Riding through downtown Taichung at 5am, the streets are desolate. The sun isn't up yet, and the soft light bouncing around and between the buildings is a watery blue. It's a dense city of 2.8 million people, so the place is plastered with signs, hanging laundry, power lines, and coated in layers of scooters.
Today, I'm riding along with our group, a mix of locals that have been showing us around all week. I'm carrying my camera with me in order to get an on-the-bike perspective. I'm mostly shooting while riding with one hand on the bars, but sometimes need to adjust focus or framing, and switch to no hands. We're rolling through huge, unfamiliar urban intersections, and at first I brace for the inevitable seam or crack in the pavement that makes holding a camera with two hands a bad idea.
But there are no seams. None. So we fly through the city on a sheet of smooth gray glass, hands optional. It's an unexpected, welcome contrast to the visual and social density of the urban landscape that climbs skyward, whizzing past on each side. Given the size and density of this place, the quiet smoothness of the ride feels wrong, like a glitch in the Matrix.
A few sneaky forks take us higher, to a narrow goat trail with edges carpeted in decaying leaves. Apparently they also pave the goat trails in Taiwan. Our route tilts upward, and we're eventually forced out of our saddles. The exhaling forest thickens the air so breathing feels more like drinking. At the top of the climb, there is a vista-hole in the canopy. We look out over layers of mountains in gradient greens, listening to the low, chirping soundtrack of the jungle, catching our breath, laughing.
Our guide, Fraser, explains that there are an endless number of mind-blowing rides here, with roads that are too steep for most riders. Taiwan is a country of extreme geographical contrast, with white sand beaches and palm trees connected to snowcapped peaks by pristine, uncrowded roads. Fraser is a former pro, originally from Canada, but has been living in Taichung for 17 years. He rides every day (sometimes all day) and has yet to scratch the surface of what this island offers.
We surf our way down through the jungle, and roll back into Taichung, which has shifted from cool, desolate blue to a hot, bustling yellow. Every street is packed with buzzing swarms of scooters and cars. But in the city, the scooters are winning, easily slipping to the front of every line that forms at each red light. Riding a bicycle in heavy urban traffic is often unnerving, but here in Taiwan, there are so many scooters that the traffic flow sort of welcomes bikes. So we roll deeper into the heart of Taichung with our scooting friends in two-wheeled solidarity. It feels both reckless and oddly safe at the same time.
My name is Regina Khoo and I live in Taichung. I'm originally from Hong Kong.
I usually start my rides from home bright and early. Within 20 minutes you're out in the rural countryside and it's hard to believe that you're in Taiwan. Sometimes I feel like I'm in Bali or Thailand. It's the greenery is amazing and no cars and the roads are so well paved. It's great to clear your head while you're on these rides.
It just amazes me in such a small island like Taiwan, how there's so much to see. I've touched less than 1% on my bike. There's just so many places to ride and so many people to ride with. The cycling culture in Taiwan is awesome.
I love riding with people. I prefer not to ride by myself. I like being able to talk to people and the encouragement you give one another on a hard climb. And of course grabbing coffee and meals together afterwards.
Even if I don’t ride well, just finishing the route just makes me feel awesome. And that's another one of the reasons why I like cycling. It's just the feeling you get after a ride.
I’m Fraser, I'm a Canadian. I've been living in Taiwan for about 17 years now. I got into the bike industry and I've been enjoying that for the last 10 years.
Riding here in Taiwan is a great release for me. It gets me away from the city, it gets me away from work. It gives me time to relax, but it also gives me time to explore. There's so much to see here that you can go and ride different roads every weekend, every weekend of the year. I love being able to explore but still be close to home.
One of the things I like to do on weekends is if I can get out with friends, is take them to some really remote areas. We'll often start at sort of sunrise and we'll ride five, six, seven hours. The feeling that I get when I show them these new routes, it makes all the pain and suffering worthwhile, just to have them smile and experience something new that they never thought would be possible in Taiwan.
I've been on eTap AXS for a while now and I'm really enjoying it. It’s super intuitive. You don't need to think about it. It's hard enough when you're climbing hills to remember which button to push. When the weather is really cold as well, or really hot, you don't need to think about it. You just push the button and it reacts instantly. There's no lag. I do a lot of traveling as well, and so packing my bike and having the access makes it so much easier. You don't have to worry about cables and wires. The battery lasts so long you don't need to worry about it. You can ride for weeks without ever charging it.
Another thing that I really like about it is the range. The ratio is very, very close, and then for climbing, it spaces out nicely. There's no big gaps between the gears and so you can always have that right gear. I've used systems in the past where there are some bigger gaps between the gears. It's not as consistent and not as even, and for me AXS has been eye opening. It's so much better than what I was using before.
It does open up a lot of areas that you couldn't ride in the past by having that wide gearing. Even a strong rider, if they want to ride all day, you're going to get tired at the end of the day. By having those low gears, you can spin up the hills more and it's much easier to do a long one.
You don't want to think about it. You just got the right gear and you can just go.
My name is Johs Huseby, I'm the global director of OEM sales for WTB, and I live in Boulder, Colorado. I started coming to Taiwan in about 2000. I've gotten to know a host of great people here and learned a lot about the culture as well.
When I first started coming here, I didn't ride a bike at all. It's become truly one of my favorite places in the world to ride. My first ride in Taiwan was in Dakeng. You're going through mayhem, and traffic, and scooters, and all sorts of types of transport. And then all of a sudden, you get to the edge of the city. You're immediately in the wide open in the jungle and on these quiet roads. It's incredible. To me it really is. I am the least religious person you'll ever meet, but boy, it really is my church.
Anyway, you get out of town, you start, you hit that wall of jungle and city, and then you start getting on these little small roads that twist their ways up into the mountains. Some of the roads are 25% or steeper. It's crazy how steep some of the roads are. But just quiet, beautiful roads that flow along. They've repaved a lot of those roads now. Everything is paved here. There's really is no dirt. Even if you're on a goat path in the middle of the woods, you're on a concrete path.
The new Force eTap AXS gearing is perfect in a place this where you have a lot of very abrupt steep hills and they're pretty unforgiving. You climb these things and you're like, oh my gosh, I can't imagine going up this. The wider gearing really makes a huge difference. It's something that I think that a lot of people are going to enjoy.
I always look forward to coming back to Taiwan. There's never a time I come here where I'm anxious. I really feel quite at home here.