Blog master Lyndel asked if I would write something up about cycling in Hawaii and Southeast Asia, so I will post some of my thoughts, pics, and brag about a few of my rides. Unexpectedly, this trip has become a real cycling adventure for me. I’ve ridden, seen and experienced things I did not plan on, all thanks to finding a way to get on two wheels. We’ve even managed some good family rides, which I will always cherish.
Maui was the one place on the entire trip I had planned to rent a bike and check off some epic rides from the bucket list. Renting a bike on Maui is not cheap, but the riding is incredible. The first major ride I attempted was the West Maui Loop, a real kicker for a big guy like me with its many short, but very steep climbs on the north side. It helps to have stunning views to look at, though.
After that, I made sure to ride up to the Iao Needle, a fantastic valley that we had driven up to a few days before. There is obvious eye candy on this route, and a nice little power climb through the dense and humid forest to wake the lungs and legs up.
I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to pedal up Haleakala from Paia. This was definitely epic for me. I will remember that ride for a long time, as challenging as it was. Ten thousand vertical feet straight up from sea level was about all I could handle, but I managed a smile at the top.
Bikes can be rented from various locations on the island. I went with Boss Frogs. They were helpful with routes, gear, etc. If Hawaii is your only destination, I would assume it is much more cost effective to bring your own bike. Ride early to avoid the winds!
I had not planned to ride at all in Vietnam, but after a week or so off the bike, I was anxious to find one that might work for me. There are not a lot of big bikes (suitable for a tall Westerner, like me) in SE Asia. Mountian and road bikes seemed hard to come by Vietnam. Instead, I mostly came across rickety old townies that needed some love and attention. Some opportunities presented themselves for some good family rides. However, on our first attempt in Hoi An, Mathilda unfortunately got her foot caught in the rear spokes of Lyndel’s bike while riding in a child’s seat on the back. After four days in and out of the hospital for cleanings and re-bandaging, she was good as new, but we were definitely a little rattled and more cautious after that. There are outfits where you can pay to have a guide take you around, or from town to town, but that did not suit us. Instead, we just tooled around a bit on whatever bikes we could get our hands on. Merle and I did do one fun trip through the Mekong area with our guide, complete with a bike ferry crossing.
I was so sure I would not have the opportunity to ride in Myanmar that I left my shoes, pedals, and other gear at our hotel in Yangon for the month. I was shocked when we got to Nyangshwe, near Inle Lake, and found a little mountain bike rental shop renting full carbon hard tails for $4 a day. I was able to do a couple nice rides in the area, and get up above Inle for some great views. One day I rode up to a vineyard to meet Lyndel and the kids, which was a nice change of pace. Merle and I later on found an old townie with a seat on the back, so we toured around for a bit. But the roads are in such bad shape there, Merle could not tolerate the constant bouncing and banging around for long. We had fun, though.
I had looked into the possibility of renting a bike somewhere near Ngapali beach and was psyched to find out that the Austrian hotel manager of our guesthouse also ran a bike tour business. He was nice enough to let me use one of his Trek mountain bikes for almost nothing. I got in some really nice rides through Thandwe and on some old footpaths outside of town. I remarked to the manager, Johen, that the villagers all seemed very surprised to see a foreigner riding through. He said, “Because, they’ve never seen a foreigner.” I don’t know if that is true, but it made the rides seem a little more special.
There are opportunities to rent bikes in Myanmar, but they are few and far between. If traveling there, I would do as much research as you can well ahead of time to try and reserve something. I found some good information on the TripAdvisor Myanmar forum.
Our first guesthouse in Chiang Mai was Little Village, which literally doubled as cycle tour company (thanks, Lyndel!). The owner, Hans, was very friendly and offered free bike rentals for our stay as long as I helped with some basic maintenance around the shop. Luckily, basic maintenance is about all I can handle. So I found a nice Trek mountain bike, that almost fit me (!!) for the duration of our stay. I did some really beautiful rides in here, including the famed Doi Suthep climb. Hans even extended his gracious offer to the family, so we enjoyed some great family rides here and in Chiang Rai to the north. We even managed a solid 30k ride as a family, through rubber plantations, orchards and to the White Temple. Good job, Mommy!
There are many opportunities for excellent riding in Thailand, especially in the north. Most homestays have kids bikes laying around, which was great for M and M. Rentals are cheap, shop owners are friendly, and there is plentiful info online, such as Map My Ride. Again, the TripAdvisor forums are a great resource.
Knowing that Bali has some great terrain and that we would be there for 3 months, I looked into buying a used bike from a tour company, with the option of selling it back when we left. I found a company called Infinity Mountain Biking that was willing to sell me a used hard tail size 20inch (biggest bike in Asia, I think) and then buy it back the day before we left at 50% off the purchase price. Not the best return, but way more cost effective than renting one. They delivered the bike to my door, and even drove me to the local shop in Denpasar so I could buy tubes and a frame pump. They were very helpful. Unfortunately, by this point in the trip my Real D Hincapie kit had pretty much disintegrated, so I was happy when Ron Gager showed up with a new one as well as a snazzy new T-shirt from Shawn Rucks at Pro Peloton, Boulder. Thanks Shawn!
I did a lot of riding in Bali. A lot. I was able to pretty much explore the eastern half of the island, a real thrill for me. One of my favorite daily rides was to chase the garbage trucks up Mt. Seraya.
As previously posted, Ron and I were able to do an epic ride from the Batur/Agung area down through valleys and villages towards the shore. Infinity called it their “expert” ride, and my initial thought was that we were from Colorado and anything they could throw at us would be fine, right? Wrong! Dense jungle, volcanic sand, steep and deep rutted mud, technical terrain with a big drop off to the side and rice fields that had only a 6 or 8 inch elevated track through it. Ron and I came through with a few “souvenirs,” but luckily nothing too bad. What a day! Some incredible riding, and a lot of new terrain for me. Ron, with a national downhill champ in the family, had lots of good advice along the way. Thanks to Novi and Infinity for a great day!
After the big downhill adventure, I managed to get a bunch of great rides in going the other direction (up). My final big ride was from Ubud to the Mt. Batur caldera, with a stop for a cup of $5 Kopi Luwak (wild Civet poop coffee). There are some nice roads up at the top of the island, free of the congested motor bike traffic of Ubud and Denpasar. Heading east/west on Bali can be challenging, with its steep and slick gangways, footpaths and small roads. I was lucky to get through three months of hard riding without hitting the deck. Bali has some great rides, fantastic views, and warm people. But I would urge extreme caution on the roads. There are many opportunities to get into trouble.
While cycling is popular in our final country, Malaysia, and there are many beautiful routes, terrain, and available bikes, I did not make an effort to ride here. Logistically it proved difficult, as we moved around a lot in our first month. The roads are also dangerous, and it is freaking hot, oven-hot, fry-an-egg-on-the-street-hot. I will be home soon enough, only one month to go.
I always like the idea that when you are in a car you observe scenery, but when you are on a bike you are a part of the scenery. I feel really lucky to have seen much of this region on two wheels. But the roads and trails of Colorado beckon, and I can’t wait to get back in the saddle again.