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If approved, new rules for Maui’s downhill bike industry would set age, location limits

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PC: Kehaulani Cerizo

After turning its wheels for months, a Maui County Council committee on Thursday morning recommended new rules intended to boost safety for the downhill biking industry, including minimum age requirements and adding restrictions on tour volumes, locations and timeframes.

The committee received news that a tour bicyclist injury coincided with its meeting on bike safety rules. Maui Police Department confirmed an injury report around 9:45 a.m. Thursday where a bicyclist fell over at Kekaulike Avenue/Haleakalā Highway; medics and Maui Fire Department responded to the scene.

During its regular meeting, council’s Government Relations, Ethics and Transparency Committee voted 9-0 to recommend approval on an amended proposal that spells out new rules for commercial bike tours — both guided and unguided — in Makawao-Pukalani-Kula and in Pā’ia-Ha‘ikū community plan areas. 

The proposal now heads to full council for first reading. 

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Introduced by Council Member Mike Molina, whose residency seat covers Pā’ia-Ha’ikū, the bill if approved would add the following rules to the Maui County Code on bicycle tour businesses.

  • Businesses may conduct guided or unguided commercial bicycle tours above the 3.0 mile marker on Haleakalā Crater Road (State Highway 378) from sunrise to sunset, seven days a week. 
  • Businesses may not conduct guided or unguided commercial bicycle tours on Haleakalā Highway (State Highway 377), on Kekaulike Avenue (State Highway 377) and below the 3.0 mile-marker on Haleakalā Crater Road (State Highway 378). 
  • Businesses may conduct guided or unguided commercial bicycle tours from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Baldwin Avenue, except on Wednesdays, King Kamehameha Day, Prince Kūhiō Day and Lā Ho’iho’i Ea.
  • Only individuals older than 15 may take the guided or unguided commercial bicycle tours
  • No more than 10 bicycle riders per guided commercial bicycle tour are allowed, excluding employee guides.
  • Employee guides must ride at the front of tour groups.
  • Permit holders must require riders to sign the bike pono pledge, which states: “I will bike pono, with awareness of my surroundings, attention to my bike speed, and utmost safety for myself and the cars that share the roads.”

The proposal comes in the wake of a lawsuit that claimed the county was negligent in allowing an unguided, unpermitted Haleakalā bike tour that left a visitor paralyzed from the waist down. Maui County Council in April voted to settle the suit

However, debates over guided and unguided tours date back many years.

Industry opponents have said downhill biking is riddled with safety issues for bikers and for drivers on Maui’s narrow, winding Upcountry roads. 

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Supporters have testified that downhill companies are locally owned, half the size they used to be and generally safe, with best practices being employed.

Toni Marie Davis, Activities and Attractions Association of Hawaii Inc. executive director, defended the industry, saying that bicycle tour and rental businesses are all owned by Hawai’i residents, the profits stay in the county and Maui businesses employ more than 100 people.

She added that council members should have done more to visit the tours and work with the companies. 

“In any conflict, there are two sides, and the truth is usually somewhere in the middle,” she said during the Aug. 16 committee meeting. “Therefore, those making public policy should have a grasp on both sides, balancing the beneficial outcomes and adverse impacts. It is not an us versus them; it is our community.”

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Community members have long complained about the dangers of the downhill biking industry, though. A recent online petition called “Make Maui Roads Safe – Regulate Bike Tours!” has generated more than 1,000 signatures. 

A 2021 letter to Molina from Maui Police Department said operating guided tours on Baldwin Avenue, Olinda Road, Hanamu Road and Haleakala Highway 377 “poses an increased risk of traffic/miscellaneous accidents due to impatient drivers who frequent the area.”

Also, bicycle tour companies who allow guided tours often don’t use good judgement and causes a line of cars (five to eight vehicles) to build up behind them forming a slow moving line, according to Dean Rickard, who was acting police chief at the time. 

“This eventually becomes a safety hazard and impatient drivers will attempt to pass at a moment’s notice,” he wrote. “This type of behavior creates reckless driving and road rage type incidents.”

Currently, the State of Hawaii does not require a permit for bicycle tours to operate on state highways. The County of Maui requires a permit in order to operate on all county roadways.

* This story has been updated from its original version to clarify where tours may and may not operate.

Kehaulani Cerizo
Kehaulani Cerizo was born and raised on Maui and worked for nearly 15 years as a news reporter, copy editor and features editor at daily newspapers. She earned awards at The Maui News in Wailuku and at Today’s Local News in San Diego.
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