Header Nav (Top)

5 Cyclists Explain Why They Love Biking In Taiwan

taiwan-bike-tour-003
This blog post was brought to you by the Taiwan Tourism Board, but the opinions in this are those of myself and the riders I interviewed.

I lived in Taiwan for 8 years. It’s beautiful, small, oval-shaped island that is 394 km from the North to South and 144 km across. The East Coast has a wide flat plain where most of the population lives. Nearly all of the rest of the country is tall, steep, jungle-covered mountains that are filled with winding gorges that have been carved out by rivers. Along much of the scenic and sparsely populated East Coast the mountains plunge into the Pacific Ocean.

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about biking in Taiwan. Taroko Gorge is probably one of the most beautiful bike rides in the world.  This is what it looks like.

taiwan-bike-tour-006

Every cyclist I know who has visited Taiwan loves it. So, I asked five of the most experienced cyclists I know why the loved road and mountain biking in Taiwan.

Every November Taiwan hosts the Taiwan Cycling Festival, which includes challenges for all levels of riders like the Taiwan King-of-the-Mountain (KOM) Challenge and the Sun Moon Lake Come! Bikeday tour.

Daniel Carruthers

daniel

Why do you like cycling/mountain biking in Taiwan? 

Taiwan offers amazing cycling opportunities for the cyclist. Road cycling is the most popular with its endless network of roads you can explore and always be within distance of 7-Eleven for refueling or pitstop for emergency bikes. Many convenience stores have basic tool kits, pumps and tube repair kits available.

Taiwan has a stunning diversity of scenery, particularly in the Taipei mountain region and on the East coast where the famous Taiwan KOM event is staged every year, which includes 100kms of climbing to Wuling Peak. Going zero to 3,200m will send most cyclists giddy with the effort and the mind-blowing scenery on the way up.

What makes Taiwan different from other places you’ve biked? 

I have travelled all over Asia to ride my bike and Taiwan ranks probably number one, narrowly beating out Chiang Mai Thailand for the top spot.  Taiwan is just a super convenient place to ride your bike, dotted with numerous ornate temples and those narrow twisting car free roads that just make you want to keep exploring.

Where is your favourite place in Taiwan to ride and why? 

I have two favourite places to ride in Taiwan:

1) Taipei City – There is world class riding within minutes of the city. The city is surrounded by mountains and you’ll find your climbing ability rapidly improve after spending time here. Many of the climbs are no joke and ramp up 15-20%.

If you would like a challenging ride in Taipei, then the Balaka Climb on Danshui County Road 101 (over 1000m elevation gain) would be my pick. It finishes with a painful 3-4km 18% grade climb to the actual peak. Speed demons will enjoy a screaming fast descent back into Taipei City, during which you can reach 80km/h on a road bike. The most scenic rides would have to be Taipei to Yilan via Hwy 9 and Wulai to Fushan.

2) Kinmen Island – A tiny butterfly shaped island just off the coast of China. I’ve gone back there about half dozen times and never get sick of riding there. There are no mountains to climb, but the island offers a variety of roads and trails to ride on.

The island has an interesting history with an active Taiwan military base and is the only place in Asia where the traditional culture is still intact. It is pure joy to ride through old complete villages that survived the wars; the island is dotted with such villages. There is also a Portuguese influence in many of the magnificent mansions that are still intact.

A fit cyclist can ride the circumference of the island in one day.

Note: Kinmen has numerous free bicycle rental stations around the island for casual exploration.

Daniel is an expert on cycling in Asia ] and 2-time Deaflympian, recently relocated to Rotorua, New Zealand after six years in China. Keep up with him at www.danielcarruthers.com  and www.greenmonkeyvelo.com. If you have questions about bike racing in Asia, he can be reached at djcarruthers@gmail.com.

Mark Roche

mark

Why do you like cycling/mountain biking in Taiwan? 

Taiwan has something that appeals to all cyclists – excellent road conditions. Taiwan is relatively small, exactly half the size of Ireland with an area of 36,000 sq. kilometers, it’s easy to get to any part of the island in one day. An extensive rail system that circles the island with trains equipped to transport bikes and passengers alike.

Taiwan also has four-season riding. It gets hot in summer, so we can ride in the mountains to get away from the heat. Two thirds of the island is covered mountains and has the highest concentration of 3,000m peaks in the world, so you can combine tropical coastline riding with alpine riding in the same day.

What makes Taiwan different from other places you’ve biked? 

It’s easy to navigate and has bilingual road signs and a road numbering system on all major and most minor roads that indicates if you are travelling north, south, east or west.

Taiwanese drivers are very tolerant of cyclists. I have never experienced road rage in Taiwan towards cyclists. An ever increasing number of dedicated bike lanes segregated from other road users. You can camp anywhere, Taiwanese are starting to discover the outdoors, so the number of campgrounds is growing, but wild camping is also possible in most areas. There’s also no shortage of accommodation options for all price ranges.

Where is your favourite place in Taiwan to ride and why? 

Coast to coast is one of my favorites, from Taichung to Hualien on the Central Cross-island Highway. This ride is 230km long and takes you over the island’s highest mountain pass at Wu Ling (3,275m), which is one of the highest mountain passes in the world that is accessible to cyclists.

I also like to ride end to end on the East Coast, AKA the Two Towers ride. This 600km ride along the coast on the Pacific Ocean takes you through aboriginal villages, fishing harbors, and some of the most scenic coast line on the planet.

