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Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Hammering Up Anvil Hill: A Ride Forged in the Furnace of Summer


I had been hoping for a ride closer to home, so I took off to climb Anvil Hill behind Dajia Township. I really didn't know what to expect.

Anvil Hill is easily identifiable with a concrete Japanese era blockhouse, which once served as part of the coastal defense system and possibly as part of the network to defend the Kokan aerodrome in Taichu (Taichung) during WWII.

The crumbling concrete structure poking above the long grasses of the hillside was enough of a curiosity to bait me into making the short climb to the top to check it out and to explore the area behind Dajia.

Few riders were out in the high temperatures and each protracted stop light made it feel like a barbecue pit. Superfluous stop lights disappeared in the ripples of heat in a bid to keep the air flowing over my body. It was one of those days where you approach an intersection and the only thing there is  the acrid stink of someone else's body odor still sizzling on the pavement.

On the northern edge of Dajia I took a right up Taichung Route 12, a.k.a. Chenggong Rd. (成功路), that climbs into the Anvil Hill Scenic Area, which is perched above the alluvial plain of the Dajia River.
The climb is short, but stiff and at the top I took a side road out toward the southern face of the hill.

I was really taken aback by how quickly the scenery had transformed from the slipshod concrete of Dajia township, to the etched green squares of rural Taiwan. The Dajia River Valley more resembled the picturesque agriculture of Yilan or Taidong than the notoriously dusty industrial hub of Taichung.
The road narrowed as it pulled upward, and I was soon faced with a little cyclocross action to get up to the highest section.
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I had a fill panorama of the entire Dajia plain, from Sanyi, all the way to the coast.
The site is popular with radio controlled glider hobbyists and I watched for a few minutes as they dive bombed the tombs below. I am not sure what that does for one's Fengshui, but nobody seemed worried.
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I took some time to think through my route, and decided to just continue along the Route 12. The heat combined with a bullying headwind would make for enough of a workout without killing myself.

There were no cars along the slick squiggle of asphalt that cut between the overgrowth that was spilling onto the roadway
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From the hillside I could see several possibilities for future adventures. The roads all zig-zag out toward Houli and Sanyi, so the Route 12 would make a great escape to or from the coast.
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After a tour of some rice fields and several of the invisible, grey businesses that seem to spring up in the immediate vicinity of gravel companies, I followed the river back to Dajia before retreating to a 7-11 for an ice cream. The headwind made the return into a hill climb.

In all, this makes a nice getaway in an area we tend to be resigned to just passing through out of rare necessity.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Soaking Up The Miaoli 54-1: Rain Rides


Last Saturday looked like the better of available weekend days for a ride. It smelled a little rainy, but the roads were dry. This time of year in Taiwan will often start the day tantalizingly clear, with bright sunshine and puffy white clouds lazily hanging over the mountain peaks. By noon it can often turn to sheets of rain and slop.

I have a simple policy for rainy forecasts. If it is raining when I wake up and shows no sight on stopping by a reasonable starting hour, I'll skip it and hope for the next day. If it is dry at start time...the ride continues even if the rain starts to fall. It just means the extra hassle of drying out the bearings.

I met up with Rob, a rider I had never ridden with before, and we headed toward the hills at an even pace for shooting the shit and talking shop. After some harder training days mid-week, I really was ready for a more dialled back ride.

Reaching the 7-11 in Jhuolan, we ran into Michael Turton from The View From Taiwan, and his crew of Iris and Mike (a.k.a. Mike Surly/M'erican Teacher). In an odd way, it was a meeting of several oddball spokes in the Taichung cycling world. It was also a great opportunity to keep the atmosphere of the ride fluid and amicable. I really enjoy these rides.

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The coffee and fuel from 7-11 vanished too quickly and it was time to head out. I had originally just planned an attack on the Miaoli Route 130 for a final sampling of the DT Swiss RR21 Dicut wheel that have been a revelation in the stiffness that can be engineered into a set of lightweight alloy hoops.

Instead, we headed out of Jhuolan on the Shuanglian Industrial Rd. that humps up a stiff climb through a cemetery (possibly littered with the bodies of cyclists who broke trying to cap the heart popping climb).
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As we pushed and heaved and zagged up the ramps, mist became a dribble that became a full drumming of raindrops on hemet tops and gear.


