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Monday, November 7, 2011

200k of Central Taiwan: Our Best Cycling Routes in a Day

This past Sunday was another tour through some familiar riding territory. It is not that I have never ridden or blogged these routes before, I have. And I have even set up some of the same shots before, with the same angles and frames...but this day belonged to itself. It was different. Actually, they're all different. Each ride is a sketch of the same scenes with often widely different interpretations. Each trip feels unique.

For my Sunday ride I hoped to hit some of my favorite "local" roads, all in a single day. In one massive 200km loop I hoped to connect one vista to the next in a rolling essay devoted to some of what makes central Taiwan such an awesome spectacle for road cycling.

Although 200km may be out of reach for many riders, most of these places can be accessed in a day ride or strung together in a weekend. It makes some of the best, and most accessible cycling adventure in Taiwan.

I started my day with a climb up out of the city on Taichung Route 129 to Hsin She. The 129 can be daunting for a beginner, but after a few miles in the legs it becomes an appetizer to some great sights not far beyond.

This leg of the trip from the Route 129 to the Route 93 has become so routine I forgot to take pictures. I just took in the scenery and enjoyed the feel of the road.

I hooked on to the gorgeously underused Highway 21 over Baimao Shan to Guoxing. This is such a secluded road that seems to see most of its weekend traffic in the form of cycling clubs and large motorcycles. As I started my climb I could hear the buzz saw rumble of the big bikes in the background and I could see a pack of hard climbing cyclists were making good time just down the hill.

I put a little oomph into it to make some distance between myself and the trouble brewing below. I hoped to enjoy a little more solitude before vaulting over the peak for the swooping plunge into Guoxing.

From the guardrail at the top of Baimao Shan, the Central Mountain Range ripples like waves out in an ocean of morning fog. The treat is yours if you can get up there before 10:00am.

The big bikes had caught up to barnstorm past me as I stood by the roadside. One after the other flew by like a train of Tomahawk missiles. I really hate those guys. It is best to just pull over and let them pass.

I started to see a few riders making the ascent up the other side of the mountain. First a trickle of riders followed by larger groups. The Highway 21 is perfect for hill training or a slow weekend outing.

The Highway 21 makes an abrupt left at Guoxing and empties out into a tight river valley. Stunning!

Unfortunately, the only way out is to claw up to a high plateau over Puli. It seems as if they are always growing something new whenever I pass. On this day it was passion fruit. They had bags of passion fruit lining the roadway. I could see the high mountains rising above the red clay fields on the horizon.

It was just enough of a respite to let the legs recover for the second act of the ride.

I broke (70kph) 43mph on the ride into the Puli basin. The sugarcane and onion fields were in full glory, but the sun beat down hard.

I really don't remember much of Puli. I was in and out of the area so quickly, it seemed I was almost immediately climbing to Sun Moon Lake.

For riders contemplating a ride to Sun Moon Lake, I would recommend entering on the 131 out of Shuili and exiting on the Nantou Route 63 to the Highway 16. The Highway 21 is a hot, nasty, filthy plank of traffic and road hazards. There is no real shoulder and no place to go as cards race F-1 style to be the first to get caught in line behind a traffic jam of tour busses and gawking tourists.

Cars will seriously jockey for pole position to be first to get stuck in an lakeside tourist merry-go-round. They will skim their mirrors just past your knuckles as you play tightrope-walker on the fog line. Insane!

The pale blue water is attractive and refreshingly cool. It seems to get more attractive the further you get from it.

But first you must navigate the crap stalls and roast wieners to find some solitude.

The Nantou Route 63 is really the nicest way for a cyclist to exit Sun Moon Lake. It is hidden in a corner behind the Ita Thao village; a tourist village lorded over by a couple well connected families from one of the indigenous villages.

If the Sun Moon Lake circus is the ill... the Route 63 is the cure.

I steadily climbed beneath the shady boughs of the tall trees amid the humming white noise of insects and wind through the leaves. As far as hill climbs go, this is one of the least difficult for the maximum payoff.

No sooner than you bank through the shadowy corners do yo find you are facing a drop to the feet of some seriously high mountains. I didn't even begin to take pictures until halfway down as I enjoyed the inertia filled baking and yawing through betel forests and villages.

The descent can be pretty technical, but just as the road appears to smash headlong into one megalith looming above the grey river, it makes an abrupt right turn up onto the Highway 16, which remains flat until a rolling climb and drop to Shuili.

No sooner had I landed in Xinyi Township, that the weather took an abrupt change. Boom, the sunny skies were clouded over. Boom, the wind started slugging me in the face. I could feel grains of dust cut past my cheeks. Bad news for being so deep into a long ride with so much distance left to go. My only consolation was the gradual false flat out of the mountains.

I got into a tuck and went for broke. I was spinning at 37kph (23mph) into a frontal crosswind that wouldn't let up. I still had some energy in reserve and I had managed to hit every green traffic light between Shuili and Mingjian. Then a pilgrimage complete with bloodied dang-gi or spirit mediums brought all traffic to a halt. This was the end of my amazing end run as I entered the world of traffic lights, fits and stops.

I finally dragged myself home in seven and a half hours, but I was feeling each kilometer. My legs felt fresh, but I had burned my remaining energy and swallowed enough dust for a sandcastle.

This is one of those rides that brought a smile to my face around every corner... between each grimace of pain.

If you ever have the chance to bike central Taiwan... be sure you bike these roads. This is what makes Taiwan a cycling paradise. These are some of the special roads that leave you inspired to do it again and see more.


Distance: 200km
Climbing: 7402ft
Calories Burned: 6292cal
Time: 7:33:03


  1. Really awesome blog post - and really good suggested route. I hear you on the motorcycles - whenever I ride out in Taipei past HsinTien to Pingling they are always racing up the hill - it is aweful -

    You also hit some impressive speeds (70km/h) is pretty good. I only hot 60km/h coming down the back of Yangmingshan into JingShan.

    Glad you persisted through to the end even though the last bit with the dust seemed to make it uncomfortable. I hope at some point I will be able to do the same ride. It looks awesome.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks!

    You would be more than welcome to come down and join in a ride. There is a way of doing most of this ride with a different ending for an even 100mi.

  3. You really do love mountain climbing....

    Right now, I'm negotiating abit of ice on the pavement.

    Great pics as usual!

  4. Your best set of photos. Outstanding description and illustrations.


  5. Thank you for the post, this is definitely going into my to-do list.

    Grats on your new baby!

  6. Thanks!

    When are you coming back to climb this stuff?

  7. Great write up and great pics. We've done parts of this route in different rides. Seeing the pics makes me want to go back and do them again.

  8. Thanks! If you decide to come down I'd love to join you.

  9. I've always wanted to ride in Taiwan. Next time I'm over there I'll definitely try to hook up for a ride.