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Mighty volcanoes, vast lava flows and a desert in a lush rain forest

Cycling Kohala Coast and Mountain — site of the Ford Ironman World Championship

18 photos and movies (movie) by Steven Hill and Rebecca Heald, steephill.tv    •    2007 Ford Ironman Results & TV Schedule    •   Earthquake Update
(The free QuickTime player may be needed to view the movies)


The Kona-Kohala coast, site of the Ford Ironman World Championship bike course as viewed from Kohala Mountain (scroll right to view full picture). In the distance is Mauna Loa, the largest mountain by volume of rock in the world.

In this, our last Hawaii report, we take you to the northwest region of the island, known as the Kohala Coast and up Kohala Mountain, and then we wrap things up with our conclusions on cycling the Big Island. As mentioned several times in previous reports, this area of the island is basically a desert with only 10 inches of rainfall a year. Contrast that to the 270 inches the east side receives and you'll understand why retirees and vacationers are fueling a west island boom even though the capital of Hawaii, Hilo, and the island's only university are located on the east side. This report features photos and video from three days of cycling the Kohala region. Rather than describing them separately, I'll instead give you the ideal route you should try based on the benefit of our research.

The ideal Kohala Ride: Kohala Coast/Mtn Loop and Poulou Valley - 44 miles with 4500 feet of climbing (estimated)

You could start this ride in Kona, where the Ironman bike leg starts and make it a 100+ mile hammerfest like a lot of cyclists in Kona do, but the section between Kona and Hwy #19 (the start of the shorter ride) is unremarkable and often busy, although there is a huge car-width shoulder/bike lane all the way. Remember, if you fly to the island during the winter months your pale, flabby body is unlikely to endure a 100 mile bike ride in hot, humid conditions. You don't want your hotel to have to ship you home prematurely in your bike box, right? But, for those training for an Ironman or interested in the upcoming Hawaii Ironman World Championship, I've included a map and profile of the entire Ironman route.

The Kona and Kohala Coast is the site of the 112 mile out and back bike leg of the Hawaii Ironman World Championship... the world's most famous triathlon. If you are too embarrassed to 'fess up, an Ironman consists of a 2.4 mi swim, a 112 mi bike ride and a marathon (26.2 mi run). This year's event will be held on Saturday, October 21st, but you'll have to wait until December 9th to watch it on TV. 1782 dedicated athletes will compete this year; check the list for someone you know... it's quite an honor just to qualify.

The bike leg of the Hawaiian Ironman, as for most triathlons, is a non-technical route... great for settling into the aerobars and hammering away and then occasionally standing to stretch the legs while going over the several rolling hills. None of the hills are steep except the approach to the turnaround point in Hawi, so riders can stay in the tuck position for hours and hours. Germany's Normann Stadler won the 2004 Hawaiian Ironman because of his strong bike leg. Stormin' Normann's bike leg split, 112 miles in 4:37:58 (24.2 mph), was 11 minutes faster than the next fastest athlete and gave him an impressive overall winning margin of 10 minutes. In preparation for the 2004 Hawaii Ironman, Stadler trained six weeks, 30 to 40 hours a week putting in about 25-30 km in the pool, 600-800 km on the bike and running 90-120 km. As you can appreciate, becoming the ultimate hammerhead is a full time job. Update: Stadler set a new bike course record of 4:18:23 (26 mph) on his way to winning the 2006 Ironman.

If you don't consider yourself a hammerhead and are looking for some variety then here is your 44 mile route. Just past the northbound turnoff for Waimea is Hwy #270, the continuation of the coastal road. On your left is Samuel M. Spencer Beach and the starting point for this ride. Mr. Spencer, rest his soul, has a great beach named in his honor complete with a campground and showers. If you enjoy camping next to the ocean then you can pitch a tent here for just $6/day — a great alternative to the expensive hotels in noisy Kona. Campgrounds on Hawaii require purchasing a permit in advance.

Sian Welch and Wendy Ingraham in the classic battle
for fourth at the 1997 Hawaii Ironman. Watch the painful video ().

From Spencer Beach, the northbound coastal route is much less busy but the smooth road and great shoulder continue. The non-technical, well-paved road gives you lots of time to think about nothing except the hot sunlight dancing off the vast Pacific Ocean on one side and the thirst inducing desert that leads to the higher grasslands of Kohala Mountain on the other.

