Category Archives: Taiwan
Day Three: Through the valley and back to the coast
(Excerpted from Eastern Taiwan by Eleven and Nine, originally run in Bicycle Times, Issue 17)
After coffee and a morning soak, I’m out of Hoya Spa and head through surrounding rice fields to Route 9 on the logical final day of the tour. On my government-issued map the final 75 kilometers forms a neat loop.
Route 9 is wide and my pace is slack. More picturesque I’m told is route 193, which runs parallel to 9 and meanders a bit more. But after two days of fairly intense riding, serious sunburn and a borrowed bike to return, I’m content to take the easier, softer way. 193 can wait for another day. I stop at a roadside café and brunch on vegetarian dumplings, stop again for iced coffee a few kilometers later in the two-street town of Guangfu, and again to stretch and take photos of a field filled with flowers and nesting cormorants.
I get sidetracked for thirty minutes, seduced by an unfinished four lane highway not yet open to traffic and ending at the base of a not-yet built bridge, and wind up mildly disoriented but not in a major way. At some point I come across a statue of a cow offering directions, but this might be a heat stroke induced hallucination.
But the cow was indeed pointing the way, and I’m soon back on the right road. At this point that the central and coastal mountain ranges form a pincher, funneling all traffic into the open plains south of Hualien city, making getting lost difficult. I follow the road into the home stretch. The road is wide and beautiful, and until I get within striking distance of the city itself, largely free of traffic.
I arrive back in Hualien three days and 300 kilometers after I’d left and check into one of the local hostels. After returning my borrowed bike back to the good folks at Giant, I head to the night market to eat sashimi. Watching the sun set behind the central mountain range, I contemplate the shrines, temples and curves of Taroko Gorge … a ride left for another day.
Want to know more about cycling in Taiwan? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Join me on Bicycle Adventures Autumn 2015 Taiwan Tour – it’ll be epic! Mention this blog for your $100 discount!
(Excerpted from Eastern Taiwan by Eleven and Nine, originally run in Bicycle Times Issue 17.)
Day One – Along the Coast
Route 11 stretches like a lazy python along Taiwan’s eastern flank. From north to south it’s roughly 300 miles of small towns, sheer-drop cliffs, dynamite-blasted tunnels, and many spectacular rip-tide heavy beaches. It’s a road for drivers with strong stomachs who are in no particularly hurry. For cyclists, it’s paradise. With only a few days in Taiwan between guidebook gigs, I intend to ride a chunk of it before heading over the mountains and back up the rift valley road to my starting point, the east coast city of Hualien.
I ride southward along a road rising and dipping into long stretches of sheer jaw-dropping beauty, the sun playing peek-a-boo with puffy white clouds. It’s beautiful riding, punctuated only occasionally by passing cars and waving motorcyclists. Though western faces are no longer a novelty in Taiwan, folks on the east coast seem especially happy to see a bicyclist from afar enjoying their scenery.
Between Hualien and Taitung there are no other cities, just small towns and even smaller villages offering small restaurants, 7-11s or family-run convenience stores. All stores large or small have a crock pot of simmering tea eggs, hard boiled eggs cooked in a broth of tea. The tea egg travels well, making them a good snack for long stretches between towns.
At Niu Shan, a rest stop overlooking a brilliant section of coast I come across another excellent – and far less ubiquitous – caloric companion. Zhu tong fan; rice cooked in a bamboo stalk. Ostensibly an aboriginal dish (though tribal folk would have used millet, rice being a Han import), zhu tong fan may be the ultimate cycling food, high in carbohydrates and easy to carry. I crack the stalk on a rock, eating the sticky rice inside before tossing the biodegradable bamboo into the grass.
Passing the phallic Tropic of Cancer monument, I note that I am officially in The Tropics. Pulling past Sansiantai (a scenic area that’s home to one of the east coast’s prettier human-created tourist attractions, the aptly named eight arches bridge,) I realize that my legs are in danger of seizing up after my first 120 kilometer ride in months. After an amazing meal of fresh fish, stir fried pork and noodles and various local vegetables, It’s time for bed.
Come back tomorrow for Day Two: Over the mountains and into the rift
Join me on Bicycle Adventures Autumn 2015 Taiwan Tour – it’ll be epic! Mention this blog for your $100 discount!
Cycling has never been so popular. Thanks to the increase in oil prices and the rise in the global green movement, folks around the world are relying less on cars and more on greener modes of transportation such as cycling. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the cycling industry is also seeing a boost in total sales.
