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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

European Cyclists' Federation Director Questions Taiwan's Commitment to Cycling

A reader spotted this ad in Florida

In a report from Taiwan Focus, Kevin Mayne, the director of a major European cycling advocacy group leveled some needed criticism of Taiwan's commitment to incorporating cycling into the transportation grid despite Taiwan's recent claims of being a "bicycle kingdom" and a "cycling paradise". 

According to the report:
"Taipei, March 20 (CNA) Taiwan needs to lower its speed limits and allocate more space for cyclists if it hopes to achieve its aim of transforming into a "cycling island," a foreign expert said Wednesday."
Mayne's observations and recommendations came amid the opening of the 2013 Taipei Cycle bicycle expo in Nangang.

Mayne's stinging criticism underscores what many cyclists in Taiwan have understood for a long time. The solutions are there, but the political will is not.
Mayne, whose federation consists of national cycling organizations throughout Europe, said speed limits in Taiwan are too high for cars and scooters to coexist with cyclists.
Cities friendly toward cyclists usually have speed limits of below 30 kilometers per hour, he said, citing German and Dutch cities as examples. 
He said lowering speed limits is also a "cheap" solution to building Taiwan into a cycling paradise, as nothing needs to be built. "What you need is political will and enforcement," he added. 
Mayne also advised cities in Taiwan to allocate more space for cyclists and to take bolder steps to improve the environment for them, citing New York, Paris, London and Vienna as examples of cities that are currently doing so and upon which Taiwan could model itself.
He said the bike-sharing system in Paris, for example, offered 15,000 bikes when it was first launched, while Taipei's bike-sharing system, Youbike, currently offers only 1500. 
Mayne's observations are welcome words to cycling advocates as he knowingly, or not, shines a light on the fact that much of Taiwan's trouble in realizing its own ad copy comes from the fact that cycling and cycling infrastructure is often deployed by opportunistic politicians to score cheap points or direct public funds into politically advantageous locations. There is no wide-spread commitment to cycling beyond tourism. Much of what has been built is simply for show with little concern for function.

The rebuttal from Giant's King Liu may serve to best exemplify what is wrong with Taiwan's cycling infrastructure.
Meanwhile, King Liu, chairman of Taiwan's bicycle titan Giant, pointed out that the government invested NT$3 billion (US$100.85 million) to build 2,088 km of dedicated bike lanes around the country between 1999 and 2011. 
The government plans to invest a further NT$1.2 billion to build more bike lanes in the next four years, he went on. 
Giant cooperated with the Taipei city government in 2009 to launch the Youbike, which is now used by over 20,000 people every day, a number that is expected to increase when the program is expanded this year, he added.
The focus is always on the abstraction of numbers and never on how these projects will benefit the society and the community. Liu does not detail how those lanes are expected to be used.

In practice, many/most of those kilometers exist on the fringe of the cities and are allocated for leisure cycling, and thus they do little to reduce carbon emissions or reduce the use of motorized traffic. Most of those lanes are completely divorced from the transportation grid that connects home and work. Cars. busses and scooters are not being replaced by bicycles in Taiwan.

In many ways Liu highlights why Taiwan's priorities are not in-line with Mayne's vision of urban cycling. The goal is not really to promote bicycle infrastructure, but rather to dole out tax dollars to townships and sell more Giant bikes (the more expensive ones the better).

As a nation with access to domestic bicycle production, the glad handing over kilometers and tax dollars spent should be replaced by a sense of shame and missed opportunity.... unless you are in the business of constructing all those kilometers of bike lanes.

Training Wheels: My Route Back To Fitness

Riding Taichung Baimao Shan

I spent the past four or five weeks trying to build back into shape for Sanlinxi. Riding one or two times per week is not the recipe for making great gains, but I tried to build on what I already had in my legs to multiply my gains.

I tried to take a few pictures on my training rides, but was usually too busy to think much about blog fodder.

Here are some of the routes I used to whip myself back into some form of shape.

The weather was perfect for too many days in a row and I hardly took advantage of the dry February days.

Riding Baimao Shan

After a couple rides to check my knee, I threw myself at the three climbs of the loop over the fence. The ride was aimed at testing my endurance over repeated climbs and distance.

