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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

President Ma Stumps For Bikes and Fitness: Taiwan Sports Island?

As part of his campaign stump speech, Taiwan's reluctant president, Ma Ying-jiu, has made a vow to transform Taiwan into a "Sport's Island".

First, the phrasing is interesting as it avoids defining Taiwan as a "nation", an idea Ma has had great difficulty grappling with during his first term in office.
Taipei, Sept. 24 (CNA) President Ma Ying-jeou said Saturday he is determined to turn Taiwan into "a sports island," where people will exercise regularly.

"It's a very important political platform that I proposed four years ago during my election campaign," Ma said in Taichung at the launch of a countrywide support group for his reelection bid.
Secondly, this pledge contradict his other education and labor policies, which actually run counter to promoting physical fitness and exercise.
At the event at Taichung Harbor Municipal Stadium, Ma said he had built or renovated 80 swimming pools in Taipei during his tenure as mayor 1998-2006. The aim was to encourage every student in the city to learn to swim and perform well in the sport, he added.

He also constructed bike paths in Taipei during that time, and since May 2008 when he took office as president, more than 500 kilometers of cycling trails have been built around the country, he said.

The president said he has seen the development of a trend in which cycling is becoming a national sport.

"The reforms must not stop," he said. "I will continue to do my best to build Taiwan into a sports island."
A critical definition needs to be made between construction and promotion. I have to admit the Ma administration has been bullish on construction... of anything: highways, residential districts, petrochemical factories, nuclear power plants, and practically anything fashioned from concrete.

This may have less to do with promoting... whatever, and more to do with the powerful construction constituency, which is widely acknowledged to be stacked with all types of dirty politics and... "extra"-legal activities from kickbacks to bid rigging.

To really promote health and fitness, the government can start with education and labor reforms.

Taiwanese children are asked to study too much, while physical education is routinely cut in favor of classroom oriented subjects. Children have precious little time to devote to learning a sport. Rather than mandate fewer classroom hours, Ma's administration has chosen to emphasize Confucian studies in schools to help promote his idea of Confucianism as the state religion. Moreover, there are fewer urban green spaces for children to use if they would like to play sports. The government owned land is far too valuable to invest in green space. Instead it has been parceled off to developers. As far as bike paths go, most children, even if they had the time, could not even get to a bike path without someone driving them.

In Taiwan fitness and leisure is the domain of the privileged. A person needs time and money. In Taiwan's modern reality these things are still not granted to everyone. For a few years things had improved with the implementation of the 5 day work week. When I first arrived in Taiwan we were still working every other Saturday. The problem is that the cost of living has been steadily rising while incomes have stagnated. People are having to work more hours for less money to maintain a middle-class lifestyle, pay for the cram schools which have been built into the education system as a necessity, and to pay on an overvalued mortgage as ordinary families compete for housing against property speculators. How many families really have the time or money to spend on biking? Not nearly enough!

When I ask students how they spent their weekends, 90% respond with the same answers: slept, studied and watched TV.

Their parents were too busy working to take them anywhere so they get the TV babysitter.

Funny how complicated these simple promises can get when tied to the larger realities of life in Taiwan.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

環化賽: Tour of Changhua 2011: A New Hope

Edison and our tired bikes

As I stood in the early dim morning light standing somewhere in the mass of 5000 riders and every type of bicycle imaginable, I only had one thought that bubbled to the top of a million other pre-race tangents and meditations... I really needed to go to the bathroom.

Maybe it was that ancient fight or flight response taking over as our early hominid ancestors might have cleared the bowels to escape predation... but moments before the starting gun went off my body was trying to send me a message. It was too late. I had already taken a couple of severe pre-race pees, but now I was going to be in trouble bouncing along country roads balanced on the tiniest of seats trying to hold myself together. And that is how I started this year's Tour of Changhua.

Suiting up

Last year's race was an absolute disaster for me. I was quite used to sustaining speed over distance, but in the wake of a family tragedy that brought me to Seattle for two weeks, where the damp marine air invited a severe bout of asthma, I returned to Taiwan an absolute wreck.