The climb into Hawi is your gateway to the rain forest or your turnaround point for the Ironman route. Hawi is now a little artist, touristy enclave where you can also relinquish your sweaty currency for a couple of expensive ice-cream cones. Continuing past the Ironman turnaround on Akoni Pule Hwy takes cyclists to the Poulou Valley lookout... well worth the extra 6.4 x 2 miles especially for those who have never been to the more impressive Waip'o Valley lookout covered in an earlier report. When returning from Poulou Valley, Hawi can be avoided by cutting the corner on Kynnersely Rd, the start of the most difficult and scenic part of the route. The climb up Kohala Mountain Rd goes from 600 feet to 3000 feet in 9 miles with most of climbing in the first 5 miles. We met one local, at the top, who called the view from Kohala Mountain Lookout (see the panoramic image at the top) the most scenic on the Island, but it's impossible to pick just one from this remarkable island. Our feature video documentary provides a vicarious tour of Kohala Mountain Road. (see below)

Two important questions answered by the Hawaii Cycling Club
Considering we drove to the start of most our rides and after looking over the road system on a map, is it possible to safely tour the Island on a road bike?

Hawaii Cycling Club: Nice stuff you've put up. Now, to your question. Is it possible to safely tour the island on a road bike? By and large I'd say yes, although there are stretches where it is not for the feint of heart. And there are roads I would absolutely steer people away from, such as the western half of Route 200 (Saddle Road) and the middle stretch of Route 190 (the inland route from Kona to Waimea). Fortunately, these routes are not needed to circumnavigate the island. If one wants to avoid Kailua Town itself, one can ride up on the ridge on the old Mamalahoa Highway, which is part of a fun hilly circuit we ride just for a change of pace now and then; this route is best probably between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m, just to avoid the little piece of "rush hour traffic" that comes through. The Queen K's wide shoulders, as you note, are a big plus, and any highway widening plans I've seen (mostly wishful thinking around here) include keeping wide shoulders for cyclists. Ironman, you know.

What are the best periods to bike Hawaii... weatherwise and trafficwise?

Hawaii Cycling Club: Weather, time of year: The weather is almost always great. At its worst it will be as good or better than back home, wherever you live. Year-round, 98 percent of the time, it just doesn't enter your mind. Another day in paradise. I've been here five years and can count on one hand the number of times weather has kept me from a ride (and we're so spoiled that it needn't have probably). The recent rainy spell here, for example, may have cost me one ride. So the factors concerning time of year relate more to seasonal costs (holidays, Jan., Feb. being high season, plus the 10 days before Ironman) and whether or not you want to ride the Queen K Highway and up to Hawi with the hardcore Ironman elite who arrive in big numbers to train, especially during the last two weeks before the race. Some may like that, and some may not.
-- Hawaii Cycling Club

Continuing along Kohala Mountain Road, you'll soon see the omnipresent Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa volcanoes as you descend into Wai'aka near Waimea. From here it's all down hill on Hwy #19. This road can be very busy so don't let the great view get the best of you and there's not much of a shoulder so it's not a good idea to stop and take pictures. Once back down to the coast make a right turn onto Hwy# 270 and continue back to Spencer Beach (or left turn back to Kona if that's where you started). With another great Hawaiian ride in the books it would seem impossible not to give cycling on Hawaii two thumbs up.

etape du tour video
Click the pic to watch
Cycling Kohala Mountain Rd overlooking the Ironman bike course

Cycling Hawaii: Final Thoughts

If you haven't been to Hawaii, but have read all five of our Hawaii reports then you should agree that Hawaii is a very unique place on earth (or anywhere else). Those who have been to the Big Island know what I'm referring to. It's stunning in so many ways... dramatic sea cliffs, sandy beaches, huge volcanic mountains so close to the ocean, lush rain forests next to deserts, and the most active volcano in the world to name a few. However, if you focus on the road cycling there is one major problem: the busy highways can't be avoided on a bike so plan to drive a car to the start of the best rides. The most dangerous stretch is from Captain Cook to Waimea along highways 11 and 190 on the west side through Kona where the busy, twisty dangerous road doesn't have much shoulder. And don't cycle the Hwy #190 shortcut to Waimea! We drove these roads in a car several times and strongly advise you not to cycle them. Consequently, I don't recommend doing a loop of the Island unless you're part of an experienced organized tour. The highways are busy because all traffic from residental streets feeds onto the highways and there are few secondary roads. The island development is so recent that you won't find old abandoned roads that cyclists prefer in order to skirt traffic and find solitude. The development around Kona is typical ugly western development to put it mildly, but lets not lose focus. With exceptional weather and diversity, Hawaii is a great multi-sport destination. No wonder it ranks as the top honeymoon destination in the U.S. Start planning a Hawaii vacation at the official Hawaii visitors site where you can request a free visitors guide. Nana (good-bye) — Steve, October 12, 2006

