Unique Maui outfitter lets cyclists ride like the pros

Maui is arguably one of the most scenic travel destinations in the world. But whoever thinks of road biking on Maui?

World-class beaches, snorkeling, diving, hiking, sailing and the all-too-popular but way-too-lame mountain bike coast down the famed 10,000-foot Haleakala are the signature activities. Road cycling is rarely, if ever, mentioned.

"You're going to Maui?" my friend and travel writer John Robson asked when hearing of my plans to visit Lahaina. "You've got to call this guy at Maui Cycling and hook up for some amazing rides."

Well, the last thing on my mind was taking my bike to Hawaii. Not only do the airlines rake you over the coals for bringing your two-wheeled buddy -- $80 each way is today's average scam rate -- I'd rather ride into a 30-mph headwind with no food or water for five hours than drag a clumsy bike box through airport security and rental cars.

"There's no way I'm taking my bike to Hawaii," I said.

"That's just it," John replied. "You don't have to. These guys have tons of titanium Litespeed bikes, clothing, helmets, glasses -- and they'll set you up. All you have to do is bring your pedals and shoes. And if you forget your pedals and shoes, they've got an assortment of those as well."

Go Cycling Maui

John directed me to Maui Cycling's Web site, and I was immediately intrigued.

"The experience is to be treated like you are on a professional cycling team, sort of a fantasy camp for cyclists," read one of the first few lines on their site.

I continued reading: "Get a flat tire and we get you a new wheel and pace you back up to the group. Get cold and we get you a jacket, vest, or arm warmers. Need help up the mountain and we will do our best to pace you to the top. Get hungry and energy bars and fluids are supplied. We want you to experience what it is like to have your own domestique working for you during your ride in paradise."

OK, enough reading. Being the diseased bike geek that I am, I knew it was my rightful duty to check out this Maui cycling gig. My next challenge was to convince my wife that I needed to throw in a couple of rides while on our "family vacation." While my wife is certainly understanding of my weekly need to join the "boys" for group rides every Saturday, I figured the vacation request, considering we have two small children, might throw her over the edge.

"You're going to do what?" was her immediate reaction when I tactfully tried to explain that I might go for a ride or two while in Maui. I've learned that it's never prudent to mention anything definite when making this sort of request. The word "might" comes in very handy, as it always softens the full impact.

"How are you going to do that? When? And who's going to watch the kids?"

Well, she was going to watch the kids. That seemed pretty logical to me. Of course I couldn't come out and just say it that way, so I twisted this whole ride idea into a business reason.

"I'm going to do a story for Active," I explained. "This is a new concept in the cycling industry (yes, I stole that line right off the Web site) and it's my duty to report it (this was sounding like a crock even to me). You can hang out at the pool, relaxing and reading while I ride. Besides, I'll probably only ride once and then you can go snorkeling or do whatever you like and I'll watch the kids."

Well, my wife was quick to point out there's no relaxing or reading while watching 20-month and 3 1/2-year-old boys. She had a good point there, but was quick to concede on letting me do one ride, maybe two.

Rice Park to Kahikinui

On my third day in Maui, the plan was to meet Donnie Arnoult, owner of Go Cycling Maui, at 7:30 a.m. in Rice Park for a 2- to 3-hour ride with four or five other riders. Rice Park is located in the middle of the island off Highway 37, the road to Haleakala.

It took me about 45 minutes to drive there from Lahaina, and I arrived to find everybody geared up, ready and just waiting for me.

Donnie seemed like a very pleasant guy and certainly looked the part of a seasoned bicycle racer. He's 37 years old, a Cat. 2 cyclist with over 17 years of racing experience, and says he climbs the zero-to-10,000-foot Haleakala "at least once a week with clients."

As Donnie had me sign a release form, I quickly peered into his black Chevy Tahoe. The Tahoe was stocked with extra wheels, bike parts, tubes, tires, helmets, energy bars, replacement drinks, water -- basically everything, and anything, we'd need. Custom painted with Go Cycling Maui logos, including a big "caution: cyclist ahead" message on the back, helped the Tahoe really stand out. I wondered why it said "cyclist" instead of cyclists. Did they use the Tahoe for following solo riders? I could imagine how cool it would be to motor-pace behind that thing.

"Here's everything you'll need today," a voice called from behind, which quickly snapped me back to reality and out of my motor-pacing delusions. I turned as a guy named Jeff handed me a bag of clothing -- shorts, jersey, socks and helmet. "The socks are yours to keep. Everything else you can just stuff back in the bag when you're done." The black cycling socks with "Go Cycling Maui" logos emblazoned on each side would be a great souvenir and pretty unique, I thought.

I had my own pedals and shoes and Jeff quickly grabbed my pedals and screwed them onto a Litespeed Siena. After a quick seat-height adjustment, the bike was ready. The compact titanium frame Siena had a 12-25 cassette with a triple chainring that seemed unnecessary to me. As a Cat. 3 cyclist who had just finished in the middle of the field at Masters road nationals, I figured I could hold my own with just about anybody and didn't need the small ring no matter how steep the climbs got.

