body{background-attachment: fixed ! important; }

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Clobbering the Cobbles

The Spring Classics

It is the first of March today and that could only mean one thing... the Spring Classics are upon us. Forget the Tour de France and the Giro, these northern one-day races over bruising cobbles are my favorites to follow. So much can go so wrong so quickly.

The Schedule Goes:

Jeff Jones (no relation to the actor) has a great piece in the Cycling News on the new gear Carlos Sastre and the Cervelo Test Team will be riding to tame the hours of uneven pave. From Q Rings to aero frames, modified rigs and added padding so these bikes can handle some heavy abuse. Wheels and steerers are the usual points of failure in these races. The most underrated, and obvious change Cervelo is making this season is for wider tires. I think tires and tire pressure are so misunderstood that it is worth a look. Jones quotes Cervelo team mechanic, Gerard Vroomen in his report who says:

"In general, I think everybody should be riding wider tyres all the time but especially on a race like this weekend or Flanders, a Pavé is really overkill. So I think the 25mm Evo CX is really the way to go."

What does this have to do with me?

When I first thought about riding in Taiwan my first thought was a Roubaix style bike, longer stays and relaxed geometry. I probably went overkill, but some of the back roads are pretty gnarly and some Paris-Roubaix teams use modified cyclocross frames. I run 25mm tires on the road and sometimes go up to 30-35mm. There is really not a lot of difference in speed. Only the knobbies seem to drag a little. I think Vroomen makes a great point in stating that:


Basically, fatter is not necessarily slower and comfort can translate into speed. A higher psi is no guarantee for increased speed and performance. Stiffness is not always the answer.

The whole article is worth a read. Just click the link blue text or the link to Cycling News.

A common cycling route in Taiping, Taichung County

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Bicycle and National Identity

Here's is a great little video of one person's Top Ten Cyclists. Some of the footage is truly amazing and inspiring. You can really get a sense of the grit it takes to even compete at this level. Only after you've hammered for a day on a bike can you fully appreciate the heroics these guys have accomplished. Look for the Lance snub.

The Bicycle and National Identity

With the Tour de Taiwan scheduled to begin on March 14, I think it is really amazing how cycling has become a significant part of Taiwan's national identity. People love to turn out and watch.

As most people know, Giant is the world's leading producer of bicycle frames and related products, but it is not the only major player in Taiwan. Several large companies work in close cooperation with smaller subcontractors that produce much of the equipment that makes its way into the professional peloton. Despite what many folks are led to believe, Taiwanese companies do not simply supply the labor to produce foreign designs, but rather conduct much of the initial R&D. The now ubiquitous compact geometry was first developed by Giant to fit more people over fewer frame sizes. This close and cooperative relationship between the OEM, subcontractor and foreign customer has allowed the bicycle industry to seep from the centralized factory compound deep into the township economy. Initially this phenomenon went against the Leninist sensibilities of the KMT during its years of political monopoly. U.S. pressure helped break the state's stranglehold on large industries and allow for small companies to grow and expand.

Taiwan's particular historical trajectory resulted in Taiwan developing the unique economic and industrial relationships between the center and the periphery. Following WWII when most Taiwanese were excluded from participating at the center of political, cultural life and state driven economic enterprise, those who owned land and could rely on extended family for labor, could deploy these resources to establish small to medium sized enterprises. It was not uncommon for young men and women of the era to have received some industrial and vocational training under the Japanese. These small to medium sized enterprises often took advantage of guanxi networks to build the foundations of an industry. For example, at one time, almost the entire township of Caotun was in some way involved in the umbrella manufacturing industry. Homei did textiles and the township of Chingshui once produced hats for the Japanese where the skilled weavers later went on to sew tennis racquets and other sporting goods... including footwear and later parts for bicycles. Piece work was a common way to enter an industry and involve the entire family in the process. From this period the Taiwanese bicycle industry really took root.

The Taiwanese consciousness of their global role as the producers of the world's finest bicycles was partially driven by politics as many political actors sought to strengthen a Taiwan centered identity which has existed for at least 100 years, but an identity which has been assailed by competing ideologies since its inception. Despite the politicization of the bicycle in Taiwan, the image has been widely accepted as a meme of both the Taiwanese identity and Taiwanese pride. It is not uncommon to see politicians ride bicycles or pictured along side bicycles to appeal to the Taiwanese national identity which is shared by approximately 80% of the population (Often those who do not support the Taiwanese identity by deed are the first to appeal to it).

