Sizzling summertime has given way to cooler fall temperatures — an ideal time for cycling in Taipei. Eight kilometers of cycling paths hug the Hsintien (新店) and Tamshui (淡水) riversides on the outskirts of Taipei, offering a lovely afternoon ride all the way to the bustling boardwalk in Tamshui. For your enjoyment along the way are picnic areas, basketball courts and small temples.
A popular highlight is Longshan (龍山) Riverside Park on Taipei’s west “coast,” which the city has developed into a vital community resource, bustling with activities in the evening. As French visitor Florine LePlatre observed: “At night there are all kinds of activities, including fishing and karaoke. Some groups are equipped with their own generator, complete with chairs and tables and they sing super-loud!”
LePlatre and her friend were able to pick up second-hand bicycles, “basic with just one speed,” for only NT$800 each at a shop near Longshan Temple. Bike ownership is not a burden, as several MRT routes and stations allow bikes (see http://www.chinapost.com.tw/mrt/bikes/
for more information).
Renting is also a convenient option. Giant bike kiosks in Guandu (關渡), Dadaocheng (大稻程) Wharf, and Tamshui offer bikes with basic setups for NT$40 per hour. There are three caveats to keep in mind: Rentals are available on weekends only; bikes must be returned to the original kiosk (based on my recent experience, expect a NT$200 fee if you drop off the rental at a nearby Giant store); and all rental information, maps and signage are in Chinese only for now – Giant representatives promise English editions by 2008.
Though demand for rentals has been strong – a new kiosk set up recently near HuaJiang Bridge in Panchiao ran out of bikes on its opening weekend – it shouldn’t be a limiting factor. On a breezy Saturday afternoon in late September, my friends and I had no problems renting three bikes at the Dadaocheng Wharf kiosk.
We took the longest way, around the appropriately named Shetze, or “Warehouse,” Island (社子島) where the picturesque mountain and riverside scenario is countered aesthetically by a long series of depots on the right. One picturesque stretch of marshlands in the valley below the mountains, for example, is interrupted by a tractor parking lot.
As you round the islet, you begin to feel the hard ocean breeze, making the ride a bit more challenging. Walking your bike up a stepped incline over a bridge and continuing north, you will be greeted by a view of Mt. Guanyin. Mangroves line the shore now, along with mudskippers and the occasional crane.
“Ten years ago, you could swim in the water,” my mate Wu Bai remarked. “Now you wouldn’t dare go in.”
Still, biking in the city outskirts is more pleasant than in urban centers, a situation that the local government will improve. Recognizing the advantages of reduced traffic and air pollution, Taipei City is promoting biking as a “means of transportation, not just a leisure activity,” said Yu-fen Kao of the city’s Urban Development Department.
Armed with a budget of NT$1 million for the next six months (a significant increase over last year’s NT$600,000), Taipei City is developing cycling paths near the Neihu MRT station, Chongshan N. Rd., and along the Keelung River connecting to Keelung Rd, adding to the current 58.6km of cycling paths already lining the city.
The future appears bright for Taipei cyclists. “In a few years the bike paths will form a complete network,” Kao promised, “allowing commuters easy and safe access to MRT stations from their homes.”