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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Fighting Da Hsueh Shan: A Study in Taiwan Summer Cycling

Regular readers may know that, for this rider, Da Hsueh Shan, the 28km of climbing out of the Dajia River Valley, is a mountain of disappointment. This is the climb that, on paper, shouldn't be anything extreme... and yet... every time I ride this mountain it seems things go smoothly. This is the climb where my other orange bike cracked the head tube. This it the climb where I ran out of gas while training for Wuling last year. This is the climb where I ran out of water on a surprisingly sweltering winter morning. This is the climb I have never felt I have made to feel "easy". 

After completing this ride I could only reflect upon how typical it was for a ride in the Taiwanese summer. The first thing to know is that the only predictable thing about a Taiwanese summer, is that Taiwanese summers are wildly unpredictable. 

I regularly get requests from riders thinking about visiting Taiwan and wondering if the weather will be suitable in the summer when most people have vacation. It is a hard question to answer as there are dry summers and wet summers. Summers are always hot and humid, but I find it completely manageable as long as I am moving and generating a little self-propelled A/C. 

Here is how this particular summer ride panned out. 

I woke up early to get a jump on the day's extreme temperatures. In the humidity a slow climb can be simply torture in the direct sunlight. 

Summertime really doesn't give a rider much of a choice. You can either fight the climbs or fight the wind. Despite the boon of an eventual tailwind, the flats are a swirl of stiff crosswinds and the dreaded headwind from the south. I find winds to be more demoralizing than the hills because when you eventually get to the top of the hill you feel like you accomplished something. When fighting a wind, you just have a flat hill with no payoff. 

My legs creaked into service and I spent the entire way to Dongshih lamenting my inability to get the legs warmed up. 

As I started to get into rhythm around Dongshih, I turned up the road to Da Hsueh Shan... except it wasn't the road to Da Hsueh Shan. I swear the first few kilometers of Dong-qi Jie ( ) and Dong Keng Rd. look almost identical. It is easy to get sucked into the wrong task. Nothing against Dong-qi Jie, and I even contemplated just continuing to the DaAn River and up to the climbs above Tian Gou Village, but I really had a hankering to mount another campaign on Da Hsueh Shan. 

Of course, it was not lost on me that I had wasted a good chunk of morning coolness retracing my steps back to Dongshih, only to pedal four blocks over to the correct road. On the plus side, my legs were feeling better. 

I kept a good speed on the lower parts of the climb, the sun was getting hot, so I tried to manage my water and keep moving. I wasn't sure how well I was climbing until I passed a group of three riders and they were gone as soon as they appeared. I knew the important parts of the climb, so I managed my energy accordingly with the right balance of soft pedaling and heavy pedal work on the ramps. 

I had stuffed a mini water bottle in my jersey pocket for use if the only water supply up on the mountain  had been closed. Luckily it was open of business and I stopped to refill. After standing in one place for a few minutes I looked down and noticed a growing puddle of perspiration fed by the natural conduits on my arms and legs. I couldn't tell if my stop was a good thing or if the heat was making it unbearable. 

The morning traffic was picking up and the road was beginning to fill with caravans of luxury sedans and VW Transporter vans ferrying hikers up to the higher trails. 

I threw myself onward and upward. Except for a section of harder climbing through the bamboo and cedar groves, most of the painful stuff was over. I was fairly pleased with my progress, but I felt I could have done a better job last year when I was in excellent climbing shape. 

One of the nice things about having a climb like this so close, is that in 10km you can go from thick, steamy jungle, to the cool shade of cedar boughs. It is an entirely different biome and reminds me of my time growing up in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. 

Then, like as it always does, something happened on Da Hsueh Shan to bring my joyride to an end. 

First, I started to feel cramping in my right calf. It could have been the heat. It could have been the fact that the cleat was broken forcing me to ride different. It could have been that I needed to stretch a bit more. Or simply that I am not yet in shape to tackle this climb. But it happened. 

I kept playing with my position to ease the cramp away, but it kept pushing into my bones like a vise. As I tried to find a better angle to bring the cramping down, I guess I made the wrong move and triggered a severe cramp that locked my calf down tight. As I unclipped to straighten my leg out, my lower quad and hip seized up as well. This is not good at any time, but especially bad in the middle of a climb when there you can't seize the momentum to buy time to safely coast to a stop. 

I was a fraction of a fraction of a moment from tipping over onto my side, unable to unclip. Every rider with clip less pedals has had moments like these when you realize you need to unclip. The face is flushed with a wide-eyed expression of panic as the mind and body race for enough balance and poise to safely dismount. 

I straightened my leg out and spent some time to stretch under the shade of the forest. About the time the cicadas grew bold enough to start buzzing away I was back underway up to the 22km mark. My calf was still sore and threatening to flare up again. The goal was to punish my legs, so I was resolute in continuing to the end. 

