This winter my wife and I decided to travel to Maui for a few reasons. One, it's too cold here in February and we wanted to escape to a warmer climate, and secondly, the island provides tons of amazing roads and routes for cycling.
For those of you that don’t know, Maui claims to have the second longest paved climb in the world (some would argue that). The climb up Heleakala is an astonishing 59km, starting at sea level and topping off at 10,000 ft. The island also boasts several amazing routes, three of which include the “Road to Hana”, the Winery Road and the West Maui Loop. Each of these rides is epic in in own sense, each varying in distance and elevation and scenery.
I haven’t really found any documentation anywhere on the web describing these as official routes, so I thought I would provide you with the info you need in case you had the notion to go ride your bike in Maui; here’s four days of great riding.
The route starts in the small town of Paia (sea level) and ends back in the town 120km later, a typical “out and back” ride. The general rule of thumb for temperature change on a climb like this goes like this….for every 1000 ft of elevation ascended, the temperature will drop 2 degrees. So on a climb of 10,000ft the temperature will drop approximately 20 degrees. The day we went up this year, it was 25 at the beach and 5 degrees at the summit. In preparation for this ride you will need to carry legs, sleeves, full gloves, a beanie and a coat for your return trip back down.
The climb can be divided into three parts.
- From Paia to 3000 ft (1000m) , 23km - This first section is where you get your legs warmed up, the grade is light 3-7% with one longer steeper 11-12% section leaving the town of Makawoa. There is a store (Kula Lodge) around the 23km mark on the right side of the road where you can buy water and food. You will need to fill up water bottles here as the next place for water isn’t for a while.
- From km 24 - First set of switchbacks to National Park Gate (km 42) - This second section is where the grades begin to kick up a bit and the scenery completely changes for the better. The average grade over this section is 6%, but don’t let that trick you as several of the ramps kick up to the 8-10% mark. The views of the island looking north and west are amazing on this section. You shouldn’t be suffering too much yet, so take in all you can! By the time you reach the gate for the Park, you will have climbed another 3000ft (1000m), so you are two thirds of the way there. The park will cost you $5 per bike. A water fountain and bathroom can be found at the visitor centre on the right side of the road about 1km past the gate.
- From the Park Gate (km 42) to the summit (km 59) - The final push up the last set of switch backs is when this ride becomes epic. The grade of the last 1000m is less than the previous section, only averaging 5.5 %, but the wind can be enough to blow you backwards. Once you get to this point, there is no shelter from the elements. The only relief comes if your lucky enough to have the wind on your back. This section will seem like it never ends. I was working so hard that I can’t even remember much of the scenery! Once you near the summit, but sure to stick to the right and go passed the visitor centre and go right to the very end of the road…can’t miss the “full” Starva segment!
Once at the summit, be sure to put your gear on quick as you will cool down very fast once you stop pedaling. The descent is long, spend time in the drops to give your hands a rest from all the braking. There are no worries about cars at this point as you will be traveling faster then most vehicles. We managed to keep our full kits (legs, sleeves, jackets, gloves, beanies) on all the way to Makawoa. This is where we stopped and took everything back off. From Makawoa to Paia is a quick 15 minutes. We stopped at the Milagros Food Co. on the main corner for lunch and a celebratory pint!
All in, the ride took us 4:20 hours up and 1.5 hours down. We left Paia at 7:45am and were back mid afternoon.
As an alternative, Maui Cyclery offers guided rides up with a sag vehicle. We did this the first time we went. They carried all of our gear in the vehicle and provided food for us. This is an option if you wish to have support the first time you do it. I believe the cost was around $100 usd per rider.
“The Road to Hana”
Ask anyone and they will tell you that you are nuts for cycling the Hana Highway. However, I will tell you that it actually may be safer to be on a bike! There are approximately 620 curves on the road and several bridges. Most people in cars get motion sickness, however, on a bike it’s an epic ride! Not one straight section of road for 105 km of riding.
For the best ride, park at Twin Falls (mile marker #2 Hana Hwy). By doing this, you avoid all the crappy sections of road and really get into the best of the road. There is a few things you should know about this ride, 1. people travel with caution on this road, so they really don’t speed (there will be the odd idiot), 2. be sure to take control of the cars and tell them when to pass you. My wife and I do this and it really does help.
