Written by: Malia k Harunaga
9 days. 666 miles. 26,000 ft. elevation. 14 people from around the world.
It was dark and rainy as we met our 20” Reach T20 folding bicycles for the first time. Clumsily trying to swap out the flat pedals for my clipless pedals, I was having many doubts that I would be able to ride around the whole island of Taiwan (roughly 900km) in nine days on this slightly awkward-looking folding bike with flat bars. Boy, I am glad I was wrong!
Over November 4 through 12 I embarked with thirteen strangers to ride through bountiful rice patties, slightly anarchic cities filled with scooters and overly-tinted cars, breathtaking mountains, and captivating cliffsides. After nine days these people didn’t feel like strangers. They felt like family. This reminded me that through the bicycle you can form bonds in days that felt like years in the making. I learned what yeast flavoured ice cream tastes like (spoiler: NOT good). I learned that you don’t have to ride every day or even own a bicycle of your own to be able to ride more than 600 miles. You just need the support of friends, a determined heart, and the will to finish it. Oh, and a lot of snacks and water breaks.
The Formosa 900 Overseas Youth Team was made up of 14 individuals between the ages of 18 and 30: two from Malaysia, six from America, three from Canada, one from the Netherlands, one from Australia, and one from the UK. They ranged from sponsored track rider, to model, to LA bicycle non-profit volunteer, to blogger, to ex-racer. Riding experience was as wide a span as their affiliations. Jan, from the Netherlands, was used to long-distance riding. Long distance as in Transcontinental biking across 12 countries (so this 900km trip would be considered quite short distance riding to him!). Sparrow, from Malaysia, didn’t own a bicycle. And yet, we would all complete the bike ride around Taiwan, alive.
Taiwan is known for making a lot of things (grab 10 of the closest items around you and you might see “Made in Taiwan” a couple times). But they are also known for being big in the bicycle-making industry! Brands like Giant, Liv, and Kenda are now mainly produced in Taiwan. But Taiwan is becoming more and more known for something else bicycle related – it’s cycling tourism. From elevated bike paths, to cute cycling figurines and artwork throughout the cityscape and countryside, bicycles seem to play a dominant role in Taiwan’s tourism industry. We would constantly run into other cycling groups from around the world on the bike paths and wide bike lanes that ran across the country.
The local bike scene was much different. There were students and business people on YouBikes (Taiwan’s bike share), and largely everyone else (from parents with their kids hanging off the front, to the elderly towing carts of goods), on heavy Dutch-style clunkers. Some unattended bicycles were left propped up with a rusty kickstand next to a shop, some were locked up with a feeble cable lock; it appeared bike theft wasn’t in the forefront of people’s minds. Bike racks were decorative and colourful, and bike infrastructure markings were inviting and vibrant. Outdoor activities seemed to be well-encouraged with countless basketball courts and exercise equipment along the bike paths, senior groups gathering for Tai Chi under the spanning freeway underpasses, and intriguing outdoor stationary rowing machines with flowing water for people to practice with. We even passed by an outdoor velodrome!
The local people of Taiwan that approached us were always friendly and everyone we talked to radiated Taiwanese ambassador-like qualities, telling us how great the country is and how happy they were that we were visiting it. On the east side of the island we would often have people encouraging us from their vehicles as they drove by with smiles, cheers, and thumbs up (I think this was like the shaka, but for Taiwan).
We would often get support from random strangers, but most of the encouragement came from within our group. Everyone on the team, as well as our Taiwanese ride leaders, showed the most care, support, and positive reinforcement to each other the whole time. I attribute this support system to how I was able to ride the whole way. Matt (from Hawai‘i) with the jokes not possible to keep a straight face at, Leland (from North Carolina) with “I’m proud of you” for everyone, and Stuart (from Canada) with his silly cricket noises, made everyone feel like they could push through the fatigue and challenging parts of the journey.
Whether you are a seasoned cyclist with hundreds of miles under your belt, a commuter with an easy commute, or someone totally new to bicycling, cycle touring is something I think is achievable for everyone. How do you prepare for a 60 mile ride, a 200 mile ride, a 600+ mile ride? First, learn a little about your place of travel. How’s the weather, will you need fenders? A jacket? A tub of sunscreen? What about the terrain? Flat as a pancake or seasoned with jagged mountains and valleys? What about the food? Does it jive with your palate or will you need to stock up on home-packed snacks and meals? We were undeniably lucky to have our entire tour scrupulously organized by the Taiwan Travel Bureau. They arranged all transportation, accommodations (plus three meals!), ride route, and support van; so our only job was to take in the magnificent scenery, and ride our brains out. If you are planning a cycling trip I would highly recommend carefully reviewing different cycle touring agencies and see which one sounds best for you.
Check out some other great footage and blogs from my fellow Formosa 900 friends:
Juliet Elliot’s videos and blog (from the UK):
Matt’s video (from Hawai‘i): youtube.com/watch?v=KVylE03CcII
Choco’s blog (from Malaysia): misshappyfeet.blogspot.com/2017/11/cycling-route-1-taiwan-Formosa900.html
Jan’s blog (from the Netherlands): cyclingacrosstheworld.com/the-formosa900-ride-day-0-to-3-fast-furious-in-the-cities/
Krystle’s blog (from Hawai‘i): krystlemarcellus.com/blog
Laura’s blog (from Canada): liferulestoliveby.wordpress.com/2017/11/26/taiwhat/
Leland’s blog (from North Carolina): studentuniverse.com/blog/deals/giveaways/fly-n-bike-taiwan-contest/cycling-taiwan-fly-n-bike-contest