How I am building a bicycle-touring business on Oahu
By Carl Brooks, owner of Outta Bounds Hawaii
I’ve always been a bicyclist, and it’s hard to put a date to it because it’s always been a part of my life.
My dad worked at Sears when I was a kid, so I always had every Free Spirit bike I wanted. I grew up in the South and first started riding in Memphis, Tennessee. My first crash was when I was 5 years old. I got 50 stitches in my face because I did a header over the handlebars coming down a hill.
I’ve been riding on the Islands for 23 years, and I’ve been racing since 1984 on the Mainland. As with a lot of people I’ve met over the years, I moved out here chasing a woman. That relationship is long gone, but I’m still here.
I’ve worked in the bicycle industry for 23 years in Hawaii and I worked the retail side. A lot of times, people would come in and ask, “Where do you go ride?” So, it just mandated that I start a bike tour company. We would say, “Hey, we’re going for a ride. Come out. I’ll show you where to go.”
It just developed from there. Military guys, regular tourists, celebrities, professional mountain bikers and professional road bikers that just came in and wanted to know where to go, and I just took them out. That’s what spawned the idea of what I’m trying to develop here.
There’s a lot of barriers to ride in Hawaii. Most people can’t see themselves riding their bikes on the road here. I think one of my biggest challenges is to broaden everyone’s awareness that there are excellent and beautiful places to ride that are safe and controllable, and you can have a good time. But, you have to be at the right places and the right time to be safe. Giving them the ability to experience that is one of the best things.
Between racing since the mid 1980s and putting on races since the late 1990s, I’ve been a coach, promoter, race director, racer — I have a lot of hats. We’re using Outta Bounds Hawaii to facilitate a lot of those things right now. I’m making more money coaching and promoting than I am touring. I hope that changes rather rapidly, but I only started the business six months ago.
I started the company because I saw a need and a niche that has not been on Oahu. If you go to the West Coast anywhere in California, you have bike tours up the wazzoo. You have Napa tours, San Francisco, San Diego, LA. If you go international to Europe there’s tours in Italy, France, just tour companies everywhere. But they have cultures that are friendlier to bicycling. Hawaii in general, Oahu specifically, in the last three or four years they’ve gotten a lot better; in the last two years they’ve gotten infinitely better.
Bicycle safety and the awareness of the people who are on the road has improved. I don’t get honked at much anymore and I haven’t had any issues with cars in a long time. The culture is changing. It took a long time, but it’s getting there.
We can do mountain bike tours, but I don’t promote it because there are mountain bike tour companies, which are kind of my competition but not really because I don’t want to compete against other people who have been in business already.
My ultimate goal and target market would be that higher-end exclusive guy who says, “I’m here. I’ve got two hours. I want to have a great ride. I want to continue my workout and do it here on the island. Where do I go?”
And I’ll say, “All right, let’s go. You want to leave at 9 o’clock and be back at 11, I’ll get you there. You want to do hills? You want to do intervals? You want to do sprints? Whatever it is, let’s go.”
The cost is no different whether you’re a beginner or a novice. If you pay the tour rate, you get what you want. If it’s coaching I’ll do it. If it’s bike fitting, I’ll do it. My rate is $110 for two hours per guide. For every four riders, I need one guide. All my guides are independent contractors and people that I have ridden with before and trust. I’m not going to hire someone I don’t trust.
Every island is its own little entity and it’s got its own different dynamics. Maui has about four or five groups that are trying to do the same thing that I’m doing and one guy that has been doing it for 15 years and has a good business doing it, but he’s also right at the base of Haleakala. He’s got a good gig doing that. Here, it’s Tantalus. I think that’s the first thing most people would want to do. Unless they’re not very proficient at riding, I think going out to Hanauma Bay and Makapuu. If you came here, that’s the most beautiful thing you can see. That’s an epic ride right there.
One of my favorite rides and tours that we’ve done so far is the Pali. The tour is up and over Pali Highway, through the tunnels, down Auloa, then Kalanianaole by Castle Hospital and back through Waimanalo, up and over Makapuu, Hanauma Bay and back through Hawaii Kai.
I’m trying to work with my competitors. I don’t want to be a competing entity because anyone promoting cycling on Oahu has the same goal that I do. The more we can build cycling in Hawaii, it benefits everybody — all the stores, all the tour operators, rental operators, whoever it is. How are you going to make it better if you’re working apart and separating everybody all the time?