Cycling in Taiwan is extremely popular amongst locals – not surprising perhaps given the country’s stunning landscapes, extensive bike route network and vast bike manufacturing heritage.
In recent years, Taiwan’s cycling scene has also become better known internationally. 2021 was the Year of Cycling Tourism in Taiwan and the island has been variously referred to as Bicycle Kingdom, Cycling Island and even seen as a contender for Cycling Capital of Asia. The Taiwan KOM has also played a part in this growing interest in cycling Taiwan – especially for avid road cyclists. More on the KOM below!
To help us get under the skin of cycling in Taiwan, Taiwan Tourism Board put us in touch with Frank Hou from Giant Bikes Taiwan and Rob Hodkinson from Pedal Taiwan. Frank lives in Taiwan and Rob has run tours here since 2016, so they know the country inside out.
Below you’ll find tips on what to expect from a cycling trip in Taiwan, as well as the best regions and routes to cycle in Taiwan. Read on!
Cycling Taiwan: what’s it like from a cyclist’s perspective?
Why should cyclists visit Taiwan?
Though Taiwan is smaller than most cycling destinations around the world, it has a huge amount to offer.
Taiwan is a mountainous, semi-volcanic island surrounded by the Pacific Ocean to the east and the East China Sea to the west. The warm waters of the coasts and scale of the mountains ensure that cyclists in Taiwan enjoy an incredibly diverse and impressive experience.
From the tropical paddy fields and countryside of the east coast, to the dense cloud forests of the central mountain range, from alpine-esq summits to thriving, pulsing cities, riders can experience all of it in the space of just a day’s riding! There’s also diversity of challenge available – while some bike routes in Taiwan are suitable for easy leisure riding there are also routes that will put the fittest cyclists through their paces.
Geography of Taiwan
Taiwan is a country in East Asia with Japan to the northeast and China to the northwest. It is a mountainous semi-tropical island with an area of 36,182 square kilometres (the UK is 6.8 times bigger than Taiwan!) and a population of around 23 million people.
Frank has kindly prepared this map to show Taiwan and some of the main locations discussed in the article below.
Taiwan is located at the boundary between the Eurasian Plate and the Philippine Sea Plate. This means Taiwan is very mountainous and has the fourth highest maximum elevation of all islands around the world. There are 284 mountains and peaks that are 3,000m above sea level, and the highest mountain – Yushan – is almost 4,000m (3,952m to be exact).
The high mountains are generally located in the middle part of Taiwan. If you’re looking for a Taiwan cycling tour to challenge you, this is the place to come.
You’ll find long and steep climbs in towns such as Nantou. There are also a few multi-day routes possible through the mountains from Yilan county in the north-east through towards Sun Moon Lake and Nantou further south.
Accommodation can be tough to find in some of the more remote mountains, but you’ll also be able to explore Aboriginal communities, and will likely pass through small farming villages that won’t previously have seen more than a handful of foreigners. These routes represent some of the toughest riding anywhere in the world, on par with anything to be found in the Alps or Pyrenees.
The east of Taiwan is known for its rolling hills.
The towns on the east coast are generally smaller than the cities on the north and west coasts. Hualien and Taitung are particularly nice; there is less traffic, fresher air, and incredible views as you have mountains on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other side while cycling.
North eastern Taiwan is more hilly, with a big coastal plain spanning out from Yilan. The towns tend to be bigger here, and include some of the earliest Japanese settlements during Taiwan’s colonial period, such as the old gold mining towns of Juifen and Shifen, which are now popular tourist attractions.
Most of the south coast is covered by Kenting National Park. This offers one of the best day’s riding on the whole island, and is where Pedal Taiwan’s tours usually start or end.
The south east coast of Taiwan is defined by the rift valley known as Huadong Valley. This flat(ish) plain runs in parallel to the coastline, framed on either side by the eastern mountain range and the central mountain range. The valley was created when the tectonic plates pulled apart from each other to create a flat-land between the now separated mountains. This region is almost entirely agricultural, and offers incredible riding through wide paddy fields and gently rolling hills. On the far side of the eastern mountains, the coastal road follows the clear pacific waters, with fishing villages that often specialise in swordfish sashimi. A must-try!
