I’m banking hard, shifting my weight to meet the sloped dirt trail ahead of me. My balance doesn’t fail me, and I coast through the turn, only to have to lean left, then right as a series of tight corners puts my cycling abilities to the test. Finally, the path straightens out just enough to let me catch my breath and check behind me for my companion and photographer, Aaron Yoshino, who’s doing everything I’m doing, only with a camera on his back.
It’s a blisteringly hot but perfect day as I stare out over the foothills of Waimea, an endless blue horizon filling my vision. Small clusters of buildings are overshadowed by an immense amount of lush farmland, with far-off hills and mounds framing the expansive landscape. Stepping back onto my pedals, I snake my way up the trail once more. The view might be even better where we are headed.
We’ve only just begun working our way up Anna Ranch Heritage Center’s farmland on a tour with Big Island Bike Tours. Started by ex-pro cyclist Alex Candelario, who raced competitively in the U.S. Peloton circuit for 13 years, Big Island Bike Tours offers bike rentals and tours across Hawai‘i Island. One of its more unique offerings is an exclusive chance to ride an e-bike—it’s electric!—up the hundred-odd acres of land behind Anna Ranch’s historic residence. The check-in process is easy: You roll up to Big Island Bike Tours’ small bike-filled shack, sign a few waivers, learn how to operate an e-bike’s buttons and knobs—more on that later—and then set off with one of the business’s experienced guides.
Our guide, Jeremy Wagner, is a natural storyteller. Tanned by countless hours under the sun, guiding groups like myself up the slopes of Anna Ranch’s sublime cattle grounds—which are now primarily used for tours like this, however cattle do appear from time to time—Wagner makes the bi-wheeled excursion look easy. And it makes sense, the always-smiling, wisecracker grew up here in Waimea and the land is essentially his backyard. He’s also very familiar with the story of Anna Leialoha Lindsey Perry-Fiske, who took over her family’s ranch in 1939 and through innovative ranching practices and sheer hard work, rescued the business from nearly overwhelming debt.
While Wagner recounts the story of Anna Fiske—giving us a brief respite from biking the dirt trails that Wagner and Candelario made themselves, with the help of a small excavator—I take a moment to check on my bike. Two to three times heavier than a normal mountain bike, e-bikes compensate for their weight by adding “assistance” to your pedaling. This “assistance” comes in the form of pure speed, with each rotation of the pedal generating more forward energy and momentum than you would get on a standard bike. With the push of a button, I notch my assistance down just a tad, as you want to go fast—but not too fast—up the trail to make it around sharper cutbacks and turns. I do not, however, turn it off completely. I’m in no means out of shape, but this trail is steep—if I were on a normal bike, I would have given up 10 minutes into this three-hour jaunt.
Back on the path, Wagner tells us he’ll wait for Yoshino and me at the top of the next section, and then speeds off. I’ve been watching him navigate the trail and its many turns, and have tried my best to emulate his techniques—“Look where you want to go,” is some of the best advice he has for making the turns more manageable—but already the trail has bested me multiple times, causing me to brake fully and readjust my bike. Letting Yoshino go ahead of me, I try again and take it slow. One turn at a time. Shift my weight here. Brake there. Assistance up. Assistance down. At some point, it almost becomes melodic. Each swerve of the trail acts as a note in some jazzy little tune, bebop hills and swinging curves included. I barely notice Yoshino and Wagner waiting for me on the side of the path. I do, however, immediately notice the flowing waterfall across the ravine from us. Talk about a crescendo.
After a few more stops and starts in the music, Yoshino and I ride on with Wagner farther and farther up the hill, until we reach the final high note, the top. Looking back again, from here, the sleepy paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) town of Waimea is but a speck. Actually, everything’s a speck from 3,000 feet up, and even the great hills and slopes I saw at the beginning of our journey look small from here. Taking a moment to breathe, I see a herd of cows approaching us. Wagner tells us they’re descendants of Anna Ranch’s original herd of Charolais cattle. Now, they live up here—in no danger of being butchered—grooming the grass, taking in the view and side-eyeing weirdos on electric bikes.
Going down, like coming up, is not easy, but once you get into a rhythm, the going gets fun, in a challenging way. Instead of pedaling, I’m tapping the brake like a Morse code operator. Tap. Tap tap. Hold. Tap tap tap. Near the bottom, we get to a part of the trail that Wagner calls his “favorite.” Long turns and a gentle decline means riders can coast down it with ease. After waiting for Yoshino and Wagner to make their descent, not because I’m scared but because I’m gathering information, I let go of the brakes. Gently shifting my body left and right and back again, the drawn out turns come easy. For once, I let gravity do its thing as I glide down the trail, going faster by the second. I feel like a hot knife cutting through butter, blowing through corners with ease and, as the cool Waimea air blows through my hair, a wide, stupid grin spreads across my face. Who knew going fast could be so much fun.
Big Island Bike Tours
Tours are offered at 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. $189 per rider; private and weekend options are also available upon request. For more information, call (808) 769-1308 or visit bigislandbiketours.com.