This conflation of the bicycle into the Taiwanese identity often manifests itself on the road where ordinary folks take an interest in a group of passing cyclists. I get spontaneous waves and smiles from random strangers when I am on the road. Children root and cheer. I have had complete strangers hand me food and drinks. In the U.S. the only time you get a drink is when someone shouts "faggot!" and throws a Big Gulp at you from the window of a pick-up. In Taiwan, people like to admire a nice bike and they can usually tell if it is good or not.

Still, I always get the same question... "Is it a Giant?"

Sachs and Pr0n!!!

Ahh bike porn at NAHBS (North American Handmade Bike Show).

I love seeing what the craft bike makers are doing. Black Sheep, Vanilla, Richard Sachs...

Packin' Pistola

Cycling has become a part of the local landscape

For the past few months my good friend Michael C. (also friend of cyclists Michael T from The View From Taiwan., Michael F., and Michael K.) has been sorely disappointed with his current bike, a Giant hybrid, and has been plotting and negotiating with the missus to get a new bike that actually fits his riding style and suits his goals for his future as a cycling enthusiast. I have been doing my best to give him some help (or not) in finding something that he would really want and like to ride and that fits his size and power. I have to admit, I have been playing a bit of devil's advocate to help clear away the clouds of marketing to look at the fundamentals of the bikes... and at times I am sure I have been a bit of a jerk about it, but when you've watched your friend agonize over having the wrong bike, you hope he gets it right the next time. It is like watching a friend date a girl who is bad for him. So for some time I have been pouring over geometries, discussing materials and components, looking at after sale service and warrantees, and lots and lots of customer reviews. I have been looking for the potential problems. But when it comes down to it... you just need to get out and ride the friggin' bikes. Even if you don't want to buy them, the more you ride the more you can tell the difference between them.

The Salsa Pistola tester

Today Michael C. took the day to test out the steel Pistola from Salsa Cycles. Just because I own a Salsa does not mean I wasn't critical of it. The Pistola is kind of a neat bike in that it is a modern road bike with compact geometry, but it is made with True Temper OX Platinum alloyed steel, which is a composite of chromium, molybdenum and vanadium for a lightweight steel tubing that retains its rigidity. It is really an excellent frame material, but steel has lost out in recent years to cheap aluminum frames and carbon fiber. Still, steel makes an excellent frame that can take some real punishment. The tester was supplied by Tom at Famous Cycles in Taichung and it was speced out with SRAM Rival, another great groupset. SRAM has been a real innovator in the past few years and I gotta say, as a Shimano man, I am a bit jealous.

With a bike to put through its paces Michael C., Michael T. and I decided to hit the pavement and punish the bike in real world conditions. A lot of shops don't let customers ride before they buy. Giant shops often don't let customers take a bike out of the store unless it is paid for. A terrible way to buy a bike. We are really grateful to Tom for allowing a full road test.

Michael tests the bike on a standing climb

We took off from Feng yuan in Taichung County and followed the Highway 3 past the reservoir. The first part of the trip took us over the rolling hills between Taichung and Miao li counties.

A group of Taiwanese cyclists brave the risk of falling out of fashion
by participating in last season's fad: cycling

A few clicks past the reservoir we turned onto the Miao li County Rd. 130. The 130 is a pretty rough hill climb that scales a (770m) 2500ft. mountain and descends into San yi. It is a beautiful road that really let Michael C. put the climbing abilities of the Pistola to the test. He tested for excessive flex, comfort and climbing chops.

A peloton of Michaels

We stopped at an expensive Hakka restaurant called the Mile High. They served fat. Really! We ate a bowl of fat with some traces of meat in it. As an athlete it is really hard to deliberately eat fat. I have been conditioned against it.

The view from the 130

We continued to the top where the views are spectacular and, like most roadside scenic views in Taiwan, the hill top was canvassed in carts selling coffee and sweet sausages. I have been told by an area local that the rice sausage they sell at the top has been bleached to make it look fresh.

Michael T. and Michael C. crest the last hill

The back side of the hill is a great, high speed descent with tight turns and switchbacks. Michael flew down the hill and cut into the turns. The Pistola was extremely stable in this regard.

Stressing the frame on a steady climb

We took the left at the bottom of the hill that leads to the "Broken Bridge". As I was flying down the road at 27mph. my derailleur cable snapped and I was stuck on the 12 tooth cog. This made the entire ride to Feng Yuan feel like another hill climb.

Michael on the Pistola

We finally made it to a Giant shop and chatted with some old men, exchanging routes and biking info while they fixed my cable.

