The yin and yang and yuck. In April 2019, we bought into the concept of an around the island designated bike route. In summary it was 50% urban highway (yuck), 30% marginally OK (yang) and 20% nice highway and bike path riding (yin). Generally speaking the west coast route is almost all urban. The east coast, especially from Taitung to Hualien was the highlight. Although on a narrow road, the ride up Taroko Gorge is spectacular on Hwy 8. Through the urban areas in the west, your progress is slow due constant Red Lights. Across the island is mountainous and dangerous since the bike lanes will disappear when the terrain is challenging. The lush green mountains are kept greener by frequent rain. The food is great and so are the people but, never again.
How We Rate This Trip
On the flat coastal plain, there is usually a designated cycle (motor and push) lane which makes it secure. The roads are always maintained. When the terrain gets challenging, the bike lane disappears and you are in the traffic. From Hualien to Taipei we heeded the warnings of narrow and busy highways and took the train.
The coastal roads are busy but the cycle lanes are your savior. When in rough terrain, this designated lane disappears and you are in the traffic. There is a bicycle culture here (the home of Giant Bicycles) so the drivers are mostly courteous.
Variable, day to day, season to season and place to place. We, in April, experienced days of sun and heat (west and south) cool and rain (north and east). Its lushly green due to frequent rain.
With the changes in weather come the changes in wind: Strength and direction. North winds come with cool and rainy conditions and south winds come with sun and surprisingly hot temperatures.
There is little to see while passing through the urban jungle of the west coast. Crossing the island is challenging but beautiful with jungle covered mountains. The east coast is beautiful. Minor roads and Hwy 11 along the coast are beautiful. The highlight is from Taitung to Hualien. Hwy #193 is more challenging but very rewarding. Toroko gorge is spectacular.
There is a complete description that covers the route in approximately 100K segments. It is mostly a marketing piece but good to have. The route is well marked but if you miss a turn, you are on your own. The Taiwanese people are very helpful, knowledgable and often speak English.
Road Safety 8
The drivers are respectful of bikers and follow the rules of the road. Mostly, you have your own dedicated lane on the highways. The infrastructure for biking is very advanced. Safety is only an issue when you get shunted onto a narrow highway especially in the mountains.
General Safety 10
This is a safe place. Crime is very low. Your stuff and your bikes are safe. We seldom used our lock. It is ranked the 24th safest country with the US at 45. The police stations gladly offer water bottle filling and limited information.
By Asian standards, Taiwan is expensive, mostly for accommodations. It’s cheaper to book hotels on line. Food and drink is moderately priced especially if you use the local places and markets.
The ubiquitous 7-11 Stores where we consumed coffee, cold drinks and beer. The beer was consumed sitting at a front window. Water is often available at your hotel and always at the Police Stations where they have water stations (free).
The food is safe, clean and excellent. We ate mostly at the local Taiwanese restaurants or night markets.We point at plates on tables to order. There’s plenty of variety and spice can be added.
The hotel rooms are adequate if higher priced than SE Asia. B&Bs and Home stays are available. To get discounts, we booked on-line, sometimes from the hotel lobby.
Compared to the mainland Chinese, the Taiwanese are more helpful, friendly, have better language skills and are gregarious. People helped us without being asked. We were boarding a train with two bike boxes and panniers. A man, also boarding, carried one bike box for us, simply to lend a helping hand! Typical.
There are currents of Japanese influence and, of course, Chinese but also a spirt of independence and separateness. They are more western influenced than most of Asia.
It is a new country relatively speaking. There’s very little history visible. The country was a dependency of Japan from 1895 to 1945. They strive to remain separate from their forefathers in China.
Route Descriptions and Maps
Bike trip 2019, We followed a designated Cycle Route #1, around the island
Taipei to Hsinchu 90Ks
Following a marked Cycle Route #1 thru Taipei, mostly on Nanjing Blvd to the river. Thru the flood wall then left to a Bridge on cycle lane. Then right along another path to Sanxia at 33Ks. Onto Hwy 3, 4-lanes, less traffic. Over bridge.
We went right (Cycle Route #1 went left but we couldn’t find the signs so we guessed), busy with no shoulder, 4-lanes. Up and hairy. Left on Hwy 3 through town. Then onto 3Z (alternate). Finally back to Hwy 3 at 60Ks, right and finally back on Cycle Route #1. 4-lanes with shoulder. Light traffic. 1K climb. Rolling. Follow Cycle Route #1 signs straight (as Hwy 3 turns left) to a one lane road that starts to the sea, down and winding. The Cycle Route #1 road gets bigger as you go and finally a 4-lane highway (busy) into Hsinchu. (This last section starting on the 1 lane road was a beautiful ride.)