From Twin Falls to Hana is about 52km. Despite the fact that you are not climbing a volcano, you are constantly either descending climbing, so by the time you’re done this ride you will have logged about 1850m of elevation.
Things to note…there is a store at the 24km mark with food, there is also several little fruit stands along the way. A very important note is “Coconut Glens” coconut ice cream stand, this is a must…if you don’t stop, you really haven’t completed this ride. There are several places in Hana for lunch, however we typically turn around and head back out of town. About 10km out of town your way home, there's a market place hidden amongst the forest with 3 or 4 great little places to eat, i would recommend eating here.
Watch the weather, this side of the island tends to get a bit of rain on an off, may be best to carry a zip lock for your phone and a light rain jacket.
The Winery Road
This is another out and back. It's pretty typical riding in the Maui sense, meaning that you will ride up or down something. In this case, you descend an amazing road through lava fields to sea level, and then turn around and climb back to your car….sounds simple right….think again!
Maui has one winery, it's a Pineapple Winery and is located on the south west side of the Island on Hwy 37 (Kula Hwy). For this ride you will need to park in the little town of Kula and start your ride at Grandma’s Coffee House. This ride is simple, leave Grandma’s and ride 30km until you are basically riding across sections of road that have been washed out by the ocean. It won't take that long before the road is just too bad, so you need to turn around. The key thing to remember here is that there is NO help, NO stores, NO PLACE TO GET WATER after you pass the winery. So, if you take 2 bottles with you, I would save them for the ride back and not drink them during the effortless 30 km descent during the first hour of the ride. Another thing to remember is that there is no shade on this route, you are exposed the entire time, so be sure to lather on the sun screen and carry an extra water if it is going to be very hot. On the way back, stop off at the winery, they offer short tours. There is also a restaurant and small store across the road where you can get food and water. From the winery to Grandma’s is about 8km back to your car.
The “thing” that makes this ride epic…is the breath taking views…I don’t have words for them, you just have to ride it for yourself.
Remember, the climb back is 30km, so it's 2 hours back for most people.
West Maui Loop
The first time we were in Maui, we didn’t get a chance to tackle this ride. Now that I've done it once, I want to do it again. The loop takes in the entire western portion of Maui. We decided to leave from Paia, which made this into a 125km loop. It's a funny ride, as you will find yourself riding on every category of road possible. We started out on a two lane highway, moved to a four lane, back to a very windy two lane and eventually a very rough one lane road that resembled a tiny lane way. However, that being said, all the major roads have bike lanes and the riding is very safe.
It was suggest that the route be ridden clockwise to account for the typical winds, so we left our little cottage and headed for Lahaina. This is a great ride to do on a Sunday or a holiday so the traffic is minimized. The first portion of the ride is completely highways with bike lanes. It is the worse part of the entire ride. In fact, if you didn’t know any better, you would turn around and head home, because these are not typical cycling roads. Try to keep your cool and just relax and take in your surroundings. Lahaina is at the 50km mark and a great place to stop and refuel and grab a coffee. We made a quick stop downtown at the Starbucks and continued on our way. Just down the highway a while is Kapula, this is where this route turns into epic. The road eventual turns into two lanes, the bike lane disappears and the scenery changes completely. For the next 40 km the road weaves in and out of little bays, descending and then climbing back up. This goes on and on…not as much as the Road to Hana, but just as beautiful. The panoramic views of the ocean and the cliffs is mind blowing. There are many places to stop along the way for banana bread (Julia’s) and drinks. For us the road was under construction, with only a short distance of gravel that we had to travel on. In the last few km’s before you begin descending back into Kahului the road is very rough and needs work, but I believe that is where there was construction on it.
The final 15 km back to Paia saw us travel through the centre of Kahului, to the airport and then onto a bike path that spit us out onto the Hana Highway near Specklesville. To say the least, this section was a tad bit stressful.
A better option would be to park your vehicle at the Maalaea Harbor and only ride around the west portion of the Island, this would cut out the majority of the city cycling. Probably a good idea…but the adventure is a great story that we won’t soon forget!
There are other amazing Maui rides….so if you have any questions, please don’t hold back!