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Molokai on Two Wheels: Mountain Biking Molokai

Article about mountain biking on Molokai.

"Phenomenal!" shouts Randy Peterson as he wheels back into the Activity Center at Sheraton Molokai and unclips his cycling helmet. "This is five-star mountain biking. One of the best places in the world."

He should know. He and his wife Jennifer love to travel and they love mountain biking. San Francisco residents - he’s in money management, and she works for an Internet start-up - Randy and Jennifer take several trips each year to places where they can play hard outdoors. They’ve been to Moab, to the Hood River, to Costa Rica, and repeatedly to Maui. But this is their first experience of Molokai, and they can’t believe their good luck for having discovered the place.

"Our friends thought we might get bored here," says Jennifer. "But I’ve never seen Randy so happy."

They’re staying a week at Sheraton Molokai, dividing their time between the Beach Village and the elegant Lodge. And they’ve been out biking every day.

"I had no idea how great the trails were going to be," says Randy.

Sheraton Molokai’s network of some sixty trails originates at the activity center next to the Lodge. The system was designed by off-road cycling legend Bob Ward of HairBrain Adventures. Each trail has its own name and personality. Each is clearly signposted and color-coded, just as at a ski lodge, according to the challenge it presents. Green is easy - flat roads and beginner’s trails. Blue means intermediate (that is, fun) singletracks like Keoki’s Trail, nearly three miles long and full of speed, dips, and surprises. Red signs mark the advanced trails, and a dozen are marked orange for the experts - trails chock full of obstacles and narrow switchbacks, with names like Ditch of Doom, Eager Beaver, and Lunar Descent.

The Activity Center rents a variety of two-wheelers - from Rocky Mountain hard tails to Martin full suspension bikes - by the day or week, as well as trailers and other accessories for children. Bikes come with a trail map, a spare tire, and a bike pump. (Yes, diehard enthusiasts can bring their own bikes.)

Experienced guides are available every day to lead single-track excursions. For example, the Gravity Bike Ride (daily 10 am or 1:30 pm) takes beginners on a no-sweat downhill course that drops 1,100 feet in elevation, ending at the Kaupoa Beach Village. From there, riders can get a shuttle lift back to Sheraton Molokai. Advanced Course tours are available by arrangement.

For an experience to be found nowhere else on Earth, intermediate and advance-level bikers should take the Na‘iwa sea-cliff ride. No, this doesn’t involve riding straight down Molokai’s three-thousand-foot north-shore sea cliffs (the tallest in the world).

But it’s close - very close. A guide trucks the bikers to the island’s upper ranchlands, the district called Na‘iwa, inhabited these days only by goats and egrets, wind and cloud. Bikers conquer several mountain climbs, then dodge their way through a single track course in a koa forest. The trees here stand not much more than a handlebar’s width apart, so the need for acrobatic maneuvering is extreme. If riders get through the first such maze and still want more, they can opt for an even tougher course that the guides call "The Grinch."

The Naiwa ride then emerges from the forest, and bikers find themselves sailing along the brink of those sea cliffs, looking straight down at distant Kalaupapa Peninsula. For once, the word "incredible" is no exaggeration - and the trail goes on for miles. Near the end, true extremists can choose to shoot themselves into "The Hobbit" - a fifty-foot drop into a gulch that demands a hard right turn at the bottom (either that or a face-to-face with a rather stout tree trunk).

In short, Molokai offers mountain biking for all levels of bravado. Says Jennifer: "This is Moab without the crowds. And there’s a lot more variety here. You can have tropical green cliffs or the desert. You go through little tree stands where the trail’s just as wide as your handlebars, and then you’ll be in grassland where it’s just fields and fields and fields."

For the Petersons, the Sheraton Molokai experience with its designer bike courses makes a perfectly satisfying one-week adventure - they don’t even have to rent a car. But cycling opportunities on Molokai extend far beyond the Sheraton itself. In fact, you can stay anywhere on the island and rely on two wheels, whether for street cycling on car-free tropical roads or for exploring wilder terrain wherever the pavement ends.

Molokai Outdoors, located in the Hotel Molokai lobby, rents "beach cruisers" as well as all-terrain and mountain bikes by the day or the week. This company makes it easy to set up a custom schedule of two-wheel adventures with a single phone call. They’ll lead your excursions, too, if you like.

Molokai Bicycle Shop in Kaunakakai provides road and mountain bikes, car racks, trailers, and child carriers. For small pick-up fees they’ll let you leave the bikes at various island locations (for example, the airport). Bike shop owner Phillip Kikukawa himself leads custom cycling adventures when he’s not busy teaching at the high school. The best way to get a bike through Phillip is by personal contact (email, mail, or phone). Personal contact is Molokai style.

Both of these outfitters offer truly sensational trail rides at Pu‘u O Hoku Ranch. This small-scale cattle ranch and organic farm covers 14,000 acres of the wild east end and the hills above beautiful Halawa Valley. Here, you can get any kind of excursion you want, from an easy hour-and-a-half for the whole family to all-day outings with some hair-raising terrain. These trails take in waterfalls, secret swimming holes, and views never seen by motorists - for example, the North Shore sea cliffs, other islands, and (in winter) a natural nursery where humpback whales cavort with their newborns.

Cycling author John Alford called his experience at the east end of Molokai: "Epic - a must for every adventure traveler!"

It’s simply true. The island of Molokai is one of the finest cycling destinations in the world. And here’s what makes it better - not many people have discovered yet just how good it is. No matter where you are on the island, you have all the elbow room and freedom of choice that you want.

"Plus, there’s something else," says Randy Peterson. "This is Molokai. It’s low-stress and easy. Here we are, doing all this great biking -- and we still feel like we’re having a vacation."

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Article Courtesy of the Molokai Visitors Association


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