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!