Hawaii is renowned for impressive scenic views of coastal cliffs, lush tropical forests, soft sandy beaches, and towering volcanic mountains. The favourable climate means temperatures stay consistently warm and the roads – when there are any – are devoid of potholes and tar snakes. They wind through the islands like an elaborate roller coaster resulting in a journey that’s often as beautiful as the destination. What better way to experience Hawaii than on two wheels?

Hawaii coast

First, some background info. Hawaii is located in Oceania and is the northernmost land mass in Polynesia. There are hundreds of islands and islets but just 8 main ones, and only half of those 8 have a population of over 50 thousand. Hawaii is a major tourist destination for such a small place, attracting over 8.9 million visitors annually – a huge number compared to the number of residents at 1.4 million. You can fly direct to Hawaii from North American cities or come from the other side out of airports in Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. Despite being nearly 4,000 km away from the mainland United States you won’t ever forget the country you’re visiting, for better or worse.

My Trip To Hawaii

I recently went on a vacation with my girlfriend to 3 of the state’s most popular islands: the Island of Hawai’i (known as the Big Island), Maui, and Oahu. Each one is considerably different from its neighbours. The Big Island is almost underdeveloped for tourists; aside from a cluster of resort hotels on the west coast it is difficult to find good accommodations or even restaurants open late elsewhere. However, there aren’t many people and the scenery is breathtaking. Maui is more populous but just as gorgeous. It’s also much easier to find a late-night snack. Oahu is home to the capital, Honolulu, and is an entirely different beast. Swaths of tourists can be seen packing into tour buses for a trip to the beach or shopping centre. To each their own, I suppose, but this is not the experience I want when travelling.

Rainbow at Mauna Kea

While planning the trip back home in Canada I learned that two friends of mine had visited Hawaii and rented a bike for a day. With only positive things to say about the experience I put this on the to-do list. Rentals are available on all 3 of these islands but we decided to pick up a two-wheeled ride in Maui. After some back-and-forth I was able to reserve a bike I wanted to try out – a Yamaha FZ6R.

Renting a Motorcycle

There are typically many moving parts to a vacation so factoring in a bike rental might not be the easiest thing to do. There are several unknowns that must be answered all at once:

  • When do you want to rent a bike, and for how long?
  • Where can you rent it from?
  • What do you want to see?
  • Which bike do you want to rent?

Selecting a Location

There aren’t many locations to choose from but fortunately Maui is not such a big place. Different companies rent out different bikes. If you’re keen on hitting dirt trails you will want to take a close look at Maui Dual Sport on the north end of the island just east of the Kahului airport. Their garage consists of adventure bike staples like the Kawi KLR650, Honda CRF250 and Africa Twin, Suzuki DR650, and KTM 390 Duke. I got in touch almost a month in advance and was surprised to find out that only a few bikes were available during my stay. Because I was going to be riding 2-up with my girlfriend I decided to skip out on the search for bumpy terrain and stick with pavement as much as possible.

Hula Hogs is located in Kihei approximately 30 minutes south of the airport. Their website lists scooters and Harleys for rent (and nothing in between) which didn’t pique my interest.

Finally I found Aloha Motorsports whose parent company is the established Eagle Rider with locations all over the United States and even with a presence in overseas countries. There are two shops on Maui and they carry a variety of bikes ranging from behemoth Harley-Davidson and Indian tourers to ‘smaller’ H-D and Honda cruisers, as well as bikes like the Yamaha FZ6R and Suzuki DR-Z400. I ultimately picked Aloha/Eagle Rider and it was very easy to book the bike online.

Selecting a Bike

Hawaii Rental Bikes

A selection of some of the bikes you can rent.

You may already have an idea of the bike you want, or are at least restricted in selection by the company you are renting with. While this is a personal choice I want to make a recommendation: try out something new. It’s not too often you get the chance to be on a bike that’s not yours. In my case I had to get something that would be comfortable for me and my passenger which ruled out a lot of the single-seat Harleys that were available. I wanted to grab a Suzuki V-STROM for a real upright riding experience but those were already reserved. Feeling skittish about renting a huge tourer like the Indian Roadmaster I went with a Yamaha FZ6R. I’ve only briefly ridden a 650-class sport tourer before and wanted to see I’d enjoy it on the street enough to replace my supersport.

