Cycling in Taiwan: An Embarrassment of Riches

While the mercury dips dangerously in North America and rises in other parts of the globe for the last weekend in 2017, the forecast ion Taiwan is for cool and mostly dry around the island, or as I like to call it, cycling weather.

This is good news for me, since my plan for for the three day weekend includes getting back into cycling shape by doing a 70km ride from my home in southern Taipei to the hot spring town of Jiaoxi. Though 2017 has been a busy year for me, I’ve slacked off in the riding department. No round the island experiences like In 2015 (when I led two such 11-day custom tours) this year, and outside of some short-ish day rides in Taitung & Sun Moon Lake, most of my cycling has been confined to Taipei City.

Anyway, it’s high time to start my new year’s resolution of riding more. Rumor has it that sometime next year MyTaiwanTour will host a group of dedicated cyclists who’ve ridden from Europe to Asia and are looking to put the Isla Formosa notch on their collective cycling belts. I’m hoping to ride with them when they get here, and don’t want to embarrass myself by being too out of shape. Anyway, being a cyclist in Taiwan who doesn’t cycle regularly is as ridiculous as being a skier living in Colorado going a year without skiing.

Taiwan is blessed with an embarrassment of riches insofar as great riding roads are concerned. Not long ago I was interviewed by a local cycling journalist who asked me the usual variation of the desert island question, in this case “If you had to recommend only one ride to a cyclist coming to Taiwan, what would it be?” I thought about it for a bit, and knowing that the answer he probably expected was something involving Taroko Gorge, I specifically avoided Taroko Gorge and went instead with a particularly pleasant 110 KM ride through the Rift Valley between the town of Zhiben in Taitung and Ruisui in Hualien. (Read more: The East Rift Valley)

It was a route I did twice in 2015 during two ten-day bike tours I led, and it was one of the most popular days of the tour. I chose it as an ideal desert island selection for a few reasons. It had some nice climbs, but only a few that were particularly steep, with the worst of these being towards the end of the ride. The ride switched between route 9, which runs more or less parallel between the central and eastern mountain ranges, and a few smaller roads, many passing through rice paddies, going in the same direction. And finally, this particular route begins and ends in towns known for hot springs, meaning pre and post ride soaks. (Read more:Pedaling Along -The Green, Smart Way to Move About and Get to Know Taiwan)

There will definitely be hot springs at the end of tomorrow’s ride, as the plan is to meet up with some friends at the geothermal playground of the Art Spa Hotel, a good thing too as nothing beats soaking in a hot spring after a long winter ride. Also, my friends have a van, meaning I can pop the wheels off the Giant and catch a lift back to Taipei. Because no way am I in good enough shape at this point to handle the ride round trip.

So I won’t be riding round trip, but to bring the embarrassment of riches in the riding department full circle there are a few different routes one could take from Taipei to Yilan.

I was originally considering taking Beiyi road, which winds through the mountains south of Taipei before coming out in the flat, watery plains of Yilan county. Until the completion of the Hsuehshan (“big snow”) tunnel in 2006, this was the most direct route from Taipei to Yilan. But my friend Philip convinced me that I’d have a better time doing a few of the smaller roads that wind around the mountains between Taipei and Yilan, which I tend to agree with. For one thing, Beiyi road is often popular on weekends with the motorcycle set, who tend to enjoy taking the curves at breakneck and distinctly non-cyclist friendly speeds. And for another, the alternate route gives me an excuse to pass through Shenkeng for some coffee and tofu before hitting the hills.

I’ll need all the energy I can get. MyTaiwanTour is planning to roll out a few more cycling tours in the coming year, so I need to be in top shape.

Until next year, as we NYC bike messengers used to say,

Take it safe, but take it!

12/29/2017

Joshua Samuel Brown

Editor-in-Chief