We met up with the 54-1, which is excellent by itself, or part of a larger network of rides that really showcase the hidden gems of Sanyi cycling. The 54-1 traces along the fingers of the Liyu Reservoir and through patches of orchard land.
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There are still plenty of short climbs as the route skims along a crumples ridge above the Dajia River Valley.
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The mist and rain obscured the deal of the foothills in a gouache blending of shapes and lines. Once you get used to the fact that it is raining, it can add an element of beauty to the landscape that we too frequently miss by hunkering down indoors.
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We eventually crossed the Highway 3 to the Route 130 and battled our way up against drizzle and gravity. It looked like a coin flip on the weather, so we trudged up to the Mile High Cafe for some hot Hakk-esque cuisine, which was totally welcome in the weather. 
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We lost the coin toss and the rain was soon coming down in sheets.... Enough to make the fun descent down the back of the mountain a whole lotta not fun, so we retreated and beat it home. 

I had been feeling like I was ploughing into the rain covered streets for some time and then realized it was the least convenient flat... a flat in the rain. The two-way rim allowed me to switch from tubeless to clincher mode with ease and we were again on our way back to Taichung. 

If riding in the rain is good for anything, it makes for the greatest naps afterward. 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Message Understood?: Outgoing Cabinet Poll Shows Wide Support for Bike Policy


In what appears to be an attempt to bolster the deeply tarnished reputation of outgoing president Ma Ying-jeou, a cabinet level survey has revealed a previously unobserved groundswell of public satisfaction with a large swath of Ma administration policies to give the outgoing president a veneer of vindication. The new numbers serve as the final revelation to the ignorance Ma cited leading to the failure of many key policies, including cross-strait relations, economics, tourism, and transportation.

The Straits Times:
ST: And yet, voters delivered a stunning indictment of you, your policies and the KMT (Kuomintang) on Jan 16. What do you think led to such a state of affairs? I know you blame it on communications failure, you’ve said: “Actually there are many good policies that the public don’t understand because we haven’t communicated them enough.” Is that all there is? Do you feel you’ve been misunderstood?
... or (link)
"Ma's policies have painted him as for the one percent and China, at a time when society at large is fed up with both," said Jonathan Sullivan, associate professor at the University of Nottingham's School of Contemporary Chinese Studies in Britain. 
"Adding to these policy outcomes is Ma's personal reputation for aloofness, indecisiveness -- but paradoxically with an authoritarian streak -- incompetence and inability to balance the interests of his party, Taiwan and his own personal objectives," added Sullivan.  
Even staunch KMT supporters have turned their backs, with the party in tatters having lost its majority in parliament for the first time under Ma. 
"We had high hopes, but we saw our faith in him fading away," said Sun Chieh-yi, 59, a retired watch shop owner who comes from a traditionally pro-KMT family.
"People do not feel their lives are any better than before." 
The China Post reports:
The survey also found that about 70 percent of the respondents said they are satisfied with the results of the completion of the Hualien Taitung electric rail system, the Wugu-Yangmei Overpass on a section of National Freeway No. 1 in Northern Taiwan, and the addition of three stops on the High Speed Rail system.  
Policies that received wide support include the expansion of bicycle paths around the country, and the distribution of subsidies for childcare and free tuition for children under the age of 5, at 69.8 percent and 65.2 percent, respectively, the results show.
Let me remind the reader of what this bicycle policy is, in case you missed it. The central government, with a budget of NT1.2 billion (USD 36.4 million dollars), posted a series of brown sign posts along Taiwan's more heavily trafficked highways and maybe installed a few shower areas (not sure exactly where). This is a system that serves leisure tourism interests to better enable periodic long distance cycling trips between major cities. Unfortunately, these paths hardly do justice to Taiwan's beautiful cycling roads, and serve to be more about keeping cyclists close to businesses and transportation. Much of the main route covers the gritty Highway 1, with little more done than sign to tell riders that they are on the Route No. 1. Few, if any, real changes have been made to the route to make it less of a slog through an eyesore. Moreover, the designated cycling routes do nothing to address pollution or traffic congestion.

Of course, the landslide victory for the DPP to ring in the new year was mostly a referendum on the policies of Ma Ying-jiu, whose popularity struggled to cling to double digits for the remainder of his term. Moreover, an economic policy that saw the economy enter contraction as opposed to the salad days of Chen Shui-bian, who ruined the economy with a growth rate averaging 3.8 percent growth between 2000 and 2008, with two years averaging six percent. Ma tried to replace outsourced jobs with jobs in the service industry and in a heavy emphasis on tourism, which has been a net failure for Taiwan.

