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Moto Aloha: Motorcycle Touring on Oahu

Tim KesselOctober 10, 2016
Map of the route taken, by Bill Tipton/compartmaps.com.

Map of the route taken, by Bill Tipton/compartmaps.com.

In recent years, life has afforded me more opportunities to travel outside of the logistical scope of my motorcycle. While my bike can’t fly with me, my love of riding always does. To satiate that desire to experience new places properly—that is, from the seat of a motorcycle—I have taken to renting a bike in any distant place I go.

My son’s Oahu, Hawaii, wedding trip was no exception. Since the love of motorcycles was passed directly to my male progeny, it was only logical that we share the experience. Obviously, a very cool place requires very cool motorcycles. Two special edition Triumph Bonnevilles fit the bill perfectly. I rented the striking Cranberry Red Newchurch Edition and the Caspian Blue T214 Land Speed Limited Edition. The T214, which is one of only 1,000 produced, may be one of the most visually striking Triumphs I have ever seen. The beautiful Bonnies seemed tailor-made for a ride on the island.

Round Top Drive offers a panoramic view of Honolulu that’s made even sweeter with a couple of stunning Triumphs in the foreground. (Photos by the author)

Round Top Drive offers a panoramic view of Honolulu that’s made even sweeter with a couple of stunning Triumphs in the foreground. (Photos by the author)

Mauka—To the Mountains

After securing the Triumphs, our immediate goal was to escape the traffic of Waikiki and venture into the mountains. Our first jaunt was the eastward ascent to the famed Nu’uanu Pali Lookout. The nicely winding road to the lookout was a great way for us to become acclimated to our retro-chic mounts, and the panoramic view to the windward side of the island was simply mind-blowing (no pun intended).

Our first stop on the tour is the Nu’uanu Pali Lookout.

Our first stop on the tour is the Nu’uanu Pali Lookout.

Our next leg was a result of Internet searches and island rider recommendations. Any motorcyclist diligently seeking the most winding and view-filled road on the island will ultimately end up on the amazing Round Top Drive. The road is a serpentine route through tropical splendor that repeatedly opens up, revealing staggering views of the Pacific beyond the Honolulu skyline and Diamond Head. The hairpin-rich road dates back to the early 1900s and is recognized on the National Register of Historic Places. Round Top Drive is now on my short list of favorite motorcycle roads.

The mountain loop consisting of Round Top and Tantalus Drive provides Oahu’s best curves.

The mountain loop consisting of Round Top and Tantalus Drive provides Oahu’s best curves.

Lua pele—In Volcanic Shadows

After our stint in the mountains, we returned through the bustle of Honolulu toward the southern tip of the island. As we left the heaviest of the traffic behind, the deep blue water off the southern tip of Oahu sparkled on the horizon and we rode in the shadow of Diamond Head. The dramatic volcanic cone is the signature landform in southern Oahu.

We headed east on the Kalanianaole Highway, which skirts the ocean and is carved into the jagged volcanic rocks that define this portion of the island. The surf pounds, sprays and sculpts the rugged coastline in a dynamic display of nature’s power. The deep blue Pacific contrasted with the blackened, long-cooled magma is almost visual overload.

The author’s son gets his first look at the windward side of the island.

The author’s son gets his first look at the windward side of the island.

As we continued toward the windward side of the island on the Kalanianaole Highway, the volcanic cliffs began to give way to white sand beaches. The southern tip of Oahu is a beautiful departure from the lush tropical overgrowth of much of the rest of the island and the road is a pleasant mix of long, sweeping corners.

The ride along the rocky southern tip of the island leaves no doubt of the power of the Pacific.

The ride along the rocky southern tip of the island leaves no doubt of the power of the Pacific.

Wahine—Joining the Women

We found the road on the southeastern edge of the island to be a smooth and fun series of sweeping turns flanking the Pacific. We made the short northward ride to Kailua to pick up my son’s wife of three days and my wife of more than three decades. We would ride two-up for the rest of the tour. The torquey Triumphs handled the additional passengers nicely and the overall aesthetics of the Bonnevilles was greatly enhanced by our pillion partners.

The grand Tetsuo Harano Tunnel cuts through the island’s defining mountain range.

The grand Tetsuo Harano Tunnel cuts through the island’s defining mountain range.

