Maui Wowee: Mountain Biking Maui With Kids

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Riding Maui's Bike Park With Kids

One of the most popular attractions on the island of Maui is to wake up at three in the morning to bus to the 10,023 foot summit of mount Haleakalā to watch the sun tear through inky pillowed clouds, releasing a pyrotechnic sunrise. Glorious for adults and whine-inducing for sleep-deprived children. Like many, when my kids are not sleeping, they prefer cycling to aesthetic contemplation.

Riding Maui's Bike Park With Kids

Vistiting Haleakalā and Makawao Forest Bike Park

We slept in and left for the summit after seven, when Haleakalā National Park opens to cars without reservations, for a mountain bike descent from the summit via the Skyline Trail and Polipoli Spring State Recreation Area. The ride is 18 miles long, but with 7000 feet of downhill and little up, doable for kids accustomed to a few hours on a bike. Apart from some loose rock at the top, tight turns and achy brake fingers, the ride is generally not technical.

Mountain biking Maui's Skyline trail
MTB With Kids - Maui Skyline Trail
Taking a break while mountain biking in Maui

The Skyline Trail starts just past the desolate multihued crater where the Haleakalā High Altitude Observatory perches at the edge of the park. The first five miles of the trail are on double-track, a mercy for those awestruck by views of distant Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa set in the sparkling big blue. Unlike their mom, the children were not bothered by the sensation of imminent flight off the mountain towards the Alenuihaha Channel. A park ranger said the road had recently been graded, but it can be ugly with sand and fist-sized hunks of sharp a’a lava rock.

Mountain biking in Maui
Young girl mountain biking in Maui with family
Checking out a cave while mountain biking with kids in Maui

At the top of the fog belt, where rider and vegetation return to earth, we took a snack break before heading down the Mamane Trail. We flushed ring-necked pheasants and chukars as we cruised the pine forest on well-maintained singletrack. A collapsed lava tube marks a junction with the upper Waiohuli Trail and a transition to the tropical rainforest. That trail leads to the dirt Waipoli Road that transforms into a one-lane asphalt road with 20 magnificent switchbacks accomplishing the last 1000-foot drop. We saw three hikers and two cars the entire ride.

There are no licensed shuttles or guided tours of the Skyline Trail, which skirts the Hawaiian Homelands, areas sacred to native Hawaiians and off limits to commercial activity per the state. Since I was the only one with a driver’s license, I considered possibilities that included stealing a mobility scooter from the Kahului Costco parking lot. Except that twenty years from now I do not want the family legend to contain a story about how mom was busted driving up the side of a Hawaiian volcano at four miles per hour.

The real options are to rent a second car and leave it at the bottom, to hitch back up to your car or to keep asking until you find someone who has half a day available to drive you around. I lucked out offering da kine tip via ridesharing app for the run back up to the summit. With two cars, leave one near Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm at the end of the descent. Count out riding on the busy two-lane highway. Drivers on Maui are courteous to riders, but long shoulderless sections of road lined with grabby tropical plants are a particularly bad idea for children.

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Bike Park At The Kahakapao Recreation Area

Having worshipped at the House of the Sun, the next day we joined Maui’s party of the jungle at the Makawao Forest Preserve’s Kahakapao Recreation Area. You know it’s going to be good when you roll up and the parking lot has both tots jamming on striders and construction workers celebrating a lunch ride with huge grins on mud-splattered faces. It’s not just the chorus of tropical birds making noise, there were happy human whoops coming from the forest. Plus, the air smelled like tropical flowers.

Maui mtb fun with kids

The bike park starts with a couple pauma (pump) tracks; ‘akahi akahi (novice) and akamai (expert) skills areas; and even offers a repair station with tools. The skills areas feature a small teeter-totter, bridges, log rides, jumps of varying sizes and shapes and generously banked turns. The steeper jumps were hard-packed and booger-slick, requiring extra momentum for successful takeoff and landing. Fallen leaves and mud obscured some portions of the parks, but popular lines were clear.

Maui mtb roller coaster
Getting a little air on a wood wave in Maui
Shredding mountain bike trails in Maui
Hitting a jump on Maui

The main trails, designed by IMBA’s Trail Solutions and maintained by the local IMBA chapter, the Maui Mountain Bike Coalition, work out to a few variations on a couple miles of upward grind followed by a swoopy run down. Everyone we met recommended climbing the East Trail and descending via Pineapple Express, two miles of tasty flow trail with solid berms banking tight turns, whoop de doos, table jumps and a fat BC-style wallride near the end. More advanced climbs and descents are an option. As an educational bonus a parent would appreciate, trails were sprinkled with interpretive signs explaining the history of the preserve, which was planted by prisoners in the 1960s, and the tools like the kahakapao, an adze Hawaiians once used to shape canoes.

We made one last visit to the skills area before foraging for the penultimate post ride treat of the tropics: shaved ice.

Shaved ice in Maui makes everyone happy
Shaved ice while visiting Maui
Enjoying shaved ice after mountain biking in Maui

Before you ride on Maui, check in on trail conditions via coconut wireless, aka direct person-to-person information sharing. Various websites, maps and trail apps have inexplicably different names, lengths and ratings for the same trails, for example, East Trail and East Kahakapao Loop, rated both easy and difficult as well as being one, two and three miles long. Neither GPS nor cell service are reliable under heavy tree cover. Plus, island weather varies by microclimate, a situation only decipherable by someone in the area, though morning tends to be sunny and rain visits in the afternoon.