Taiwan ranks not far behind China when it comes to production of bicycles. Generally speaking, China specializes in producing more – as an article in The Financialist notes – “low-end units” (bikes retailing for around $100) while Taiwan manufacturers a large number of high-end road bikes. In 2009, Taiwan exported $1.2 billion worth of bikes. One Taiwanese company in particular, Giant Manufacturing Company, controls a large chunk of the market for high-quality bikes; in fact, Giant controls 10 percent of the market for bikes retailing for $2,000 or more. This has helped to bring about a sort of cycling renaissance in the island nation.
Giant Bicycles, a company founded by Taiwan’s King Liu, rose to fame in the 1970s when it began manufacturing bikes for Schwinn, one of the largest American bicycle brands of that era. During that decade’s oil crisis – and then in 1980 when Schwinn factory workers in Chicago went on strike – production in Taiwan rose even more dramatically. By the mid-80s, Giant was producing 75% of Schwinn’s bicycles. The company branched out, producing and selling bikes under its own name and sponsoring a Dutch racing team. Now a worldwide player, Giant has grown to the point where it also owns factories in China and the Netherlands, with a 2012 revenue of US $1.8 billion.
Liu, Giant’s founder, has had a positive impact on Taiwan’s cycling culture as well. Now in his 80s, Liu didn’t actually start cycling regularly until he was in his 70s—his health, unfortunately, was often secondary to his work. In a 2013 New York Times article, he noted that once he committed to cycling regularly, he couldn’t stop. Amazingly, he still rides up to 25 miles per day. He’s also pushed the Taiwanese government to introduce more bike lanes and bike-sharing programs to the island. According to The New York Times, during the 2000s, 600,000 bikes were sold annually. Then, in 2008, sales surged to 1.3 million units annually. Sales currently hover at around 900,000 units. It’s no wonder cyclists around the world commonly refer to Taiwan as “The Bicycle Kingdom.”
The Taiwan KOM Challenge bike race hasn’t hurt the country’s visibility as a bicycle-oriented destination either. A one-day race that is rapidly becoming known as one of the world’s toughest, the KOM (short for ‘King of the Mountain’) boasts a 54-mile climb starting at sea level and ascending to 10,745 feet of elevation in the mountaintops of Taroko Gorge National Park. Grades average 17% but rocket to a shocking 27% at one point – the kind of pitch that makes even pro cyclists a little green around the gills even as they salivate at the challenge.
If you’re interested in visiting a country where cycling reigns supreme, you can’t go wrong with a trip to beautiful Taiwan. Protected bike lanes curve beside beaches reminiscent of Big Sur’s best, meander through rice paddies, and lead cyclists through tiny towns, tropical jungles and lush national parks. If you’re up for a climb, the options await there as well. For more, check out the Taiwan cycling tours available through Bicycle Adventures.
Cyclists have counted Taiwan among the world’s top ten cycling destinations for years, and as a cyclist who also happens to be a travel writer I’ve been asked “What makes cycling in Taiwan so great?” more times than I can recall.
As this is a blog post, I’ve winnowed the subject – dear to my heart and worthy of it’s own guide book – into a brief list.
1) Exotic cycling venues galore:
Imagine having your first cup of coffee of the day while watching the sun rise over the Pacific. Your morning ride offers a panorama of waves crashing on rocks on one side, mountains rising into clouds on the other. Your post-lunch ride climbs into these mountains, jungle on all sides punctuated by temples, tea plantations & the occasional monkey sighting. Break for tea on the mountaintop, where a traditional Taiwanese tea-house offers a place to rest over a pot of wulong and the clouds…drifting below. After tea, your final ride of the day might be a long, winding downhill, where an evening’s soak at a traditional hot spring hotel waits to cap the day.
2) Wonderful, safe cycling roads:
Hundreds of miles of bike-only paths traverse the capital, Taipei, and all of the nation’s cities and towns are connected by well-maintained roads (generally ignored by the majority of intercity drivers in favor of freeways). Countless roads climbing through the island’s central mountain range present endless challenge and multi-day combinations for experienced riders. Highway 11, which dips and rises along the island’s eastern flank like a lazy python offers astounding views of ocean and mountain, wide bike lanes and tons of rest stops, is considered among the planet’s finest roads for riders of all levels.
3) Taiwan’s government backs bicycling:
It’s no secret that Taiwan’s government has spent big bucks developing and promoting the nation’s cycling infrastructure, and its no coincidence either. Bicycles are big business in Taiwan, a country which earned the nickname the bicycle kingdom by becoming a top producer of bicycles and bike equipment in the latter half of the 20th century. With bicycle exports topping 1.2 billion dollars over the last decade (driven largely through sales of medium-and-high end bicycles favored by serious cyclists), to say that Taiwan has a vested interest in promoting cycling is an understatement. Indeed, transforming Taiwan into one of the globe’s top cycling destinations is part of Taiwan’s clever plan to increase cycling and bicycle sales globally, and cycling is an ingrained part of Taiwan’s culture.
