Documenting my experience from cycling around the island of Taiwan in 9 days. If you are also a noob biker like me that didn’t know much going in, included are my lessons and learnings acquired along the way.
The purpose of this trip is to —
- Try New Experiences — see Taiwan up close and in all the elements in a new and unfamiliar method.
- Strengthen Relationships — the bond between us close friends (Ian & Joy) who did this together will become timeless memories.
- Challenge myself physically and mentally — a long trip like this is always more mental than physical from my experience. It’s also a great time to get some headspace back from busy normal life to think or just be present and mindful while riding.
This was the rough plan we had before we started.
More detailed breakdown of each day along with difficulty rating form 1–6 stars. We combined day 8 and 9 to make it 9 days instead of 10.
Essential things you need
Shed as much weight as you can, you’d rather have less weight. I thought I packed light enough but only needed 50% of what I brought.
- Bike — we rented ours (from Mathews). Really test ride it a few times to be sure it’s the right size. I debated between curved and straight bar road bike for a long time and decided on straight bar for an easier posture. Make sure you start booking bikes about a month out in advance ideally and take it on a few rides to be sure.
- Clothes — Just 1 set of biking pants with padding and shirt (Sounds gross I know, but you’ll be so tired to do laundry, just wash/rinse and hang dry daily, it’ll be drenched in sweat 10 minutes into your ride anyway). 1 set of sleeping clothes or just sleep naked to shed even more weight 😛
- Gear — Gloves, anti-UV arm/leg sleeves, anti-UV buff(to cover your face against the sun and mouth when air is bad, super useful), sun glasses, knee brace, wrist wrap, squirt water bottle, portable charger (you’ll need all the battery you can get for routing, tracking, audio…etc)
With the schedule like ours, we didn’t have much time for sight seeing or the have the energy for walking around when we got to our destinations. Our day consisted of just waking up, packing, eating, biking, resting, eating, biking til sunset and sleep, repeat. (Amazing feeling once you’re in a routine)
Note: Some will seem like common sense to experienced bikers
Bring 2 spares and watch this video at least once on how to change a spare.
- We watched the video after getting the flat and had other bikers stop to help luckily. You might not have phone signal where you are to watch it when you need. If it’s any comfort, most of the time in Taiwan people who see you with trouble on the road will 95% stop to help you.
- Make sure after changing a spare, you check both inner and outer tire. We took a few hours to swap our first flat, then 10 minutes into riding, it went flat again because the intrusion object was stuck in the outer tire and punctured the inner tire again.
Start peddling from the easier gear
- On our first day, other cyclists stopped at a light to tell us we were starting too hard on the gear, which will build up amino acids in our legs.
- While breaking, always simultaneously switch to easier gears, and when starting again, start peddling on easy gear than switch into harder gears.
- I wasn’t switching gears much in the beginning, it took me a while to build up the habit of constantly switching gears between stopping/going, uphill/downhill and it saved me a ton of energy and made me feel less tired.
Bike Seating Height
- My bike seat was adjusted to the perfect height in the beginning at the shop. But over the days, it slowly gotten lower and lower. For someone not too experienced in biking (me), it’s hard to notice the change when it happens gradually. After day 6 my knees and quads started hurting then I realized my bike seat had gone way too low for an entire 1–2 days without me noticing.
- General rule is at the lowest point of the peddle, your leg should be able to fully extend, otherwise it can really really hurt your knee!
- Remember to check everyday if your seat has is the right height!
Don’t always trust Google Maps
- Google maps is awesome, but not always.. sometimes it optimizes for time and take you into smaller alleys. Sometimes those smaller roads turned out amazing and was a nice break from the car filled big roads. But other times (less often), they turned into unpatched roads dangerous for the bike tires
- BikeMaps is an alternative app that uses data from community bikers that will optimize for the route that make the most sense for bikers. Might not be the fastest if you compare to google, but there are certain trade offs very worth making such as safety, scenery and comfort.
- We always looked at both, and followed the street signs that says “環島” pointed out in the photo on the right below (designated paths for cycling around Taiwan)
Location sharing / Find my friends
- We started off sharing our live location on messenger but it turned out very battery draining and manual to enable every 60 minutes. We ended up using “Find my friends” on iPhone feature sharing our locations with each other in during the trip in the background so in case we needed to find each other.
Minimize wind resistance surface area
- One thing to consider when packing is wind resistance. Optimize for less horizontal surface facing the direction of the wind. We started off with 2 bags given from rental place on each side, day 2 we reconfigured 1 bag inside another and got bungee cords to strap it behind our seat instead. Photo below shows the different configurations, which had noticeable difference under strong winds.
- This goes without saying, but I’ll add it here anyway. In the first few days I stretched before starting and after finishing the day, it was not enough.
- To manage the knee and quad pain I had after day 6, I had to go slower and stretch by the hour instead, I optimized by combining bathroom / photo-op with stretching.
Go at your own paces; no need to stick together all the time
- In the first few days, we tried our best to stay together as a group and take breaks together. But everyone bikes at a different pace and prefer breaks with different cadence and duration. Always looking for one another can be quite tiring.
- After day 3, we started going at our own paces, agreeing on the best route in the morning and the person in front will usually find a lunch spot when it gets closer to noon where we reconvene again.
- That way we were able to tailor our own break frequency and duration to what is optimal to our bodies.
