Hop aboard for a new craze in the Caribbean
“These views don’t come for free,” says instructor Anson. “So speed it up or we’re doing another lap of the bay.” He is pedalling at speed, leaving a trail of foamy bubbles in his wake. Panting, I fail to muster much of a response, but set off in pursuit. Cycling on water is every bit as hard as it sounds.
Two things soothe my discomfort. There’s the splendid surroundings (slap bang between the Pitons, the iconic twin peaks of the Caribbean island of St Lucia) and this novel mode of transport. I am road-testing — or rather water-testing — a new Schiller “water bike”. It’s an innovative contraption, a hybrid of a bicycle and a catamaran, invented a few years ago by a Californian chap named Judah Schiller who swiftly set about showcasing his new toy by “cycling” across San Francisco Bay in 2013. The bikes made waves, as it were, and the craze has since extended southeast to the Caribbean.
It arrived in St Lucia early this year and Sugar Beach, a Viceroy Resort property superbly located between the island’s UNESCO World Heritage-listed peaks, is the first property to offer the unusual experience. Guests can opt for independent exploration, a nice leisurely jaunt around the bay or, like me, be put through their paces during a guided on-water spin class. “This is different from any spin class you’ve done before,” super-fit Anson remarks as we haul our bikes down the beach and into the tepid shallows of Anse des Pitons, the 5km expanse of water that separates the Pitons. From the nearby wooden pier, curious glances are cast in our direction by kayakers, scuba divers and stand-up paddle-boarders.
Aboard my stainless-steel steed, I slide my bare feet into the straps and push off gently. To my surprise, it responds just like a normal bike. Even the slightest turn of the handlebars sends me in a different direction as the submerged propeller, powered by the pedals, causes warm water to splash my calves. Over my shoulder, clusters of white villas with infinity pools are sprinkled across the hillside and the resort’s 40ha of tropical foliage. On the sweeping, crescent-shaped beach — undoubtedly the finest on the island; its powdery custard-yellow sand is imported from Guyana — I wonder which A-listers are sheltering under rows of thatched umbrellas. Oprah Winfrey has kicked back and relaxed at Sugar Beach; Matt Damon renewed his wedding vows in a star-studded ceremony in 2013; and Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin holidayed here during happier times.
I am pretty sure fitness fiend Gwynnie would’ve signed up for this spin class if it had been available. You can expect to burn more than 2000 kilojoules during 30 minutes of thigh-busting exercise, but the real incentive comes from the unique perspective on St Lucia’s most iconic vista. From my saddle, the Pitons seem to soar from the sapphire sea like two almighty rainforest-clad bookends. We cycle south, passing Manatee, the resort’s wooden sailing sloop, bound for a distant buoy pointed out by Anson, who jokes (I hope) that he will extend the class if I don’t reach it before he does.
St Lucia may be premium fly-and-flop territory but it’s an island that delivers on action, adventure and adrenaline just as it does sun, sea and sand. Bikers seeking the more traditional option of trails on terra firma are well catered for around the forests and black-sand beaches at Anse Mamin on the west coast. Routes include the challenging Tinker’s Trail with gradients of up to 60 degrees and the most adventurous of St Lucian pursuits, scaling Gros Piton. The first to tackle it did so out of desperation. During the slave rebellion of 1748, a band of freedom fighters known as the Brigands sought solace on the slopes of this mighty volcanic peak, which was formed about 260,000 years ago. Their furious “masters” released poisonous snakes at the base of the mountain as way of punishment.
Fast forward a couple of centuries and holidaymakers follow in their tracks, but without the worry of venomous creatures.
Having reached the buoy, I think, wrongly, that our work is done. Anson points at another across the bay in the shadow of Petit Piton. “Right, let’s go. Work hard now and you can have an ice-cold Piton beer tonight.” Seaweed floats on the surface of the water, which has morphed into the deepest of blues. At times, tropical fish appear from the depths as bright as submerged fireflies.
Pedalling against the wind proves even harder. Long ripples dance across the surface while speedboats send waves far and wide that cause our bikes to bob up and down. Sweat is trickling down my face as we progress towards Petit Piton (750m), its pointy peak standing like a crooked witch’s hat. We get close enough to study its many imperfections, such as dark crevices and black marks smeared down its scabrous surface, like mascarastained cheeks.
The sun is slowly sinking towards the horizon. Bands of amber and pink are streaked across the sky and the moon is starting to rise above the darkening hillsides to the east. We slowly pedal back to the shore, mindful of spellbound snorkellers floating in the corner of the bay designated a National Marine Reserve. Getting more audible with each rotation of my pedals are the sounds of happy hour on the beach — a live saxophonist and a chorus of clinking cocktail glasses. And waiting just for me is an ice-cold and much deserved bottle of Piton beer.
TELEGRAPH MEDIA GROUP • viceroyhotelsandresorts.com • stlucianow.com
Water biking off St Lucia; Sugar Beach, top right; Viceroy Resort, above right