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Rides: Big Island Hawai’i – Jan 14-17, 2014 (preamble)

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My wife and I recently took a mid-winter’s holiday trip to one of our favourite places, the Kona/Kohala Coast on the Big Island of Hawai’i. The Kohala Coast (approx. 30 miles north of Kona and Kona-Keahole Airport) is a spectacularly arid landscape of old lava floes, with newer hotels and residential developments dotting the expansive coastline.

From the airport, the Queen Kaahumanu (19) and Akoni Pule (270) highways carve a 60-kilometer path north through the lava rock to the town of Hawi, at the top of the Big Island. Along the way, you pass Hualalai, home of the Four Seasons Hotel; Waikoloa, home of the Hilton and Marriott and the King’s and Queen’s Shops and restaurants; Mauna Lani, home of the Mauna Lani beach resort, the Fairmont Orchid and related clubs; and Mauna Kea and the Hapuna Beach Prince resort, before the expanse turns into ranch land and the famous Parker Ranch – one of the largest privately owned ranches in the United States.

Highways 19 and 270 are famous themselves – starting from Kona, they form the cycling leg of the Ironman World Championships each fall, and the devotion the community pays to this event is plain to see – flawless tarmac and in most places shoulders that are more than twice as wide as the driving lanes. Although it does not freeze or snow, and despite less than 10 inches of rain annually, I was informed that the road is repaved every five years to maintain the perfect surface.

Predictably, I wanted to take advantage of the impeccable weather and environs to go cycling. Not having ridden abroad before, I was (and remain somewhat) hesitant to travel with my own bike (due to airline handling concerns, excess baggage charges, and my ignorance of how to disassemble and reassemble it). Thus I did my research and rented a bike from a convenient location near our hotel, Bike Works Kona (at Waikoloa). A “Deluxe Ultra Road Bike” or some variation there-of netted me a Specialized Roubaix Expert with a Shimano Ultegra drivetrain. Not too shabby. I rented a 58 cm. frame specifically because I’ve been wondering for some time whether or not the 61 cm. Cervelo R3 that was sold to me is too large.

Riding a smaller frame was a revelation in a couple of ways, both positive and negative. Although it was not perfectly fitted to me (it was well set up in terms of seat height, but I suffered from numbness in my left hand and occasionally in my toes) I really enjoyed the shorter top tube and less reach to the handlebars. But from a stability standpoint, I missed the longer wheelbase of my Cervelo – I had no idea beforehand, but it makes sense in hindsight – descending at speed on a smaller frame is inherently less stable. Think of high speeds on hockey skates versus speed skates, or downhill race skis versus novice skis, or perhaps why race cars or motorbikes have longer wheelbases than their slower street-legal brethren.

Indeed, on one of my fun descents, where I was at 50-60 km/hr for ten minutes, I noted a need to hold the bike quite a bit tighter to maintain my line, whereas my Cervelo holds lines like it’s on rails. Perhaps it’s bike frame technology, but wheelbase length makes sense to me.

The smaller frame also afforded me a bit more clearance between my knees and stomach in the drops, which is thanks to a shorter top tube – your body arches more giving you clearance, as opposed to a flatter torso on a larger frame/longer top tube where the rider must reach out to the handlebars thus creating contact while pedalling in a drop position.

Being the obsessive-compulsive guy that I am, I also disassembled and brought with me my Garmin 800 and associated bits and pieces, so I could record my rides. Hey, Strava, right?

I will expand upon my rides in greater detail in coming posts, but to summarize, I had the rental Roubaix for 4 days and rode each day.

Day 1 was nothing special – picked up the bike and loosened the legs over the course of 30-odd kilometres up the aforementioned Queen Kaahumanu highway and back to my hotel.

Day 2 was a ride I’d been researching and anticipating – half the Ironman WC route, from Mauna Lani up the 19 and 270 to Hawi town and back. A long ride of 94 kilometres and rolling hills with truly spectacular oceanside panoramas.

Day 3 was ambitious (in that I’d done just shy of a metric century the day before) involving a 17 km long, 800 meter climb up to Waimea. That’s an average 5% grade for 17 kilometres, which is plenty tough enough for me.

Day 4 was a recovery ride and also an opportunity to share a road-bike ride with my wife for the first time. She rented a Specialized Dolce for the day and we cruised at modest speeds over 25 kilometres while she explored the wonders of riding a road bike. This day began fraught with issues, however: I developed a slow leak and flat overnight, and my misfortunes continued with a poor fix and subsequent blow-out, thus leaving me two punctured tubes and a necessary car ride of shame into the shop before we even got started.

I appreciated the quality rental from Bike Works (although the tires were worn and contributed to my flat) and the customer service I received. I was smitten with the riding environment and roads, however it’s worth noting that despite the quality pavement and mostly generous shoulders (and it should be said, accommodating motorists)  I frequently dodged broken glass and lava-gravel, some of which evidently led to my first flat.

More details and photos of the rides coming up.

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