Harleys in Hawaii

Seeing the sights from the saddle will surely rev your engine

By: Karla Aronson

Most visitors to Hawaii marvel at the region’s amazing sights through a car window, on a bus tour or on a hike. For some, however, nothing compares to the thrill of taking in the sights from the back of a motorcycle.

Hawaii’s spectacularly varied environment makes for memorable riding experiences. The roads traversing each island lead from tropical rainforests to desert landscapes and back.

“The beauty about riding on this island is that in a couple hours you can go from sea level to 4,000 feet,” noted Ellsworth Fontes, manager of Hilo Harley-Davidson on the Big Island.

A favorite ride of the Hawaiian Riders on Maui is along a scenic, two-lane highway across the slopes of Haleakala Volcano to the picturesque Tedeschi Winery. With a side stop in the cowboy and arts town of Makawao, the journey takes less than two hours, one way from Lahaina.

Some of the most popular tourist destinations, however, aren’t necessarily the most ideal for motorcycle outings.

“I don’t recommend Hana. It’s four hours one way,” said Dan Rabbass, owner of Hawaiian Riders. “I tell people it’s spectacular, but you’ll never do it again.”

A few motorcyclists go to the summit of Haleakala, Rabbas added, but the company does not really push that ride either. It takes an hour and a half from the base, and at the 10,000-foot elevation it’s cold and the road has a lot of switchbacks to navigate.

Hawaiian Riders rents both Harley-Davidson and Kawasaki models at its Lahaina and Kihei locations on Maui. It operates a smaller outlet on Kauai. The vast majority of rentals are full day, Rabbass said, as the three- or five-hour rental periods tend to be too short.

Renting a motorcycle in Hawaii requires a valid motorcycle license or a motorcycle licensing endorsement on an automobile driver license. The legally permitted minimum age depends on the state where the license is issued, however, some motorcycle rental companies enforce a minimum age of 21, or even 23, in accordance with their insurance coverage. Passengers must be at least 7 years old.

To the pleasure of some riders, Hawaii does not require helmets.

“A lot of people coming from the mainland say it’s like riding free here,” noted Kipo Kenney, manager of Cruzin’ Hawaii on Oahu.

Rentals also require a credit card deposit authorization ranging anywhere from $350 to $2,500. Many of the companies will provide a 10 percent commission to travel agents for bookings check with each outfit.

Only a handful of motorcycle rental companies operate on each island. Oahu has eight, all based in Waikiki, according to Kenney, and Cruzin Hawaii tends to sell out its inventory every day. Advance reservations are especially recommended for groups.

Cruzin Hawaii only rents Harley-Davidsons and popular models include the Road King and Fat Boy.

“A lot of people who come down here, want to try something they haven’t ridden before. Others say, ‘Hey, I ride this at home and feel comfortable with it,’” Kenney said.

The shop rents to a lot of couples, and Kenney estimated that of every five couples maybe two get their own bikes. The company will sometimes go out with customers on customized tours, when possible. Usually they provide a map with a route outlined in red, primarily along a two-lane, 35 mph road.

“We keep them on the coast, out of the busy areas,” he said.

A full circle tour of the island would include Diamond Bay, Pali Lookout, beaches on the North Shore and Haleiwa town.

“All the tourist spots,” Kenney said.

The company offers a three-hour minimum rental for $99, an all-day rental from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. for $149, and a 24-hour rental for $179. Multiple-day rentals are also available.

On Kauai, Street Eagle in Lihue offers rentals by the day (8 a.m. to 5 p.m.) for $129, and a 24-hour rental for $169. Street Eagle recently rented eight motorcycles to a group of visitors for two days. The group headed back to their hotel on the first night and went out for a second ride the next day.

In addition to Harleys, the company rents a BMW hybrid street bike and off-road motorcycle at the same rate; it can be taken to the sandy and rocky beach areas of the island’s west side.

Assistant manager Kika August said they recommend a spectacular ride up to Waimea Canyon, an approximate five-hour journey at an easy pace. Heading north, they suggest going to the end of Haena and turning around, about a six-hour ride.

In Kailu-Kona on the Big Island, DJ’s Rentals sees “every type of biker, from patch holders [members of motorcycle clubs] to executives that are out for the weekend,” said co-owner Mary Hansen. “We had a couple last week, a man and a wife, in their 70s.”

DJ’s Rentals provides customers with maps and offers an orientation to the island’s major sites, whether it be up to the volcano or over to Hilo. The big circle drive around the island requires a full-day rental at least.

Hilo Harley-Davidson, the only motorcycle rental outfit on the east side of the Big Island, gets a large share of its business from cruise ship passengers arriving at the port one mile away, according to manager Ellsworth Fontes.

The shop is affiliated with Kona Harley-Davidson to the west, which also serves a number of visiting cruise ship passengers. Its full-size Harley Davidson bikes rent for $75 by the hour, $125 for the day and for $155 overnight.

“We try to keep riders on the highways, up toward the volcano, or around Waimea Valley and Akaka Falls,” Fontes added.

Two Wheels in Lihue, the authorized Harley-Davidson rental company on Kauai, similarly receives a lot of clients from the ships. Their rental periods are set up in three-, four-, six-, eight- and 24-hour increments.

Even if it’s just for a few hours, a tour by motorocycle in Hawaii is the stuff that makes memories your clients will never forget. It’s truly the ultimate vantage point to soak in the surrounding beauty.


Big Island:
Hilo Harley-Davidson

Kona Harley-Davidson

DJ’s Rentals
800-993-4647, 808-329-1700

Street Eagle of Hawaii Lihue

Two Wheels Lihue

Hawaiian Riders
Lahaina and Kihei
888-527-0075, 808-667-5300

Cruzin Hawaii