Michael finished his tester of the Pistola with a generally positive review of the frame. It was stiff enough for climbing, yet forgiving in that it could easily be used for century rides without getting beaten up. It descended with confidence and felt solid, like a steel bike should.

The fit wasn't quite right and so he felt he was reaching for the levers and the biggest problem he had was with the Salsa Short and Shallow ergo bars. Some people like them others hate them... he was a hater. He could have used a different seat. The Mavic Askium Race wheels, which we all expected to be a bigger problem, were not that bad, but a serious rider would probably want to upgrade. The SRAM gruppo was tight and responsive. The hoods were comfy and the brakes worked very well. So the review was mixed. I am not sure if he will go with this bike or not, but it would be a great bike for a person looking for a durable, distance bike or a person who likes the feel of steel. I would say if you are considering a Specialized Roubaix and want or prefer a tough steel frame, the Pistola is worth a look. With the right fit this is a real stand out. Oh! It is manufactured, I believe, but don't quote me, by Maxway in Da jia, which is known for its high quality steel welds. I have to admit to a twinge of jealousy.

If you really dig this picture I have a set of replica samurai swords to sell you.
The view on the way home.

Night Rider

Since I have been discussing safety I thought I should post something about the dumbest, most dangerous ride I do. It is also my favorite.

Like most people I don't have enough time in my life to ride. The cycling understatement of the year. SO I need to get saddle time where I can find it.

Two or three nights a week I do my evening hill loop. It is a 14mi. (22.5km.) loop from Taichung City to the Tunghai market and back. I started doing this during the summer because it was cooler and I could better exert myself without worrying about offending my coworkers with anything worse that my humor.

The loop starts out in Nantun and I take Wu Chuan W. Rd. all the way to the Circle K on the hill by the industrial park. From there I cut right and take the Gong Ye #22 Rd. to Gong Ye 1st Rd. It makes a nice, steady climb to the back door of the Tunghai Market. I cut through the market and dodge people and traffic, before I cross Chung Gang Rd. to the International Street. I hammer my way to the top and then come down the hill at 40mph (64kph) to Xitun Rd. Xi tun is packed with traffic and it is a battle all the way through. I take it as fast as I can go before I join up with Wen xin Rd. and sprint home. On Wen xin I can usually reach speeds between 30 to 35mph (48-56kph). I also do this listening to an ipod. Eh! Sometimes while climbing as fast as I can, a little Steve Perry makes all the difference. So... yeah! Stupid, dangerous and a lot of fun. So far it takes 43min. to complete. Still, I don't take unnecessary chances. If I don't beat my time I don't beat my time.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Wish You All Safe Riding

I heard from a friend in Taipei that he and another rider were out when a cat ran out in front of them and the other rider went over the bars. The poor guy was taken away in an ambulance and last I heard was awaiting surgery on a broken wrist and other fractures. The guy will be off the bike for some time, which, as any cyclist knows, makes the pain hurt all the more. When we take on cycling as a part of our identities we become members of a much larger community. Although I have never met the injured cyclist, I feel for him and wish him all the best and a quick recovery. That just sucks!

Anyone who has spent more than a little transit time in the Taipei-Taoyuan International Airport will know that Taiwan's traffic pretty much sucks. Every driver on the road drives like a complete selfish asshole with no exceptions... they are guilty by default. When I drive I am probably an asshole too. It is a fact of life here.
Taiwan has one of the world's highest vehicle mortality rates in the world, possibly the highest, with double the number of traffic related deaths than in the United States. Between 50% and 80% of all accidents are motor vehicle related depending on the year (Selya, 2004).

"What is especially disturbing about accidents in Taiwan is that common sense policies and practices if but implemented could lead to a radical decrease in in both the number of accidents and the accident related mortality."-- Roger Mark Selya

I recently read through the entire driving manuel and it can be divided by category in descending order based on the question frequency as follows:

a) Easy Common Sense (Example: You should obey the traffic laws.)

b) Social Morality ( Example: If you are in a hurry you should not honk and yell at other drivers.)

c) Morality for Truck and Taxi Drivers (Example: If you hear passengers discussing a drug deal you should show love for your country and take them to a police station.)

d) Punishment and Fines (Example: Talking on the Handy Cell Phone when driving is a NT3000 fine.)

e) Safety (Example: You should stop at a stop light.)

I am often under the impression that the entire driver's education program is really not designed to promote good, safe driving, but rather to get students to pass the examination. There is an entire industry related to this and the approach is the same for any examination in Taiwan. Cram cram cram. I have run into cases where the police didn't even know the traffic laws and it cost me NT2000.