The doctor put me on an attack of pills that resulted in insomnia and dehydration. The medication wrecked havoc on my body. I attempted to race anyway and found myself on the side of the road in absolute pain as cramps ripped through both legs. I finished way back with the mountain bikers in 4hrs 47minutes. It was such a depressing result that I vowed to be in much better shape for the 2012 version.

Race Ready?

Although I have been fighting a knee issue, I felt more than ready to tackle this race again. This time I had my fitness up, a new bike that is optimized for my riding, my nutrition and hydration calculated in advance--and moreover I had a plan.

My Support Team

The T-Mosaic team gathered at 4:00am at the shop, where we would make a convoy down to Changhua. My wife, Joyce, volunteered to join the activity in the support car to take pictures and cheer riders onward. I wouldn't be surprised if our baby's first words out of the womb are "Jia you!" (Keep going in Taiwanese Mandarin).
T-Mosaic Pep Talk

Rocky from T-Mosaic addressed the team with some words of encouragement and a few tactical suggestions before we ambled over to the starting gate to await the inevitable.

The Field

I'm sorry, but 5000 people pushing up against the starting gate is just insane. The first thing you notice are the pre-race smokers. The second thing you notice are the overloaded mountain bikes with protruding handlebars. The last thing you want is to snag one of those as you pass at speed.

It was at this point I shared my plan with a teammate and we decided to work together to make make better time.

The plan was simple: Attack out of the gate and bypass as many riders as possible before the climb up Feng Keng. Since both of us are short and relatively competent climbers, we thought we could use the mountain to put some distance into the larger field with time to be made on the descents as well. So many riders do not know how to descend on a bike they either become a danger to themselves and everyone on the road, or they slow everyone down.

I chugged up the climb and tried not to touch wheels slower riders. The climb was only 10 kilometers into the race, but riders were already lining the road vacating their stomachs onto the shoulder. Not a good sign by any measure. A greasy Taiwanese breakfast may not be ideal for this kind of start.

The final part of the plan, as little guys, was to get down to the flats and hop onto a fast-moving paceline and hold on for dear life.

Junior Ironman and his Pinarello

Everything worked perfectly until Edison pulled up with severe leg cramping. I continued alone, leapfrogging between groups of riders along the flats where the speeds can easily get into the 40's.

Luckily, Team Caffe Terry-PMG came chugging along with a powerful train of riders, so I politely asked if I could tag along. For this I am immensely grateful. I am also very grateful to Inigo G. who did a tremendous job pulling the paceline through much of the flats. Inigo is a tall, powerful rider, who pushes a lot of air out of the way. I did my best to return the favor with a few pulls at the front, but nothing to match his extended effort. Thanks again, guys!

One of my goals was to get through Lukang before the sun had a chance to heat up the ocean and bring the coastal wind inland. It worked. We just cut on through the flats and bike trails, eating up solo riders and pushing the slower groups out of the way of our freight train. A cowcatcher on the front would have been a bonus.

At The Finish

With about a kilometer to go, our group hit the twists and corners of Changhua City. Just as we rounded a 90 degree corner along the canal I heard the unmistakable sound of crunching carbon fiber. Someone had gone down jut a couple bike lengths behind me and it didn't sound good. I hope the bike was the only casualty.

Terry Lin from Caffe Terry-PMG

With the finish line approaching quickly, I thanked Inigo again for his hard work on the day and then I launched off the front.

It all seemed to be going well and I sat on the rivet trying to get more time out of my legs. Some minor cramps on the tops of my quads were threatening to erupt, but I kept them in check.

Pimped Rides

Then all came grinding to a halt at a major intersection that was allowing traffic through. I had to stop for s couple minutes as the bunch behind me caught up. We all nervously waited... and then took off again for another light.

Rob G. with John T. and Nina L.

The bunch creaked into motion again, but there was a lot of pain to go around as the few minutes of pause disrupted the feeling of perpetual motion that had been running through the legs since Ershui.