We picked up bikes at Krank Cycles Maui in Makawao which had an extra small, full-suspension Marin Hawk Hill that fit my nine-year old. For the taller ones, the shop has a formidable quiver that includes Santa Cruz, Knolly and BMC. While a couple of 20-inch bikes were available, they said 24-inch bikes might be a future possibility. Rentals come with a helmet, water bottle, repair kit and a backpack, but those with a preference for clipless pedals have to bring their own. If out of luck with the ever-shifting landscape of vacation equipment rental companies, you might consider buying (and triple-checking the assembly of) smaller bike-shaped-objects from Walmart and donating them afterwards. The cost would not be far off from renting and still less expensive than an evening of mai tais and pupus at the Sheraton.

Even the most dedicated beach potatoes typically plan for an adventure or two while vacationing on Maui, the most action-oriented of the Hawaiian islands. Cram into an underwater metal sausage for a submarine tour or hang loose for a high-altitude shred session? Five minute flight on a zipline verus hours of red dirt roller coaster? Booze cruise versus jungle mountain bike jam? Maui MTB nō ka ʻoi! Maui MTB is the best!

Cassie Ferguson

About The Author

Cassie Ferguson lives in Salt Lake City with two children that wisely suppress their giggles when mom walks her bike downhill. A sometime science writer specializing in computational science, Cassie will fully transmogrify to graduate student in occupational therapy at the University of Utah starting fall 2019.

MTB Stuff We Love – Summer 2019

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Here Are Some Smaller MTB Items That Can Make A Good Ride Great

This mountain bike season is well underway and we’d like to let you know about some of the smaller things we have been using over the last couple of months. Although not as cool as a new bike, these items can help you enjoy your next family bike ride.

Cush Core MTB tire suspension system

CushCore MTB Tire Suspension System

Think of CushCore inserts as an insurance policy that you get to use right away. Our oldest is pretty tough on wheels. Last year, we traveled from Salt Lake City to Angel Fire for an enduro race. The likely combination of incorrect tire pressure (tubeless set-up) and terrain resulted in a flat, damaged wheel on stage 2 and a DNF. This really sucked. Fast forward to 2019 MTB nats in Winter Park and five days of aggressive park riding with CushCore inserts; we have a pleasant success story. The expense, time and effort it takes to get these installed is well-worth the peace-of-mind. Yes – there is a bit of weight gain, but the performance and durability is noticeable. CushCore is available in 26-inch 27.5-inch and 29-inch wheel sizes.

SKS Anywhere Water Bottle Cage Hanger

This simple accessory allows you to attach a full-size water bottle on the underside of your bike’s down tube. Our youngest rides an adult-sized small mountain bike and this inexpensive accoutrement works like a charm. A lot of full-suspension mountain bikes prohibit using a traditional water bottle cage on the inside of the front triangle and the SKS Germany Water Bottle Mount eliminates the problem. Its velcro attachments and no skid rubber contact points ensure a sturdy, no slip solution. You can even use it if you bike can hold a water bottle cage (or two) in the front triangle. Use is for carrying a tool kit, banana, light saber, whatever.

MyMedic MyFAK fist aid kit for mountain bikers

MyMedic – MyFAK First Aid Kit

Unlike the Cush Core inserts, a first aid kit is an insurance item you carry with you that you hope you never need. But alas, the inherent risk of mountain biking dictates that injuries are an issue of “when” and not “if”. We have only had this first aid kit for a few weeks and have unexpectedly used it a handful of times. We even used the scissors to assist with a bike repair. The MyFAK is a bit on the large size, but open and unfolded, it fits in an adult-sized hydration pack very well. We can’t list all of the items it comes with here, but it does come with the basics as well as over-the-counter pain relief meds, burn ointments, large gauze pads and med tape. Be sure to check this out as it’s very useful to have in the car on road trips without the bikes.

Portable tri-pod for mobile phone

Joby GripTight Tripod For Mobile Phones

We often try to get a family photo on rides. In the past we’ve done the thing where you prop a smartphone up against an arrangement of rocks, stuff a phone in a bike’s spokes, stick it in a tree and hope it doesn’t fall – you get the idea. If you’re up for carrying “just one more thing” with you, we recommend the Joby GripTight. It’s a small flexible tripod with smartphone grip you can use on flat surfaces or attach to a suitable tree, bike or rock. Now, you can set up your shots with confidence your phone won’t take a crash on the next family bike ride.

FiveTen MTB Shoes And Flat Pedals

Broken-record time. If you ride flats, FiveTen makes the best mountain biking shoes in the world. They are durable, comfortable and functional. Be sure to pair them with pedals that have pins extending from the surface. This allows FiveTen’s Stealth® rubber to grip like stink on a monkey. Be warned though. Slip happens and you can get some deep cuts from the pedal pins.

Trailforks MTB trail app

Trailforks MTB App

I recommended this app earlier in the week to a family who was on Galbraith Mountain for the first time. Trailforks is a mountain biking specific trail app for your smartphone and we have used it for years. If you’re an experienced #mtbfamily – you already have this or something similar on your phone. But if your family is new to the sport, this app will save you buckets of tears and countless hours. The app uses GPS technology to pinpoint your location so when you get to that fork in the trail – you can stay on the correct route. Trail ratings for difficulty and popularity, elevations, and distances are the features we use the most. And, this is just scratching the surface of the Trailfork’s capabilities. States and/or provinces need to be loaded while you have an Internet connection – so when you’re on a trip, be sure to do this before you travel into the woods and under the radar.

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