As cyclists, we are used to being low on the food chain and must adapt to survive. A few things I do to stay alive on the road:

1) Ride on the far left of the right lane. You can be seen by drivers and when they DO (and they will) blindly speed out of side streets. You also have room to move to the median between lanes.

2) If the light is green and has been green for some time... do not assume it is safe to continue through the intersection without slowing down. I have a regular descent I take at 40mph (64kph) and there is an intersection near the bottom. There are several times I would have been killed if I had gone through at full speed. Even though it takes away from the ride, I'd rather slow and crank back up to speed than die.

3) Assume everyone on the road will do the dumbest thing possible at any given time. Oh what I've seen....

4) Ride like you belong in the road. People often treat you just like a scooter (maybe a little better) and so they have no problem cutting you off or passing inches from you without realizing the danger. If you ride like you belong there you can negotiate a little more space.

5) When stopping at a red light, slow down, check your rear and stop in the scooter box at the front of the stop. In Taiwan people like to catch yellow lights... after they've turned red and often speed up to the intersection and can't always stop or assume you are going to run it too. Cars also use the opportunity to take fast right turns. before the traffic starts. I've seen a few rear-enders form this.

6) Be careful running "safe" red lights. I know lots of cyclists like to blow through lights if it seems safe because winding back up all the time can take a lot out of you. It is just that there are a lot of surprises and I know a few people who have gotten clipped doing this. Just... careful doing it.

7) Keep an eye on the betel nut stands... dangerous for the obvious reason, but also watch for drivers who just got their fix and are preoccupied with their craw full of betel.

8) Give busses the right of way. They will often quickly swing right if they see a passenger. I was forced into a parked car when a bus came from behind and swung right.

9) Be careful who you yell at. Since most cyclists don't have a horn (If you do send me pics.) The voice becomes the best tool to warn people or ... ahem!... let them know they've just done something stupidly dangerous and potentially life threatening. Still, taxi drivers are going to drive like that and nobody is going to stop them. They have radios and a dozen friends with metal pipes and bats under their seats... all at a moment's notice. Don't piss 'em off.

10) Unless you are a novice or slow cyclist, avoid bike trails and markets. Just don't go there.

And sometimes there is nothing you can do, like when a cat jumps out of the bushes.
I would just like to wish everyone safe cycling.

Get well soon Lucas! I don't even know you, but I understand.

1) Selya, Roger Marc.2004.Development and Demographic Change in Taiwan 1945-1995., p.p. 256-257.London. World Scientific Publishing Co. Ltd.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Shimano Di2 Kills Ridgemont!

With the debut last year of Shimano's new Dura Ace Di2 electronic shifting system, it seems cyclists have stepped back to watch the latest schoolyard fight between industry giants. The technology has been around for 20 years, but only recently had the technology allowed a viable product to reach the market. In the past few years we've seen incremental changes in shifting technology: Rather than making the 10 cog cassette better, Campy jacked it up to 11 and SRAM has received raves for its double tap system for customized efficient shifting.

With the Di2, Shimano took the "solution in search of a problem" approach and they did it in spades. When it was first introduced the skeptics gathered round to wait for the first mis-shift or chain slip. When that didn't happen they then surmised that once the dust settled from the announcement, it would short out the system. That didn't happen either. As more professionals have been given the Di2 the more Shimano has proven the strength of the technology with clean, crisp, accurate and reliable shifting. The Di2 system has even made it into the cyclocross scene where it performed flawlessly while caked in mud as documented by the Velonews article below.

Even the "connoisseur" cyclist has to choke on his vomit and admit that the system seems to be working and working well. I had the opportunity to try it on a Colnago C50 a couple months back and the chain immediately shifted from cog to cog. Efficient.


With the technology proving itself in the field, the issue ... ahem... shifts from purely an issue of technology into the realm of cycling philosophy. Sure, there will still be those who will live or die with Campy for its Italian pedigree or hate Shimano for its lack of rebuildability or its ubiquitousness. But I imagine both Campagnolo and SRAM have a similar system in the works and eventually the technology will trickle down to the lower gruppos and electronic shifting will be the next STI lever.

The professionals don't really have room to choose and will race whatever their sponsors tell them to race and it will trickle down to all the wannabe professionals, poseurs, wannabes, those racing out from inside a mid-life crisis... basically anyone who wants to have what the pros use regardless and have the money to buy it.

For those of us who have a choice, the philosophy of what cycling means becomes an integral part of the equation.