I generally make every effort to avoid major highways anytime I am on two wheels. However, Oahu boasts one of the most beautiful highways I have ever seen. Interstate H-3, which is the island’s major east/west thoroughfare, is like something straight out of Jurassic Park. On the ride west on H-3 we rolled beneath towering tropical trees and rugged mountain slopes. A highlight of the ride was motoring through the impressive Tetsuo Harano Tunnel, which carves through the Ko‘olau Range for nearly a mile. The weather change from the eastern mouth of the tunnel to what we experienced emerging to the west was truly amazing. We entered the tunnel to wind and clouds and exited to a clear blue sky and calm air. The locals say this extreme change is the rule rather than the exception. The mountain range is both a geographical and an environmental transition zone.

Military history is everywhere on the island, with the most powerful display resting at Pearl Harbor.

Military history is everywhere on the island, with the most powerful display resting at Pearl Harbor.

After the short, beautiful ride on H-3, we made our way to Pearl Harbor. My father was a WWII veteran who served in the Navy in the South Pacific, and I found the memorial to be a deeply touching experience. It was certainly worth the fight through the north Honolulu traffic. After the visit, we continued north on Interstate H-2, passing by military installations and cutting through several agricultural regions. This part of the ride was notably less tropical than what we had just experienced on H-3. When H-2 became the Kamehameha Highway (State Route 99), we found the impressive Dole Plantation offered up pineapple-centric family fun.

It’s virtually impossible to resist multiple photo stops along the route.

It’s virtually impossible to resist multiple photo stops along the route.

Kai pi‘i—Big Waves of the North Shore

As we rolled toward the famed Oahu North Shore, we sensed the power and unpredictability of the region. The waves were bigger, the wind was stiffer and the weather was a true mixed bag. A stop at Mokuleia Beach Park afforded us a close-up look at the huge, breaking surf. It was an impressive and intimidating display. Back on the Triumphs after the park visit, the weather turned. We were stung with a misty rain that soaked us to the core. However, as abruptly as it started, the rain ceased and the sun emerged. That cycle of wet and dry would be the rule of the road for the remainder of our North Shore ride. At this point, we were also coming to terms with the fact that the wind always blows on the island and naked Bonnevilles offer no modicum of protection from the blast. To our delight, our ride past the famous Turtle Bay and later the Polynesian Cultural Center was backlit by the warming rays of the sun.

After our miles of intermittent rain and sun it was time for a rest and a little sustenance. We stopped at North Shore Tacos in Hau’ula to sample the local fish and discuss the plan for the last leg of our Oahu tour. The fish tacos were tasty and the map indicated that our final stretch of the tour would trace the coast for miles.

The author’s wife, son, and his son’s new bride look out over the North Shore surf.

The author’s wife, son, and his son’s new bride look out over the North Shore surf.

Ko’olau—Return to the Windward Side

Leaving the North Shore spelled the last of the rain. This final leg of our ride embodied the universal perception of the 50th state. The sweeping coastal road skirted the blue waters of the Pacific to our clutch hand and tropical foliage in all hues of green to our throttle hand. Traffic was notably lighter on the east coast of Oahu than in and around Honolulu, and the ride was relaxing and spectacular. Like everywhere on the island, it’s important to watch for animals (chickens and other fowl roam wild) as well as side-road traffic.

Natural beauty and mechanized majesty along the Oahu coastline.

Natural beauty and mechanized majesty along the Oahu coastline.

Back in Kailua, we walked the pristine white-sand beaches and commented on how sedate and welcoming the ocean was compared to the massive North Shore breakers. Later we hiked the hills to the fortified WWII military “pill boxes” that dot the coastal slopes. The historical concrete gunnery boxes overlook some of the most beautiful views in the world. Like any great tour, the off-bike activities add even more texture to the visit.

A tour of Oahu reveals the island’s rich history and culturally diverse society. The natural beauty is unparalleled, and in my humble opinion, best seen from the saddle of a motorcycle. Of course, Hawaii affords year-round riding; however the quickly changing weather necessitates some careful gear planning.

Careful research is vital when deciding on a motorcycle rental company. Well-maintained, modern motorcycles make for a trouble-free tour, and online reviews are a great starting point in locating a reputable rental source. Chase Hawaii Rentals in Waikiki lived up to the positive reputation the company has garnered. The Triumphs we rented were spotless and well tuned, and the staff has a wealth of information on motorcycle riding  on the island. Visit chasehawaiirentals.com.

Careful research is vital when deciding on a motorcycle rental company. Well-maintained, modern motorcycles make for a trouble-free tour, and online reviews are a great starting point in locating a reputable rental source. Chase Hawaii Rentals in Waikiki lived up to the positive reputation the company has garnered. The Triumphs we rented were spotless and well tuned, and the staff has a wealth of information on motorcycle riding on the island. Visit chasehawaiirentals.com.

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