Then, I noticed the blue sky and puffy clouds had been replaced with a matte grey blanket of cloud cover. It looked like rain, and the last place I wanted to be in the rain was up on a mountain. 

Since something always happens to me on Da Hsueh Shan, I took the cramping and rain clouds as all the evidence I needed to turn tail and go for home. 

Welcome to the Taiwanese summer. It was still morning and I was already charging home in a mad dash to beat the rain. 

I took the descent pretty slow as the oncoming drivers were merciless in their occupation of the entire roadway. Several cars were ferrying bikes up the mountain. I have no clue where they ride when they get there. The road wasn't in really great shape anyways. There were pits, ruts and potholes dotting some of the best sections. I probably had my tires overinflated as well, leading to an amplification of each bump. I read the braille on the roadway with its message to take it a bit slower.

Once I reached Dongshih, I turned back to see the entire mountain had been consumed by an obvious rain cloud that was fast approaching. 

I realized I had to leave everything on the road before Taichung and turned as large a gear as I could manage in my race against a downpour. 

My quads burned white hot as I stayed on the big ring (53) for each climb on the way to and through Hsin She, continually downshifting to test the low end of my engine for enough grunt to outpace the winds. 

I also knew that I was in the red and there wasn't enough raisin bran in the system to keep it up. 

Sprinkles dotted my face and I contemplated calling it quits at a 7-11 where a nice cold ice cream might make the hurt go away, but Taichung looked clear so I kept the wheels on the road. 

I slid down the Route 129 to Dakeng and gave every last bit of energy pushing top speed to Beitun Rd. 

The legs were practically numb with exhaustion. I was done. Cooked. Finished. There was no more. My legs had been running on empty and every last bit of glycogen had been put to work getting me home. 

I ambled through the streets of Taichung no faster than a granny at the market. My legs were pulsating in oscillations between heat and soreness. 

I never did see the rain. It never arrived in Taichung and I have no clue if it drenched the hills over Dongshih or if it simply covered us with just enough spittle to inspire fear of a downpour. 

That is the game we play every summer. Can I bear the heat and get home with a decent ride in my pocket before the skies open up and force me to disassemble the bike to dry the bearings? 

I can't wait for Fall. 


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Taichung Bike Shops on Google Maps

TiC reader, Mike C, has done everyone a great service by locating several independent bike shops in Taichung.


The moderators would be happy to add any new information if anyone out there has some suggestions.

My own list is here: Taichung Independent Bike Shop Directory

Thanks Mike!

Transformational Cycling: Taiwanese Cycling Abroad

Taiwan's Cycling Angels, a group of children from affiliated Lutheran orphanages in Taiwan who recently were the focus of a short documentary of their cycling adventure around Taiwan, will be setting their sights on China. The group plans to bike from Beijing to Xiamen, a trip stretching over 3200km. 
The eight friends of the Lutheran preschool last year took five days to complete their bike trip around the island, averaging over 100km per day over many mountain roads.
He said the next trip will allow them to encounter dozens of Lutheran orphanages and to encourage them to join the China trip, because this can be the national sport in Taiwan and promote the concept of green living in neighboring China. The trip has also received the sponsorship of several Chinese enterprises. 
To keep projects like these in perspective, I am instantly reminded of one of my favorite books; a collection of essays compiled to examine the three dominant civilizing projects focused on China between Qing, Missionary, Republican, and Communist programs. 

Cultural Encounters on China's Ethnic Frontiers, Ed. Stevan Harell, takes a close look at how the Confucian, Missionary and Communist civilizing projects were brought into play in an effort to draw the peripheral people closer to the "civilized center" for economic exploitation. The introduction is well worth the read. 

I can not help but see projects like this Lutheran group as a form of Taiwan's virtual colonization of China. We are often used to thinking in terms of Chinese hegemony, but Taiwan is not altogether powerless and free from exercising its own civilizing projects. 

Cultural Encounters details the well documented symbiotic relationship between God and mammon, as the missionary project is often used as the precursor to opening areas for economic exploitation.  

From the report, it is clear that this group has objectives beyond a simple bike ride and raises questions in regard to differing concepts of the "center" and the "periphery" as a missionary project charges headlong into the Chinese nationalist Communist project. 

It may be that Taiwan is not on the periphery of China, but rather, in the view of many, China is on the periphery of Taiwan as Taiwanese seek to transform their giant neighbor. 

In many civilizing projects the civilizer arrives by horse, by regiment, by decree or by gun boat. In China's case he may also arrive by bicycle. 


Wandering Taiwanese Cyclist Turns Up In Africa

With over two years of road behind him and countless mishaps and adventures, Taiwanese cyclist Wu Shih-chang has turned up in Durban, South Africa. 

Wu started his trip in Alaska with about $8000 USD in his account. He had planned to spend roughly $8 per day and complete the trip in two years. 

