With a friend I just finished my first long-distance bike trip down the west coast of Taiwan. I’d planned to make a full loop of the island, but I’m headed to Sri Lanka in a few weeks and wanted to spend some more time in Taipei before I leave, so I hopped a train when I got to the end of the tracks in the south and came back to Taipei. When I come back to Taiwan I’ll rent a bike again and go down the east coast, which’ll probably be sometime this summer.
One of the first temples we came across.
Before leaving on the trip I found it terribly hard to find any information online in English about biking around Taiwan, so here it is.
Renting a Bike
Giant Bikes has a half famous but at the same time still half unknown bike rental program for long distance trips. It’s famous in the sense that everyone in Taiwan seems to know about it, but half unknown in the sense that nobody can tell you the details. I had someone who spoke Chinese call Giant for me and here’s the deal:
You rent a Giant bike from any of the company-owned (versus franchised) Giant outlets in Taiwan, preferably a week in advanced. The bikes will have little luggage bags on them and basically come with everything you’d ever need for your trip, and you can return them to any company owned Giant outlet. You’ll also be able to grab a coffee and wash up at any company-owned outlet you come across; this almost sold us on renting from Giant, but we ended up renting from an independent bike shop and any time we stopped in a Giant (or Merida) shop for directions, they were still super nice and occasionally offered us a coffee anyway.
I can’t remember the exact price for the Giant rental program because we ended up going with another option, which was much cheaper: http://bluepuffy1990.pixnet.net/blog/post/13754737. This is a small shop owned by an old man in Damsui. He only speaks Chinese, but if you can speak with him he’ll rent you the same bike as Giant would have with all the same gear at $2,000 for 15 days and $100/day after that (Taiwan dollars). He stocked us up with free bottles of water before we left, tore the tags off a brand new bike to rent to my friend, and I brought the bike back one day over the 15 days for which he refused to take my $100NT. Nice guy, we did a lot of research before we rented and that’s who you’d probably want to go with.
If you can’t rent from him and don’t want to rent from Giant, just take the MRT up to Damsui. When you get off you’ll be surrounded by bike shops and they’ll all be happy to rent to you, I don’t think you’d even need to call ahead.
Red dirt overlooking Taichung city.
Where to Sleep
If you’ve got a hotel budget of a few hundred US dollars for your trip, you can just sleep in hostels in the big cities and hotels in the small cities along the way. A hotel room in these small cities were between $1000-$1500 Taiwan dollars per night, and we never had an issue rolling into town and finding a room on the spot. Except in Douliu where a teenage ice skating competition of all things had rented out almost all the rooms…but even there we found one for a few hundred Taiwan Dollars more than normal.
This is also Taiwan, where everyone helps everyone else, so amazingly enough if you want to sleep for free the whole way that’s cool too. Head to any temple and ask to speak with the priest, and ask his/her permission to sleep in their rest room. These are rooms for travellers who don’t have anywhere to stay, not every temple has them but enough of them do that after 2-3 temples you should find one. We didn’t end up staying in one, but we were told repeatedly that they’d be more than happy to have us. On the east coast we were told that police stations also have rest rooms, and that they might be fine with having you sleep there as well. Lastly, just sleep outside in a sleeping bag – nobody will mind.
What Route to Take
Honestly, still no idea. We Just figured it out as we went along, and no matter what road we took we always saw other bikers on the road (road biking is crazy popular in Taiwan). In general we found the small highways/small roads way better than the major highways, but for safety it’s worth noting that just about every road we were on had a bike lane and most of the major highways had bike trails carved out beside them, particularly where this meant avoiding a dangerous piece of the highway. Again, biking is popular.
How Long Does It Take
We heard someone in the giant tour tell us they take experienced bikers around the island in 9 days. Judging by the distances they said they covered every day (about 100km), this’d probably mean they stick to major highways so in my opinion I’d say you give it more time. To go to Kaoshiung from Taipei we made a point of going as slowly as possible, we’ve lived in Taiwan long enough to have friends in most of these cities, so we spent up to 5 days each hanging out in Taichong, Tainan, and Kaoshiung once we got there. It took us two weeks to go to Kaoshiung, but again that was intentionally slow, and if you didn’t spend a lot of time in each city two weeks would probably get you around the island comfortably, maybe 2.5 weeks if you wanted some breathing room.
Taken while standing inside a giant Buddha.
I’m headed to Sri Lanka to learn to surf, then I’m coming back to Taiwan and going down the east coast. If you’ve ever thought about biking Taiwan but were intimidated by the lack of English information, don’t be. Just get an MRT to Damsui, rent a bike and go.