Is cycling simply about physical performance on a bike? Does it matter how we ride as long as the legs are pumping at the pedals or does the joy of cycling come from learning the skill to pull off smooth and effective shifts in different situations under strain and exhausted. Is there anything to the skill of tuning and knowing one's bike? Is there something about being fully involved that adds to the experience? I keep thinking of the opening sequence of the classic documentary, A Sunday In Hell and how much care the cyclist puts into his steed. He knows every inch of the bike and cared for it like a soldier cares for his rifle.

Is this like the difference between manual and automatic cars (I know you still choose when to shift on Di2)? I like manual because I feel like I am "driving" the car, but manual allows me to worry less in city situations and starting at a stoplight on a wet hill. Does the Di2 take anything away from the riding experience that will make all bikes feel like they operate the same?

I just don't know.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Weather or Not to Ride

After 5 days of Lunar New Year rain wind and cold, the weather breaks just in time for the regular work week to start. May we only get rainfall on recovery days. I can do the cold, but the rain I avoid.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Cycling Interest Rate Drops

According to this link below the recent bicycle fad in Taiwan has passed and sales are dropping back down to normal levels.

Not long after the spike in fuel prices in 2008 cycling joined egg tarts and hoola-hoops as another Taiwanese fad. Since Taiwan is the world's largest producer of bicycles it brought an added public awareness of cycling as recreation and as a sport.

In a prestige culture, such as Taiwan's , cycling embodies the image of affluence, foreign knowledge and leisure. It embodies the value of technically advanced equipment and a smart looking kit. Cycling, if done right, looks clean, sleek and graceful and has its "Top Guns". Unlike current Taiwanese values, cycling involves hard, physical work and outdoor training to become a strong rider. Many Taiwanese do not value physical exercise and it is not promoted as a worthwhile past time for children when they could be in cram school or learning an instrument. Exposure to direct sunlight is discouraged and brown skin is still regarded as "ugly".

This is not surprising as traditional Han cultures have equated strong, muscular physiques and brown skin with degradation and barbarism.

Many of the Qing era records of frontier peoples fixate on the athletic and muscular physiologies of their object. Frontier gazette paintings would often exaggerate the body types of indigenous peoples in contrast to the more "refined" Han. This imaging is still in use today, valid or not in the process of "othering" the Aborigines in Taiwan. Despite the high value Taiwanese put on science and mathematics there is still a tendency to project folk beliefs into understanding human physiology. One traditional belief is that skin color was a direct corollary to the purity of food and thus influenced the character of the person. The enlightened or degraded properties of a person could be determined by their diet and location. Location, of course, meant proximity to the Emperor. This helped to explain the "savagery" of the frontier. These folk beliefs were later incorporated into Sun Yat-sen ideology and largely contributed to the racialism at the core of contemporary Chinese nationalism.

To bring this back into the frame of cycling:

It is not uncommon to ride past indigenous villages where the people are represented by statues depicting "braves" in traditional dress, rippling with muscles like action figures, hunting or holding their traditional knives. These images only serve to reinforce the otherness of the Aborigine and create distance from non-Aborigines and affirm their need to be tamed by the Sunism of the R.O.C.

I guess I am probably straining to relate these ideas together, but I do think cycling as a popular activity in Taiwan highlights several conflicting values in contemporary Taiwanese cultural life and some of the anxieties of cultural change in Taiwan.

Still, an expensive carbon frame becomes a Rolex, BMW or Apple computer; a demonstration of mobility.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

To Gu Guan and Beyond... (just barely) :

On Saturday Michael and I took the opportunity between the days of drizzle to explore the mythical Central Passage, a rumored short cut to the base of Li Shan along the dirt track formerly known as the Central Cross Island Highway. According to some sources, the route is passable with dirt tires despite the continued construction and frequent avalanches. It sounded a bit dangerous and perfect for some high adventure.

I had taken the Central Cross in about 2000 on a motorcycle after they had cleared it following the great 921 earthquake in 1999. At that time the road was terrible. There were long tunnels filled with deep potholes and debris. I arrived in Hua Lien in 8 hours unable to sleep with visions of "road" in my head.

The road was later buried again in subsequent earthquakes and storms, but it seemed passable by light vehicle. I guess not. The danger of avalanche is currently too great to allow bicycles to pass through.

On this particular trip we left Tanzi and followed the Highway 3 to Dong Shih. Several of the buildings in Dong Shih were built following the 921 quake. I still have vivid memories of the town just days after the quake when over 500 residents lost their lives. Every time I pass through the memories come back. In Dong Shih we connected the to Highway 8 and headed East.

