Great Bike Rides Of The World: Taiwan West Coast
As a cycle blogger and YouTube creator I get invited on a fair few trips, product launches and fun sounding excursions, not all of which I can go to as I live in the middle of nowhere and I have limited amounts of time left once I’ve got my training and writing out of the way. There are several things that I’m loathe to turn down, travel to places I’ve never been being a prime example yet over the last couple of years I’ve had to say no to trips to places such as Tanzania – pretty heartbreaking at the time!
When I received an invite to visit Taiwan and ride all the way around the island, I was so sure that I wasn’t going to be able to fit it in that I almost replied saying I couldn’t make it before I’d actually ready the date correctly. But after a proper read of the proposal and some backwards and forwards regarding the dates so that I could fly out later than the other participants, I found myself on a Cathy Pacific flight enjoying the luxury of business class on my way to Taipei.
Home of the bicycle industry
Taiwan is well known in the world of bicycles, firstly as it gave birth to the brand GIANT back in the eighties and subsequently due to the abundance of global brands that manufacture on the island. It’s perhaps less known for actually riding bikes, something that’s surely set to change. Taiwan are investing heavily in bike lanes around the island, have bike share programmes operating in Kaohsiung and Taichung and are hoping to get the word out about just how lovely cycling on this relatively small island can be.
I was in Taiwan to ride what’s known as the Formosa 900, a roughly 900km route that circles the whole island following Cycle Route Number 1. Though people had been riding around the island since long before, the route was first sign posted in 2015 and has since become a bucket list ride for many. I’d actually never heard of it myself.
The circular route is frequently tackled in 9 days, beginning with the flat, fast plains of the west before the terrain becomes more challenging on the wilder, hiller east coast. Taiwan is such a land of contrasts – the modern and traditional rubbing shoulders across all aspects of life and it’s really evident on Formosa 900.
Though the country is relatively small, the two sides of it are startlingly different. The west side of the island is quite developed with numerous long, straight roads through a mix of emerald green rice fields shining in the sun, buzzing cities besieged by scooters and industrial zones manufacturing goods for well known global bike brands (amongst others).
Beginning in Taipei, we were tackling the route in a counter-clockwise direction, pedalling in the region of 100km daily. Visiting in November, we planned to rise early to make the most of the day light – though it would be perfectly possible to ride our daily 100km in a few hours, our aim was to stop frequently to visit temples and ice cream shops and spend plenty of time just drinking in the landscape.
We were a very mixed group comprising ex-racers, bike shop employees, students, bloggers and even first time cyclists so our many stops were necessary so that we could regroup.
Despite having my reservations about it when I’d been sent a link, I’d opted to ride a Pacific Cycles T20 folding bike, quite simply because everyone else was and I thought it would be more fun to enter into the spirit of things and ride the same bike.
As I’d travelled out later due to work commitments, I met my fellow riders and my bike for the first time at a restaurant a day and a half into the route. After switching out the saddle for a Brooks C15 All-Weather jobby and fitting my clipless pedals, I hopped on fresh from the plane.
I say ‘fresh’ but actually I fairly spaced out – I just couldn’t resist the chance to get pedalling without further delay. I tucked in behind Peter, a tall Australian and enjoyed whizzing along at 37km p/h on my surprisingly high performing folding bike .
As we thundered our way down the west coast, I enjoyed the speed the flat roads allowed and settled into an easy rhythm. Outside of the towns and their traffic lights, the riding felt effortless as we gazed at rice fields.
As a break from the highways we took a spin through countryside lanes to visit a village painted with cartoons of Totoro and Hello Kitty and the Ban Tao Yao Clay Crafts Centre.
One of my favourite days on the west coast took us from Kaohsiung to Checheng, enjoyable for its superb bikelanes out of the city followed by the Donggang Dapengwan Bike Pathway, a huge bridge offering far reaching views on of Dapeng Bay, an attractive lagoon popular for fishing, sailing and picnicking.
In my video below I ride the west coast and first half of Formosa 900.
Check it out and be sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel so that you know when part 2 is posted – it’s totally free. Oh, and check back here over the next few weeks for Tips On Cycling in Taiwan, Formosa 900 Route Information and stories from riding the east coast of Taiwan, the more verdant, more mountainous and more beautiful side of the island.