What are the roads like?
Throughout Taiwan the roads are usually asphalt roads.
Good news for road cyclists in Taiwan: the roads are usually in great condition, the surfaces are pretty even with little to no gravel. Generally the best roads for road cyclists to ride are the provincial highways, county highways, local roads and bikeways.
Another bonus of Taiwan’s roads is that in many places they are built with a ‘bike’ lane on each side. In reality this lane is used by all two wheeled vehicles (scooters as well as bikes), but it gives you some extra room on the road, and the prevalence of scooters means that traffic is very used to having a two wheeled road user on their outside.
Check out more practical tips for cycling in Taiwan below.
What are the best regions (and cycling routes) in Taiwan?
For those looking at a cycling tour in Taiwan, here are some excellent places, and cycling routes, to consider.
Huadong Valley is generally quite flat with a few gentle slopes. You find cycling routes running along side beautiful golden paddy fields and see mountains covered by greenery.
Wuhe Terrace is a popular cycling route in Huadong Valley because there is a Tropic of Cancer (23.5°N latitude, dividing tropical and temperate zones) marker located on the terrace. It is highly recommended to cycle around the beautiful terraces and make a stop at the marker and take some photos as a souvenir.
Ruisui is also a fabulous village to stay a night in the valley. It’s a one day ride from Hualien to the north and has a public hot spring set into the foothills of the mountains just outside the village. Here you can lie back in the natural hot waters and look at the jungle canopy climbing up the mountain slopes above you.
Note on the GPS file below: click “view full version” to see the file with English town and city names.
Riding the East Coast of Taiwan is one of the favourite destinations of cyclists in Taiwan. The east coast route is a challenging ride but it rewards you with breathtaking Pacific Ocean views.
Frank says: To ride along the East Coast, cyclists will have to follow Taiwan Highway Number 11. The first 40 kilometres of the highway have quite a few long up and downhill (5-6 kilometres each climb). After 40 kilometres, there are shorter rolling hills, which are very fun to ride along. Cycling along Changbin Avenue, you can climb up to Coastal Mountain and see the beautiful Pacific Ocean from the top of the mountain (see “Day 3” route below). If you want to spend more time at the beach, I’d recommend cycling to Dulan, where all the bars, surfing clubs and hippies’ shops are at (see “Day 4” route below). If you fancy a beer with a beautiful sunset and ocean breeze at the beach, Dulan is definitely the place.
Note on the GPS files below: click “view full version” to see the file with English town and city names.
Rob adds: A great option for an east coast ride is to follow the coastal road to north of Chenggong, and then cut across the eastern mountains into the rift valley and follow that up to Hualien. There’s a mountain road that’s got a few tough climbs, but is almost deserted by traffic apart from the few aboriginal communities and has some spectacular gorges running through it. The GPS file below shows this route (as for the other routes, click “view full version” to see the file with English town and city names):
Finally, when considering cycling routes on Taiwan’s east coast, avoid the Suhua Highway. It is particularly dangerous for cyclists with many long tunnels and a lot of heavy traffic. (The Suhua Highway isn’t incorporated in the routes above – and there are many amazing east coast routes to ride instead!)
Kenting is the most-southern city in Taiwan and is located in the tropical zone on the Henchun Peninsula. The weather in Kenting tends to be warm and pleasant, welcoming visitors with sunshine and beautiful coral reef coasts. This little tropical paradise in Taiwan is perfect for cycling holidays. The country roads through the national parks are awesome and tend to be quiet. There are also cycling routes in Taiwan’s Kenting province along the coast with rolling hills.
Taiwan Highway Number 26, connecting Xuhai to Kenting, is a route on the Henchun Peninsula where you can find the most natural coastal views in Taiwan.
Note on the GPS file below: click “view full version” to see the file with English town and city names.
