Soigneur Travel: Taiwan
Floating off the coast of China in the East China Sea lies an island with a name that is recognised by many, but shores that are travelled to by few. With a population of some 23 million and a land mass of just 36,193 square kilometres, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this tropical Isle is not a place for cycling, but rather a dense, working-class production hub.
Taiwan, or Isla Formosa (Beautiful Isle) as it was once known, is home to a staggering number of bicycle manufacturers, including Giant, Trek, Specialized, and Cannondale. Production and quality craftsmanship is what the country is known for; however, Taiwan is also home to some of the best cycling in the world, and it’s all but a stone’s throw from the capital city of Taipei in the country’s north.
Rich tropical forests, towering cliffs, and sky-high marble gorges line the entire east coast of Taiwan. The central spine (and by spine I honestly mean spine) is made up of 300 peaks in excess of 3,000m, topped out by Yushan, Taiwan’s highest alpine peak at 3,952m. Taiwan’s west coast is where the majority of the population resides and where the manufacturing takes place. As far as cycling goes, this is the one region that’s best to steer clear of, not because it’s dangerous, but rather because the rest of Taiwan has so much more to offer.
However, be warned…once you venture to Taiwan with a bike, your perception of what a riding paradise should and could be, will be changed forever. You won’t want to go home, nor will you want to say goodbye to the friendly people and the abundance of varied local cuisine. Taiwan is amazing. This is your first and only warning …
TIPS AND HOTSPOTS
Urban | Tapei
Riding in downtown Taipei isn’t recommended. Safety isn’t an issue—the people of Taiwan are as courteous as they come—but the density of the traffic makes for a rather ‘stop/start’ experience. Make your way south from Taipei towards Taoyuan City and the Dongyanshan National Forest, where the real riding begins. Jump on one of the many bike paths that follow the banks of the Tamsui River, and you’ll find that within 30-40 minutes you are far removed from the hustle and bustle of city life and ready to explore Taiwan’s mountainous spine.
Visit | Sun Moon Lake
Based in the foothills of Taiwan’s central mountain region, Sun Moon Lake is the largest body of water in Taiwan. Surrounded by impressive peaks and lush tropical forest, plenty of accommodation options are scattered along the shores. Depending on your riding ability and desires, you could spend a good three days exploring this region, taking in everything this amazing region has to offer. Small mountain roads, well-marked bike paths—the photo opportunities will have your camera begging for rest.
Ride | Taiwan Cycling Route No. 1
A brilliant option for touring cyclists, Taiwan’s Cycling Route No. 1 is a well-marked route that takes riders on a comprehensive lap of the entire country. Developed by the Taiwan Ministry of Transportation back in 2015, the 968-km route is straight forward, safe, and offers a brilliant snapshot of what Taiwan is all about.
Food | Variety
Where to begin …Taiwan’s culture is rich, and with influences from China, Japan and the multiple Asian countries that surround it, its culinary offerings are world-class. Be it in the heart of Taipei at a Michelin star restaurant, such as Din Tai Fung or high in the mountains at a road-side market vendor, food is one thing that won’t let you down. Think fresh ingredients, strong flavours and vibrant colours.
Visit | Yushan National Park
Situated further south than Sun Moon Lake, Yushan National Park is one of nine national parks in Taiwan and home to Taiwan’s highest mountain peak (Yushan, at 3,952m).Unfortunately you’re unable to cycle to the peak of Yushan, but fear not; there are various fantastic options for those hunting ‘vert’. It’s worth noting that you should keep a close eye on the weather, especially during the colder winter months when exploring the mountainous regions of Taiwan. The weather can close in quickly, as is the case in any alpine region, and the lack of real supplies near the tops of some of the higher peaks can mean that you need to be well prepared with warm clothing, food, and water.
Airport | Taiyuan International Airport
Taipei in Taiwan’s north is the capital city and home to the Taiyuan International Airport. With a number of international airlines flying to Taiwan daily, there’s no real difficulty in making your way into the country. Provided you’re not planning on staying in Taiwan for longer than 90 days, chances are you won’t need a visa. Taipei itself is as first-world as you can imagine. It’s home to huge architectural works of art, vibrant city streets, word-class restaurants, and shopping that will blow your mind.
Ride | Taroko National Park
Home to the highest road in Taiwan, the ‘Wuling Farm Pass’ or Taiwan KOM as it is better known, is a MUST ride location. Departing from Hualien on the east coast of Taiwan, you’re able to climb for close to 90km nonstop and reach altitudes of 3,400m along breathtaking mountain roads. As far as cycling hot spots go, this would be the number one recommendation for cyclists who are looking for a challenge. The top 10km of the climb top out with a 27% gradient, which, coupled with the altitude and the 80km of climbing already in the legs, makes conquering this peak an achievement for any cyclist. The town of Hualien itself is amazing and full of life, both day and night. Those looking for a real challenge may look to join the Taiwan KOM race that’s held every October, attracting the very best riders in the world. In years gone by, the likes of Nibali, Laurens ten Dam, Dan Evans, Emma Pooley and Lucy Kennedy have lined up with the goal of taking the honours and a healthy prize check.
Snacks | 7-Eleven
Truth be told, 7-Eleven is also home to fantastic food options, especially for the hungry cyclist. Scattered all throughout the country and in abundance within the cities, the 7-Eleven stores not only offer great re-fuel options, but are generally equipped with a bike pump, allen keys and emergency repair supplies to ensure you can get back on the road should something break.
In his quest to be ‘the most extreme cyclist on earth’ Jack Thompson often ventures to the mountains of Taiwan. These are some of his favourite rides on the island.
Easy | Sun Moon Lake Loop
This easy spin will take you the whole way round the turquoise waters of Sun Moon Lake.
Medium | Taiwan KOM Climb
Climbing Mount Hehuan is a real challenge, but most cyclists will be able to get up it. Save your legs for the last 10km!
Hard | Central Taiwan Mountain Adventure
A 1,500-km loop that takes you along Taiwan’s eastern coast and through its mountains, this is an excellent ultra-cycling adventure.