4) Taiwan offers Asia’s best food:
Subjective, I know. But as a journalist who’s written for years about food, I’ll happily throw my reputation on the line by stating that as far as national cuisines go, Taiwan has earned its place on anyone’s global top ten list. Visitors come to Taiwan just to eat, flying in on culinary tours from places like Hong Kong, Singapore & Tokyo (themselves noted destinations for gourmands). As a calorie-burning cyclist you’ll appreciate the depth and breadth of Taiwanese cuisine, whose culinary roots include influences from all corners of China, decades of Japanese influence, and a huge influence of local aboriginal culinary influences. Seafood plays heavily into Taiwanese cuisine (it is, after all, an island), and beef lovers will want to sample a few bowls of niurou mien (beef noodle soup), which has become something of a nationally prized dish. Vegetarians will want for nothing in Taiwan, a heavily Buddhist nation where amazingly good vegetarian restaurants are everywhere.
5) Taiwanese people are famously good-natured.
Another subjective category, of course, but nearly everyone who’s visited Taiwan comes away talking about how friendly and generally cheerful Taiwanese people are.
As a foreign cyclist, expect to be waved at by folks in small towns as you ride by, and to hear shouts of “hello” and “加油”. The former means exactly what you think, while the latter is a Mandarin phrase meaning “add oil“, or, less literally, “I encourage your effort.” Drivers, likewise, tend to take notice of cycling groups (especially when said groups are Westerners), making for an all-around friendlier cycling environment.
The Taiwanese seem to have a general abundance of joi de vivre, as well as a proven ability to see the sunny side of life. Case in point: The island was recently hit by a major typhoon, causing wind and water damage. In Taipei City, strong winds on one block bent the mailboxes in front of a local post office. The winds hadn’t even stopped blowing before images started going viral of hundreds of Taiwanese people posing cheerfully alongside the damaged mailboxes.
The city’s response? They made the mailboxes a tourist attraction!
Talk about turning lemons into lemonade!
Join me, travel writer and noted Taiwan aficionado Joshua Samuel Brown on Bicycle Adventure’s 2015 Autumn Taiwan tour. Reserve your spot by September 15 and get a $100 discount!
Greetings and salutations! I’m Joshua Samuel Brown, former NYC bicycle courier and current author of a dozen+ Lonely Planet guides (including two on Taiwan), two books of short stories (including one called Vignettes of Taiwan, which is – you guessed it – about Taiwan), and a couple-hundred articles on subjects including travel, cycling and food from exotic locations around Asia including…correct again, Taiwan!
I’m also Bicycle Adventures’ newest guide. Care to guess which among BA’s many enchanting rides I’ll be guiding?
This Autumn I’ll be returning to my beloved adopted island, taking a top-of-the-line touring bike through some of the planet’s most exquisite scenery, riding on beautiful ocean roads, over breathtaking mountain passes and through gorgeous gorges. Along the way I’ll be soaking in hot-springs, eating amazing food, and making new friends around the island.
But wait. It gets better! How?
Well, for starters, you’re coming with me. (Because really, wouldn’t it be a shame to do all this cool stuff alone?)
Bicycle Adventures, the planet’s premier cycling adventure company, has two Autumn trips planned. Both start and end with full-immersion cultural and culinary cycling adventures through the amazingly dynamic city of Taipei, my home base for many years.
But these mini-urban expeditions are just bookends for the real adventure, which will range all over the island and include a full-day ride into volcanic Yamingshan national park, a high-speed bullet train trip down the west coast followed by a more leisurely ride down the jungle and beach filled southern tip of Taiwan, several days of riding along Taiwan’s stunning east coast and inland through the Eastern Rift Valley National scenic area, and one exceptionally intense ride through the almost too beautiful for words (believe me, I know) Taroko Gorge.
I won’t go into all the details in this post, as you can check out the full Taiwan itinerary here. In a nutshell, the Taiwan journey offers you a once-in-a-lifetime 11 day ride around a gorgeous, exotic and culture drenched subtropical island with a bicycling fanatic travel writer who isn’t just an expert on Taiwan, but actually in love with Taiwan!
In a more compact nutshell, this Autumn’s Taiwan trips are going to be Epic!
While we’ve got two trips planned, spaces are limited. Sign up now by calling (800) 443-6060, or email me directly at email@example.com.
I’m looking forward to riding with you this October!
Join the adventure. As we say in Taiwan Huanying guanglin (Welcome)! And watch this space for more about Cycling in Taiwan!