During the early leg of his journey Wu miscalculated his food supplies and suffered long stretches of road entirely deficient of calories. He also had some close encounters with bears.

Wu said he first thought that riding around the world on a bicycle was a romantic thing to do. After setting out, however, Wu said he came to realize there was nothing romantic about it, as he instead had to deal with loneliness and learn to survive.
Every day, he was busy thinking about how to make his food last until the next food stop 100km down the road and about where he would set up his tent that evening. --Taipei Times
After traversing both Americas, Wu arrived in Paris for the European leg of his trip. In Paris his bike was stolen and he was forced to said for a new one to arrive. 
He was due to fly from Argentina to South Africa but was unable to as the South Africa Embassy in Argentina denied him a visa.
He traveled to Europe instead and spent his 30th birthday at an airport in Madrid. His travel turned for the worse Feb 3 when his bicycle, donated by Taiwanese bike maker Giant, was stolen in Paris.
Wu was forced to contact his friends in Taiwan and ask them to send another bike for him so that he could continue his trip.--Focus Taiwan
Wu has expressed his desire to keep pedaling for two more years despite his lack of sponsorship. His next stop will be Swaziland and Mozambique.  

Strong Wu, 30, has been to more than 20 countries – all of them on his bike. He has no sponsors and is using his savings to finance his epic journey. 
“I had to save before I could travel. My family supports me emotionally, but financially they said I am on my own,” he said. 
Determination and passion have propelled him along – sometimes for 100km a day. He camps in the middle of nowhere and enjoys connecting with people of different cultures.“I love meeting people who speak other languages. Learning how other people live their lives is interesting to me,” he said.

When most 30yo. Taiwanese are cramming for graduate school, entering the workforce in a period of low, stagnant wages, or avoiding military service, or slinking off to avoid mom's attempts at matchmaking, Wu is living the prime of his life on two wheels everywhere else but home.  


I hope everyone in Taiwan will tune in and root for some talented Taiwanese Olympians. Personally, I am a big supporter of Taichung's own Hsiao Mei-yu, one of the world's top cyclists.

The Women's Road Race will be held on July 29, 12:00pm (London Time). 
The Women's Time Trial will be held on August 1, 12:30pm. (London Time). 


William Ko, of the Tainan based Shen Yang and official partner of Seven Cycles in Taiwan, is featured on Seven's blog for his efforts in bringing the brand to China.


Be sure to check out Michael Turton's latest pics and cycling report from Taiwan's Rift Valley.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Technology and Performance: Do You Buy It?

As the latest installment of the Tour de France wraps up, I thought I would take a moment to ponder the  attention given to the equipment. 

Every new product year we are inundated with bicycle marketing that seems to fixate on technological modifications that will result in dramatic leaps in performance. It seems bicycle brands are fixated on marketing their high end bikes around the trifecta of Material, Aero, and Stiffness. We are told that if we buy a new bike that improves upon any of these three qualities, we will see the results in performance. 

Selling bikes is the game and if companies can make you feel inadequate on your current bike, they can sell you a new one. 

My favorite advertised quality is "stiffness". This is a fantastic word for marketing. Each year bikes are getting "stiffer" and yet, more vertically compliant. Each model is stiffer than the last, and stiffness in the language of bicyclese, means a "faster bike". 

So where has all that must have technology gotten us over the past 20 years? 

Check the average speeds of 20 years of TdF winners:

2011 Cadel EVANS, 34, avg: 39.8 kph (24.9 mph) 
2010 Alberto CONTADOR, 27, avg: 39.6 kph (24.7 mph) 
2009 Alberto CONTADOR, 26, avg: 40.3 kph (25.2 mph) 
2008 Carlos SASTRE, 33, avg: 40.5 kph (25.3 mph) 
2007 Alberto CONTADOR, 24, avg: 39.2 kph (24.5 mph) 
2006 Oscar PEREIRO, 30, avg: 40.8 kph (25.5 mph) 
2005 Lance ARMSTRONG, 34, avg: 41.7 kph (26 mph) 
2004 Lance ARMSTRONG, 33, avg: 40.6 kph (25.3 mph) 
2003 Lance ARMSTRONG, 32, avg: 40.9 kph (25.6 mph) 
2002 Lance ARMSTRONG, 31, avg: 39.9 kph (25 mph) 
2001 Lance ARMSTRONG, 30, avg: 40.1 kph (25 mph) 
2000 Lance ARMSTRONG, 29, avg: 39.6 kph (24.7 mph) 
1999 Lance ARMSTRONG, 28, avg: 40.3 kph (25.2 mph) 
1998 Marco PANTANI, 28, avg: 40 kph (25 mph) 
1997 Jan ULLRICH, 24, avg: 39.2 kph (24.5 mph) 
1996 Bjarne RIIS, 32, avg: 39.2 kph (24.5 mph) 
1995 Miguel INDURAIN, 31, avg: 39.2 kph (24.5 mph) 
1994 Miguel INDURAIN, 30, avg: 38.4 kph (24 mph) 
1993 Miguel INDURAIN, 29, avg: 38.7 kph (24.2 mph) 
1992  Miguel INDURAIN, 28, avg: 39.5 kph (24.7 mph)

There is a big of a jump beginning in 1998, about the time newer and better doping methods became available, but for the most part there has been little change in the averages despite the rapid adoption of ever stiffer, more aero, composite bikes. I see more a correlation between average speeds and doping controls than I do between speed and technology. 

