The first 'Bike Bloggers tour of Taiwan' is currently happening in Taiwan. The tour is organised by TAITRA, the Taiwan External Trade Development Council, and I'm tagging along.
The bloggers are Brits Mark Ames from ibikelondon and Tom Allen from Tom's Bike Trip, and Americans Tyler Benedict of Bike Rumor and DL Byron of Bikehugger.
As well as being given factory tours and a chance to see how Taiwan has transformed itself into a mid- to high-end bike manufacturing specialist the bloggers have been on guided bike rides to see the emerging cycling culture in Taiwan.
On today's bike ride - around the scenic Sun Moon lake, an hour and a half from Taichung - the bloggers visited a Giant-owned rental store where the bikes on offer included team-issue Rabobank TCR Advanced road bikes, as well as high-end mountain bikes.
A shorter, evening ride was taken on the Dongfong rail trail greenway, on the outskirts of Taichung. As today was a national holiday in Taiwan, locals were out in force on the traffic-free trail, and the bloggers were staggered by the numbers of riders: whole families were out on bikes, mostly on rental machines, including a great many electric bikes.
The companies visited so far have been CSK, Tern, Giant and Ming Cycle. Still to come are visits to Pacific Cycles,Sun Up Eco and Kreima.
Taiwan is green. Green as in the colour: viewed from on high in Google Earth, Taiwan is almost all trees. But zoom in and the grey bits are the large coastal cities such as Taiwan’s capital, Taipei, and Taichung, centre of Taiwan's bicycle industry. Taiwanese cities are choked with fumes from the infernal combustion engine.
Although it’s still in thrall to the car – with more and more motorways believed to be the answer to congestion – the Taiwanese Government is also investing in bicycle infrastructure to encourage more people to get on to their bikes.
This investment comes from the Sports Council. Cycling in Taiwan, on the whole, is seen as a recreation and a sport not yet a form of mainstream urban transport, but this is slowly changing.
According to Lonely Planet, Taiwan is worth a visit because the country is "best seen on two wheels and 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, especially by companies such as Giant, 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.
The bike bloggers won't be seeing the whole island but, in blog postings to come after the trip, there's sure to be an appreciation of how cycling friendly the country has become in such a short space of time, and how Taiwan doesn't just make bikes it has created its own cycling culture, too.
Mark Ames on a Strida
DL Byron at Sun Moon Lake
Giant rental shop at Sun Moon Lake.
Sign at Sun Moon Lake.
Ames at Sun Moon Lake.
Wiggins on a Taiwanese mag.
To follow the rest of the first 'Bike bloggers tour of Taiwan' visit Carlton Reid's twitter account.