I’m always trying to challenge myself; so ever since I read about the founder of Giant Bicycles, King Liu, riding across Taiwan when he was 73 and starting the Formosa 900 (an annual event where 35 international teams bike the island), I wanted to bike Taiwan. I found a tour that followed the same route as the Formosa 900, registered 6 months in advance with five friends, and flew to Taipei.
We checked in at the start line on the first day of the tour, staged our bikes, and met the participants. The tour group consisted of bikers of different skill level, fitness level, and experience. The youngest biker was 18 and the oldest was 69. A few of them brought their own road bikes, but the majority rented hybrid bicycles. I rented an aero race bike. The tour caravan consisted of two support vans and three guides on bicycles. The lead van contained supplies for the day, including sunscreen, water, electrolytes and snacks. The sweeper van contained our luggage and extra bicycle parts and wheels.
We finished staging and began the first day of the tour. During the ride, I got a feel for the skill level of the group, and decided to stay right behind the tour guides. It was the best place to be, because they knew the traffic patterns and knew where we were going. They were also predictable, so I could draft behind them. When riding in a group, the safest place to be is the front of the pack, because you can avoid crashes and the accordion effect caused by bikers braking or shifting at different times.
Every morning we would wake up at 6:00 a.m., eat breakfast, warm up and stretch, and then be on our bikes by 8:00 a.m. At the end of the day, we would cool down and stretch, eat dinner, wash our biking clothes, upload our route data to Strava, and go to bed. We were fed really well, eating at restaurants known for the local cuisine.
Each day, the lead driver would draw a map of that day’s route on the van’s passenger window. He would show the distance we had to bike and the elevation gains and descents. We were happy to see flat days and cursed seeing hilly days. The shortest day was 80 kilometers, and the longest day was 125 kilometers. Rest stops were every 15 to 20 kilometers. The most difficult day started at sea level and peaked at 443 meters, with a total elevation gain of 1,537 meters.
The first four days of the tour were relatively flat. We followed the western coastline of Taiwan. We visited Giant Headquarters in Taichung and the factory where my road bike was made, crossed Xiluo Bridge (the second longest bridge in the world at the time of construction) and passed the Tropic of Cancer.
The second half of the tour was more challenging. Biking in Taiwan was treacherous at times; we had to share the road with cars, buses, trucks, scooters, construction vehicles and other bicycles.
Sometimes we had vehicles on both sides of us. Scooters would go against the flow of traffic and pass us on the right, while cars would pass us on the left. On Day 5, we reached the southern part of the island and the wind almost knocked me off of my bike. I had to stay in the drops of my handlebars to be as aerodynamic as possible.
On Day 6, we had to climb up to Mudan Reservoir. The lead driver had the faster bikers start the climb 20 minutes after the rest of the group to give the slower bikers more time. We raced each other up the mountain, passing the slower bikers and giving each other high-fives when we reached the top ahead of everybody. After descending, we followed a highway on the eastern coast of the island. It was very windy and there were many rolling hills. The group was split apart by the wind and many people got dropped. We regrouped at a rest stop.
Day 9 was the most difficult for me. At that point, my shoulders were really sore; my right arm started to get pins and needles. I took ibuprofen to get through the day. We had to climb up Xiaogetou Mountain and then descend into Taipei. It was a holiday, and it seemed like everybody in the city was driving up and down the mountain at the same time. I almost got clipped by a car that was passing me on the descent. My fingers were frozen from squeezing the brake levers so much.
When we finally made it to the finish line, we received certificates of completion and medals for finishing the tour. All 36 bikers finished the tour, and nobody quit! My next challenge will be a bike tour of Okinawa in 2017.