Each year, Lonely Planet compiles a top ten list of destinations. For 2012, the guidebook specialist includes Taiwan in its ‘best in travel’ compilation. Yes, it’s for its “jaw-dropping landscape” and “museums simply bursting with treasures” but they’re not new so why is 2012 the time to visit?
“Because Taiwan is best seen on two wheels," claims the guidebook publisher.
"In recent years the authorities have embraced the biking market with surprising enthusiasm, vision and (most importantly) funding. This year sees the linking of thousands of kilometres of paths, including two round-the-island routes, and a host of other cycling friendly infrastructure projects.”
That’s quite some praise for an island off the Chinese mainland that’s famous for making bikes, but not riding them. Taiwan has long been known as the ‘Bicycle Kingdom’ but that’s because it’s where most of the Western world’s bicycles were once built.
Much of the low-end production has since moved to China and elsewhere in Asia but Taiwan remains a key destination for bicycle industry executives because mid- to high-end production of bikes and parts is still carried out on the island, or is controlled by Taiwanese companies.
And now, thanks to bicycle advocacy efforts, by companies such as Giant and Merida, Taiwan is becoming a Bicycle Kingdom for real. Protected networks of bike paths are being built and riding a circuit of the country is becoming a rite of passage for many Taiwan residents.
But the network is by no means complete and what has been built is used patchily, a demonstration that cycle-only networks have to be designed as a whole, not in bits. No matter how good the infrastructure, if a wide, safe bike path doesn’t connect to other wide, safe bike paths, it can be minimally used, undermining the reason for building the infrastructure in the first place.
A long-form article on Taiwan's cycling infrastructure - including a load of pix and interviews with officials and industry figures - has just been placed on BikeHub.co.uk.