The Highway 8 is a four lane road with very little in the way of a shoulder, so at times the traffic can be a little annoying. Some assholes really don't know how close to pass a cyclist, some don't care, and some delight in seeing how close they can get.

The scenery of the Da Jia river valley is gorgeous. Most of the road is quite smooth. We saw a half dozen pace lines go by at high speeds. Cycling clubs seem to enjoy fast group rides down the river valley due to the slight grade which allows even the novice to reach impressive speeds. I never did see any groups going up river.

There are a few places to eat and hydrate along the way. Lots of sweet sausage stands.

I strapped on a new set of knobbies for the trip and didn't get to use them. It was such a shame too, considering how baddass they make a bike look.

We eventually arrived at Gu Guan after about 2.5 hours or so. Gu Guan is a little like a Kenting in the mountains. Taiwanese like to come here for romantic trysts at the hotels with natural hot spring water piped into the rooms. Going out for a hot spring just sounds better than going to a motel. Funny how nobody has trouble telling friends and coworkers about going to the hot spring, but they would never announce going to a motel for some "wham bam".

After dodging tourists in Gu Guan we wound up the virtually abandoned road to a check point. The betelnut eater at the checkpoint told us there was no possibility of entering the area so we turned tail in retreat. All in all it was a great ride. From my house in Taichung City to Gu Guan and back, it was about 75-80 miles total. Our maximum elevation was slightly under 3000ft. A lot of fun.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Conti Buy Me Love

I just need to take a moment to express my love for the Continental 4000 Grand prix. I have been using these 25c Contis as my primary road tire for two years and they still haven't worn through. They are sticky in corners. They hold in the wet. They roll like the beejeebus. They rock like the Magi-Kist. In theory, an aluminum frame is supposed to be "harsh" and pick up "road noise" or whatever the big bike companies would like to sell you with a $4000 carbon frame. The proper wheels with properly inflated tires can tune the feel of most bikes for maximum comfort.

Although I could max out my Contis at 120psi, I usually opt for 90-100psi front and 100-110 rear in dry conditions. There have been days when I haven't followed my own rule and pumped up to the max... resulting in a jarring ride and back ache. Many riders worry about "road resistance" and the feeling is that maxed out tires will ride faster because there will be less contact with the road. Actually this doesn't matter as much as the ability to maintain a constant speed over the full spectrum of normal road riding.

These Contis rock!!!

Friday, February 19, 2010

SiMa XianShan (100 Miles of Pain)

SiMa XianShan

The hardest single hill climb I have ever done was this route up the Da An River. I had been thinking about this trip for a while as it is one of my favorite places in Taiwan. Just outside of Juolan in central Taiwan there is a road that parallels the Da An River. It is a gorgeous ride up into some Atayal villages.
The first time I went up there I was looking for the route a group of Pazih (Pazeh) speaking people used to cross into the Puli basin in the 19th Century. One of my 96 year-old Pazih contacts recalled the story of how her great grandfather packed up the family from near the Nei She area below the Long Teng Broken Bridge to join other Pazih speakers in Ailan. Some of the family remained in the area and have since forgotten their Pazih ancestry and have become "Ex-Aborigines". My Pazih friend knew her family had hiked into Puli, but didn't know from where. I figured the Da An river was a good candidate for the route out of Juolan.

Up the Da An river there are a handful of villages primarily inhabited by Atayal speakers. The mountains rise up right out of the river and the sense of "wow!" can quickly overtake you. You can pass Elephant Nose village and go on to the bridge under Sky Dog village. What might not be apparent is that you are sitting right in the line of fire of Japanese light artillery.

During the first 40 years of the Japanese colonial period in Taiwan (1895-1935), the Japanese administration set out to "pacify and subdue" the highland indigenes who inhabited the mountains of
central Taiwan. Much of the impetus for this was colonial in nature, in the repetitive cycle of the government continually seeking to exploit the resources the indigenous people seek to retain. We are seeing this phenomenon again in the aftermath of Typhoon Morikot as the Ma administration seeks to remove indigenous peoples from their current homes and move them into new homes outside their traditional and commercially viable locations.

After several years of combat the Japanese succeeded in installing several artillery pieces on several strategic mountainsides to better control the indigenous peoples. From the installation on the mountain above, the Japanese had control over the three valleys below. The remains of the base are not entirely visible at first, but if you inspect the site a little more the trench works, barracks, and gun emplacements come into view. It wasn't quite The Guns of Navarone, but it is easy to imagine the area as a military outpost on a colonial frontier.