Mark has been travelling and leading tours for several years and can be contacted at rochem@ksts.seed.net.tw

Chris Scott

chris-scott

Why do you like cycling/mountain biking in Taiwan? 

I think the best part about riding in Taiwan is the same everywhere I’ve ridden. It’s the camaraderie and friendships you forge on the trail, which seem to transcend cultural and language barriers.

What makes Taiwan different from other places you’ve biked? 

When I first started riding in Taiwan in late 2001, there was almost no mountain biking culture there at all. It was just a few diehard foreigners bombing down trails that were used by hikers. Fast forward less than a decade and riding had become really popular with the locals. One of the last races l entered in Taichung had over 200 riders, and only a handful of them were foreigners. That’s what made riding in Taiwan so interesting, the lighting pace at which the culture evolved.

Where is your favourite place in Taiwan to ride and why? My favorite place to ride was definitely the experimental forest in Shinhua, a half hour to the east of Tainan. A South African friend and I used to go there every Sunday afternoon and ride until it began to get dark, then we’d load our rigs onto the back of our motorbikes and head home into a spectacular tropical sunset, with that euphoric feeling of near total exhaustion capping off what was always a great weekend.

Chris spent all of his 30s in Taiwan, and often finds himself struggling to find the vocabulary to describe what a weird and wonderful place it is. Follow him online at http://www.imageination.org/.

Simon Foster

simon-foster-gha-tours

Why do you like cycling/mountain biking in Taiwan? 

The island of Taiwan is less than 400km from north to south and only 150km across at its widest point, y this tiny tropical gem contains East Asia’s highest mountains, the world’s deepest marble gorge, over 150 hot springs, and mile after mile of untouched beaches, meaning that hard days in the saddle are often rewarded by an ocean swim or a therapeutic thermal soak, not to mention incredibly diverse and delicious cuisine to keep you fuelled for the road.

What makes Taiwan different from other places you’ve biked? 

Remote roads through spectacular scenery are an amazing part of riding through many countries, but in Taiwan, unused county roads are kept in pristine condition, seemingly exclusively for the use of two-wheeled adventurers. Add to this extensive investment in cycling infrastructure, including bike paths, bike service stations at convenience stores and rural police stations, and some of the friendliest people on the planet and the result is one of the world’s best, and most under-rated biking destinations.

Where is your favourite place in Taiwan to ride and why? 

County road 64, aka the “Ruigang Road” starts in Ruisui hot springs in the lush East Rift Valley and cuts its way through the low, jungly Coastal Mountain Range. This lovely little road follows the course of Taiwan’s premier whitewater rafting river, the Xiuguluan, to emerge at the Pacific by the impressive bridge at Dagangkou. This is one of our favourite roads on an island packed with perfect roads, and it features on our Bike Taiwan and Eastern Escape itineraries.

Simon Foster has been leading cycling tours all over the globe for the past 20 years, and heads up Grasshopper’s Taiwan operations (www.grasshopperadventures.com), as well as being a guidebook author with titles including the current Rough Guide to Taiwan.

Joshua Samuel Brown

josambro

Why do you like cycling/mountain biking in Taiwan? 

It’s like the phrase from Vulcan philosophy, “Infinite diversity in infinite combinations”.

Taiwan’s got mountains, hills, plains, ocean roads, small towns and big cities, and they’re all connected by amazing and (mostly) cycle friendly roads. So cycling in Taiwan never gets boring. I’ve not done nearly enough mountain biking there, but I intend to do more when I return in 2017.

What makes Taiwan different from other places you’ve biked? 

People in Taiwan are generally friendlier towards cyclists then they are in most of America. The Taiwan government has really gone out of it’s way to promote cycling as both sport and lifestyle, and this has resulted in an increased awareness of cyclists as a part of the island’s cultural tapestry.

Where is your favourite place in Taiwan to ride and why? 

Depends on my mood. I really like everything in the Rift Valley stretching up between Yuli and Hualien City. Route 9 is a perfectly lovely and serviceable cycling road, but you can also turn off and find smaller roads going through rice paddies where you’ll not see a car for miles. I love the town of Ruisui for both the hotsprings and this one particular Hakka restaurant I know there.

Of course, I like city riding. I cut my cycling teeth as a bike messenger in NYC, so I need the rush of riding in traffic. One of my regular Taipei city rides cuts the city South to North, from Xindian to Tienmu on Roosevelt / ChungShan roads. Preferably in rush hour traffic. Not everybody’s cup of tea though.

Writing about and riding in Taiwan before either was cool, Joshua Samuel Brown is a lifelong cyclist, co-author of 13 Lonely Planet Guides (including two editions of Lonely Planet Taiwan) and a solo book called Vignettes of Taiwan. He will be returning to Taiwan in 2017 to begin another book on Taiwan and lead tours around the island. Find him online at josambro.com

Have you been cycling in Taiwan? Share your experience in the comments below.

One Response to 5 Cyclists Explain Why They Love Biking In Taiwan

  1. Joshua Samuel Brown July 10, 2017 at 2:02 am #

    Man, re-reading this interview and realizing that that picture of me is from one of my earliest trips down the coast. Since then I’ve circled the island twice by bike, three times if you count hanging out of the window of a support van taking pictures during the ultra maniacal 48-hour round the island challenge. (The team I was working with dropped me off at Hualien station somewhere around hour 36. Betel nut, caffeine, and sleep deprivation are not always a sports journalist’s best friend.)

    Anyway Matt, come on back to Taiwan this autumn. We’ll ride the roads like kings, feasting like hogs afterward on seafood and the word’s finest single malt whiskey.

Leave a Reply