Special mention: route 1
For those that love a circumnavigation, Taiwan’s famous around-the-island bike route – Route No. 1 – is worth knowing about. It has a total length of 960.8km and total ascent of 5,420m. Cyclists usually take nine or more days to finish the route but of course it’ll depend on how much cycling you want to do each day.
Don’t expect a single path, route 1 includes roads as well as bike paths and is not always hundred percent obvious especially when it goes through towns.
The route can start at any point but the initial 0 km marking is at the Taipei Songshan Station, going through cities including New Taipei City, Taoyuan City, Xinzhu County, Miaoli County, Taichung City, Zhanghua City and County, Yunlin County, Chiayi County, Tainan City, Kaohsiung City, Pingtung County, Taitung County, Hualien County, Yilan County, and back to New Taipei City, Keelung City and Taipei City.
This article focuses solely on cycling route 1, so click through if it sounds like it’s for you.
Besides Route 1, Taiwan has 24 other cycling routes, connecting famous tourist attractions throughout the island.
What are the key road cycling events in Taiwan?
Taiwan KOM Challenge is one of the most well-known international cycling events in Taiwan. It is held in October each year and is organised by the Taiwan Cyclist Federation.
Since 2012, Taiwan KOM has challenged all professional and amateur cyclists to the “longest climb”. The Taiwan KOM route starts at sea level and climbs for 105km. It finishes after 3,275m of climbing, at the summit of the highest passable road in Taiwan: Wuling Pass on Mt He Huan. It could be one of the hardest climb events around the world, but it is truly the ride of a lifetime.
What are the best hotels for cyclists in Taiwan?
Generally speaking, Taiwanese hotels and hostels are quite welcoming towards cyclists as cycling is quite a popular activity in Taiwan. There are usually parking areas for bicycles, and most of the hotels offer early check-out. Some even offer early breakfast or breakfast box service. However, hotels in Taiwan don’t usually provide bicycle maintenance and repair services, so it is recommended to find bike shops around the accommodations if needed.
This website lists Taiwan’s registered tourist accommodation and helpfully, you can sort it by places that are cyclist-friendly (scroll down on the left-hand side). There are also lots of other filters, including the town you want to stay in and the star rating.
Are there places for bike hire in Taiwan?
Is it easy to find bike hire in Taiwan?
Considering that so many bikes are made in Taiwan, it may come as a surprise that it is not always easy to get hold of good rental bikes.
In Taiwan’s big cities, flat bar road bikes and leisure bikes are available and some more specialist hire shops have started to rent drop-bar road bikes and ebikes. Pre-booking at least 2-4 weeks in advance, is usually needed.
Remember that bikes provided by Taiwanese bike shops are customised to Taiwanese people’s heights and physiques, which are generally smaller than European bikes. Taller cyclists might want to bring their bikes with them!
While there are many bike shops in Kenting, the bike shop owners usually only speak Chinese. It is likely to make life easier for you if you hire your bike from bigger cities nearby, such as Kaohsiung or Taitung.
What is the best time to cycle in Taiwan?
As an island with subtropical and tropical climates, Taiwan has scorching summers, especially during July and August when temperatures get close to 40°C!
Cycling in Taiwan is more pleasant during spring, autumn and winter when the temperatures are around 15-20°C. However, if you’re planning to do a lot of riding in the central mountain range, it’s best to avoid mid-winter (December and January) as the highest roads can get some ice and snow.
Taiwan doesn’t have that much rainfall, except in the north during the winter, which makes cycling around Taiwan a pleasant experience!
Any tips when planning a cycling tour in Taiwan?
Covid and politics
Taiwan lifted Covid restrictions in October 2022 and so international cyclists are welcome to come and cycle around Taiwan and experience its beauty for themselves. Face masks are not required while cycling or doing sports, though they are currently required in other settings; check before you travel.
Taiwan is located roughly 160 km from China (officially the People’s Republic of China (PRC)) and is officially part of the Republic of China. The political status of Taiwan is contentious and relations with the PRC are tense (more information here).
As ever, check current information.
For UK visitors, the UK government travel information pages are here.
