonymous said...


Tom Meloy said...

It seemes that we have five people from outside of the USA posting comments. Would it be possible for you to comment in English so that we may all enjoy your words?

How did you discover my blog?

張王雅竹欣虹 said...


Anonymous said...

用心經營blog,人氣百分百~^^ 加油

Anonymous said...

Great writeup on cycling in Maui ... I just got back from a trip to the valley island and did some very enjoyable riding. I've written up my own thoughts on my blog.

Colleen MacDonald said...

We are here in Maui and wanting to do some riding.
Was your UpCountry ride on a road bike on the Kula Highway or did you find a trail?
And do you have the gps tracks or a strava connection for the route?

Many thanks...

Tom Meloy said...

I used a road bike for my Upcountry ride. Sorry, I do not have a GPS track for my rides.

Richard C. Lambert said...

Perfect would have been a trip without the crazy Tradewinds, and where a swarm of people were not congesting the roads with cars. Forget Island Time; people must have to be On Time on Maui.limousine kaanapali

Johny said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Johny said...

Wow very nice photorelation!

Marika said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Johny said...

Nice photos, thanks! greetings!

Marika said...

Wow, mi by się przydała deskorolka fishka żeby tego dokonać bo na rowerze nie dałbym rady.

dredziasty said...

So nice post and photo :) Morski Horyzont

Marika said...

Wow, we are here in Maui and wanting to do some riding. Nice photos btw ;)

Anonymous said...

Wooow nice yourney :) Witaminyswanson