It's probably not the bike. 

Moreover, to complete my thought on the matter, what it shows is that competitive bike racing is still about good teams and teamwork, smart tactics, careful preparation and training, and a little bit of chance. The technology is a bit of a red herring. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Is this Taichung's Hardest Climb?: Route 100 to Jiu Tong Shan (酒桶山)

 After a week of commuting between Taichung and Yuanlin by bike in an effort to punish myself back into cycling shape, I felt I should do something on the weekend to test the legs.

The weather seemed typical of this time of year, with sunny mornings and rain in the afternoons and a stiff wind from the south. For me, there is nothing as demoralizing as a flat road and a headwind. It feels a lot like climbing, but without the accomplishment of actually making a summit. With this in mind I decided to keep the distance down and keep things local with one of Taichung's toughest climbs.

The Route 136 is often regarded as the local litmus test for a rider's climbing chops, but there are a few other local routes that rival the Route 136 in both difficulty and reward.

I was joined by Dom, who destroyed me on our last outing together as I was just starting my training regimen, but this time we were more evenly paired.

The plan was to take the Route 136 out past the famous Bat Hole and then fight our way up the Route 100 to Jiu Tong Shan, where we might have a coffee before returning through Chung-ho and Hsin She on the Route 95.

These are all very great roads, so it is nice to string them together in a single ride through the foothills above Taichung.

The morning started out according to plan. We were looking to use the ride out to where the hills begin in Taiping as a bit of a warm-up before a friendly coffee before the riding really started to get stiff.

Over coffee we were accosted by a very loud and enthusiastic man who seemed to believe both Dom and I were partially deaf and in need of his plumbing services. He bellowed every sentence in clear English so that the entire 7-11 could hear him. Some of the other customers giggled with embarrassment at the awkwardness of the situation.

The chap introduced himself as "Youkey.... YOUKEY!!!! YOU-KEY!!!!!!" as he dangled a couple bottles of rice wine by the necks. That was all the information we needed to know.

After playing dead until he lost interest and went away we continued enjoying a pre-climb coffee. Our new friend returned with a neatly torn piece of cigarette carton, upon which he wrote--no--composed the following:
"Hello, my English name is Youkey
So let me open your heart window.
I am (drunk?...illegible)."
With that he commented on how much he liked the stubble on my face because it was like his.... and then he turned around and rejoined his friends across the street for a picnic of cheap alcoholic liquids.

As a Foreigner in Taiwan, I am often approached by strangers who hope to satisfy their curiosity or assumptions regarding foreigners and their "likeness". Most of the time these encounters are just awkwardly benign, but sometimes they can be a bit frightening. Being a Foreigner can make you a magnet to drunks or the insane who pick you out as something "different" like a shiny object, and they can't resist a closer look.

With enough caffeine to fuel a ride up the hill, we took off along the lower climbs of the Route 136.

There were several riders out on their heavy mountain bikes looking for a shot at the Route 136. Many of the mountain bikes are equipped with triple cranks and enough granny gear to hoist anyone over the 136. It was great to see so many riders out for the morning.

We soon split off from the 136 and started up the Route 100. I was expecting to feel worse than I did, but the legs kept coming back to me. Just after a few short climbs we crossed the bridge to the road up to Jiu Tong Shan.

The first ramp is a real spitter that jumps up from the riverbed and reminds the legs of the delicate nature of managing energy for a climb.

The scenery is more of that lush green that we are used to in Taiwan.

Dom spun his way up the paved track that was just wide enough for a car and a half.

The ride up consists of ramp after ramp of sustained climbing. In the heat and humidity it can feel like your chest is about to overheat and explode.

The road carries you up to a little wooden pavilion that makes a great spot to rest the legs. The spot sits above a valley that carries the echoing sound of screaming legs all the way back to Taiping. 

There is a fork in the road and they can both lead to the coffee shops at the top of the mountain. Either way is hard, but I seem to believe the way we did not take has to be easier. The left fork also leads to a road that goes to Chung-ho Village. 

Upon leaving the pavilion we mashed gears all the way up to another fork in the road where we stopped to contemplate our options with a few other riders. 

From that vantage point we could look out over Taichung City all the way to Changhua, Dajia and the coast. It was incredibly clear, but the promise of rain was beginning to fill the darkening sky behind us. 