As far as cycling opportunities outside of tourism, European companies are looking to source less from Asian OEMs and do more of the assembly in Europe to take advantage of the EU. Monday night the editor-in-chief of Bike Europe held a presentation on cutting lead times and the shift to producing final products in the world's most lucrative bicycle market. Currently, The Netherlands is Europe's largest producer of bicycles, followed by Germany and Belgium a distant third. Still, most bicycles are still sourced from Taiwan.


Sunday, May 8, 2016

A Whole Lotta Lovely!: Ride and Links


One of the great things about living in Taichung, is the close proximity to the hills. Taichung allows the rider innumerable combinations of hilly routes that sit right above the city. Unlike some other areas of Taiwan, most of these routes offer up the climbs and the scenery, without ever having to backtrack on the way home.


I have done this route dozens of times but it never feels old. I might... but the route never does. This time out I was testing some equipment for a future post and project, and there is no better testing ground that the mixture of high velocity descents, tight corners, distance and heart stopping climbs.
I normally would post on this route as I have so many times in the past, but there is something to be said of the sensation of descending on a well built titanium bike not everyone understands. It allows you to use your hips to fling the bike into the corners as you stomp the outside pedal. It is wonderfully reactive to rider input.

Then, while climbing over the dreaded 136, my body told me to do this route much more often and get used to the heat. The cramps hit like firecrackers. It was a lovely Saturday on the bicycle and it was the type of ride that keeps me scheming for the next adventure.  



  • Over the weekend, Taiwan's Huang Ting-ying on the Women's circuit, took the opening stage of the Tour of Chongming Island in Shanghai. It is remarkable that these incredible Taiwanese cyclists such as Huang and Hsiao Mei-yu and Sally Wang, among others, have been able to accomplish so much in the sport while viewing their bicycles as accessories, like handbags.

As goes Taipei, so goes Taichung, with other cities around Taiwan following suit. And as go the big cities, so go the smaller towns around Taiwan, thousands of them connected by bicycle-friendly roads, and in many cases dedicated cycling paths.
Readers can assess this one.   

Friday, May 6, 2016

Short Rides: Friday Links

Untitled Ebikes: 

Beginning July 1, Taiwan's Ministry of Transportation will be tightening regulations on Ebikes requiring riders to be licensed and the vehicles to be registered with the MoT. The new regulations will view the Ebike as a light motor vehicle as opposed to a bicycle. The move was due to the sharp rise in collisions between Ebike riders and pedestrians. Taiwan's strategy is a bit more subtle than the heavy-handed approach China has taken to address the problem by banning the vehicles in several major cities. 

Travel and Politics: 

A traveller from Hong Kong uses the bike to take a gentle dig at Beijing by contrasting Taiwan's urban development to Hong Kong's recent trajectory. 
On our first stop in Taipei what struck me was the freedom of movement; there are bikes everywhere. 
It’s similar to the mainland in that regard, but you soon notice how the government has been responsive to the needs of its citizens. 
Everywhere you go in Taiwan there are bike paths, sloped shoulders to drive on and off the pavement, and even lights specifically set up for cyclists to bike diagonally at crossing. 
As a tourist I felt I could travel anywhere with little concern for practicality.
 Pollution and Commuting: 

The Guardian has put out a piece that claims the benefits of cycling outweigh the harm caused by inhaling exhaust fumes in traffic.
The researchers modelled the effects of cycling and walking at different levels of air pollution and established a tipping point – the length of time after which there was no further health benefit, and a break-even point, when the harm from air pollution began to outweigh the health benefit.  
For Delhi, the most polluted city on the World Health Organisation’s database, the tipping and break-even points for cycling were 30 and 45 minutes per day respectively, while for walking they were 90 minutes and six hours and 15 minutes respectively.
While the researchers looked at the levels of particulates – PM2.5 – in the air and not NO2, which has also been established as harming health, “we did lots of sensitivity analyses and the message would have been the same”, said De Nazelle.
Personally, I don't feel braving PM2.5 levels over 150 is enough to convince me to test the researchers hypothesis. I do know that my asthma will flare up after riding in that shit and we should all be lobbying to not have to make the choice to bike in it at all. I guess they are trying to get us all to feel better about the realities. 

