The Taiwan Bicycle
Manufacturing Industry Review

Cycling Culture, Cycling Infrastructure, Bike Sharing – LOHAS

Glenn Reeves

First Movement

cycling infrastructure
Absorbed. . .

. . . she is

Cycling infrastructure
Focused . . .

. . . absolutely.

She’s somewhere in downtown Taichung, this amazing sculpture set in front of a new apartment complex. There’s a story here. Given the time I would like to track it down. Another darn thing that’ll have to wait. What gets me is the vibe. I find it compelling.

She stares ahead and where she is, is, actually, up ahead. She’s not there in front of us. There’s the pure joy of movement that is central to what cycling is about–I talked about this elsewhere. If she was music she would be played vivace. On a dark night, I might return and put a little plaque with a title: volante!. (And there’s another post, the connection between flying and cycling…).

The great thing about kids is their ability to let their imaginations take them over. (You see it work here, in Amsterdamize’s capture of this moment of delight and intensity.) Although, it’s probably that as adults we become estranged from this natural delight in the world’s magic. Anyway, there’s something of a child’s fascination all over the sculpture and which is central to what makes it work.

Infrastructure? Bitumen, overpass, underpass,  signs — simile. Grey, boring. Yup. What’s magical about this? Well, many would say, there’s no magic without it. You need good infrastructure to support and promote a cycling culture; a developing culture in turn supports and encourages infrastructure. That’s great, as long as it’s appropriate.

Second Movement

In a recent post, I discussed the development of cycling culture in Taiwan. And by that I’m talking about recreational/lifestyle cycling as distinct from utility or racing cycling. Sidebar: Utility cycling in Taiwan has a long history and is still a significant mode of transport. While perhaps lacking an Amsterdam or Copenhagen’s level of chic, it has its own charms, which I will post on in the future. The general context within which this is taking place is a Taiwanese adaption of LOHAS, which pops up everywhere these days (the two fastest growing countries for this are Japan and Taiwan) .  And as to what we might actually mean by a cycling culture, there was a Bike Culture Summit on May 6…would be interesting to hear what came out of that.

With this movement onto bicycles has come a number of initiatives to make this a more bicycling friendly environment. There has been plenty of cycling infrastructure established. But each of these describes a different way of  being a cyclist, which, when I was first thinking about it, seemed to be a problem–there’s no integration between these different cycling worlds. But, each to their own. Maybe it is not an issue at all.

Around Taichung there is the Dong Feng Green Bikeway that has been around for some time. The trail traces the urban fringe and over 14km, takes riders out of the city. It caters for family rides, with bike hire businesses well represented. You can dally on the way, have something to eat or drink, or keep going until the end. Let’s call this entry level cycling.

A more recent, more ambitious project has been the Dan Shui-Xin Dian bike path. This takes all manner of cyclists along the river from the far north to the south through Taipei’s municipal heart. On the weekend it can get crazy: you have the family cyclists, but you also have those who ride as fast as possible without safety in mind at all.

It is very crowded and often dangerous because of this mixture of cycling modes. Entry level mixed with advanced road = stressful. Here the techniques of riding in Taiwan traffic can be applied–it’s really better if you ride with the flow of scooters and this may be a validation of vehicular cycling (general information on this here).

Back to Taichung and a step up to an intermediate level of cycling. Da Keng recreational area has been popular with hikers for a long time. The lower slopes are the destination of cyclists who ride up from Taichung city. I often do this ride myself when there’s no time for a longer tour–20km from home and 20km return.

cycling infrastructure, cycling culture
Heading uphill to Da Keng

This is about half-way to the top of the climb. It levels out here before one more short, slightly steeper section. Then you get to the main rest-stop.

cycling culture, cycling infrastructure
At the top

This is cool to the power of ten. The “shed” is an economic icon–an old 20 foot container that has found a new home. It may once have carried Taiwan-manufactured components or bicycles to export destinations around the world. Now it is a cafeteria and meeting-place for cyclists. You can get info on upcoming group rides and all sorts of news here. And there is the funky yellow bike, retired, but looking fabulous. You’d have to get up there just to contemplate that. In fact, let’s have a closer look at that.

cycling culture, cycling infrastructure
Fabulous retired funkster

It’s located at the top of the 7km climb from a Taichung feeder road, which is not so steep, although it does touch on 15% in one place. Great for developing intermediate cycling skills. (If you don’t like climbing in Taiwan, then you need to learn to like it as a part of your developing LOHAS skillset ..!)

cycling culture, cycling infrastructure
Tea, coffee, noodles, news

Local government decided to facilitate access to the Da Keng “camping ground” road by paving an area for bikes next to the road that also serves as a pedestrian walkway. However the quality of pavement suggests that there was no consultation with cyclists. If you move at anything over 15km an hour, the ride is very bumpy, very uncomfortable. Much better to ride on the roadway just next to it, which is what many people do.

cycling culture, cycling infrastructure
Uncomfortable ride if you want to go beyond cruising

It’s not really visible from the photo here. But this makes for a rough ride.

This lack of foresight contrasts with the Kaoshiung model.

Bike sharing is becoming quite popular around the world with new  initiatives in London, and elsewhere. Kaoshiung has recently followed in this tradition. What I like about this is the way it’s integrated with the main population centers of the island. .

People in the main population centers of Taipei, Hsinchu, and Taichung can take the High Speed Rail to Kaoshiung. Formerly an industrial eyesore, the service sector is now firmly in ascendancy. You can now get around the city on the brand new MRT. Most stations have a bike share terminus close by.

In two hours from leaving Taipei (under an hour from Taichung), you can be cycling and sampling the wide boulevards of a fast-becoming-trendy city. Anyway, with the HSR, many great cycling adventures are much more accessible right down the West Coast.

King Liu’s fact-finding trip to Europe next month is the correct model to follow. King Liu will escort and fund a delegation of local-level and national government officials to investigate first-hand the Netherlands’ cycling infrastructure solutions.

Cycling people need to be involved in the development of cycling infrastructure at every level. The situation with the  Da Keng area, for example, is that local gov does not seem to have involved cyclists directly. You would think if they did, there would have been direct feedback on the degree of suitability of the cycling surface.


cycling infrastructure
Eternally yours. . .

The cycling lady-sculpture brings these things together, infrastructure and culture, whose energy comes from rediscovering joys that a modern world (and our bicycles are the essential product of that same movement–go figure), for so many, takes away.

And to return to an earlier question, what matters is that people who never thought to take up cycling can ease into it and build skills and self-confidence (the Dong Feng Bike-way type of experience). In their own time they can make the transition to a Da Keng cycling environment–here they can connect with cycling as a growing cultural movement. Then take it to an advanced level.

I would say that a mature a bike culture is close to achieved, when these cyclists are habitually and directly involved in developing the infrastructure that supports their LOHAS lifestyle choices. Fly on your bike, in joy, in life.


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