Among the classic outdoor experiences in Maui is a bike ride down the flanks of Haleakala, the great shield volcano that crowns East Maui. Maui Mountain Cruisers has offered this experience since 1983, and remains one of the highest-profile outfitters doing so.
At one point, tour companies led down-volcano bike rides that began not far from the actual Haleakala summit (which rises past 10,000 feet) in Haleakala National Park. In 2007, the park prohibited such commercial bike-riding operations within its bounds. Now the rides offered by Maui Mountain Cruisers and the other companies commence just outside the park at about the 6,500-foot level.
Maui Mountain Cruisers provides a combination of guided and self-guided experience. For the roughly seven-hour Haleakala Downhill Bike Tour, you’re shuttled from the company’s headquarters in Paia up to the starting point in the Upcountry highlands. As you’re driven upslope, you’ll get some information on the landscape from the guide. Once at the starting point on Haleakala Ranch, you’re outfitted with a helmet and a gearless bicycle. Then it’s time to let gravity do most of the work while you soak up the magnificent scenery.
The company provides support to riders en route if assistance is needed. Otherwise, you’ll coast your way down the paved road, including through some 29 dazzling switchbacks. You need to naturally exercise basic road-biking safety and remain traffic-aware at all times. But in terms of physical exertion, this is a pretty easy ride, given good old gravity is doing most of the work for you. Anyone ages 12 and up can partake of the Haleakala Downhill Bike Tour.
The gearless downhill bikes are pretty comfortable, but it must be said their condition sometimes leaves something to be desired. Again, Maui Mountain Bikes is there to help with flats and mechanical issues and will provide replacement rides if necessary.
The views on the way down sweep over Maui’s central valley toward the West Maui Mountains, with Lanai, Molokin, and Kahoolawe out on the ocean skyline.
Descending through the Upcountry rangeland, you’ll pass through Kula, then the Hawaiian cowboy town of Makawao. There are numerous places to stop for refreshments, not least the famed Komoda Bakery in Makawao with its to-die-for donuts. Before you know it, you’re rolling into Paia and back to the Maui Mountain Cruisers “Cabana.”
Even if you’re not setting off from the very crown of Haleakala, it’s still quite a thrill to cruise from 6,500 feet almost all the way down to the Pacific surf. And it’s a treat to feast on all of that Upcountry Maui scenery in the fresh air and sunshine, out from beyond the steering wheel. Pedal-powered (with a major gravity assist) sightseeing at its best!
While you don’t have to worry about the bikes and helmets, you will want to bring layers. It’s often quite cool up on the high shoulders of Haleakala, so the start of your ride can be invigoratingly chilly.