The right fork looked more like a wall. To the great pleasure of everyone below, I took a run at it and threw myself into the climb. I made great progress before my cleat popped out and killed my momentum. I probably could have made it another 20 meters before giving up. The easier points on the climb hovered around 30% grade. There was no hope of staying on the bike for the duration. It seemed like it would never stopped. 

We hiked the rest of the way to where the road evened out. In the back of my mind I thought about the return along the same road. 

The top of the climb boasts a couple coffee shops to pick up a celebratory refreshment and a chance to view the greater Taichung area as a beautiful cityscape rather than the blight of urban chaos we are so used to seeing from the city. Coffee was a sobering NT$140. I guess they figure you'll be willing to pay anything for a refreshment after getting to the top.

Returning down to the main road was just as difficult as going up. It is easy for gravity to take over and pull the bike beyond the limit of the best braking systems. People who think disc brakes are overkill on a road bike have never ridden Taiwan. 

The way down to Chung-ho is a bit bumpy as the concrete is not very smooth. At one point I had to slow down just to see straight with the vibrations rattling my eyeballs loose. 

The whole ride was a great exercise in climbing and technical descending. 

After the climb up to Jiu Tong Shan, the switchbacks up to Hsin She seemed easy. We passed a group of seniors on a vigorous ride before fighting the wind back into town. 

  The descent from Hsin She was slowed by a cement truck, and then I was buzzed by a guy on a scooter who was trying to impress his girlfriend with how close he could come to me without hitting me. I later discovered that he was not interested in impressing her with his English. 

The entire ride was only about 60km, but the work out felt like almost double that. 

It was nice to have a good, fulfilling ride in the books by lunch time before the clouds and rain moved in. 

A great ride to practice climbing. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Taiwan Tourism Goes On The Offensive in the Washington Times

Dili Village, Taiwan

  The Washington Times recently published an article focusing on Taiwan's bicycle boom. The writer, Jonathan Heflin does an impressive job in sewing together incongruous snippets of the Tourism Bureau agenda to form a semi-coherent article on the state of Taiwan's state sponsored cycling programs. 

Maybe I am a skeptic at heart, but there are plenty of other cycling cheerleaders out there to give anything related to cycling a knee-jerk round of cheers. This blogger and experienced Taiwan watcher has some reservations when it comes to how and why Taiwan and Taiwanese cycling is promoted in the media. 

I have been around the block enough times to understand that the Washington Times is a frequent and reliable source for Taiwan's government to promote its policies and agenda through a seemingly third party source. Often, ROC government editorials, letters and favorable stories are released through the WT. With that in mind, and the obvious lengths the Tourism Bureau and the Government Information Office have gone to alter reality in the foreign press through CNN-GO, I have my reservations as some of the same incongruous themes and talking points appear in report after report. 

The WT article states: 
In recent years, this southeastern Asian island nation has felt the strain on air quality due to a growing number of automobiles. To combat this issue, promote a healthy lifestyle,  and create meaningful tourism opportunities the country has focused its efforts on molding a cycling culture - reintroducing this very basic form of transportation to its people. Finding the perfect combination of ingredients for such a complex recipe, however, isn't always so easy.
For this long-time expat, the issue is a confluence of factors. As Taiwan's economy has shifted and the ideals of democracy have become entrenched in the twenty-five years after nearly a century of both Japanese and Chinese Nationalist authoritarian colonialism, Taiwanese have come to demand more from their government. Gone are the days when the government could simply strong-arm both metropoles and localities into accepting destructive and harmful environmental policies that benefit a few (though it still happens to some extent). People are better educated and do not feel obliged to being poisoned for the sake of economic or diplomatic graces. 

The highlighted section alludes to incorporating the bicycle into the transportation grid. Regular readers of this blog will understand my skepticism as so much infrastructure spending is lavished on leisure cycling and the transportation aspect is sorely underdeveloped or totally neglected by central and local governments. 
Home to one of the world's biggest bike manufacturers, Giant, Taiwan quickly gained an advocate willing to join the fight in bringing cycling to center stage in the country.  Giant has been a key player in efforts to make the island more cycle friendly. One important push was to create the U-Bike bike rental program in the capital city of Taipei, which uses Giant brand bikes.
Giant has done a great job in promoting cycling activities, but as a manufacturer, retailer and advisor to the president, there is an obvious conflict of interest between what is good for Giant and what is good for Taiwan. Giant is in the position to help mold cycling infrastructure to benefit Giant and limit consumer choice. Are we being steered to embrace leisure cycling at the expense of utility cycling because that is where the dollars are?  
Building dedicated bike paths and adding bike lanes to the existing streets has been another key ingredient in the success of Taiwan's cycling culture. Bike paths in major cities have provided a place for recreational cyclists to ride. The idea of biking for recreation can be a foreign idea to many in a society which has historically used them mainly for transportation and delivery of goods. Seeing one's peers take to the bike paths for fun has helped broaden the idea of what cycling can be.
Ah! So here we see the discussion oscillate back to leisure cycling. The urban lanes have been deemed useless due to misuse by non-bicycle traffic and an unwillingness on the part of the authorities to enforce space for cyclists. 

