Seeing the Island on Two Wheels: the Taiwan Cycling Festival

Taiwan’s emergence as a world-class cycling destination is no surprise. The island boasts a fabulous diversity of coastal, lowland, and highland environments. Thanks to the subtropical location, it is possible to go cycling almost every day of the year. The highway network is extensive, and because so many Taiwanese commute by motorcycle or scooter, motorists are used to sharing roads with two-wheelers.

In addition, Taiwan is well-known to cycling enthusiasts around the world as the leading manufacturing center for high-quality bicycles as well as bicycle components and accessories.

In keeping with the government’s health and environmental goals, recreational cycling enjoys strong official support. Taking a bike on a train is now commonplace, there are well-maintained cycle paths in every city and county, and the Tourism Bureau organizes an annual Taiwan Cycling Festival.

The festival comprises several events designed to boost public interest and participation in bicycling, while promoting the attractions of Taiwan to an international audience. Festival activities range from gentle family-friendly rides near major cities to the “Formosa 900” circuit. The latter is a multi-day expedition during which riders cover a total of 900 kilometers, experiencing different landscapes along the way.

Cycling is one of the best ways, for example, to see Sun Moon Lake, a perennially popular destination in the very center of Taiwan. In 2012, the CNN Travel website described the round-lake bike trail as one of the world’s top 10 “cycling routes that’ll take your breath away.”

Thanks to user-friendly bike trails and a range of bicycle-rental options (including electric vehicles), tourists can circumnavigate the lake in under three hours, if pressed for time. That said, spending an entire day enjoying the 30-kilometer-long-route is highly recommended. Visitors need not bring food, as delicious snacks can be bought at several places along the way. Water bottles can be refilled for free at information centers and other locations. In sunny weather, a full-sleeved top and a hat with a chin-strap are essential.

As part of the Taiwan Cycling Festival, each fall the lake hosts the “Come! Bikeday” carnival, during which members of the public can join rides of varying lengths. For details about registering and bike rentals, contact the Sun Moon Lake National Scenic Area Administration

The most exciting – and certainly the most difficult – Taiwan Cycling Festival events are the incredible KOM (“King of the Mountains”) races. Each race is a one-day, stand-alone dash from sea level to an altitude of 3,275 meters (slightly over two miles). The first 19 kilometers of the ride, which begins within sight of the Pacific Ocean at Qixingtan Scenic Area near Hualien City, is a neutral-controlled start. Cyclists then proceed north along the coast, before turning into Taroko National Park. The clock begins ticking when they enter Shakadang Tunnel. 

The route takes competitors up through the famously scenic Taroko Gorge. A short distance beyond this breathtaking geological feature, they pedal through Tianxiang. Reaching this tiny town (elevation: 480 meters) means riders have completed almost a third of the route’s 105 kilometers. In terms of climbing, however, they will have barely started.

After Shakadang Tunnel, the road climbs at an average slope of 8%. Far greater punishment awaits riders beyond Dayuling, which some claim has the highest tea farms in the entire world. The most brutal inclines – which come in the final 10 kilometers, when many riders are utterly exhausted – exceed 20%, with one stretch having a gradient of 27%. Tremendous strength and determination are needed to reach the finish line, which is so high that it sees snow most winters.

As the event’s reputation has spread, the number of international entries has grown from a mere 79 in 2012 to 488 last year. The 2020 Taiwan KOM Challenge, scheduled for October 30, will feature top-ranking cyclists from around the world, all hoping not just to win substantial cash prizes, but also to bask in the glory of being the reigning king or queen of the mountains.

The organizers’ official website has videos and articles in English and Chinese, alongside full registration details.

To find out more about the Taiwan Cycling Festival, visit the bilingual Taiwan Cycle Festival Portal. The website contains a wealth of useful information for cycling tourists, such as descriptions of routes and a list of designated “bicycle stations.” These locations – most are police stations – are places where cyclists can expect to receive assistance in the form of drinking water, use of a tire pump, plus directions and tourist information.

After researching bicycle trips through Taiwan’s mountains, you may well conclude that it is the mountains, rather than cycling, that appeals to you. As a tourist, you will have plenty of transportation options, including car and motorcycle hire, regular buses, the minibuses of the Taiwan Tourist Shuttle service, and one- and two-day tours offered by the Taiwan Tour Bus network.

If you arrive in Taiwan and decide you would, after all, like to ride a bicycle through Taroko Gorge, get in touch with one of the local tourism businesses. With a bit of planning, you can usually arrange to have yourself and a bicycle driven up to Tianxiang, from where you can enjoy a gravity-assisted ride through the gorge. 

Taiwan’s Tourism Bureau has declared 2020 the “Year of Mountain Tourism” and set up a dedicated website. To find out more about Taroko National Park, visit the website.

Elsewhere in the east, it is possible to enjoy delightful scenery without having to battle serious gradients. Cycling from Liyu Lake to Guangfu is around 45 kilometers, while Guangfu to the hot-springs town of Ruisui is less than 30 kilometers. The more ambitious can tackle Road 193 from the outskirts of Hualien City through the gorgeously unspoiled East Rift Valley, a distance of almost 90 kilometers.

If pedaling for fun and exercise has its appeal, but business or family commitments are keeping you close to Taipei, head for the riverside cycling trails that connect different parts of the capital and extend into neighboring New Taipei City. Shared bicycles can be rented from YouBike and returned at almost 200 different locations if you have a credit card (or an EasyCard linked to a local SIM card). If you prefer a different kind of bicycle, or a guided bike tour, reach out to one of Taipei’s private bike-rental outfits.

For all kinds of travel information about Taiwan, visit the Tourism Bureau’s website, or call the 24-hour tourist information hotline 0800-011-765 (toll free within Taiwan).

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