Strategies and gear for living the dream
Donnie Arnoult owns this Hawaiian island's most popular bike shop and touring company. Here's how he maximizes playtime.
When Donnie Arnoult moved to Maui in 1999, he had no idea what he wanted to do other than live in paradise and learn to surf. Until then, he’d spent most of his life not on a board, but on wheels. Arnoult was riding a dirt bike by age five and racing motocross and BMX by seven. At 19, he was road racing and soon after added mountain biking and track to his repertoire, riding at the highest levels of competition. In 1995, Arnoult relocated to Las Vegas to promote cycling events and founded and raced with the elite Vegas Professional Cycling Team.
By age 34, Arnoult was over the cycling scene. He decided to leave the team behind and move to Maui, where he had vacationed and always fantasized about living. Arnoult never lost his love for bicycling, though, and took to exploring the island on two wheels. His shaved legs and cyclist’s farmer tan stood out on the beach.
“Over and over, I’d get people asking, ‘Hey, you ride? You live here? Where can I rent a bike and where should I ride?’” Arnoult says. “I got to thinking, maybe this was my opportunity to put together a business and let people experience what it’s like to be on a pro team for a day in Maui.” In 2001, he started a touring company for serious cyclists called Go Cycling Maui, and from that grew a full-service bike shop with five employees. Today, Arnoult spends most days in the saddle, sharing his favorite island spots with visiting pros like Tyler Farrar and local athletes like big-wave rider Ian Walsh, who often joins rides with clients for fun. And when Arnoult has time off, there’s always surfing, SUP, and getting lost on trails.
Job: Owner of the bike shop Maui Cyclery and the touring company Go Cycling Maui
Hometown: New Orleans, Louisiana
Home Base: Paia, Maui
Morning Ritual: “I wake up at 5:30 or 6 a.m., brush my teeth, stretch out for ten minutes or so on a physioball, do my core workout while I watch the surf report, and then have a shot of espresso.”
Store Hours: Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday, 8 to 4; Sunday, 8 to noon.
Last Time He Went to the Gym: 2000
Obsession: Coffee. “I was originally going to be a coffee roaster when I moved to Maui. I even bought property for a coffee farm. I have three espressos or one Bulletproof coffee daily, but my wife cuts me off caffeine after 5 p.m.”
Number of Bikes He Owns: “Surprisingly not a lot for a bike shop owner. I have one road bike and one mountain bike for riding, and then about eight bikes that are old collectibles.” So…ten.
Childhood Hero: “Evel Knievel was a rock star when I was a kid. I wanted to be a stuntman.”
Toughest Ride on Maui: The ride to the summit of Haleakala Summit climbs 10,023 feet over 36 miles and reaches gradients up to 18 percent. As a comparison, the famed Mont Ventou in the Tour de France is only a 5,336-foot climb over 13.6 miles.
PR to the Top of Haleakala from Paia: “Three hours has always been my goal, but I always crack at 8,000 feet. I’ve made it to the top in three hours and ten minutes.”
Favorite Ride on Maui: Paia to Hana
Post-Ride Fuel: “A blend acai bowl topped with papaya, banana, and strawberries from Paia Bowls, just down the road from the shop.”
Dream Guest Rider: “Sheryl Crow, or I’d love to get Oprah on the bike.”
Where He Vacations: “I hate leaving Maui. But if I do get off the island, I’ll go to Baja to dirt bike or Utah to mountain bike.”
Leaving Competitive Cycling Behind: “There’s a small window when you’re young and have talent and have a chance to make it at a professional level. I went full-time racing as a pro in 1988 and was competitive, but I didn’t think I had the talent to become a professional racer in Europe. If you only race in the domestic U.S. races, it’s not a great-paying gig. So, after a year of racing pro full-time, I went back to college, graduated, and rode part-time. I knew my ability level and thought my health was more important than doing the extracurricular sports-enhancing stuff to get to that next level. I was ready for a change and found a way to keep cycling in my life.”
