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At the Back: Pedaling to paradise on the island of Molokai

How using a rental bike and fueling locally on your next bike tour can have its benefits.

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When I told people that I was going to bike tour around the island of Molokai, there were two general responses.

“Don’t get leprosy!”

And then, the less histrionic: “Are you bringing a bike?”

Although I have plenty of bikes and the requisite gear to take them on multi-day adventures, the thought of lugging all that stuff to an island that doesn’t even have a traffic light hadn’t crossed my mind. When you fly to Molokai, they ask you how much you weigh — not how much your bike weighs.

I had my fingers crossed that “Phillip” at “Molokai Bicycle” was a real person who would reply to my inquiry about renting bikes and a trailer, but I was skeptical. When he wrote back, offering airport pick-up and a room to rent in addition to the bikes and trailer, I was thrilled.

For some people, this “fly by the seat of your rental bike” approach might not work, but for me, it’s the only one that does. The southern coast of Molokai is buffered from the sea by dozens of ancient fishponds. Whizzing by on a new bike, you’d never glimpse the stone and coral walls that enclose the ponds, and then you wouldn’t be able to spend the next 20 miles wondering if the concept still worked, if the little fish still swam in from the sea, only to become bigger fish when they became trapped in the pond.

If you carried all of your food in plush frame bags, then you wouldn’t need to stop at Mana’e Goods & Grindz for a Mahi burger, and you wouldn’t meet the guy at the table next to you who tells you that, no, the fish ponds aren’t used much commercially anymore but rather just for feeding the familial ‘ohana.’

And if you brought your own bike, you might be afraid to leave it by the side of the road when you spotted the most perfect swimming beach, or up against a gate where you knew there was a waterfall a half mile’s hike in. On Molokai, everyone knows Phillip, who’s also the high school counselor, and our bikes were synonymous with his shop. That earned us more respect than any brand name.

On one particularly tough climb from the coast to the upcountry, my riding partner asked me to tow him, as well as the Burley trailer containing 40 pounds of stuff. I thought he was kidding until he handed me my jump rope. I tied one end around my seat post and gone were the carefree miles of watching for whales out at sea. Then, someone drove up and stuck an iPhone out of their car window, capturing my misery. It was Phillip, who’d just returned from Maui on a Costco run.

“How’s it going?” he called out to us. “Is everything okay?”

We slowed down to tell him how much fun we were having, how beautiful the island was, and how great the bikes had been. I don’t think he even noticed the jump rope.

Illustration of author at Molokai Bicycle
Photo: Illustration: David Brinton

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