Biking in Kona

Of all the various things I’ve done in Hawaii, biking has never been one of them. Put on spandex and climb on a bike rather than sit on a beach or hike around a volcano? Nahhhh, no thanks. But last month, I learned that it’s actually a lot more pleasant than I’d expected, and the logistics were also easier than I feared. So, if you’re planning a trip to the Big Island and feel like getting a taste of what those crazy Ironman people do, read on. Or just scroll down for the pictures; you know who you are.

A bit of history: I think this can all be blamed on marathons. You see, more than once, I found myself looking at my training schedule and seeing “14 miles” on the plan for a Saturday when I would be in Hawaii. Running in humidity sucks. Running in blazing sun sucks. But I did it — more than once. Then I ran a marathon in Hawaii, because I am an idiot.

And you know what? Compared to running a marathon in Hawaii, other things don’t seem so crazy. Bicycling, for instance, would offer a breeze because I’d be going faster! OK, so maybe this is just my way of justifying the craziness because I’m signed up for a big, scary ride in July and didn’t want to go for a whole week without riding a bike. I briefly pondered gyms and whether their bikes would be terrible, and then I concluded that I’d rather run another marathon in Hawaii than spend several hours on an unknown gym bike. And that says a LOT, because I have no plans to run another marathon in Hawaii.

Enough rambling. I fired up the Google machine, along with the Yelp machine, and found that Bike Works Kona has lots of rental bikes, as well as solid reviews. ¬†They even have online rental reservations — that actually work! I telephoned them just because you can never be too sure about Hawaii (things there run on “island time”), and they sounded just fine. I made a reservation online, promptly got an email confirmation, and then got a reminder one week before my rental date. A month later, I’ve had no spam. I also haven’t been paid for all of this awesome advertising that will be seen by millions upon millions of blog readers.

I got to the bike shop on a Friday afternoon, and it took me a while to find it because it was up a steep drive behind some other buildings. I can’t speak to their Waikoloa location (which I hear doesn’t have as much selection of extra stuff), but this shop had a LOT of options. They’re ready for Type A triathletes who are stressed out and focused on Ironman training — I had brought my own gel, drink and chamois cream, but this place had every brand and flavor I use, plus a ton of other products. They also sell their bottles at half price to people renting bikes, so I got an insulated bottle for $7.50, mayyyybe because it perfectly matches my bike, has a nice top and says “Kona” on it…

My bike was parked near the counter, waiting for me. I had brought my measurements, so they set the bike up to match them as closely as they could, put my pedals on it, found a helmet that fit me, gave me a tool bag, took an imprint of my credit card as insurance but did not actually charge it (that was nice — no $2,000 charge sitting there until I returned the bike), and I was on my way out the door. I pedaled around the parking lot, but it was just fine so I didn’t need adjustments they also offered for free.

Their rates are in 24-hour periods, so I originally had the idea of riding Friday afternoon for 25ish miles, then riding longer Saturday morning. Well, it was hot, so I lazily nixed that idea and instead went to happy hour, where I happened to chat for awhile with two guys who recognized me from the bike shop — as it goes in my world.

Saturday morning, I was up before dawn and driving downtown. I parked in the Target parking lot near the highway, and before long I was heading north.

I had researched routes, but honestly, I knew from the beginning what I wanted to do: ride the Ironman route. The marathon I ran covered just about all of the ground that the athletes do in their marathon, so now I could experience their bike route. Plus, it’s straight out on a highway that has very wide shoulders, and is undoubtedly the safest place on the island to ride. This hideous website has some other ideas, and you can find more on your route-planning site of choice.

Looking back up the road -- in the path of world champions.

I got to Waikoloa 24 miles later, where I refilled my water and reapplied sunscreen. Then I headed back. I had entertained the idea of riding all the way to Hawi, where the Ironman racers turn around, for a full 100 miles. But the rental bike’s seat was not ideal (should have brought my own), and I wasn’t too keen on the idea of being 50 miles away from Kona on my first-ever ride there. I did have two spare tubes with me (and luckily didn’t need either one), but I also didn’t know when the wind would pick up; whenever it did, that could be a rough crosswind.

To my pleasant surprise, the ride back was faster. There was no crosswind, and I passed a couple cyclists — who then passed me when I stopped at a “scenic overview” for an obligatory picture.

My view for dozens of miles.

Since I didn’t want to end up with only 48 miles, I detoured down into the Energy Lab, where the Ironman marathon goes and where my marathon had not — now I could do that part of the course! While there, I had a whole conversation with a grieving recent widower who’s a cyclist from Portland. Again, that is normal in my world.

Beach at the Energy Lab

I finally got back to the car, and realized that I had parked near a fast food place. Hello, easily accessible bathroom in which to change and wipe all the bugs off me! Then I returned the bike to the shop, got iced 100% Kona coffee, and felt like a million bucks. (Side note: if coffee says it’s “Kona coffee” but doesn’t give the percentage, it means they used a small amount of rejected Kona beans. You’re better off getting something else. Coffee plantation tours in Kona are really cool, and I highly recommend them.)

Now that I’ve done the “rent a bike in Kona” thing, will I do it again? Absolutely! Honestly, if you’re a cyclist or triathlete who’s thinking of flying your bike to Kona for training, take a look at the options Kona Bike Works offers. Their fees are cheaper than the airline bike baggage fees, and then you don’t have to deal with a giant bike box. Next time, depending on my training/running/life/Hawaii schedule, I’ll probably rent a bike for two days, because it doesn’t cost much more. And maybe I’ll try the hills…

But for now, I’ll just leave a sunset photo. Because you can’t go to Hawaii and not see the sun set over the ocean.

3 Responses to Biking in Kona

  1. This is very cool! Glad you were able to bike in Hawaii and had fun. And you made me realize maybe I really DON’T want to run a marathon in Hawaii…

    • Haha! Well, that wasn’t my intent… I think heat training (sauna, hot tub, etc)/acclimating would help for running in Hawaii, because it generally starts to feel a little easier after I’ve run there for a week. And I’ve heard that the Honolulu Marathon in December has a little cooler weather.

  2. I bet I’d get all emotional on that course.