Credentials for Starting His Business: “I went to Louisiana State University for engineering and graduated with a degree in business marketing management. A college degree definitely has helped me run my business. I also got to travel while racing in college and always stopped at local bike shops and noted what worked well. I had to deal with customer service stuff while building houses and doing electrical contracting work for my uncle for seven years, which taught me how to deal with people. If someone had just bought a $200,000 home, they weren’t calling us to say, ‘Nice work.’ They were calling to complain about a crack in the drywall, and I’d have to go smooth it out. Now half of my job at Maui Cyclery is people skills. Running a pro cycling team taught me how to deal with sponsors, put on events, and deal with insurance and permitting. I put on two events a year, including the Cycle to the Sun ride each June to the summit of Haleakala.”
How to Treat Clients: “My uncle gave me a great piece of advice. He said, ‘Even if you’ve heard a story before, pretend you haven’t and listen to it again to make the guy feel good.’ My job is to make people feel good. I am always trying to judge the client—how fast they can go, and how much can I push them. If you’re a racer, everything is about speed and power and being competitive. When you start riding with clients, you have to learn to tone it back. Now I can go at a very slow pace or high pace to cover a spectrum of abilities, but that took a few years to figure out.”
Avoiding the Perils of the Bike Shop: “I never wanted to own a bike shop. Most shop owners are so busy that they never actually ride, and a shop required rent and retail. My original idea was just to build tours. I started as a patron of other bike shops on the island, but they were so bad. I felt there was a need to have a more professionally run store that catered to the local road cyclists. I wanted to offer better options on the products—the brands of bikes, clothing, and components—and a better experience when you walked into the store. A lot of shop owners are ‘bike people,’ not ‘people people.’ When I opened my shop in 2005, I knew I wanted my mechanics out front interfacing with the customers. It takes a certain type of person to be wrenching on a bike while holding a conversation with the customer. I wanted the shop to have that open, welcome, Hawaii feel. We play cycling videos and surf videos, and I sell my own blend of coffee. Even if someone doesn’t make a purchase, they remember us because of the vibe and might come back again or recommend us to a friend.”
Getting the Word Out: “[Lance] Armstrong started winning the Tour just before I launched my business, and that helped boost the popularity of cycling in the U.S. I also did my research before I launched and saw that active vacations were trending. People didn’t want to just sit by the pool and drink and read. When I started my tours, it was mostly word-of-mouth business. I spent a good chunk of money on print ads in VeloNews and Outside. Of course now social media is an easy way to have clients get the word out.”
Minimizing Desk Time, Maximizing Play Time: “If I have a day where I’m not on the bike and I’m stressed, I go surf for an hour to clear my head. If I get off work early, I try to surf, dirt bike, or get in a ride on my own. It’s tough being inside when you live in Maui. People specifically request to ride with me, and I average three to four days a week on the bike with clients.
“I wish it were more, but there are days I need to take care of paperwork and order clothing, water bottles, etc. The shop doesn’t generate enough income to justify an assistant or bookkeeper, so I have to take care of the paperwork. The little stuff takes a lot of time. The other day, a guy wanted to order one part, and it took me 90 minutes to go through distributors to get this part that cost $20. I’ve learned that my most productive time is after I close the shop at 5 p.m. That hour to hour and a half after we close, I can bust out a ton of paperwork and emails.
“I work more than I ever did and make less money, but I choose the lifestyle over income. The pay scale is less here than anywhere else, but the lifestyle here is unmatched.”
Injuries Come with the Territory: “Other than a lot of road rash, I was pretty injury-free until I moved here. Now I’ve got scars all over. I broke my clavicle twice mountain biking, taken a fin to the face and the groin while surfing, and cracked a rib stand-up paddleboarding. I’ve suffered a concussion from bouncing off the reef while surfing and knocked myself out while dirt biking. I come home bleeding all the time, and my wife now just looks at the blood and says, ‘Again? How’d this one happen?’”
Staying Healthy: “I work out at my house or at the beach, or sometimes I’ll even do dips and pull-ups from a tree. I do a few yoga-inspired stretches every morning to keep my posterior chain muscles and core strong. Once in a while I’ll get some plantar fasciitis or hip pain, and usually if I stretch, the pain goes away. I try to eat healthy, nutritious foods. Luckily, my wife is a good cook and feeds me well every night.”
Most Fulfilling Part of the Job: “When a client comes up to me after a ride and says, ‘That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever done in my life,’ it just feels good, like I’m doing the right thing. I try to make everyone equally stoked along the ride, even when it gets challenging.”