About the only thing that tops the view from the summit of Maui’s 10,000-foot volcano is coasting down its slopes on a bicycle. No, you don’t have to power your way up the mountain for the thrill of coasting down. Bicycle tour companies do the hard work for you, picking you up in the pre-dawn hours and transporting you to the mountain outfitted with bikes and gear. They also guide you safely down the road.
Haleakala, which translates from Hawaiian to “House of the Sun,” rises 10,023 feet above sea level at its summit. It is located in a 30,000-acre national park, home to rainforest, rare native species, 400-foot waterfalls, freshwater swimming holes and striking archaeological features.
Commercial bicycle tours are staged outside the entrance to the park at an elevation of about 6,500 feet. Some companies offer vehicle tours inside the park prior to beginning the downhill ride.
The park, almost as well-known for sunrise bike tours as for its natural wonders, attracts some 90,000 tourists a year who pay $100 to $150 toride 36 miles down the volcano along a twisting, two-lane highway.
Biking companies offer three kinds of tours: structured, guided and freestyle.
On the guided trips, the slowest riders remain in back of the lead guide so the group never exceeds the abilities of its least experienced rider. The van that transported riders up the mountain brings up the rear and protects them from following traffic. The lead guide and van driver keep in touch with each other via two-way radio. The bikers ride single file, with comfortable spacing in front and back to avoid pile-ups. If you decide that you’re not comfortable enough to ride safely, you can always stop and ride in the van. The average tour speed is 15 to 20 mph, slowing to 5-10 mph for turns and curves.
Bicycle companies don’t necessarily limit their tours to guided Haleakala rides. Some offer freestyle rides and tours in other locations.