Practical advice about cycling around Taiwan
The not so exciting, but necessary information!
Renting a bike
I rented my bike from an independent bicycle shop that frequently rents to people cycling around the island. From what I could tell, Giant Bikes has a monopoly on cycling gear and bike rentals, but I opted not to go them because the independent cycle shop was recommended and much less expensive (3 to 4x cheaper). I also felt the rental process was a more interesting experience. The owner’s son was able to explain to me in a mix of English and Chinese how to take care of the bike and change a tire. They also have this adorable dog that you can pose with before and after. It’s a thing. I would also recommend using them; they were lovely.
I would say the most important things here are to take as little as humanly possible, buy the correct cycling gear (padded shorts, shirts, padded gloves), have an extra battery charging pack or two, pack sunscreen, make sure you have a waterproof bag, and buy a Camelbak backpack so that you ensure hydration. When it was all said and done, I had two saddlebags, a tire repair kit, bike pump, odometer, flashlight, and helmet. I also packed lots of sunscreen, a quick dry towel, some toiletries, and my kindle. For me, it was also important to bring along a travel journal, which was a terrific way to document my trip for my own life. I found that Lonely Planet Taiwan was also clutch because it had very practical and solid suggestions.
On my friend’s suggestion, I also bought a side mirror for my left handlebar so that I could see cars and trucks coming from behind me without turning my head. That turned out to be a great suggestion, as there were quite a few times where the road was narrow and it was nice to know if someone was approaching me.
I used Google Maps to make sure I was going, and I got the free Taiwan Biking Maps from somewhere at some point. They turned out to be invaluable, as they were my main resource about where to go and what road to take. There were four of them: Taiwan and North, Central, Islands, and South. It was also really nice just to have a map in case something went wrong with the electronics.
Speaking of electronics, I used my Samsung S4 to navigate. I also had a spare battery with me and a battery recharging pack. I used all of this on a regular basis because my phone could not last 14 hours a day with Google Maps running. I also loaded my iPod with music and audiobooks.
I bought a bunch of bike gear at Giant because I wanted to look the part. I bought two pairs of cycling shorts, two cycling shirts, and a cycling jacket. I also packed my CamelBak, which turned out to be maybe my most important item because it was so easy to get dehydrated. I had workout gloves from the gym, which I used as cycling gloves. I should have bought the real thing (more later). I also bought a cool pair of sunglasses from the night market to complete the look.
Also, make sure that your bike is adjusted for your height. There are different sized bikes, and the seat and handle bars need to be corre
- Lonely Planet Taiwan: really helpful and had great suggestions
- Get your hands on free road maps of Taiwan. I used these the most, as your phone only has so much battery and it is easier to judge distances on a map. I think the maps I had were in 4 parts: Northern Taiwan, Eastern Taiwan & Offshore Islands, Southern Taiwan, and Central Taiwan. They are from the Taiwan Tourism Bureau and I got them for free when I first moved to Taipei. They must have an office in Taipei. Go there and ask for these maps- it was one of the most important things I had and saved me several times.
- GOOD BIKING GLOVES with plenty of padding. My arms and hands went numb after like 2 weeks and if I had good gloves it would have probably been much better.
- A side view mirror for your bike. It is really important you get this.
- 2 pairs of cycling shorts with plenty of butt and crotch padding.
- 2 or 3 cycling shirts.
- Pair of shorts to wear at night or when you walk around the town where you stay.
- A shirt to wear with the shorts.
- A CamelBak backpack- it was by far the best thing I could have purchased because I could drink constantly and not get dehydrated. It is extremely easy to get dehydrated.
- A baseball hat.
- Bug spray.
- Your travel journal!
- Soap and toothpaste and stuff.
- iPod and headphones.
- Extra phone charging pack or two- I needed at least one to get through every day. Google Maps is your friend.
Which direction to cycle?
You can choose to go clockwise or counterclockwise from Taipei. I chose to go clockwise and would definitely do so again. This means you are doing the east coast of Taiwan first. I argue that this is best for two reasons:
- The east coast is the more scenic and less developed part of the island, and worth taking your time through. If you run out of time and don’t get to slowly go up the west coast of the island, so be it. Don’t miss the eat coast.
- You are on the inside lane of the road. It means you are not cycling on the cliff edge the entire way. This made me feel safer because at least I was not going to fall off a cliff easily.
Planning your daily route
You can expect to be able to cycle between 70 and 120 km a day (between 40 and 70 miles). Before setting off for the day, choose your destination and then see how far away it is from your current location. Try to choose towns that seem likely to have a hostel, bed and breakfast, or hotel. I found Lonely Planet and Hostel World helpful when it came to this.
Highways vs other roads
Ok, cyclists are not supposed to be on the highways. I did because I did not know this, and although it was the fastest route that bypassed dogs, it was not the safest route. You decide. #noregrets
Everyone has a wild dog story. Just know that they are real and pretty dangerous, and will attack you. You will mainly find them in the rural parts of Taiwan and especially on the mountain pass at the southern tip, where you need to get from the east side of the island to the west side of the island. Be mindful if you stop on the road at a shrine or to use the bathroom or something. I got chased uphill by a pack of them and it was not something I will ever forget. It’s kind of like when the Fellowship of the Ring needs to pass through the mountains and they encounter all of those goblins. You feel me?
It is a thing. You need to stay hydrated or you can be in serious danger. I had a CamelBack and found it to be a life saver. I would go through 3 or 4 refills a day because I was constantly drinking as I was cycling. I would have never been able to do this if I just had a water bottle.
711 is your friend. They are everywhere and have anything you might need. Ever. No need to pack too much in your saddle bag because you can always just refill at 711 with any degree of frequency.
Taiwan's climate is subtropical. If you are doing this in the Spring or Summer, expect it to rain every single day. It will usually rain very early in the morning and then almost always around 2 or 3pm. Try to be done cycling by then. You WILL get wet!