Disc Brakes: 

Don't throw away that disc brake equipped bike just yet... it appears the UCI has decided to give limited testing another go this June.  

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Ride of Silence: May 18th in Taipei

"The graphic above represents Taiwan's bicycle casualties over the past year:
Each broken bicycle on this page represents a broken home. We located the corresponding information from the accident data provided by the government, although it has been difficult to find (and not entirely a full account), I hope we can remember those lost riders. They were once a story with blood and tears in their lives, not just a government statistic. May they rest in peace."
--Ride of Silence-Taiwan (for the full interactive graphic in Chinese, please go to the Ride of Silence Taiwan website)

Taipei will be joining over 250 other cities worldwide in the commemorative Ride of Silence; a rolling memorial to all the cyclists who have been killed on the streets in Taiwan and around the world in cycling solidarity.

Where: The Ride of Silence starts at the Ximen MRT Station and follows a 10k route to the Songshan MRT Station. (MAP)

When: 5/18/2016, 7:00-7:30pm.


  • Organizers hope riders will show their solidarity by wearing either black or white clothing, while keeping the mood respectful of the victims.
  • Riders should keep the mood subdued and ride in silence at no more than 20kph for the duration of the ride.
  • Riders will be required to wear helmets and obey all traffic laws for the duration of the ride.


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Taiwan's Public Cycling Decline


The United Daily the Liberty Times both have reports detailing the Ministry of Transportation's report on a steady decline in bicycle use nationwide.

Taiwan, which often bills itself as the "bicycle kingdom" in promotional material, is experiencing a contraction in the use of public bicycles as well as bicycles for transportation.

The key factor, as pointed out by the Ministry of Transportation, was the easing of fuel prices over the past year, which has encouraged people to opt for the use of personal motorized transportation for shorter trips. Many respondents also cited "convenience" as a factor.

While bicycle use has grown in Taipei, New Taipei City, Hsinchu, Hualien and Pingtung, ridership has fallen elsewhere, negating any gains. According to the data, Yilan, Yunlin, Miaoli, Kaohsiung, Taoyuan, Taichung and Tainan all experienced negative growth in ridership over the past seven years. The Ministry of Transportation feels the expected rise in gas prices could again fuel growth, but some experts are less optimistic.

It is also interesting to look at the areas that experienced the greatest growth and to wonder about infrastructure spending and government subsidies in those areas as they correlate to political alignment.

The study also found that riders between 15-18 years of age were most likely to participate in bike-share programs--a statistic supporting the assertion that Taiwan's bike share programs do little to cut emissions.

In most areas, there is still no real space for bicycles on the roadways, making commuting by bicycle inconvenient, impractical and dangerous.

While Taiwan's bicycle programs have been highly touted in the international press, this report really serves to highlight the disparities between Taiwan's far north, and the rest of the country, as well as how few reporters ever venture out of Taipei.

It could also be that the bike trend is over in Taiwan.    

Monday, May 2, 2016

What's Wrong With The Bicycles?


  “Our future lies in China and one of our goals is to develop this rapidly expanding market”--Giant CEO, Anthony Lo (2011)

Despite all the glad handing and praise the bicycle industry is facing some serious challenges in the short to medium term. There are increasing signs that things are not all well in paradise despite the passage of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA), which was rapidly pushed through Taiwan's legislature and signed by Taiwanese and Chinese representatives in 2010.

“The markets are changing so fast that the rules have been reset, and if we don’t catch up, it is going to be harder for us to hold our own in the global market,”--Giant CEO, Anthony Lo (2013)
Aside from the chemical and mechanical doping scandals that have plagued the professional peloton--bicycling's advertising juggernaut--and possibly squelched interest in the sport, brands have been looking toward new technologies to buoy the industry and churn profits in a sluggish year. Shimano had been a major proponent of disc brakes in the pro ranks for some time and had been expecting reap the benefits. Now with both the UCI and the French Cycling Federation banning the components, a major source of market stimulation has been destabilized. 