Hsinchu to Taichung 102Ks
Mostly Hwy 1 is the designated Cycle Route #1, urban and of little interest. One long town. Train might be an option. (On local trains bikes allowed on first or last car, cheap price).
Taichung to Chiayi 85Ks
Hwy 1, Cycle Route #1, urban and of little interest. After 50Ks, it’s a bit more rural, flat. Only OK.
Chiayi to Tainan, 78Ks
Hwy 1, Cycle Route #1, a bit rural. Cycle Route #1, turns off Hwy 1 heading more inland. This makes going into Tainan a lot longer. Ultimately we took Hwy 180, a minor highway with no bike lane but direct to Tainan. It was 78Ks by the time we got to the hotel near the City Hall.
Tainan to Kaohsiung, 55Ks
Following Hwy 17, Cycle Route #1-5 , for 23Ks. Along the coast but not of great beauty. Connect to Cycle Route #1, on Hwy 1. Urban again. Leaving Cycle Route #1 into Kaohsiung on Hwy 1. Cycle lane but busy. Finally right to Central Park at 55Ks.
(Urban means there are “red” lights, often 60-90 seconds long. They are not timed for bicycles. Everyone obeys the rules (not like the rest of Asia). We calculated we spent an hour per day at lights in Urban areas.)
Kaohsiung to Fangliao, 55Ks
Cycle Route #1-5 on Hwy 17 from Central Park took us on another urban ride with a shoulder. Strong tail winds in April. Dull.
Fangliao to Chechen, 45Ks
Cycle Route #1, on Hwy 1. A better ride. Sea views. OK scenery. Fewer stop lights. Occasionally a little narrow but mostly with a bike lane. Down wind.
Checheng to Dawu, 55Ks
This is one hairy ride across the island. Long, curvy climb mostly moderate. OK mountain scenery but NARROW! Some trucks and buses make it treacherous. Top at 38Ks. Still narrow down but with speed it’s easier to blend with the big traffic. Long views of the sea. Bottom at 49Ks. Wide new Highway to Dawu at 55Ks. (There is a new road and tunnel being built)
Dawu to Taitung City, 58Ks
A mixed bag of good new Highway with a good bike lane and narrow road with no shoulder. There is increasing traffic. Construction is on going with delays. Good sea views. Head winds. Flat into Taitung which is sprawling at 58Ks.
Taitung City to Chenggong 53Ks
To Hwy 11 for Cycle Route #1 and over bridge. 2-lane Hwy with a bike lane. Light traffic early but tour buses start rolling later. Tail wind in April. Hot. Easy climb up and ride along the mountain side with good views. Then back down along the coast. Good ride. At 46Ks, 4K bike way along the coast.
(This was some good biking so we rode back to the Taitung Rail Station, right on Hwy 11 alt. Narrow and some hills but direct to station.)
Chenggong to Fengbin 62Ks
Cycle Route #1 on Hwy 11. Great scenery. Light traffic early then tour buses. Bike lane till Shitiping at 52Ks. Now narrow sections where the bike lane disappears and reappears alongside the mountains and sea. Strong tail winds. Great ride.
Fengbin to Hualien 53Ks
Easy rolling to 14Ks, then climb to 20Ks. Road is sometimes narrow. Great scenery. Then rolling hills mostly down on wide road with bike lane. At 28Ks, narrow tunnels with a narrow side walk. Well lit, slightly down so you can get thru quickly. Then bike lane, mostly down to the seaside at 40Ks. Almost all flat to bridge on Cycle Route #1-6. Tailwinds. After bridge, right on Hwy 193. Traffic including trucks. Then into center at 53Ks.
Returned north by train to Ruisui. (Spa waters town)
Ruisui to Hualien City 64Ks (all on Hwy 9)
We sampled Hwy 9. There were some side bike ways, then we cut over to Hwy 193 and back again to Hwy 9. Hwy 9 (cycle Route #1) is not good biking. But it is direct and there is a bike lane. We took a “bike way” at 13Ks for 4Ks back to Hwy 9. Good and quiet. At 21Ks, we went right on Alternate Hwy 11 for 4Ks to Hwy 193. Great riding on a narrow, quiet, scenic and hilly road (due to rain and headwinds) we bailed out back 4Ks to Hwy 9 at 43Ks. Hwy 9 is highway riding. Easy grades, traffic and bike lane. Dull, noisy and of little interest. Into Hualien at 74Ks.
Hualien to Taroko Park 24Ks (Day trip, out and back)
Wide, flat highway with a bike lane. Same old dull riding. At 24Ks, left up the gorge to Taroko on Hwy 8. After the town, the road narrows but the traffic is slow. We rode up about 6Ks. Bridges and tunnels. Great scenery. The road is being reengineered but it’s still possible to skirt the tunnels and loop back to the newer road. We would like to get further next time.