Mon, Aug 20, 2007 - Page 2 News List

FEATURE: Long-distance cycling winning fans

ISLAND TOUR Since the hit movie `Island Etude' came out in April, bike shop owners and cycling enthusiasts have noticed a rise in groups circling Taiwan's coastline

By Angelica Oung  /  STAFF REPORTER

There are faster and easier ways to get around Taiwan, but cycling advocates say that a tour of the island by bike is an `amazing experience' that is hard to beat and a challenge that is attracting increasing numbers of cyclists.

Nearly 150 cyclists from 14 countries took part in the 2007 Cycling Taiwan event sponsored by the Taiwan Cyclist Foundation.

According to the organizers of the 1,000km event, the cycling tour has steadily grown each year from just 30 participants when it was started five years ago.

This year's island tour took 11 days to complete, ending in Taipei last Wednesday.

"It's been absolutely chaotic ... we've been hit by multiple typhoons. It's gone from being boiling hot to being freezing cold," said Paul Martin, a participant from England.

"But it's been an amazing experience and I'd like to come back to see more of Taiwan one day," Martin said.

"I saw the real Taiwan, especially in the south where people cheered us with so much warmth and friendliness," said cyclist Guo Chi-liang (郭奇亮) of National Chung Hsing University.

"And I made some really good friends, because we shared a really tough time together," Guo said.

Yet those who took on the challenge of this year's event are not the only ones getting on their bikes for a complete tour of Taiwan's coastline.

A forum dedicated to circling the country by bicycle has been promoting the activity with online advice and free maps of cycling routes at www.bit.org.tw.

The Web site also helps the increasing number of cyclists interested in touring Taiwan find cycling partners for the trip.

Hoping to cash in on the blossoming interest in long-distance biking, one bike rental store has introduced a special rental package to attract customers planning longer trips.

"We've already sold more than 60 packages for the summer and there are many more reservations for September," the founder of the store said.

To encourage the trend, the Ministry of Economic Affairs has begun offering ambitious cyclists who complete the full tour around the island's coastline certificates of accomplishment issued by the ministry's cycling and health tech industry research and development center.

"In order to obtain a certificate, the applicant needs to keep a travel diary, answer a survey and submit photos of themselves in the major towns they pass through," said Jessica Nieh (聶霈禎) of the center.

"Their pictures and travel diaries will be treasured mementos for them, in addition to proving that they circled the island. Some are shared online to inspire other cyclists," she said.

Since the island-circling certificate program began in April, more than 130 certificates have been issued, Nieh said.

A Web site set up to promote the program shows that those who have received certificates ranged from long-time cycling enthusiasts to novices, including four college friends who managed to circle Taiwan on old one-gear bikes.

Nieh said that the growing enthusiasm for touring Taiwan by bicycle was to be expected, given the overall increase in leisure cycling.

However, the activity has clearly enjoyed a boost from recent publicity, Nieh said.

Cycling enthusiasts say that a movie that hit the big screen in April has inspired many to take on the challenge of cycling all the way around Taiwan.

The movie, Island Etude (練習曲), tells the story of a young man who rides his battered, old bicycle all the way around Taiwan with a guitar on his back.

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