Shimano profits are down 20% in the first quarter of 2016, and SRAM is tightening its belt with layoffs due to flagging sales. SRAM's plan to layoff 40 employees deemed "redundant" by the company will be spread over the company's global business, including the United States, Europe and Asia. 
“No one ever wants to be in position to request that people leave an organization, but sometimes it has to happen. I am confident that this restructuring positions us where we need to be and puts us on a firm foundation to drive forward into an evolving bike market.”--SRAM President, Stan Day
Wholesalers carry too much inventory into the first quarter, with the new product year looming (what is it now, May?). 
The lack of sales growth over last year is worrying in light of better weather conditions in much of the country this year. The Upper Midwest and Northeast were slammed with heavy snows in early 2015 but saw better conditions this year. However, the BPSA figures show that sales to retailers in January and February still lagged, though March wholesale sales showed a 6 percent improvement over 2015. 
Suppliers are seeing slow road and cruiser shipments at the start of the year, with road bike sales falling 9 percent overall. But mountain bike shipments are up 13 percent, and hybrid and commuter are up 16 percent.
The trouble coming from the two largest suppliers of drivetrain components is especially ominous, especially as Shimano does not simply supply the high-end, but supplies drivetrain components for everything from Walmart children's bikes to the Tour de France. A sizeable dip says a lot about demand in all sectors and that may have some serious repercussions in Taiwan. But hey, China is where its at, anyway. It is the world's largest emerging market and Taiwan has a free pass, right. 
Now, as a little reminder, ECFA was supposed to stimulate trade between Taiwan and China, opening up China to imports from Taiwan, with the bicycle leading the way on Early Harvest list set for an immediate and lasting impact. In a report from 2010:
Giant Global Group plans to increase its investment to build a bicycle plant in Kunshan, which has gained great support from the mayor of Kunshan Guan Aiguo. The 40-hectare new plant will consist of plants for bicycles, frames, carbon fiber and electrical vehicles. Besides, the cycle track & bicycle theme park plan will also be pushed forward. The investment in the initial stage amounts to USD 36 million (NTD 1.16 billion). 
Sources revealed Giant Global Group currently possesses a bicycle plant in Kunshan with an annual output of 2.5 million. As the Group's largest manufacturing base in the mainland, the plant boasts about 50% of the products meeting the domestic market demands. After being put into operation, the new plant will meet the market demands for both GIANT and MOMENTUM and the plant will trade with Taiwan bicycle plants after the signing of ECFA.
So, how are things looking in the post-ECFA world
Taiwan’s economy contracted on a yearly basis for a second straight quarter as China’s economic slowdown dragged on the island’s exports. 
Gross domestic product fell 0.28 percent in the three months through December from a year earlier, according to preliminary data released by the statistics bureau Friday. That compares with a 0.6 percent drop projected by the median estimate in a Bloomberg survey of economists and the 0.63 percent decline in the third quarter. The economy grew 0.85 percent in 2015. 
Taiwan’s exports shrank last year as local manufacturers grappled with the double whammy of slower economic growth in their top market China and tougher competition from mainland rivals. It wasn’t all bad news though: The economy grew 3.22 percent at a seasonally adjusted annualized rate, the most since the third quarter of 2014, as lower crude prices helped consumers.
Exports totalled USD 22.2 billion in January, which represented a notable 13.0% contraction in year-on-year terms. January’s result represents a slight improvement over December’s 13.7% drop. Imports tallied a total of USD 18.7 billion in January, which was a sharp 11.7% fall over the same month of last year. The figure came in above to December’s 14.8% decline. 
FocusEconomics Consensus Forecast panelists expect exports to fall 0.6% in 2016 and to rise 3.9% in 2017.
But at least we have the growing demand for E-Bikes in China to make up for the dip in high-end/high-margin leisure bicycle consumption, right? The E-Bike is the fastest growing market segment for bicycle manufacturers and China is leading the way

Following legislation in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, it has been reported that Shenzhen may also start to limit the use of electric bikes. Chinese people are getting wealthier and buying more and more cars, which as we know has caused many problems, such as heavy traffic, serious air pollution and poor physical health in big cities. In fact a highly viable alternative to fossil fuel powered vehicles is already available; bicycles and e-bicycles together with public transit form a good system and a true solution to the problem.
The Chinese market for Taiwanese bicycles declined by 33% to 79,000 units. Though not yet that large, the Chinese market was seen as a main growth market for several years. This development has now stopped due to the economic decline in China.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Portraits: Narcissism


Funny, I rarely ever get to see myself riding a bicycle. I usually have to settle for pictures of the bike to add scale to pictures.

Here are a few outtakes from Saturday in and around the twilight villages nearLongjing (龍井) as I put these DT Swiss Dicut RR21wheels to the test on a few hill repeats and slo-mo captures.  

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