When I did this ride I arrived at the base of SiMa XianShan and started my climb. The road keeps rising up with some serious sections of steep ascents. There are a few mellow areas where you can catch your legs, but then the road takes off again. Sky Dog (Tian Gou) village makes a good place to hydrate. They seem to be trying to turn it into a tourist village, but there is still a lot to do. It was a rough, rough climb. I finally got to the top to find a bunch of mountain bike riders playing on the trails. They had all driven up the back side in cars. Bastards! I chatted them up for a while until the idea to continue up hill another 300 meters to the Japanese base. It would have made for great pictures, but I wanted to start my descent.

For this ride I put on my 32c fast dirty tires because the roads had been washed out on prior trips. The descent goes alog a cliffside road through tall cedars before going back to the jungle. The road is a little slick with light debris over the pavement and some steep descents where the braking gets technical. The rule of thumb is to stay right at every intersection if it is unmarked. It will spit you out into Dahu. The climb takes you 1640ft. from the river to the peak.

I hit the Highway 3 home, but I forgot about all the long, rolling hills on the way back. I rode embarrassingly slow as I lost time and hours of daylight. At the top of the hill over Juolan I took the LiYu Tan Rd. over the south side of the reservoir. I love this road, but I was too beat to enjoy it. I finally limped back to Feng Yuan on the 13, which has one last annoying hill at the end. It took me way too long, but not a bad ride at all.

Bike route 497684 - powered by Bikemap 

Hill Century

Taichung-Guoxing-Puli-Sun Moon Lake and Home.

One fantastic route through the foothills of central Taiwan starts in Taichung. The #129 starts you off with a wake up hill climb up the "Death Spiral", a curving narrow road that rapidly snakes up 200 meters from the base to peak. From the top you can spin out the acids on the flat XieZhong Rd. to the Fengpu Industry Rd. I would suggest loading up on liquids and food at one of the 7-11 stores here. There isn't much to eat or drink until Puli or Guoxing if you are lucky to pass through on a busy day. This is a real relaxing back way through valleys and descents to the base of Highway 21.

The 21 starts as a nice even climb along a wide, smooth road along a shady set of switchbacks up the mountain. It is not too hard to get some speed through the middle sections before a long, straight climb to the 3000ft. peak. There are no switchbacks for relief. Luckily there is a store with water
and toilet at the top. The descent into Guoxing is a fast set of switchbacks on good roads. This is one of the only places I wish I had a better descending bike. The curves are delicious and there are several opportunities to break well past 30mph (48kph). There is a betel nut stand at the bottom of the descent where you can get water.
From Guoxing you can go straight on the Highway 14 all the way out to Caotun or stick with the Highway 21. The 21 takes you up a moderate ascent and then into a long, flat valley past the old bridge that was entirely held together with sugar paste. I kid you not. The joy ride ends at the base of another tough climb. Maybe it is not that tough. I don't know. It was really hot when I did it and wasn't carrying enough water or food. The hill is about 1000ft. from lowest to highest point and levels off in flat, red farmland. You can wind up a lot of speed before a very fast descent into Puli city.

The Highway 21 just goes right through Puli City out to Sun Moon Lake. I hate Sun Moon Lake. It is an eyesore with over development. So after a long 200 meter climb out of Puli I just took the Local 131 out to Shui li. This is a fantastic road after all that climbing. It just seems to go down. There are a couple little rollers in there, but it just makes adding kilometers easy. Shui li is a great place to fuel up, hydrate and then beat the Highway 16 to the Highway 3 for the long haul through Nantou, Caotun, Wufeng, Dali and into Taichung. 100 hilly miles never felt so good.

Bike route 497702 - powered by Bikemap 

Mapping 5 Centuries

Digging Out

After 5 days of virtually non-stop rain, the sun is out and the roads are ridable.

January Cycling: 5 Centuries in 14 Days

January Cycling: 5 Centuries in 14 Days

The first weekend of January passed uneventfully. I thought I didn't have anything going on.
Then I got it in my fool head to do 5 century rides before the month was out.

My good friend Michael started out as a casual cyclist a year ago with new Carrefour specials for the whole family. Then the bug hit. As everyone who rides regularly knows, when the bug bites... it bites hard. He was soon putting a few kilometers together at a time, huffing and puffing about how he'd never make 20 miles. 20 miles came and went. Before his first anniversary in the saddle was through he was ready for his first century. Michael is 46 years young and... got a little heavy for a the amount of dedication he has exhibited is inspiring to all. He has trimmed up and is a lesson for anyone sitting on the fence. Most people lack the courage to get started and so I am very proud of Michael and I gladly volunteered to accompany him for his first 100 miler. Numbers are just numbers, but somehow 100 anything is worthy of a little extra attention. It is the welcome mat to the triple digit club. From there on out 100 can easily become 200 and then you simply get bogged down into the physical limitations of the human body and the dangers of riding in the dark.