Moreover, the pike paths were built in response to demand. It was not simply about the government building infrastructure and people responding. The Dunhua Rd. bike lane mess was the result of the Taipei government trying to capitalize on the cycling craze during an election year. 

The highlighted section in red emphasizes a retreat from cycling as anything more than a leisure activity. The bias is clear. 
By easing the public into cycling through improved infrastructure, with user friendly rental programs such as U-Bike, and by promoting bike tourism, Taiwan has created a recipe for success that has worked particularly well there. The island has been rewarded for its focused execution with a cycling culture which is growing steadily and thriving in a region more used to the modern travel modes of the 21st century.
This piece attempts to validate the government's efforts in generating cycling success rather than showing how the government has responded (or failed to respond) to the needs of the cycling public.

 I can't help but wonder how instrumental Taiwan's government has been in crafting foreign perceptions of our cycling culture. If we only focus on what is right and embellish the perceptions of our cycling aspirations as if they were real in today's world... we stand to avoid making the changes that need to be made for these cycling dreams to become reality. 

From monitoring English language media on Taiwan cycling, I would be inclined to believe that:

a) Taiwan is a cycling paradise in every regard; an Asian Copenhagen. 
b) Taiwan's government and Giant are the grand architects of Taiwan's cycling culture. 
c) You can easily ride and park your bike in every major city.
d) Taiwan's bike trails actually lead to important places. 
e) Taipei's recreational bike paths connect seamlessly to Taiwan's Rift Valley between Hualien and Taidong. 

Taiwan Links:

The UCI and IOC will allow brand logos on the bikes used by Olympians in 2012. This is good news for Taiwanese companies that produce many of the frames and components being used by the competitors. 

Judge uses Google Maps to finger culprit in bike accident. 

Other Links: 

Bike Messenger Madness. The art of the U-Lock window smash

The Lovely Bicycle recommends some salty lemonade for summer cycling. I prefer a popsicle and a Fin at the convenience store. 

If the Australian cycling boom is a myth, it may also be untrue elsewhere. 

Tour de France:

The rider of the year award would have to go to the Slovak, Peter Sagan. The 22yo. rider for Liquigas-Cannondale has lit up the 2012 cycling calendar with an early points win in the Tour of Oman, as well as taking an incredible five stage wins in the eight stage Tour of California. In his prelude to the Tour de France, Sagan took four stages and the points win in the Tour de Suisse. Then, on the biggest stage of them all, Sagan claimed three stage wins in the opening week of the Tour de France. His youthful exuberance at the finish line is enough to get any casual cyclist to tune in to one of the broadcasts on Steephill. 

Bradley Wiggins slams critics over doping. Claims his success is rooted in British pub culture. 

Lance Armstrong vs. The World. It appears even his best friends will throw him under the bus. Still, what is the point. You'd have to investigate everyone from that era to uncover the "true" winner of those races. He passed the doping controls set up by the race organizer. Whether he did that by hook or by crook is irrelevant. I hope every rider in the peloton is clean and scared to death of doping controls. Prosecuting LA several years after the fact just seems selective. 

The hope of Canada withdraws from Tour. Hesjedal (I spelled that right on the first try) goes home injured.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Tracing The Route 139: The Foothills of Central Taiwan

The view from the water cooler at the Fengshan Temple, Bagua Shan

I guess the third time's a charm.

I have tried to explore the Route 139 from Nantou to Jiji on two prior occasions, both times as part of a rebuilding regimen while I try to reverse my state of physical decline. 

The Route 139 looked accessible within my target range of distance, while promising some hills to ease the legs back into climbing shape. The route was close enough to some major highways in case anything went wrong. 

Route 139

I plodded down the Highway 3 to Nantou, while cutting through an irritating crosswind. The breeze was enough to make me wonder it was the wind or simply my own suckage. 

Halfway through Nantou on the Highway 3 I took a left onto the Route 139, which drops on down into  Nantou city. There is a little black and white sign designating the Route 139 continuing diagonally to the right. The roads get tricky, but it is, in fact, the smaller diagonal road that goes out to the Route 139.

Taiwanese Weekend Fun

The 139 is a smooth, well maintained road that wends through small farming communities in the foothills above Nantou. The scenery is that spectacularly radiant green that so defines much of the Taiwanese rural landscape. 
A River Runs Through It

The road dips and climbs past some wonderfully free flowing rivers. In Taiwan our rivers are too often boxed in with concrete to really give the impression that they are a part of the natural landscape. 

