Been in Taiwan all week. Heading to China next week. Big work weeks. Lots of stress, loads of work time, loads of hotel time etc… Never a lot of fun. People ask me all the time what it is like to be in Taiwan. I usually say, drive by the dump in your part of the world and smell the air, that is what it is like most of the time. Not always pleasant. But, the people are really nice and it is not a bad place to do business. Not sure I could live there, but I don’t really mind so much going there for work – other than the week or 2 that it takes out of your life.
I also know that I could not live there as there is zero possibility for riding an offroad motorcycle. Couldn’t tolerate that.
But, I have figured out a way to get out for a bike ride while I am there. In fact, the island is really mountainous and there are little roads into the mountains all over the place. There are also a bunch of bike industry expats there, and they want to get out and ride. So, after working our tails off for 3 days, we had a couple of bike rides planned. One for early morning before work on Friday and a long one for Saturday morning. This the story of those.
Fridays ride consisted of battling our way out of Taichung city center, to the edge of town where the riding gets much better. When I say battling, I really mean it. You have to fight for your space among all the scooters and crazy drivers and small delivery trucks, cars going the wrong way on one way streets etc…
Friday is a national holiday here (May day weekend), so we figured that the streets would be much lighter traffic than normal, and we were going out at 7am. The traffic was lighter than normal, but in 100 miles of ride at home I am certain that you see fewer cars there than you do in 2-3 miles here, even on a holiday.
We made our way on this ride out of town, and then the riding gets much better. We rode along a closed road by a river heading towards the mountains for 10 or so miles. It was nice, more like riding at home, no cars, no scooters etc… Then, we bumped back onto the normal roads in a small village outside of Taichung and turned right, and faced a wall of a climb. The climbs are not super long here (you can see the tops of the mountains from the bottom), but they can be really steep. This climb pitched up pretty quick. It went on for 3-4 miles then tops out with a nice view.
We then came down the other side, and it was just as steep. I am talking both brakes on, crummy pavement, tight and twisty, blind corner type descending. I always like descending, but I must say that on a road I have never been on, on a borrowed bike with the brakes set up wrong way around for me (being an admitted motohead, I ride with my right hand running the front brake), I am not as fearless as I would normally be. Preservation gene kicking in and all.
We got to the bottom of that valley and turned up another climb. At the top of that we descended back down to the same little village and then we were back on the closed river road pounding along in our big chainrings. It was good fun. We stopped at a Starbucks (I know, corporate coffee) on the way down, and I know we make a scene there with our cycling gear. It is pretty funny hearing the Chinese barrista say “Grande Latte”with her Chinese accent.
The round trip on that Friday ride was about 50kilometers. Not too bad for a morning ride before being in the office for the rest of the day.
Saturday’s ride will be twice as long and with even more climbing.
My friends there have a morning text message system that alerts everyone to the ride time and the start location. So, the bike bell sound on my phone went off in the middle of the night, confirming a 7am start at a spot 2 blocks from the hotel I stay at. Sweet! That means I can roll out at 7am, and still be within the international standard 5 minute rule to the start of a ride. I rolled up with a banana in my mouth and no coffee in me. That is ok, because it is also an international standard that a weekend morning ride ends at the Starbucks.
We headed out the same basic direction from the city center that we did the previous day. From Taichung, the China straight is one way, and the mountains inland the other way. That means that all rides pretty much take the same road out of town, and the road home for the last couple of miles is also the same. The island of Taiwan has gone cycling crazy it seems, as we saw at least 200 cyclists heading out in that direction as we were heading out. It goes slightly uphill from the center of town, so it gives you a great warmup on the way out and a whip it up section on the way back in.
We headed up the first climb, and the temperature was already getting up to around 75. The sun was beating down on us, and the humidity was up so you could feel the sweat starting to come out of your pores already. We all settled into a climbing rhythm and it was not long until we were all silent and spread out up and down the climb. One of the things that is really weird is how much clothes the locals wear when they are riding. They seem to want to stay out of the sun completely. They will even have a bandanna over their face that isn’t covered by their sunglasses. It is a little bit strange, makes them all look like they are going to rob a bank or head across a desert or something.
They also ride these little wheel bikes and folding bikes. You do want to tell them that they would go a ton faster if they would ride a real road bike. But, it isn’t just a few of them on bikes like the one above. A LOT of them are on those. hmmm.
So we headed up a 2nd long climb and then a 3rd climb and finally the 4th climb was the biggest. It went on for a good 10-12k, had a bunch of really tough sections, the pavement quality varied and there were a ton of blind corners. All of that is not so bad going up, but the same conditions exist on the descents as well. Makes the riding exciting.
There is another weird thing that is true in Taiwan. Dogs are street savvy on the one hand, and on the other hand really really casual about the road. They get out of the way of traffic, they seem to understand that the road is dangerous. You do see lots of dogs with just one leg etc… I guess they either learn, or they are not around. But, at the same time they seem really not worried at all about the traffic.
We made our way down one last descent back into the village outside of Taichung, and then rode the big ring all the way back to the meeting place and then around the corner to the Starbucks. 100km ride, 4 climbs, one of them really respectable. I feel pretty good.
Tomorrow is Sunday, heading to China, no more riding on this trip.