Gearing Up

There was only one thing I didn’t like about my rental experience and it had to do with gear. On Eagle Rider’s website they mention how most stores will have jackets and other gear available for rent. Turns out that the Aloha Motorsports shop in Kihei is not one of those stores. We received open-face helmets and nothing else. Now, I do realize that for some Hawaiian riders (and much of the continental United States) the thought of donning even just a helmet is too much. I will personally never understand the thrill of potentially leaving your face on the road separate from your body, so I ticked the $10 option for a full-face helmet on the website. Somebody didn’t receive the memo which meant that, for the first time ever, my girlfriend and I got on a bike as squids.

No, it did not introduce new sensations and a connectivity to the world I never had before. No, I am not a convert. In fact, I now have proof to solidify the argument that open-face helmets and a lack of body protection is just a dumb way to ride. I will admit that this situation didn’t ruin the day – I wasn’t about to let it. But more than once I wished for a shield in front of my face to keep bugs and rain away.

Riding in Hawaii

Now that you have your bike it’s time to hit the road, but where should you go? You may have already answered this question by choosing certain destinations – that’s great! If not, a lot will depend on where you are beginning your journey.

Planning Your Route

The two of us had a route in mind which was confirmed by the attendant in the shop. Unfortunately you cannot go east directly from Kihei and must do a significant detour. Hop north on highway 31 and take 311 to eventually reach Maui’s central artery which is highway 37.

As the crow flies the distance between points A and B is about 11 miles; you’ll ride 40 on the ground. It’s an ok route with only one or two points of congestion and not much to see until you hit the 37. Once you do, however, the traffic fades away and views open up.

Point B on the map indicates the location of a cluster of wind turbines – a good place to stop. Point C represents a general area more so than a specific point. There isn’t all that much to do in the south-east corner of Maui so the lone road that takes you round the coast isn’t well maintained. Paved asphalt deteriorates into a patchwork of mismatched road surfaces. It’s doable on a bike but with no clear pot at the end of the rainbow how far you go is up to you.

We stopped at several destinations on the way back. The MauiWine winery with a grill restaurant serving local meat makes for a great lunch. Follow that up with a visit to Grandma’s Coffee House, then take in the sights and smells at a botanical garden or lavender farm.

Lavender farm on Maui

Stopping by a lavender farm on Maui.

Riding

There aren’t nearly as many riders as I thought there would be on Maui. With warm temperatures and plenty of sunlight I expected locals to take advantage of this incredible climate, but most of the bikes I saw were rented Harleys. However people were courteous enough towards the Yamaha. The general driving style is a mix of laid-back and easy-going with ‘hurry up’ and ‘get out of my way’. Nobody paid much attention to the 45 MPH speed limit leaving Kihei and even 55 was too slow for most people on the 37.

Almost no one signals (this is America after all, right?) but my biggest frustration was caused by the road signs. This applies to all 3 of the islands I visited. Hawaii has an issue with labelling roads to make them identifiable.  Whether it’s a tiny side street or a major thoroughfare all you get is a sign directly where the street is. Hopefully you can read it from far away enough to make the turn. Fortunately there aren’t too many routes in the rural areas so you can easily memorize the directions.

There will be respite from these issues once you ride away from the madding crowd. Enjoy the views when you’re not busy tackling the twisties. The occasional tourist will not know how to use the road pullouts so hopefully your machine has enough grunt to pass them on the short straights.

Riding a FZ6R in Maui

It can be hard to pay attention to the road with views like this.

Be Prepared

The weather on Hawaii is hard to gauge. Sure, the forecast may say one thing but that prediction might not apply to where you’re going. As your exposure and elevation changes you are prone to changing conditions. On one occasion we returned to our rental car after the sky suddenly became dark and witnessed a curtain of rain approaching from afar. Closer and closer it came, until it abruptly stopped as if it ran out of gas. For several minutes I waited for a free car wash but the rain’s boundary line remained stationary.