There are a few pineapple farms that dot the areas surrounding the Route 139, and some impressive mountains hover in the background. 
Pineapple Fields

The Route 139 from Nantou to the tourist town of Jiji was less challenging that I would have liked, and it was a short 14km with only a couple halfway decent climbs. It was a pleasant road that might make an excellent and creative alternative to the Highway 3, but it was nothing to really challenge the legs. I might suggest it for a novice who might like to explore the area around Jiji. It might make a great, slow-paced day ride if combined with the shady Route 152
A Grave Man

Just before emptying out into Jiji, I stopped to snoop around Jiji's Second Cemetery located just on the outskirts of town. You can learn a lot about Taiwan from the stories written on the face of a grave stone (more on that in some other post).  
Over Jiji
End of the Route 139

After the 921 earthquake in 1999, Jiji's rustic train station and tourist district was nearly wiped out. From the rubble Jiji rebuilt itself as a bicycle destination where cyclists can arrive and rent bikes for a day or simply ride into town for some refreshments on a long team ride.  

Just out of Jiji I had another flat. I took some time to examine the wheel. Four flats in a week is getting to be a little much. Everything checked out as the hole was in a completely different spot than the prior three, so I aired up and continued back toward Taichung. 

I was still feeling like my desire for a challenging ride had not been satisfied and thus, when I arrived at the point where I embarked on the Route 139, I turned up the hill and charged up Bagua Shan. The 139  toward Changhua is not as much a road as it is a ramp that just vaults skyward out of the Nantou valley. There are no switchbacks to recover. It is just one long grind to the top of the hill. In the searing heat the climb becomes a mental exercise in concentration.  
Farmers Take 5

Once at the top, I took advantage of the slight decline to bring my speed up and make time on the way back home. Despite the slow grind to the top, the lack of traffic and stoplights makes a wonderful way to return to Taichung. The Route 139 atop Bagua Shan is such a great road and it was nice to take it in the opposite direction I am used to. There are a few short climbs and even more invigorating dips that draw out your remaining speed and power just to push the limits of speed. 

In the end, the entire ride was about 112km/70mi.

It was such a nice day for a ride. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Product Review: Tacx Lumos Lights and Continental Force

Tacx Lumos Bike Lights:

Like most people I work regular hours for a living and that means I have to do most of my serious training at night.

Taiwan can be a frustrating and dangerous place to ride during the day, and at night you have to be even more careful. Good lighting and visibility is essential to surviving each ride unscathed.

For the past several years I had been using a Cat Eye bar top mounted light with strobe and solid beams pairs with a couple of blinkeys on the back.

The worst thing about the Cat Eye was that several times during a ride, I would have to slow down and re adjust the strap to keep it from dangling or dropping off the bar completely. No matter how tight I would fasten the damned light, a little rough pavement or bump on a bridge, would send it illuminating my shoes.

I went into T-Mosaic and saw the Tacx bar end mounted lights and was intrigued. I finally broke down and bought them. After a few nights out with them, I think I like them pretty okay.

They are bright. They are solidly mounted to the bar ends and run on AA batteries. Each side shines front and rear with a blinker if you ever remember to use it. These are all good points.

I don't like the lack of a strobe. It is easy for me to imagine a vehicle misjudging my distance if they aren't sure way type of vehicle I am. I remember one foggy night I was driving through Sun Valley, Idaho. The road was covered in a dusting of snow and the highway covered in fog. I saw a bunch of lights up ahead and wondered what all those cars were doing up there. I suddenly realized that I was about to ram the back end of a semi trailer. The point is: Lights can be deceiving in the dark. A strobe is a good clue that you are a bike.

I am also trying to get used to having something beyond my normal bar ends. A couple times I have turned off the lights by resting my hands on the very ends of the bars.

The last quibble is that the AA batteries rattle when you hit any type of bump and it makes the ride a bit noisy.

My left light has quit working after maybe three night rides. It will turn on if I remove the light and jiggle the contacts, but that only lasts for a moment.

Overall, this COULD BE is a very good product for night owls. I still see lots of room for improvement. Better engineering would be a start. Remounting the button to the outside might be better. Adding a strobe function would make this product a easy choice if it can be robust enough to handle real world riding.

It feels like a beta product, but it is not ready for the consumer.


About 6 weeks ago I brought these lights back to my LBS. The owner was kind enough to send them in to have the engineers look at the problems. Nobody has heard back from Tacx. I was issued a new set on the LBS owner's dime.

When they break... I will be looking elsewhere.

Continental Force Tire:

I am still, and have been for a long time, a huge fan of the Continental 4000 GP tire. It is an excellent performance tire for racing and fast training.

Sadly, when my tire died, I had to face the fact that Taiwan is always in short supply of my trusty 4000 GP. The superior 25c model is even more scarce.

I needed a tire and went with the Continental Force. I chose the force for its performance profile, and for the fact that it is 24c. I thought this would be a good replacement when paired with the 23c 4000 GP on the front.

