Exploring Hawaii by bicycle

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The Ke Ala Hele Makalae multi-use path stretches for 8 miles over two sections along Kauai's eastern coastline.
The Ke Ala Hele Makalae multi-use path stretches for 8 miles over two sections along Kauai's eastern coastline. Photo Credit: HTA/Tor Johnson

One way U.S. residents have chosen to beat the pandemic blues is pedal power. Bike sales have skyrocketed in the past few months, as people are reconnecting with two-wheeled transportation in search of outdoor, social-distancing-friendly alternatives to pre-Covid-19 travel plans. 

In March, as stay-at-home orders spread across the United States, nationwide bike sales almost doubled compared to the same period in 2019, according to the NPD Group, a market research company. Sales of leisure bikes rose a whopping 121% year over year, and by April, stores and distributors had sold out of lower-priced models for casual consumers. 

Once travel resumes, don’t let those newly developed softball-size calves go to waste. Hawaii offers spectacular biking through a variety of landscapes, from bombing downhill at top speeds from the heights of Waimea Canyon to crushing the same routes as the world-class athletes who compete in the Ironman Championship.

Grease the chain, check your brakes and pick out one of these popular bike rides from the four most visited islands.

Oahu

Watch for sea turtles and pro surfers while riding Ke Ala Pupukea bike path along the North Shore. Starting just north of Waimea Bay, the route winds three miles along Kamehameha Highway serving up ocean views through jungle canopies. Riders will pass by Pupukea Beach Park, Ehukai Beach Park, and end at Sunset Beach, offering plenty of opportunities for a picnic break or some snorkeling along the way. On the windward side of the island, bikers can explore the Koolau Rainforest without wearing out their legs thanks to Bike Hawaii’s new e-bike tour launched last year. Participants mount 250-watt electric-assist mountain bikes to help tackle a five-mile, 1,600-foot climb. Inside the tropical forest, bikers will spot eucalyptus, bamboo and banyan trees in addition to a plethora of birds and wildlife. Once at the top, there are vistas of Manoa Valley, Diamond Head, Pearl Harbor and Honolulu. Bike Hawaii also offers “tag-along trailers” for bikes, which can hold children 5 years and older who weigh up to 85 pounds. Plus, no carbon footprint here -- the bikes are charged with Bike Hawaii’s solar-powered system.  

Kauai

This is a vacation, so don’t be embarrassed about avoiding hills and letting gravity do all the work. Outfitters Kauai Waimea Canyon tour starts at 3,600 feet above sea level and is nothing but breeze-in-your-hair easy downhill. The tour builds in plenty of breaks for capturing the views. Looking for more of a challenge? Climb to the top of the canyon via Route 550, which, after reaching the top, levels off and passes Kokee Museum before ending at the Kalalau Lookout. Start early to beat vehicle traffic.

For bikers who are more beach cruisers than mountain climbers, Ke Ala Hele Makalae multi-use path follows the coastline on Kauai's east side. The route, slated to one day reach 20 miles from Lihue to Anahola, currently stretches nearly eight miles from Lydgate Beach Park to Ahihi Point with scenic views, picnic pavilions, and restroom facilities along the way. A good place to park and access the path is Kealia Beach. From there head north for a quieter ride, and venture south toward Kapaa if stops for lunch and shopping are on the itinerary. 

Hawaii Island

Host of the Ironman Championship each year, the Island of Hawaii offers vista-ladden road biking through upland forests and coastal lava fields. To pedal in the same path as the world’s greatest triathletes, ride the rolling hills of the picturesque Kohala Coast along route 270 from Hawi to Spencer Beach Park (20 miles), or go another three miles to Hapuna Beach State Park. The Ironman contestants ride all the way from Kailua-Kona to Hawi and back for a 112-mile ride. 

Big Island Bike Tours owner Alex Candelario spent more than a decade racing bicycles, and has a wealth of knowledge for biking the Big Island. The company offers a variety of rentals and tours, including mountain biking at its headquarters at Anna Ranch, a 110-acre area property in Waimea that has been a working cattle ranch since 1848 and was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2008. A ride on the ranch, with traditional or electric-assist mountain bikes, Includes a 1200-foot climb to a panoramic view of Hawaii Island’s northwestern coast and a stop at a waterfall for a cool down. 

Maui 

To really earn that Mai Tai and Kalua Pork dinner at the end of the day serious bikers can tackle Maui’s sea to summit ride that goes from sea level in the town of Paia up to 10,000 feet at the top of Haleakala over 36 miles. Dubbed the “Cycle to the Sun” (Haleakala means “House of the Sun” in Hawaiian and the volcano is a popular spot for sunrise viewing), start early in the day for the best weather and less traffic and leave four to five hours for the climb. Bring layers for the changing temperatures and of course snacks and water, but save some room for stops at Kula Lodge or Maui Lavender Cafe along the way. After the lodge, which sits at 3,200 feet, the climbing gets serious as you churn through a series of switchbacks. When you see the ranger station at the entrance to Haleakala National Park you’ve hit 6,500 ft. It costs $15 to enter the park, and from here it is a slow climb and lactic acid will be pumping through your legs by the end. The return trip takes just one to two hours, but friendly drivers have been known to give weary or rushed cyclists a ride down. 

For a much flatter coastal ride, head south from Lahaina on Highway 30 for a 13-mile one way ride to the Pali lookout on Lahainaluna Road. Along the way pass Launiupoko beach park where you can stop for a surf session or to let little kids frolic in the wading pool. Next up along the route is Olowalu, which hosts a store for stocking up on snacks and cold beverages. From the lookout Maalaea Bay and the small crescent-shaped island of Molokini are visible. During whale season, December to April, humpback whales can be seen blowing their spouts.

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