Bicycle touring was once the domain of a few adventure seekers in Taiwan. However, in the last few years it has suddenly burst into the mainstream. It is now common to see people on bicycles loaded up with bags cycling on roads around Taiwan.
The year of 2007 was perhaps a turning point. In this year the movie Island Etude was released. It was an inspiring story about a young hearing impaired man who rode his bike around Taiwan. Two very well known public figures also set out on high profile bike tours. King Liu, the founder of Giant, Taiwan's most famous bicycle maker, spent 17 days cycling around the island. It was a special feat for a 73 year old. Ma Ying-jeou, who was at the time campaigning for the Presidential election, spent ten days riding from the south to the north of Taiwan.
People of all ages and from all walks of life in Taiwan have embraced cycling as a recreational activity. Now it is common to see politicians from all political parties riding bicycles as part of their election campaigning activities.
Cycling around the island has become a popular challenge for people to take up. For many it is a chance to travel and experience their own homeland in a new way rather than going on an overseas trip. The government has even encouraged young people to ride around the island when they turn twenty as a coming of age ceremony.
The round island trip will take between five and fourteen days for most cyclists. A variety of routes are possible and it is possible to enjoy high mountains, beautiful coastlines and peaceful country roads through farmland. Taiwan offers a great deal of diversity within short distances. While traffic in Taiwan's cities and on its major highways can be very busy, there are many minor roads with little traffic allowing cyclists to fully enjoy their surroundings.
Not everyone can afford to spend two weeks cycling around the island. However, there are plenty of interesting rides that can be completed in just two or three days. For cyclists who are not afraid of the hills Taiwan's cross-island highways present a wonderful challenge. There are three cross-island highways – the northern, central and southern.
The Northern Cross Island Highway is the easiest of the three routes and also easily accessible from Taipei. It links Taoyuan and Yilan Counties. The road reaches a peak altitude of around 1,200 metres. Although there is a lot of climbing on this route in the west to east direction the gradient is quite gentle.
The highlight of the ride is the magnificent forest of ancient cypress trees at Mingchi. The ancient trees are part of the Ma-kau Ecological Park. Some of the giant trees are over a thousand years old. They really are one of the most amazing sights in Taiwan. There are hot springs in Baling which has several hotels making it a good place for an overnight stop.
The southern and central cross-island highways are much more demanding and reach greater heights. For the cyclist prepared to take up the challenge though they will not be disappointed. Both routes also have hot springs along the way which are perfect places for tired cyclists to relax and rejuvenate their tired muscles.
For those who like to avoid the hills there are still no shortage of interesting roads to explore. Hualien and Taitung Counties are noted for their beauty. The distance between the two cities is perfect for a two day ride and there is a choice of two main routes, either along the coastal road or down the Rift Valley. The Rift Valley offers a superb ride with mountains towering on either side. The coastal road has the beautiful Pacific Ocean on one side and mountains on the other.
A favorite ride of this author is the Tonghou Trail. It makes a great one day ride from Taipei. The trail heads into the mountains above Wulai, a popular hot springs resort in New Taipei City. Although it is only a short distance outside of the metropolitan area of Taipei once you are on the trail it seems incredibly remote. There are only beautiful mountains and forests to be seen in every direction. For the more adventurous and well prepared it is possible to continue following the trail all the way across the mountains to Yilan.
Given Taiwan's compact size and wealth of natural and cultural attractions it is not surprising that people are working to connect it all together with a round the island trail. The Thousand Mile Island Trail group is a team working to map and link trails around the island for walkers and cyclists. The purpose of their project is not limited just to creating the infrastructure, but also to promoting points of cultural, historical and natural interest along the way.
The Taiwanese bike manufacture Giant are also making it easier for cyclists with a bike hire program that hires out quality touring bikes for round the island tours. It is possible to hire the bikes at one store and return them in a different location giving cyclists plenty of flexibility in choosing their route. This is particularly attractive for cyclists visiting Taiwan from overseas as it saves the trouble of having to transport their own bikes with them.
On some popular cycling routes cafes and restaurants catering especially to cyclists have sprung up. In addition to offering food and drinks they often have parking areas for bicycles. They also fill up water bottles and provide pumps for cyclists to pump up their tires. Some convenience stores and police stations are also offering similar services.
There are so many wonderful routes to explore on the island of Taiwan. The Portuguese called the island Formosa for its beauty. A bicycle is one of the best ways to discover that beauty.
Written by David Reid