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Monday, October 22, 2012

Action Speaks Louder Than Words: Kaohsiung's Cycling To Success Away From The Spotlight


This past weekend I was unable to ride. I had other commitments that took me to Taiwan's southern metropolis in the port city of Kaohsiung.

Despite being off the bike, I used part of my trip to look deeper into Kaohsiung's bicycle culture, which has received international recognition outside the usual channels of CNN-Pay-For-Play articles.

I find it surprising that almost every internationally syndicated article of Taiwanese cycling fails to mention Kaohsiung while piling the plaudits on Taipei's leisure bike trails and Sun Moon Lake.

It may be that in Taiwan's politico-economic climate, the leadership in Kaohsiung and Taipei remain poles apart in their vision of Taiwan as a center or a periphery, and therefore Kaohsiung will not receive any government help in raising her profile as a model for other cities in Taiwan or around the world for promoting the bicycle as a form of urban transport.

 Kaohsiung is a very different city than any other in Taiwan. It has wide boulevards and less traffic. The  slow lane is large enough for scooters and bikes, while the crosswalks separate cyclists from pedestrians.

I saw many casual riders out enjoying the day.

Although Kaohsiung is not perfect, I thought riders had plenty of options for roads and rides within the city. There were regular bike racks located around town and near gathering places for city residents. I particularly enjoyed seeing bikes parked near Kaohsiung's thriving cafe scene. Kaohsiung cafes seem to be filled with retirees who can barely hear each other as they shout in lively banter over the din. A very different vibe. It feels a bit like Tainan's food culture... in a cafe.

What really stood out were the bike rental stations located at various hubs around the city. I was surprised to see how many green and white rental bikes could be seen floating about the city.

Residents were actually using these bikes beyond simple recreation.

I saw numerous people approach the bike station, rent a bike, and take off into the city. It wasn't just at purely tourist oriented areas, but all over.

The bike rental program in Kaohsiung has actually provided a viable way to cleanly navigate the city.

The biggest problem I see is the lack of helmets, which increases the risk of serious injury... even on a slow city bike.

I have to admit, seeing all those bikes rented out made me feel the excitement of possibility.

Taipei and Taichung still have a long way to go to better organize the city infrastructure to accommodate the bicycle.

Let's hope other cities in Taiwan look to Kaohsiung for leadership in integrating the bike into our daily lives.


 Be sure to check out another one of Michael Turton's Northern Cross Island bike trips . Like a pilgrimage to Mecca, Taiwan riders must do this journey with michael at least once in their lives.


  1. Riding through Kaohsiung is quite a pleasure. When passing through on the way south the planned roads (vs Tainan's traffic mess) were a wonder to navigate. As you said, it's good planning.

    About helmets... I hate to say it, but scrapping helmets seems to be one of the keys to success for bike share schemes.

    Here's an article from the NY Times comparing some of the bikeshare programs and how helmet laws effected their success

    I'd bet more lives could be saved through rider education than through pushing any helmet agenda.

  2. Thanks for the post. I'm moving to Taiwan in January and have been trying to figure out which is the better city for a street commuter: Taichung or Kaohsiung. After asking around on forums and following your blog for the last couple of months I was just about convinced that Taichung might be the best fit. I've had my eye on Kaohsiung as a potential city as well, but didn't find as many positive remarks in regards to the city's traffic flow and bike infrastructure. It was nice to read that Kaohsiung has a bike sharing program that people use and enjoy as I'm from a bike friendly city here in the states and our bike sharing program has been a great addition to an already thriving bicycle scene.

    I gave up biking for more than a year while living in S Korea and bouncing around SE Asia, but I don't intend to do the same in Taiwan; not when it seems to be a great country to bike in.

    Not that your post wasn't enough help, but do you have any other resources on biking in Kaohsiung, or any opinions on Taichung vs Kaohsiung for a street commuter? I havent gone through your blog archive so forgive me if there are other posts on the topic.

    Thanks again.

  3. Glad to hear you enjoyed your visit to Kaohsiung Andrew. The next time you're through this way send me a mail at and I'd be happy to show you around or come by our second hand shop for a tea:精靈藏寶屋二手商品寄售/429909117051524

    Andy from Pedalling Madly Backwards

  4. Jeremy-- If commuting is the extent of your bike plan, then Kaohsiung is the best city. If you would be interested in weekend exploring and fitness, then Taichung has the edge, but it is not that great for commuting.

    Taipei is usually too wet. Tainan is a little chaotic. Chiayi is a really big small town.

    Andrew E-- For sure. I would really like to spend more time in the city actually riding.
    I am considering coming down this weekend to ride the hills over Meinong. I still need to see howI am feeling. I have a bit of the, "I am just beginning to get back into shape" illness. The illness that makes you sit out a week or two and thus a giant leap backwards. Argh!

  5. Great article! Thank you for putting Kaohsiung on the map of cycling!

    Kaohsiung is certainly the most cyclist-friendly city in Taiwan, hands down. And just like any other city outside of the Taipei-sphere, it's not getting the attention and recognition it deserves. It would be a blessing in disguise I may say, without those media buzz, the residents are enjoying a true pleasure of living a modern yet simple life style.

  6. Hi,

    I go down to Kaohsiung for work and pleasure pretty often (I live in Tainan) and have enjoyed cycling there. One of the major drawbacks of the bike-rental scheme for tourists is the fact the bikes don't come with locks. Bit of a problem if you want to spend time inside a museum or restaurant...


  7. I agree. I think they are hoping there will be a rental kiosk near tourist attractions to park a bike, but there aren't nearly enough of them in the places people might want to go.

  8. The efficacy of bike helmets isn't as certain as people often think:

    At the very least, bike helmets are probably one of the least important of Kaohsiung's (or Taiwan's) problems, compared to reckless driving or lack of bike lanes on streets with narrow sidewalks.