The tire feels very firm. At first it made my bike feel like one of those old alloy Cannondale biked of the 90s. After a while the tire felt very smooth and a very good roller with plenty of tack on the road.

I have not had it long enough to rate the wear, but so far, this is a very nice performance tire. Very racy.

Central Taiwan Cycling Health WARNING: Seasonal Burning

Smoke from Changhua fields

Last night, as I was charging through Caotun halfway through my Wednesday night training ride, I felt my chest tighten and it became harder to draw a solid breath of air. 

At first I thought I had overcooked in my effort and I paused at 7-11 for a water in the A/C. 

I knew I was out of shape, but everything seemed to be going well. Until that point I expected my legs to cramp up before my lungs. 

I started to recognize the feeling of an allergy induced asthma attack and I was traveling without my inhaler or antihistamine. Doh!

As I blew my nose into a complimentary 7-11 napkin, I became keenly aware of the smell (and taste) of  smoke. 

That is when it dawned on me that I had charged full speed into burning season. This is the time of year when farmers burn off the rice husks in their fields and prepare for the next crop of rice. The practice pollutes the air with thick smoke and creates a potentially dangerous situation for those of us with asthma or other respiratory problems. 

If you have allergies, asthma, or any other respiratory problem that could lead to a medical emergency, be sure to keep that in mind when choosing your routes for the next couple of weeks. Also be sure to carry everything you need if you have an emergency. 

I finished my ride at about half-speed, and not after spraying the roadway with two dozen snot rockets. My throat was a bit sore and I had a pounding headache. Feeling much better now. 

Ride safe!

Team Neko To The Rescue: Thanks Again!


Last Saturday I went on another longish ride out toward Nantou as I claw my way back into shape after a 2 month hiatus. There are days when one or two things conspire against you... and there are days when it seems everything does. 

On Saturday, it seemed lots was going wrong. 


I had intended to ride down past Mingian, and then loop back to Nantou via the Route 139, which, if ridden in its entirety would be an amazing ride. This is the second time I had tried to find the Route 139, and often, the view from the map is vastly different from that of the roadside. In my mind's eye, I thought I knew where to go... and I did. The problem was that there is a jumble of roads in the area and I managed to find myself on the wrong one. By the time I realized I would be missing the Route 139, it was too late and I had already wasted too much energy to go back. 


Instead of chewing up grit on a mouthful of nasty hills in the hot sun, I was looping through the shady avenues of the leisurely Route 152, which has become something of a novice route for city slickers visiting the town of Ji Ji and rent bikes on a lark. 


The Route 152 is pretty and pleasant. 


It follows the old banana rail lines around JiJi and within 30 minutes I was plopped back on the Highway 3 headed home.


I rode up the Highway 3 looking for any roads that might show the promise of adventure and as I was passing a 7-11, I felt my rear tire deflate. 

"Damn!", I thought to myself, "Well, at least I am in front of a 7-11. It could be worse." 

I parked my bike and went in for a popsicle and a little A/C before getting down and dirty with changing a flat. 

Once I got everything changed, I hit the road back. After riding less than a kilometer, I felt the road getting soft under my rear tire again. I got off the bike and located a tear in the rubber of my tire. It seemed the high pressure was forcing the tube through the hole causing it to explode. 

Just as I started walking to the Circle K that was just on the other side of the bridge to repeat the flat ritual I had just completed minutes earlier, a number of riders from Taichung's Team Neko stopped by to lend a hand. I explained the problem and it was as if a team of race mechanics had descended on my bike. I gave them space and I was back up and riding-- albeit a little soft in the rear to avoid another blow-out. 

I recognized several of the riders from Caffe Terry, and I decided to hang with Neko for the remainder of the ride. I figured it would be like riding with a mobile bicycle shop. Lots of people with pumps and tubes if anything went wrong.

The group had well over twenty riders, so it was nice to take advantage of the draft. The pace was quick at the front, but not too fast, about 35-38kph. Occasionally the studs of the group would launch off the front in a bit of fun. For me, I was just happy to get a tow home. It was also nice to have one of the only metal bikes in the middle of a bunch of beautiful carbon bikes.

Neko is Taichung's default group ride. They are well organized and always doing something different on both Saturday and Sunday. They also do weekly Wednesday night rides. You can't miss them with their jailbird stripes and cat logo. I see them all the time, but have never had a chance to ride with them before Saturday. Anyone is welcome to join Neko, so they attract both the hardcore racer and the cycling novice. A beginner could learn a lot from these guys. 

There schedule can be found HERE. Sadly there is no English option. 

I bumped along with the group all the way back to Taichung with 20psi in my rear tire. When the group split up and several members finally landed at a cafe, I thanked them for the help and in allowing me to crash the party. 

This is very much the spirit of cycling in Taiwan. People are very supportive and always ready to lend a hand. 

Thanks again Neko.