Maui’s scenic road system a cyclist’s dream
If you think of sun, sand and surfing when you think of Maui, think again. Maui also has world-class cycling.
In fact, Maui is a popular destination for pro cyclists looking for winter training. You don’t need to be a pro to appreciate the riding on Maui. All you need is your own bike – or a rental with low gearing to handle the climbing – and a bit of local knowledge that I will share with you now.
Maui has some roads with broad shoulders for the beginning cyclist. But the best rides are suited to the intermediate and advanced skill and fitness levels. These routes have narrow to nonexistent shoulders and pavement surfaces can be very rough. Steep climbs and descents characterize much of the rides.
If you intend to ride a lot while vacationing on Maui, I recommend that you bring your own bike. Alaska Airlines has direct flights from Anchorage to Maui during peak season, and it charges $50 each way to check a bike box if it is less than 50 pounds. That’s a lot cheaper than the $45 to $65 a day you’ll spend on rentals.
If you are transferring to an interisland airline in Honolulu be sure to allow 75 minutes between flights so that baggage handlers can check your bags through. Otherwise you will have to claim your bags in Honolulu and recheck them on the interisland flight, which can be a major hassle.
If you do decide to rent, there are plenty of bike shops nearby with friendly staff to get you outfitted and pointed in the right direction. A few, such as Maui Cyclery in Paia, have top-of-the-line road bikes for rent that come equipped with low gearing to handle Maui’s challenging climbs.
And climb you must. The only flat road on Maui can be found adjacent to the beach. If you intend to explore farther you will climb – but get stronger in the process. This is one reason why Maui is so attractive to the pros. If you want to ride like a pro, with a professional guide and full support, check out Go Cycling Maui. This tour company can provide a custom tour or training camp on all the best rides suited to your ability.
Another reason why Maui is such a great destination for cyclists is the views. It doesn’t matter in which direction you travel, it’s tough to keep your eyes on the road for the beauty that surrounds you. Sights, sounds and smells of the subtropics conspire to make you forget that you’re getting a workout.
West Maui Ride
Maui is essentially two volcanoes connected by an isthmus. The smaller West Maui ride is 58 miles round trip with 4,200 feet of climbing. You can begin at any number of places, but I recommend starting at the Maui Ocean Center at Maalea Harbor. An early morning start is a must because the trade winds can howl by 10 a.m. and you don’t want to be caught bucking that headwind. The road is primitive on the north side so bring extra tubes and have your tires pumped up to pressure.
My preference is to ride the loop counter-clockwise, which flies in the face of the locals who nearly always go clockwise. My reasoning is that with an early start you beat the headwind across the isthmus as you ride north, you ride on the right side of the road nearest the shoreline which gives you an optimum view of the ocean and you get to skip The Wall, which is a lung and leg busting 20-percent grade. If ripping your legs off appeals to you, do the ride clockwise.
Whichever direction you choose to ride, be sure to stop in at Lorraine’s Shave Ice in Kahakaloa, a hamlet that time forgot. Here you will get a feel for Old Hawaii and how things must’ve been before resorts and tourists. Lorraine is a local character and a celebrity among Maui cyclists. Lorraine’s is a cyclist’s oasis—she’ll woo you to stay a bit longer with chocolate dipped frozen pineapple and bananas, fresh baked banana bread, coconut cream pie, shave ice, and the best coconut candy on the island. One taste and you’ll discover why she calls it crack. Don’t bother asking her how to make it—the recipe is sealed in the vault along with the formula for Coca-Cola.
If you can pry yourself away from Lorraine’s charms, continue your ride and if you have time, take a dip in the bottomless ocean-filled lava pools just over the edge about a mile from Lorraine’s heading toward Kaanapali. Ask her yourself for specific directions.
Upcountry Winery Ride
If the West Maui ride is too much of a challenge, Upcountry Maui offers shorter rides through ranch land and eucalyptus forests. The winery ride begins at Rice Park at about mile marker 13 of the Kula Highway. This route is about 16 miles round trip with 1,500 feet of climbing. Ride a 3-mile undulating warm-up that passes through the little town of Keokea, famous for its artists, historic hospital and Grandma’s Coffee House.
As you pass by Grandma’s hang onto your handlebars for an unforgettable five-mile descent. The road swoops and swings through green pasture following the contours of ancient lava flows. Three thousand feet below you are the resorts of Kihei, Molokini Crater (a popular snorkeling destination) and the island of Kahoolawe. Use caution as you descend because the corners are sharp and the shoulders nonexistent. If you’re a speed junky you’ll love the banked turns at the bottom of the ride.
Take a tour of Maui’s Winery at Ulupalakua Ranch but don’t taste too much because that five-mile descent becomes quite a climb back to Rice Park. Be sure to stop in at Grandma’s on your way back for a hunk of the best coffee cake I have ever tasted or a Keokea crepe if you happen to ride on a weekend.
East Maui Ride
If you’re very fit and have dreams of riding like the pros, continue past the winery to the ocean, Hana and beyond. Since Maui is an island you can keep going and always end up where you started. The south side of the Haleakala volcano is hot, dry and sparsely inhabited. About eight miles of the road is broken pavement and dirt, so be sure to bring extra tubes. There are two killer climbs.
There is only one stop for water at the Kaupo store before you dive back under the rain forest canopy near Hana. If the Kaupo store is closed, there is a water source to the right of the building. Refuel at the Hasagawa General Store before winding your way down the Hana Highway with the trade winds at your back. If you dare to ride the full East Maui loop, you will ride 97 miles and climb 9,400 feet. This ride is epic, one for the bucket list.
The Hana Highway is a jewel of a ride along Maui’s north shore. Begin at the Twin Falls Fruit Stand at mile marker 2, just past Haiku. Start your ride no later than 7 a.m. to avoid heavy traffic.
A popular distance is from Twin Falls to Keanae (another great banana bread stop) and back, about 30 miles. Fitter cyclists can ride to Nahiku (get delicious coffee and pastries here), about 53 miles out and back, or all the way to Hana for a total of 68 miles.
The road weaves in and out of gulches under the rain forest canopy. You will be treated to peekaboo views of the north shoreline before you descend again into the mountain. Abundant waterfalls beg you to stop for a photo. Rainbow eucalyptus trees and bamboo forests punctuate this dazzling ride.
Be cautious on this road as showers can make the turns very slippery. It is best ridden when you know the pavement will be dry. Be sure to check the forecast and weather radar images to pick your day wisely.
At the end of your ride at Twin Falls, walk through the gate adjacent the fruit stand and take an immediate left down a path through a bamboo thicket. Scramble down a short lava cliff and you will think that you’ve gone to paradise. A clear water pool at the base of a 30-foot waterfall awaits you. Wade in, kit and all, and swim under the waterfall to clean off before heading to Paia for lunch.
Café des Amis serves delicious crepes and local beers. Or, you can feast on some of the best pizza I’ve ever had at the Flatbread Pizza Company with Maui Brewing Company beers on tap. Forget about losing weight while riding on Maui. The local food offerings are too good to pass up. But isn’t that a reason why we ride?