Unfortunately you’re at the mercy of Mother Nature when it comes to things like this. Take a backpack with you if your bike doesn’t have panniers or saddlebags. Bring along some water and snacks – plan for this trip like you would a hike. Also don’t forget a windbreaker or rain jacket, and be prepared to use it.

Sunset while driving in Hawaii

The roads are generally in good shape but not all are pristine. Anticipate the pavement to feature a gravel patch or, in the case of highway 31, to just suddenly end.

Gravel road on Maui

The Yamaha FZ6R

On Yamaha’s website you will find the FZ6R lumped into the ‘supersport’ category. Although it features a 600 cc 4-cylinder engine it lacks many features they bestow upon the ‘real’ supersport of the family: the R6. It’s down about 20 HP yet weighs almost 50 lbs more. There are smaller front brakes and non-adjustable, non-inverted front forks. The rear shock only has one setting as well. Who would choose this bike over the R6, you ask? Well, a discerning buyer will walk away with an extra $4,300 in their pocket and a more streetable bike. The R6 is aggressive and always ready to pounce; the FZ6R lets you cruise more comfortably with a passenger on the back.

Performance

I believe Yamaha misrepresents the FZ6R on its website. It’s not a supersport, but a sport touring. Its rivals are the two mid-range staples: the Kawasaki Ninja 650 and Suzuki SV650. Both have two-cylinder engines that are more torquey but down on overall horsepower. Weight, suspension, brakes, other specs, and price are all within spitting distance of one another.

Does it hustle? Before I answer that, please understand my response is undoubtedly skewed by my penchant for crotch rockets: I found the FZ6R to be a bit lethargic. I concede that it has enough power for the street… until you throw on a passenger. It doesn’t instantly slow down to a crawl, but the surprising ‘oomph’ it had before vanishes and you’re left with a sensible bike. Sensible is fine except for when it isn’t, like when you need to pass a slow driver on a curvy road and have only brief windows of opportunity to do so. This situation is not helped by the supersport-derived engine which needs some time to spin up into the higher RPM range where it can deliver power.

Riding a FZ6R on Maui

Handling

My rental had a fair bit of miles on the odometer. Scratches and knicks on the left side were a telltale sign the bike has been down at some point. Although nothing felt wrong with the Yamaha’s handling, it just wasn’t as polished and dialed in as I’m used to. The squishy suspension soaked up bumps pretty well yet maintained a complacent ride on the street. Fun fact: the FZ6R makes a great off-road bike. Ok… that last bit’s a lie but I found a little trail shooting off the main road and had to try it out.

Riding the FZ6R on Maui

Everything I threw at it in the turns was handled with ease. A passenger on the back meant I wasn’t exactly pitching the bike into corners but did get a few good 2-person leans. The compact Yamaha is capable of a lot more.

Comfort

As a major factor that played into my pick for a rental bike, comfort ruled out a KTM 390 Duke I was eyeing and left for me the FZ6R. The last time I sat on a motorcycle with handlebars like this I was riding my first ever bike, a Ninja 400.  Back then I loved the switch over to my ZX-6R supersport, which brought the handlebars down low near the tank. I followed that up with a Triumph Daytona and began to lament my choice. Neither of these two bikes are pinnacles of comfort and trying to tour on them with a passenger is not wise. An FZ6R is a much smarter option for this task.

Although the bars are raised I managed to feel a little cramped in the cockpit. The seat isn’t very high which makes it easy to flatfoot for shorter riders, but it also brought my knees up close to the tank. On a supersport this position is mitigated by the low controls; here it felt awkward.

My pillion expressed satisfaction with her throne. The seat is only a few degrees from flat and it is easy enough to reach the tank for added support. The near upright sitting position also took extra weight off my back and wrists.

Final Thoughts

  • Hawaii is a spectacular state with gorgeous views
  • Both the Island of Hawai’i and Maui are well-suited for renting a bike
  • You have to book well in advance and hope you get lucky with the weather
  • Be prepared for less-than-ideal conditions when you’re out riding
  • The Yamaha FZ6R is a great choice for 2-up riding on the twisties

Safe travels!