Century 1:

My first century for January was a warm up for Michael's the following week. I wanted to make sure he could do 75 miles to best pace his endurance and calorie intake. The additional distance to and from my house made it over 100 miles.

We Took off up the Highway 3 through Feng Yuan and into the foothills of Miaoli County. We passed through the strawberry chaos of Dahu and took the Highway 6 and a couple other roads to Tongluo and down through Tongxiao, Dajia and then someone had the wonderful suggestion to climb the back side of the hill before Chingshui. We then hit the most dangerous stretch of roadway in Taiwan: The bike path. Bike paths are a swarm of slow moving, weaving amateur cyclists who make it a shooting gallery for anyone riding straight. I then took a creative way home to round out the 100 miles.

Century 2:
The second century was done with Michael from Taichung along the nasty Highway 1 to
the #145 across the Great Xiluo Bridge. We took in some calories at a Breakfast place and then stayed on the 145 to the Highway 19 past Tuku. That area is a fascinating area to pass through as many of the
people are relatively recent converts from being Plains Aborigines. I often look at grave markers on my rides to get a sense of the ethnic composition in the area. A little roadside ethnology to keep the ride interesting. If you check many of the graves down past Tuku, you will notice the place of origin is often local. It is common to find the ancestral home being "Deer Field" or the name of the locality.

We stayed on the 19 until getting a little lost near Madou as we tried to take a short cut. We finally rolled into Tainan before sundown. I powered into Tainan at about 30mph in an adrenaline fueled flat sprint across the final bridge. We finally found some kind of flop house near the train station where I was attacked by mosquitoes all night and we fueled up for the next day.

Century 3:
The next day our distance was uncertain. The plan was pretty much to go as far as we could and then take the train out from there. We were both on one gear easier than the day before, but felt pretty good. We managed to make good time all the way up to Chia yi. We ate at the only restaurant in Chia yi that doesn't sell Ji Rou Fan. It was just after leaving that place that I tweaked my knee and continued on in pain. I would ride out ahead and michael just thundered along at a good pace. We were getting close enough to home that we both thought we could make it back to Taichung... at some point. I gritted it out and we rolled along into Wufeng at sundown. We finally parted ways after 7:00pm having done back to back centuries.

Century 4:
I decided that since I had done two centuries in two days, I could easily pull off two more before the month was out. I also had a day off coming up. I decided to head back through Nantou and Mingjian, Zhushan and into Douliu. From there I had a rough idea of where to go and quickly got lost going through Huwei. I kept second guessing myself and ended up heading through Tuku. For the first time in Taiwan I was totally turned around and had no idea which way was North. I asked a gas station attendant... and he had no idea. I asked a 7-11 clerk and she hadn't a clue. In Taiwan people have no abstract clue of directions. Seriously. Nobody really knows where in the hell they are. I finally figured it out and went back to Huwei and up to Xiluo along the 145. I had originally hoped to take the Highway 19, but nobody could confirm where it was or that it was actually quite close, so I went back to an old road I had been getting quite bored with and made it to Xiluo where I meandered home against the wind and still feeling a growing pain in my knee. It sucked, really.

Century 5:
I had one more to go and my knee had been bothering be for a couple days, but on two days rest I decided to see how a final century up toward Miaoli would work out. Michael joined me for the first 30 miles and then turned back. The pain in my knee was just a dull ache. I decided to grit it out and just go for it. It was only 14 days since the first century and I figured if I could do it it would be baddass and if not I would call Michael for help. I took the Highway 3 all the way to the #126 near the Ming De Reservoir. The rolling hills didn't seem to aggravate my knee anymore than regular riding. I actually felt stronger despite the knee pain. The Ming De Reservoir is a great ride. I got into the monochrome colored city of Miaoli and since I forgot how to get to the Highway 1 through an easier route I took the 13 all the way up the big hill to the 119 and then through "charming" Hakka farms to the industrial old Highway 1. I powered my way at speed all the way to Changhua to avoid any more hills. The pain in my knee was intense by that point. I had
actually been popping Tylenol all day. I limped through the door and took a week off.

Of course in post script I got a bad chest cold the week after my week off... and then I had a couple rides before the rains of New Year. So I am expecting to lose most of the gains I had made through all that riding. Typical.