Saturday, May 30, 2009

Biking in Hou Li (后里), Taichung County

Bike riding in Taiwan is a very popular past-time and since I arrived in Taiwan I've been hearing all kinds of great things about the bike paths in Taichung County.

Finally, this weekend, my friend Claire invited Nick and I to take a trip out to Hou Li (后里) for a nice afternoon bike ride.

We should have had a reasonable expectation that the place would be crowded because of the holiday weekend, but I really had noooooooooooo idea what I was in for.

Imagine you are trying to leave the parking lot of a concert just after it's ended; now instead of everyone going one way, there are just as many people going out as there are coming in.
Add to this a bunch of kids and adults, who don't really know how to ride a bike, plus a large portion of people who find nothing wrong with coming to a complete stop in the middle of the bike path... and you can begin to get a picture of what we were dealing with.

In some places it was bumper-to-bumper, or tire-to-tire traffic. Literally there were places where it was so bad that people had to get off of their bikes and walk because they couldn't keep their balance riding the bike at such a slow pace. Don't Believe me? Check out this short video I took on one portion of our bike ride:

In addition to dealing with the massive crowds, I was riding on a bike with broken gears and a flat tire! Of course I didn't realize the tire was flat until hours into the bike ride, so I was working my ass off to ride on a virtually flat trail. Let's just say there were moments when I was more than a little bit irritated.

For example when I was hit by a 12 year old girl who was looking for someone behind her, or when I was almost hit by a grown women who also wasn't looking straight ahead despite the fact that she had her 1-year-old child in a basket on the front of her bike!

In defense of the bike path, the whole bike ride wasn't stop-and-go traffic. Despite my rough ride, I did manage to enjoy the day (especially after we finally put some air in my tires!) The trail is actually a really nice paved path that is lined with big shade trees in many parts and is a really pleasant place for a bike ride. That being said, I have to say that I will probably never return on a weekend. I just kept thinking to myself, "my dad would be freaking out right now!" ha ha.

As is the case in any place with large crowds, the people watching was fantastic. People rode all kinds of crazy bikes. It's very common in the city to see a regular bike with an extra seat in between the rider and the handle bars for a child to sit on, but on the bike path this idea was taken to an extreme.

Every where you looked there were tandem bikes, and it wasn't uncommon to see a tandem bike with one child in the very front, two parents peddling in the middle, and a small child in a little basket on the back. That's four people on a tandem bike! Or you can take out the second parent and have two children as passengers on a regular bike - Biking certainly is a family affair here!

At one point early in the bike ride, we went through a long tunnel that was pleasantly cool.

(here's a picture of my friends coming out of the tunnel)

While I was in the tunnel, there was a continuous, faint buzzing sound, similar to the hum of an insect like a bee or a mosquito. I had no idea what the sound was, but at first I thought maybe it was just the hum of all of the bikes.

Then I noticed something else peculiar: an old lady who was barely peddling her bike passed me! And she was not the only one who was able to pass me with such apparent ease. At first I was really confused. Watch this video of a boy riding up a slight incline, and you may be confused as well:

You may have noticed that he wasn't moving his feet, but I have to reiterate to you, he was riding slightly UP-hill, not down-hill!

So after putting to use my critical thinking skills, I realized that some (many) people on the bike trail were riding motorized bikes like the one pictured below!

Well, what can I say... the Taiwanese love their gadgets! (Take a look again at the picture above with the man and his child on a bike... notice that no one is pedaling that bike either!)

This actually can be really helpful if you're trying to haul all those children around on your bike, but it's hard for me to see the point of renting a motorized bike for a crowded day on the bike path when these people ride scooters around the crowded city all the time; to me these two experiences are virtually identical!


  1. don't get me started on how people here can't ride on trails because they think they are the only ones on it!

    electric bikes are supposed to be "electric assist" which means they are designed to assist pedaling power. if you don't pedal the strain is very bad for the motor.

    great report!

  2. i haven't checked in for some time and it appears that you two have traveled extensively since i last looked. braver folks than me to have withstood the biking traffic, that's for sure. think i would have taken my bike and gone home.

  3. If your work schedules allow for it, you should definitely bike this trail on a weekday - you'll probably have it pretty much to yourself then. The same goes for the other bike paths in the area as well: Fengyuan to Dongshih, and the trail that runs through Tanzi, Shengang and Daya (best accessed from Chengde Road). All these bike routes are great for walking, too - provided you go on a weekday!