Normann Stadler set a bike course record (4:18:23, 26 mph) on his way to winning the 2006 World Ironman in Hawaii. Read the AP Story and his post-race interview with Triathlete magazine
Triathlete Chris McCormack, from Australia, right, hugs Normann Stadler, from Germany, after finishing the marathon to finish second in the Ironman World Championship triathlon in Kona, Hawaii, Saturday, Oct. 21, 2006. McCormack finished at 8:13:07. Stadler finished first with a time of 8:11:56. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

 2006/2007 Ford Ironman TV Schedule
 Ford Ironman Arizona  Oct 8th, 3pm EST and Oct 9th, 4pm EST (Versus)
 Ford Ironman Coeur d'Alene  Oct 15th, 3pm EST and Oct 16th, 5pm EST (Versus)
 Ford Ironman Lake Placid  Oct 22nd, 3pm EST and Oct 23th, 4pm EST (Versus)
 Ford Ironman Wisconsin  Oct 29th, 3pm EST and Oct 30th, 4pm EST (Versus)
 TBD  Nov 19th, 3pm EST and Nov 20th, 4pm EST (Versus)
 Ironman St. Croix  Nov 26th, 3pm EST and Nov 27th, 4pm EST (Versus)
 Ford Ironman Florida  Nov 26th, 3pm EST and Nov 27th, 4pm EST (Versus)
 2006 Ford Ironman Worlds   December 9th, 4pm - 6pm EST (NBC)
 Schedule subject to change, check your local listings. OLN is now called Versus
Y! 2007 Ford Ironman World Championship December 1st, 2007  
4:30pm-6:00pm EST on NBC

Versus 2007 Ironman TV Schedule

Results, Interviews and Photos:

Stadler claims his second Ford Ironman
Stadler post-race interview with Triathlete magazine. McCormack fires back interview
2006 Ford Ironman World Championship Results
2006 Flickr photos and 2006 Ironmanlive.com photos and videos
Excellent 2006 photos from xtri.com: both mens and womens races

Relive the 1989 Hawaii Ironman battle between Mark Allen and Dave Scott

Dave Scott

Mark Allen
Here is over 45 minutes of video divided into six clips featuring the classic 1989 battle between Ironman greats Dave Scott and Mark Allen. Allen beat Scott for the first time after many attempts in a time of 8:09:15, but it required dropping his personal best Hawaii Ironman time by over 30 minutes. Still, Allen only beat Scott by less than a minute since Scott also took a big chunk out of his own PB (18 minutes). There is also a clip of Julie Moss' crawl to the line during the 1982 Ironman before being beat in the last few yards. Also, check out these classic Ironman photos.

Select Video Clip:

Recreational Cycling Photos of Kohala Coast and Mountain
Bright Hawaiian colors.jpg
Bright Hawaiian colors
The Ironman bike course is flat to slightly rolling with a well paved shoulder.jpg
The Ironman bike course is flat to slightly rolling with a well paved shoulder
Puako has the best beaches on the Island.jpg
Puako has the best beaches on the Island
Taking a break in the shade.jpg
Taking a break in the shade
More rolling hills and the Kohala Coast.jpg
More rolling hills and the Kohala Coast
Taking shade again.jpg
Taking shade again
Hanging Ten in the Poulou Valley.jpg
Hanging Ten in the Poulou Valley
Cattle guard.jpg
Cattle guard
The lower desert grasslands turn green at 3000 ft.jpg
The lower desert grasslands turn green at 3000 ft
Tell me about the angels in heaven.jpg
Angelic Horse Whisperer
Wind barriers planted along Kohala Mtn Rd.jpg
Wind barriers planted along Kohala Mtn Rd
Kohaha Mountain lookout from behind.jpg
Kohaha Mountain lookout from behind
Mauna Kea viewed from Kohala Mountain Rd.jpg
Mauna Kea viewed from Kohala Mountain Rd
Descending to Waimea.jpg
Descending to Waimea
Exiting the transition zone.jpg
Exiting the transition zone
Driftwood tri-bar.jpg
Driftwood aerobars

Photo of Queen K, Highway 19, up toward Hawi after the Oct 16/2006 earthquake.
(No alterations to the course will be necessary according to authorities - Steve Oct 17/06)