The Good Doctor Wu Arrives In Good Time

With one last push, we all funneled into the finishing gate and record our times and have our finish recorded for posterity.

Bruno from France comes through on his ancient Giant

Personally, I felt great that the venue was nearly empty. There were just a few cyclists milling around and my results were handed to me instantly. There were no lines or crowds.

A moment later Edison came chugging through. He had apparently shaken off the cramping and fought his way through the ranks to finish a minute behind me with a completely heroic effort. I had assumed he would be limping back. To imagine the fight it took to pull that off... kudos Edison!

What's In A Name: Team Dorcus

With our times in hand we sat around on the grass and schmoozed with other riders as they came rolling in. First in a dribble and then in a torrent.

The Line

A few of the locals came by to take a look at the riders and some had set up stalls to hawk refreshments.

Local Riders

Before long the rest of the team started arriving.


There were all sorts of goings on as the various sponsors vied for our attention.


The atmosphere became more festive as the field filled with an assortment of racers and riders.

Avoiding the Sunlight

With shade in short supply, we all milled around trying not to cook in the sunshine. Thankfully, nobody opened a parasol... at least not while I was on the scene.

Dressed Like A Winner

My new refrigerator magnet (I'm not kidding)

After about an hour most of our riders had arrived. Rocky and my wife pulled up in the van and passed out beers and refreshments to the riders. They had spent the bulk of the day helping any rider in need with water and flat support. I guess they helped a few stranded riders from having to hike back to Changhua. This is really a great part of the cycling community. No fees. No charge. Just help getting back on the road.


Mmmmm... Beer

All in all, I felt pretty good about my results and thanks for everyone who let me suck wheel to Changhua to make this effort far more successful.

I really need to thank Rocky and T-Mosaic for their support and organization. They really came through to help us all to the finish. Mosaic had everything ready from tubes to hydration an beer. The support car was ready at all times and it was nice having the insurance if anything went wrong. Thanks guys! They're a wonderful team.

Finally.... I got a bathroom break.



Distance: 105km
Time: 3:10:22
Overall Place: 106/5500?
Place in 35-40 Age Group: #31

Friday, September 23, 2011

Taiwan Joins World Car-Free Day Celebrations

Over the past week Taiwan's major cities (except Taichung) participated in events leading up to World Car-free Day, which is held on September 22nd.

CNA reports on Taiwan Focus:

Taipei Deputy Mayor Chen Wei-jen said at an unplugged concert at Daan Forest Park that emissions from motorcycles and automobiles are the largest source of air pollution in the city since it no longer host factories.

"We hope our citizens will support the carfree campaign to reduce carbon emissions," Chen said, adding that Taipei boasts a convenient public transport system which comprises mass rapid transit and bus services.

In Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan, Mayor Chen Chu kicked off a mass bicycle ride across major city streets by cycling fans to drum up support for the carfree campaign.

Chen said CNN has rated Kaohsiung as one of Asia's five most cycling-friendly cities. The city has 26 cycling paths totaling 500 kilometers in
length, she said, with plans to extend them to 1,000 km.

I hope some of you got out there to participate. Sadly, my city government is more concerned with the plight of large developers and their boozy entertainment empires to really give a rat's ass about World Car-free Day.


Chinese State Journalism Takes a Stake in Taiwanese Cycling:

Check out this piece from Xinhua. It starts out as a typical human interest piece about Taiwanese cycling tourism, but two things rub me a little raw. The first is that, since this is the Chinese state media, it must have an angle. That angle appears to be to promote increasing Taiwanese reliance on Chinese tourism. The second is that Taiwanese cultural tourism is being "localized" by Chinese state media and some "Pan-Blue" stations in an obvious effort to have Chinese and Taiwanese citizens imagine each other as part of the same national community; a phenomenon which is simple fantasy. Of course, the other side of the coin is the risk of exposing years of propaganda for what it is...


