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Monday, March 5, 2012

Does Cycling Leisure Suit Taiwan's Urban Centers?

The China Post has a couple of timely articles in regard to cycling and Taiwan's bicycle culture.

The first is an editorial, I presume, timed to coincide with this weekend's Taipei Cycle expo. With the paper's pro-KMT leanings, I would also presume the paper seeks to help validate government transportation and recreation policies involving the bicycle.

Weaving through traffic with cycling tights on and headphones blaring, the newest generation of bicycle riders is a unique breed of athletes who are starting to be taken seriously by the government.

After renovating old train tracks and abandoned roads into bike routes, local authorities have been doing everything they can to accommodate the adventure-seeking residents, as is the case with Taipei, which now operates “supply stations” in the city's riverside parks.

The Taipei City Government also announced last year the expansion of its public commuter bicycle rental system, YouBike (微笑單車), to infrequent riders who want to wander into the busy Xinyi District.

The growing interest for the Tour de Taiwan (國際自由車環台公路大賽), which will span from March 10 to 16 from Taipei to Kaohsiung, further illustrates how government authorities have been successfully promoting Taiwan as a “kingdom of bicycles.

In many ways, the attention Taiwan has given to bicycle infrastructure is laudable in light of other, industrialized nations which will remain anonymous, that continue to fund an automotive lifestyle.

There are a few things I would like to take issue with. I hope my highlights above may be of some assistance.

The bulk of this article deals with the great investment Taiwan's central and local governments have made in recreational cycling. As a recreational cyclist I benefit from some of these investments. I will admit that.

But that opening sentence really strikes a nerve. "Weaving through traffic...". This is where Taiwan's investment has been a bust.

With so much invested in recreational cycling, there is precious little remaining for cycling as utility and urban transportation. The current state of affairs has commuters locked in a daily battle against Taiwan's notoriously chaotic traffic. There is little space being made to incorporate bicycles into the city. I shout this again and again.

The bicycle is a revolutionary machine (pardon the pun). It is a symbol of proletarian mobility all around the world. The bicycle has given people a means to leave the farms, villages and countrysides to find work further afield. Moreover, the bicycle has been a tool for women's liberation all over the world.

The idea of the bike is a very proletarian concept--self propelled transport with minimal investment.

Taiwan's emphasis on the bike for recreation and leisure with far flung bike ways, which are often removed from the urban centers where people live and work, seems to subvert this idea into reserving the bicycle for use as an elitist toy. Without creating space in the cities for bikes as traffic, Taiwan's government limits its use as a tool of mobility for everyone.

Of all the bike accidents I have seen in Taiwan, I would estimate that 90% have been old women on steel bikes making a grocery run.

It might be time to rein in the development of the leisurely rural trails until the urban centers can start to catch up.

Though, as Taiwan markets itself as a virtual "kingdom" of bicycles, I don't imagine that power structure is really interested in the proletarian possibilities the bicycle can offer.

The second article deals with a Sun Moon Lake biking event scheduled for April 29.

Registration is now open for the 2012 Merida Sun Moon Lake Biking event on the Merida website ( Three routes are open to a total of 4,000 participants — the family leisure course, the around-the-lake course, and the self-challenge course. In addition to receiving unique souvenirs from the Merida, participants will be granted various accommodation and dining discounts in the Sun Moon Lake area.

The self-challenge course, which measures to a total of 60 kilometers, is organized along the most picturesque Sun Moon Lake sites, where bikers can enjoy the quietness of rural sceneries while pushing for one's limits.

This is a very good look at how the bicycle industry is working with the tourism industry to drive sales. This is who really stands to benefit from the government's push for leisure cycling infrastructure projects.

With 4000 participants converged on Sun Moon Lake, combined with the weekend supply of busses hauling Chinese tourists around the perimeter, I can truly imagine enjoying the "quietness of rural sceneries" while pushing my limits. Pass.