Australian Victor Major learned how to ride a bicycle when he was young, but it was in Taiwan that he really found the joy of biking.
“In Taiwan, I started riding for no reason,” he said. “There is no purpose to it. It’s just fun exercise.”
But that was not his impression when he first moved to Taiwan two years ago. The Taipei he saw was filled with scooters and cars and did not look like an ideal place for cyclists.
What changed his mind was a bunch of friends he met who were into biking around Taipei. In his words, he “got hooked” and started looking for places to ride.
“I couldn’t find any information. There was nothing in English,” he said. “While there were some blogs on particular aspects of the trails … there was no clear information on where someone can go and ride, or where to meet people to ride with.”
The scarcity of detailed information for bikers compelled him to create “Cycle Taiwan,” an online forum dedicated to biking in Taiwan.
“I started it with the idea of bringing all the different communities of riders in Taiwan together in one place, both Chinese and English speakers,” he said.
In addition to serving as an online forum for bikers, Major also reviewed cycling parts made by some of the second-tier manufacturers in Taiwan.
As the site’s administrator and chief editor, Major said that Cycle Taiwan is owned by the biking community. Anyone can become a member by simply signing onto the Web site, and each member is free to post articles and photos.
In the meantime, members organize different activities themselves — whether it is a day trip to Taoyuan or a cross-country race.
Today, the site has about 200 registered members, with 50 percent of them foreigners.
Major said members are mainly composed of three groups: the industry personnel who came to Taiwan for a short time to oversee the production process of new bicycles, the expatriates and Taiwanese.
And it is not difficult to tell if someone is a Cycle Taiwan member.
“It’s always the same people pretty much wherever you go,” he said.
Major’s favorite route is from Da-an (大安) in Taipei City to Wuzhishan (五指山) via Jiannan (劍南) and Zhishan (至善) roads. He said that the route involved steep uphill climbing, and a round-trip ride took around six hours.
“Riders like to ride because of the mountains, and Taiwan is full of them,” he said. “You see beautiful scenery, green plains, flowers, frogs; it’s an escape.”
His most exhilarating riding experiences involve biking on off-road trails, such as on a boulder field.
“[When the wheels hit the rock at a fast speed ] you tend to fly off in the air,” he said. “And since your body can’t turn, you start praying to whatever god you believe in to not fall off a cliff or hit a tree.”
Off-road biking is a “good kind of scary” that keeps you young and energetic, he said.
But he said that no experience is scarier than riding a bicycle in the city, particularly when you have to deal with bus drivers.
“For me, the sure sign to know that we now have a green light is too see a bus shooting across the intersection full speed through a red light,” Major said. “Want to think about scary? That’s actually truly scary.”
He said that more needs to be done if the government wants to encourage people to commute by bicycle. Apart from dedicated bike lanes, he said, the Taipei MRT and the Taiwan Railway Administration system need to allow people to carry their bicycles with them when they board the trains every day.
In addition, Major said the Taiwan High Speed Rail Corp (THSRC) needed to increase the space in luggage rooms where it allows passengers to place bicycles. The service would make the THSRC an attractive option for tourists, he said.
More offices around the nation should also be equipped with shower facilities for employees, he said.
And to make Taiwan one of the first-rate choices for bikers from overseas, Major said that the nation needed to have chartered courses for mountain bikers.
“The hiking trails and biking trails need to be separated, but we also want to make sure that we maintain harmony between hiking communities and biking communities,” he said.
Aside from being a tourist destination for overseas bikers, Major also said that Taiwan had the potential to host more cycling races recognized by the International Cycling Union.
“Taiwan has some of the best riding roads, most challenging climbs and descents in the world. There are also low-lying areas for different stage races. I believe Taiwan is more than ready when it comes to road racing,” Major said.
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