The China Post reports that Taiwan's Action Blue Cycling Team will be helping the Clinton Global Initiative in raising funds to combat blindness in Africa. It is always nice to see Taiwanese people assert themselves on the word stage through this type of activity.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Tour of Changhua Prologue (120km)

The Team

Next Sunday I have another event planned. I have decided to "compete" in this year's Tour of Changhua.

Although I am fully aware that this is another campaign race designed to coincide with the mythical ROC 100 year anniversary, which explains the 100km length, I felt I needed to give this event another try after last year's debacle.

Although I still have some nagging health problems with my knee, I feel this go-round will be a much more positive affair.

To better prepare for next week, I joined the crew from T-Mosaic Bikes for a little reconnaissance of the route. I tried this last week, but drifted off course, so it was nice to ride with some folks who knew the route better. Moreover, it was nice to be able to take advantage of a slipstream. Thanks!
Cash delivers an inspirational speech

We met at T-Mosaic for a 6:00am departure. Cash Huang would lead on the bike, while Rocky Huang (no relation to Cash) drove the support car. The idea of having a support car is a strange and exotic luxury.

Cash has no idea what he is talking about

The team assembled and we rolled out toward Changhua across the Highway 74 bridge from the HSR station to the other side of the river.

The Bridge to Changhua

The opening few kilometers are just easy flats and rollers. As our train chugged along we ate up the stragglers of a half-dozen other clubs that were out practicing.

Mountain To Meeting Point

The first challenge for our early morning legs was in the form of a climb out of Fen Yuan. The hill is not that long and offers a couple sections of respite from 10% grades, but it can be a deal breaker at the beginning of a long race. Push too far in red on the inclines and you suffer the rest of the day.

I hung with two local baddasses, whom I named Frank and Andy Trek, until the very last bump, where we waited for the group to reconstitute where the road meets the Route 139 along the mountain's spine.

Dr. Wu (The Good Doctor)

The punchy rollers and false flats on Route 139 make for some fun riding. With so many people out it is easy to make friends with different riders from around the area.

Kevin, a bicycle engineer at Equinox Cycles

The first rest stop was Feng Shan Temple, which appears to be a sacred site of the Goddess of Cycling. Riders of all stripes line the plaza and vie for water and snacks.

You want it... we got it!

With so much cycling traffic, it has become a shrine to Taiwan's entrepreneurial spirit.

Fengshan Bike Emporium

Every free corner is filled with cycling goods, food and other swag riders might want from sunglasses to umbrella mounts for your handlebars.

A Bike Called Horse

Tea Eggs

Bicycle Worship

There may even be room for some worship as well.

Will Has A Blowout

Just as we were filling our water bottles, I heard a loud pop, like a firecracker. When I looked up, Will from our group was stranded on the side of the road with a blowout. His tubular tire had completely burst.


Luckily Rocky in the support car was standing by ready for action.

Rocky to the rescue

At 7:00am, he simply ran across the street to one of the vendors, and purchased a complete bicycle tire... not tubes mind you... but a tire. Where else in the world can you do that?

Ride My Dorcus

Contemplating Headwear

Tea Farms

We were soon back on the road for the descent off the mountain into Songboling. I descended like a valkyrie through the tea farms and pineapple patches. The thrill of a solid descent can really make a ride.

Highway Blues

Before long we were back on the flats and chugging at a good clip toward Changhua. Having crossed the halfway point, we were relaxing into a pretty good rhythm. Then... the full force of the sun started taking its toll.

Cash needs to calm down

Another rest stop brought spirits and hydration levels back up to acceptable levels, and a little Red bull in the veins never seems to hurt (unless mixed with vodka shots).

Bike Path

The route covers some really nice cycling routes (yes, I just complimented a Taiwanese cycling route) and then we turned directly into a nasty cross-head wind.

From Lukang up it was a brutal march into the wind. With both the wind and the sun conspiring against us, we hobbled back to Taichung.

I felt pretty good and have developed a riding plan for next Sunday. Now I hope everything goes smoothly and it can be a lot of fun.