Bicycling on the rise, but bike tourism has suffered

Pandemic brought more down time for riders but less business for tours

Ronnie Dizon of Wailuku gets some safe exercise while riding on the bike path along Maui Veterans Highway in Puunene on May 12. “I got bored at the house and was gaining weight,” Dizon said. He said the bike path had lately become a popular route for walkers and riders. As people across the U.S. turned to biking during the pandemic, some local shops have seen an increase in servicing and sales, though others are struggling to regain the business they lost when travel stopped. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

While some local bike companies have seen more riders and sales during the COVID-19 pandemic, others are struggling as they work to regain the business they lost when travel all but ceased.

Bicycling organizations and shops across the U.S. have benefited from the boom in biking as people worked from home, had more free time and sought outdoor activities OK under COVID-19 rules.

Referencing PeopleforBikes data, the Maui Bicycling League said this month that 10 percent of adults rode a bike for the first time in one or more years during the pandemic, and 87 percent of them plan to stick with bicycling.

“Cycling is a great way to stay healthy and a wonderful family activity,” said Donnie Arnoult, owner of Maui Cyclery in Paia and a longtime cyclist.

The north shore bike shop, which offers road cycling tours and rentals as well as bicycles and bicycle equipment, has seen an increase in service, repairs, and bike accessories sales recently.

“I am currently seeing more people out riding their bikes,” Arnoult said Wednesday. “It’s cool to see the bike paths and neighborhoods around the island being busy with bike riders.”

Bike rentals were up during the holidays, but have slowed in February.

“My business is different in that my clients are people who can work remotely and they are staying on Maui for a longer period of time,” he added. “I am busy with less numbers, but still riding just as much as before the pandemic.”

Tour customers sanitize their hands and wear a mask prior to mounting the bikes. Once they start riding, Arnoult said they remove their masks but “we stay spread out a bit more than normal during the ride.”

Cyclists used to stop and refuel at local coffee shops, but due to COVID-19, they stop only if they need to top off their water bottles.

Although there seem to be more cyclists out and about, Bike Maui — a company that offers rentals, self-guided and guided downhill tours from Haleakala National Park — is still struggling.

“We are heavily dependent on the visitor industry,” said Ron Daniel, director of operations, sales and marketing. “We do have a bike shop, bike mechanic, that we serve for locals and their repairs, but the majority of our business is tourism, so we’re struggling due to that.”

Bike Maui resumed business in October after halting services for about six months. Daniel said Wednesday that business has been “getting busier” for the downhill tours and bike rentals since the new year began and more visitors return to the island.

“They definitely want to get on a bike and enjoy the outdoors on Maui, however they don’t feel comfortable being on a vehicle with others, so we’re seeing an increase of just visitors coming in and just picking out bikes and renting them,” he said.

The company hopes business will improve as the vaccine rollout continues, and if the state decides to eliminate quarantine for those who have already been vaccinated.

“I’m hoping that the governor would see to it that, once everyone is vaccinated, then they don’t have to quarantine and businesses don’t have to restrict the capacity of their vehicles,” he added.

Some of Bike Maui’s COVID-19 protocols include not sharing helmets, bikes or gear; wearing masks at all times and social distancing as much as possible.

Bike Maui has a fleet of 24-passenger vans, which have been operating at half capacity, and Haleakala National Park also limits how many vehicles can enter the summit for sunrise.

“It’s been really challenging,” he said. “On our best day we’re operating at 50 percent capacity and so, that right there is really challenging — to bring employees back and get everyone back to work and operate all our vehicles.”

As the roads and greenways see more bicyclists, the Maui Bicycling League is reminding the community to have fun while also being safe.

“Whether you are a driver, a walker or a cyclist, it is extremely important to follow the rules of the road and treat one another with respect,” the legaue said in a news release earlier this month. “The majority of collisions and injuries can be avoided if both motorists and cyclists obey traffic laws and watch out for each other.

“As cycling continues to grow in our community and tourists begin returning to our island, now is the time to advocate for better infrastructure.”

The Maui Bicycling League also shared safety tips for the biking community, such as riding in single file in the same direction as traffic and to the right of the lane, using hand signals when making turns and stopping, being visible, riding predictably and consistently, wearing bright colors and adding lights to the bike.

Helmets are strongly recommended for all bicyclists, and required by law for riders under the age of 16. The bicycling league also encourages riders to stay alert and avoid wearing headphones or talking on the phone.

Bicyclists are expected to follow all signs and signals, and yield to pedestrians when riding on shared pathways.

Biking infrastructure on Maui is still a work in progress, the organization said. There are several paths and greenways designated for pedestrians and cyclists around the island, as well as bikeway projects in progress.

In the meantime, cyclists may also ride on public roads using marked bike lanes and wide shoulders, but when sharing the road with motorized vehicles, the bicycling league reminds riders to follow all state laws and demonstrate “proper cycling etiquette.”

Drivers should expect bicycles on all roadways and take caution when making right turns, driving in reverse or taking blind corners.

When approaching a bicyclist, drivers should slow down, pass only if the oncoming lane is clear and leave a minimum distance of 3 feet when passing.

“Let’s come together and celebrate this extraordinary bicycling boom as an opportunity to increase community health, reduce our carbon footprints and burn off that COVID-19 stress and anxiety,” said bicycling league Chairperson Saman Dias in a news release. “Residents, businesses and public officials must all work together to improve the safety and mobility of our streets.”

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.


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