I soon learned that not only did I love the triple chainring (especially on an 18% grade they call the "wall"), but the compact frame felt really comfortable, especially on the winding descents. In fact, when I got back to San Diego and jumped on my own road bike, it felt a little awkward. Donnie told me that most of his clients are amazed at how quickly they feel comfortable on the Litespeeds.

I especially liked the added touch of what I'd prefer in my water bottles. "Gatorade or Cytomax?" Jeff asked. When I responded "Cytomax," he asked me how strong I wanted it mixed. What normal bike tour operator would even think to ask that? These guys were way dialed into how cyclists think. He then brought out a varied selection of energy bars and I chose a vanilla Powerbar to stash in the back of my jersey.

The fact that the support vehicle was following us for the entire ride made carrying pumps, tubes, food, extra water and/or cameras totally unnecessary. How cool would it be to always ride with this kind of service, I thought.

"I'll take your camera and snap some pictures if you want," Jeff said. And sure enough, once we started riding, there was Jeff driving up ahead, stopping the Tahoe and snapping pictures of us as we cruised by.

Great roads, no cars

We took off heading south on Highway 37 to the Pi Ilani Highway, also known as Highway 31, on the south part of the island. Go Cycling Maui calls this route "Rice Park in Kula to Kahikinui."

Some of Maui's roads are beautifully paved with no cars. Shown here is the road to Kahikinui.

Before I got hooked up with Go Cycling Maui, the thought of riding on these narrow island roads seemed suicidal. I soon learned that was because I had no idea how much variety of well-paved, nearly deserted roads were on Maui.

I'm not usually that impressed with roads and traffic conditions, especially to where I'd waste the space writing about it, but the road to the south part of the island was like having a private little cycling paradise. We spent 2 1/2 hours winding up and down hills on perfectly paved asphalt with, I would guess, less than 10 cars passing us the entire ride.

"Why aren't there any cars out here?" I asked.

"Because this road doesn't go anywhere," Donnie replied. "It ends up as a gravel road for about 14 miles before meeting with another paved portion that goes to Hana. We've got tons of roads like this out here."

While there weren't any other paid clients while I was there, Donnie assembled a group of local triathletes and cyclists to join us and they were all strong enough to make the ride somewhat challenging. The nice thing about the rides is that the pace can be dictated by the type of riders in the group.

"Nobody really gets dropped because we either wait or pace them back up to the group," Donnie says. "A lot of people just come out here to enjoy the scenery and are happy to ride with the pace of the group. We really don't get too many people who just want to hammer. But if they do, I'm happy to ride with them."

After returning to Lahaina from the Rice Park ride, I thanked my wife for watching the kids and told her how truly amazing the whole experience had been. This was part of my setup strategy to try to join Donnie for another ride.

"Are you going to do another ride?" she asked.

"Yeah, I think it might be good to get another perspective," I replied. "I'm not totally sure yet. It depends on what we'll be doing."

Of course, I was dead-set sure I'd make one more ride.

West Maui

Since we were planning to drive to Hana the morning I was going to do my second ride with Go Cycling Maui, time was critical and I wouldn't really have time to drive somewhere else on the island, get back and then head to Hana with my wife and kids.

"Why don't we do a ride from where you are on west Maui?" Donnie suggested. "It's actually a great ride and I haven't done it in awhile. I can pick you up at the hotel in the morning."

This seemed like a great idea and I wouldn't ride much more than two hours anyway, giving me plenty of time to get back and take the kids on the drive through the rain forest to Hana.

The next morning Donnie arrived with a few cycling buddies, including Jeff, the triathlete, who had driven sag the other day. Altogether there were five of us -- a true group ride by Maui standards -- and we headed north up the west coast of the island.

We had a nice bike lane coming out of the hotel district in Lahaina till we got to Kapalua, where the road became narrow and winding. Fortunately, there was also far less traffic. The views were stunning, and some of the climbs were quite challenging. In fact, this is the part of the island that features the 18% "Wall."

And I was very glad to have the extra 30-tooth small ring in the front, as I watched everybody else barely turning their 39-tooth "small rings" and struggling up the Wall.

I kept thinking to myself, yes, I'm a bike geek, but how many people actually get to experience Maui this way? Not only do you get an outstanding workout on most of the climbs, but the scenery is all postcard material.

And when you consider that some of the sailing, snorkeling and diving trips can run you north of $150 per person, the Go Cycling Maui deal of having a fully escorted bicycle tour for several hours -- between $115 and $135 per ride, depending on how many days you ride -- seems like a sweet deal.

For more information, visit www.gocyclingmaui.com or give Donnie a call at (808) 572-0259.

Jim Woodman is one of the founders of the Active Network and former editor and publisher of Florida Sports Magazine. He's been an avid cyclist for over 22 years.

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