The green plum flower sign is for highways and a shield shape sign with red background colour and a white number is for express highways. In Taiwan, cycling is not allowed on either of these. This resource sets out information on bike regulations in Taiwan.
Watch out for motorbikes (and buses!)
It is really important to look out for motorbikes on the roads. There are a lot of them in Taiwan. Make sure to ride on the side closest to the pavement. If you’re on a separated ‘bike’ lane, remember you might come across scooters using the lane too.
In Taipei, there is an excellent network of cycle paths built along the river network (for anyone who has cycled on the seven rivers network in Korea, this is similar). It’s a brilliant way of getting in and out of the city without having to go through downtown mayhem!
There are also many buses in the cities, so make sure you pay attention to them and keep your distance.
Go with the wind
Before embarking on a Taiwan cycle tour, consider wind direction. Our pro tip is to ride from the north to the south during the winter season because the northeast monsoon affects the wind direction. Similarly, between March and November, warm winds come from the south, from the Philippines, and so your best bet is to ride south to north.
This way you should avoid the worst of the headwinds!
Convenience stores are your best friend
One of the best things about cycling in Taiwan is that there are convenience stores like 7-11 and FamilyMart, which are usually open 24/7. When riding across cities, you can always find a convenience store to buy water, food and any other supplies that you might need.
Also bear in mind that, if you don’t mind a small amount of awkward confusion, you can discover incredible local food stalls in most towns and villages, and can usually get what you want with a smile and some pointing!
Cycling in Taiwan’s mountains
When cycling in Taiwan’s mountain areas, try to look for accommodation and shops/restaurants in advance, as there are fewer shops and the internet connection could be unstable.
It’s really easy to get caught out in the mountains. There are thousands of micro climates, and the weather can turn quickly. The mountain faces are often very steep and are susceptible to landslides, particularly if there’s been rain.
Consider having a support car with you. It’s a good backup in case of emergencies.
Mandarin is Taiwan’s main language. In 2018 it announced a plan to become a bilingual country by 2030, but currently very little English is spoken outside of the major cities (and not that much in them!). However people are generally very friendly and happy to see foreigners.
Travelling on Taiwan’s public transport
The public transport in Taiwan is very bike-friendly; you can travel with your bike on the train, high-speed rail and metro with no problem.
Also, all public transport requires bikes to be properly packed in bike bags. This is quite an obstacle for anyone who wants to hire in Taipei and then head down by train to the south, but the rules are enforced so don’t be tempted to try without.
Things not to do on your cycling tour of Taiwan
Taiwanese people are very friendly and welcoming, and usually very understanding. We usually laugh it off when foreigners do something uncommon or forbidden in our culture.
However, here are some commonly known taboos in Taiwan for readers to bear in mind:
- Please do not drink, eat or chew gums on buses and metros as it is illegal and you might get fined if you do so.
- In Taiwan, we drive on the right side. So please stay on the right side of the escalators and the roads.
- Don’t stick the chopsticks into your rice or food, as it resembles the traditional ritual for funeral and religious ceremonies.
- Don’t open your umbrella indoors, as it is said to attract bad spirits or ghosts in folk religions.
- When visiting temples or shrines, it is recommended to remove your hat or cap to show respect.
- Queue for the trains and metros at the station. The platforms will have lines drawn on the floor where people stand and wait to get on the trains. No queue-barging please!
Avoid swimming in open water
In Europe it is quite normal to jump into the lake or sea and go for a quick swim. But in Taiwan, it could be quite dangerous if you do so. Especially on the East Coast, where you find the Manila Trench just beyond the beaches. The water is deep and the flow is often very strong and fast.
How to get to Taiwan?
The biggest international airport in Taiwan is the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport (TPE). Usually, international travellers will arrive at the airport and go from Tauyuan to their destinations. There are many transportation options for travellers to get around the island from the airport.
There is Taoyuan Airport MRT, which can take you from the airport to Taipei in 35 minutes. There are also plenty of buses for travelling to Taipei, Taichung and other cities. Alternatively Frank and Rob would be happy to organise a transfer!
A big thank you to Frank and Rob for their insights into cycling in Taiwan.
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