Take shorter breaks more frequently
- Continuing from the point above, when you go at your own pace, and take your own breaks, it’s much easier to optimize your time.
- In a group its easy to want to just sit there and wait for each other, if one needs to use the bathroom for a long time, others would just sit around waiting
- This is important because when sitting in a convenient store for too long, the strong AC drastically cools down your body, which feels amazing but stiffens your muscles and is a pain every time to reactivate them. Too many drastic body temperature change is NOT good for you.
- Instead of taking 20–30 min long breaks a few times a day, I moved to taking 5 minute breaks every 45–60 minutes to re-up on water and do some light stretching to keep my muscles happy and durable.
Free water refills at police and fire stations
- Police stations and fire stations all have nice water fountains for anyone to go in and use, they expect bikes to be coming in to get water so don’t be shy, they’re all super friendly too!
- Sometimes finding a place to stay that also has a place to put your bikes under a hood to avoid the rain is not always easy. Which makes motels an ideal place since they come with private garages for vehicles. You can even stay at one of these places mid day at 3 hour intervals if you need a power nap while the weather condition is not ideal (too hot / thunder storm)
Do not ride at night
- Night riding can be very elusive, less cars, cooler weather but can actually present many unforeseen dangers, bumpy roads without lighting, trouble finding a place to stay late…etc.
No need for planning in advance, but be aware of where you are!
- We planned where we were staying / eating on the day depending on conditions and our progress. It’s great to plan day of to maximize flexibility and freedom, but during the day you also want to be aware of your surroundings and planning ahead.
- Think where you will be having lunch in the morning, start thinking where you might want to stay at night during lunch. There are segments on the road with nothing to eat, nowhere to stay so don’t assume you can just bike til you’re tired and find things around you.
- We were starving for food around lunch time one day and biked towards a train station, assuming “there must be food around a train station”. Turns out it was a town without a single restaurant (we asked), and we had to starve til the next town came up a while away.
- On day 8, we realized we were killing it and could just combine day 9 into the day. We were able to do that because we didn’t pre-book anything that would’ve been a constraint.
Take more photos
- While cycling in the zone, making good distance, legs feeling strong, it’s easy to want to just keep cruising. You might be killing it but you’ll be missing a lot of the scenery and photographic memories. Half way through I realized I had barely taken photos and made an intentional effort to stop whenever I see something worthy, take photos and stretch. This works well with the “take more shorter breaks” strategy mentioned above.
The hardest day is never as hard as you think; the easiest days are never as easy as you think.
- The first few days were ranked as “easier” according to the chart above, and day 6 was said to be the hardest and most brutal. Some “easy” days, we relaxed and found them to be not easy at all. We actually failed to finish day 1 and had to play catch up next few days.
- We even had a bike shop employees guarantee we will not complete day 6 after hearing our experience level while we were pumping air. When the much anticipated hardest day came, we were well prepared and it turned out much easier than we thought (we finished the hardest part, Shouka before realizing the it has even began, very anti-climatic but in a good way). I’ll never forget the kind smile of the bike shop employee telling us we’d never make it in one day :)
Time goes by much faster when you don’t look at it.
- Having google maps open will constantly show you the ETA, which is stressful to keep looking at, specially if you’re not as fast and the ETA keeps increasing. Figure out the main paths and turn off your phone screen and enjoy the scenery.
Your body is an incredible machine that is super adaptable once it knows what must be done.
- First few days we really struggled and didn’t think we can finish. But by 3 or 4 days in, we were noticeably getting faster and stronger and the days became easier and easier.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint
- The first few days I pushed as hard as I could, always peddling at max power thinking I can get further faster this way, but I just got tired really quickly and needed to take longer breaks.
- I went a lot further and faster when I deliberately took more but shorter breaks. Echoing the old Chinese proverb — “resting makes for a longer journey.”
Sometimes things are easier when you don’t know how hard they are when you begin — Trusting your heart and knowing you will be okay no matter what.
- I truly believe it’s easier to just attempt things even if you’re not sure you can finish. Most of the time, you’ll surprise yourself and actually finish while you’re at it and learn a ton. It’s always more mental than physical.
- Photo on the left is us getting rental bikes on our first day, thinking this should be fun; Photo on the right is us returning our bikes on the last day, completely exhausted and in pain, but still maintained our positive spirits!
Fake it til you make it
- We had minimal preparation, barely found a bike to rent in time. When asked “When’s the best time to go on a bike trip?” My buddy Ian said: “The best time to go on the bike trip is always after taking the bike trip.” Doing it is always easier than fear being unprepared and never doing it.
Taiwan felt big when we began but felt incredibly small when we were finishing
- Some kind of time / space illusion where the known always seem smaller / easier and the unknown bigger / scarier. Analogy to a lot of things in life too. Things in the past always seem less serious than they were compared to the moment — things in the future always seem to worry us more than it needs to.
It’s absolutely exhausting!!!
But very very rewarding!!!
Amazing feeling when we finally got to Taipei!
Shout out to the great teammates — Ian and Joy.
Having each other backs and enjoying the beautiful ride together. Trips like these create timeless memories — things we will certainly be reminiscing until we’re old.
Thank you for reading! :)
Very excited for you if you plan to do the same trip!
This is fun with friends but can also be a very great experience doing it solo.