Haleakala Bike Rides Stopped

If you've been to the island of Maui, there's a pretty good chance you've contemplated waking up before dawn and joining twenty or so other people for a sunrise cruise down the paved road on the side of Haleakala Crater. And even if you haven't considered doing this -- you've probably at least seen the flyers advertising the tour. It's an immensely popular thing to do on Maui for tourists. Vans drive riders to the top of the crater, put them on matching beach cruiser-style bikes and send them down the road, descending thousands of feet back to near-sea level. But not anymore.

The National Park Service halted the bike rides down the mountain after the third death in less than a year. Imagine that, you go to Hawaii for a vacation and you get killed riding a bike. I mean, you kind of expect a few tourists to perish every year in the ocean, and they do, but on a sunrise bike ride? That's a shame. One of the people who was seriously hurt from crashing into the rocks was an experienced downhill bike guide. Seems to me that they're probably bringing allowing too large of a group and not doing enough to keep everyone's speed in check.

Park Superintendent Marilyn H. Parris said the so-called "safety stand-down" was effective Oct. 10 for at least 60 days and needed after last week's fatal bicycle accident, the third within a year.

"With three fatalities and several serious accidents within a year, it is important to stop and critically analyze this commercial activity in the park," she said. The suspension affects seven companies that hold permits to operate within Haleakala. The permits, known as commercial use authorizations, were terminated. It does not ban bicyclists from riding in the park on their own. About 90,000 tourists a year pay $100 to $150 for the thrilling ride down the dormant volcano. They are driven by a van to the 10,000-foot summit of Haleakala. Without much pedaling, the tourists get on rented bicycles and take a downhill scenic ride for about 38 miles along a two-lane, bending paved highway.

Several of the companies did not immediately comment on the suspension, which is a major financial blow to them. "I understand it's their business. But it's my business to make sure we are providing for the health and safety of visitors who come to the park. It's a core mission of the National Park Service," said Parris, adding the Park Service needs to make a determination if bicycle tours can safely operate in the
park. "Administratively, I feel we've done all we could do," she said. "We required safety plans. We've put more regulations. We've been enforcing more and yet the severity and the number of accidents continue."

Roberta Blake of Amherst, Ohio, was killed last week when she lost control of her bicycle while on a tour and crossed the double yellow line into the path of an oncoming van. Blake, 65, was on a tour with Maui Mountain Cruisers. The vehicle that struck her was owned by another tour company, Maui Downhill.

In March, a 44-year-old woman was killed when she went off the roadway, and in November, a man died after falling off his bicycle, the National Park Service said. Two people were also seriously injured in May in separate incidents when they ran off the road and crashed into rocks. One was an experienced downhill bike tour guide.

Read the rest of the article at the Seattle Times.

I know how nervous I get around large numbers of other cyclists during road descents in century rides and the like, and presumably we're all experienced cyclists. I imagine a lot of the people who sign on for these tours aren't necessarily used to riding in a pack with other cyclists and that it would only be natural to be distracted by the scenery. Factor that in with the 10,000 foot descent and the general relaxed mindset of vacationers and it's almost a wonder that there haven't been more deaths. Hopefully they can sort this out and get those tour companies back in business sooner than later.

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