With an initial climb to Zhong-xing Ling, near Hsin-she, I took the Route 95-1 to the Highway 21 and Baimao Shan.
Bike route 2021579 - powered by Bikemap 


This is a regular training route for central Taiwan's competitive cyclists. It offers some great views, smooth roads, and thrilling descents. The climbs are steady and, if done with a bit of urgency, can really stress the system.


After emptying out of Guoxing Township onto the Highway 14, I took the bold step to climb back to Taichung over the Route 136. The 136 from the Puli side is the hardest climb at the day and that is why it is served last.

I found this great sign to promote skiing, snowmobiling and other wintery activities that are so popular in Taiwan.

Bike route 2021575 - powered by Bikemap 

Snow Sports


I didn't feel so great after the ride over the Route 136, and decided to take a step back and stay closer to home. I dashed up the Route 88 from Fengyuan to keep the legs awake. I felt much better on the climbs. The Route 88 is actually higher than the more commonly used Route 129, but without the traffic.


By the next ride Ole' Dom had come back from vacation and we could do some training together as we were both registered to ride the Sanlinxi race.

I needed to stay close to home and monitor my knee for any more soreness.

Therefore, I plotted a great set of climbs lacing over Dadu Shan; the 10km berm that separates Taichung City from the Taiwan Strait.

It was an interesting ride so close to home. I was able to push the legs to the red zone and repeat. That day I was feeling good. I recommend the route as a great option for climbing without really leaving the city.

Bike route 2021568 - powered by Bikemap 


We had the February 28 memorial day off, so Dom, James, Cam, Steven and myself took to the foothills for a bit of an added day of riding.


We took the Pinglin Rd. from Zhuolan after a climb over the Route 129 to Dongshih. The Pinglin Rd. offers a degree of hills and false flats that make for great riding away from traffic. We kept the pace above friendly and I tried to slightly over-gear the climbs.


By the time we had looped back to the Highway 3 my legs were rubber. My body wanted to rest. My mind wanted to keep training, but my legs wanted to go home. We were all hurting a little bit, so I split from the group and climbed the Miaoli Route 130.

Foolishly satisfying. With weather that great and too many wasted days behind me, I was happy to get out and put in a little more than I could match with my legs.



Family obligations took me to Sanxia and Tucheng in New Taipei City. I decided to take my bike and tackle a hill climb I had been eying for a while.

As I left the house I noticed my rear tire, which was designated as a purely competition tire, was severely frayed and missing a lot of rubber. I quickly grabbed a bag of new tires and tubes before leaving and planned to install them when I arrived in Taipei. I also hoped to tighten my rear hub.

I left the hex wrench at home and decided to take my bike to the local bike shop to tighten my hub and throw the tires on while the bike was there. I figured it would be easier as I really had no place to work on my bike other than out in the rainy street.

That was a costly mistake.

The Giant shop charged me NT500 for the job.

I imagine the owner, a small shop owner who bought into the franchise, is feeling the pinch from the company and passes the screw down to the customer.


The climb is right behind the Tucheng MRT station. It starts as a gradual climb into the hills before it becomes a screaming wall of pain.


The picture does not properly illustrate the severity of the ramp, but it was a serious exercise in pain.
I hung my body far out over the head tube; my knees hitting the bars on every stroke.


I bit down and trudged up to where the grade eased up a bit. My family was waiting at the top for lunch at A-Sali. A hillside restaurant that specializes in local fare like free range chicken as well as wild game food. Most of the fare is grown locally on the mountain where there are several hiking trails.


The ride took only about a half-hour, but it took a lot out of me.

IMG_2539 Asali

I returned to Sanxia mostly satisfied, but worried that it wouldn't be enough to build on my gains.

Biking Hills of Taipei

Time was running out and I needed to really put my legs to the test to simulate the cycles of stress and recovery on a long, competitive climb.

Above Sanxia

Aside from a Tuesday night warm-up ride, my last chance to make improvements and adjustments came on a climb up Daxue Shan above Dongshih Township.

Bike route 2021571 - powered by Bikemap 


The weather was the best I have ever experienced up there. Several other riders seemed to be using the mountain as a facsimile of the Sanlinxi race. The climbs are similar in grade, length and altitude, but Daxue Shan was much closer to home.

IMG_2588 IMG_2591

The views were stunningly clear that day.

The only obstacles for the descent were the birds and bird watchers. I almost ran over this Swinhoe's Pheasant as I let gravity take over.

Bike route 2021573 - powered by Bikemap