Beyond Route #1 – Tips for 5 Stunning Cycling Routes in Taiwan
Taiwan produces and exports the majority of the bicycles around the world and most people have heard of the famous Taiwanese brand ‘Giant’. What fewer people know, is that Taiwan is also an amazing country for cycling; from flat winding riverside and coastal roads to the high mountains; you can conquer it all. Cycling Route #1 circumnavigates the island and gets much attention, well-deserved since it is a beautiful route around the island, but it almost seems to be the only route that is promoted among cyclists visiting Taiwan. But there are other excellent cycling routes in Taiwan.
Focus your attention beyond Route #1 — there is so much more to explore! In this article, five alternative cycling routes in Taiwan are brought to your attention so you can explore this amazing island and learn about the different cultures and landscapes of Taiwan. When cycling these routes, you will find quiet mountain roads, discover a wide range of locally grown fruits and other products, explore indigenous villages and cycle through very diverse scenery.
Cycling in Taiwan
My husband and I have lived in Taiwan for over three years and I have to admit that at first, I was a little anxious about cycling in Taiwan. Coming from the Netherlands, I was used to cycling on the flats, but not in the hills, or even worse, in the higher mountains! I soon found out that cycling in the mountains can be a lot of fun, especially with the views that reward you on the way to the summit. When we first started climbing mountains on the famous YouBikes (a very convenient rental bike system you can find all over Taipei and other cities in Taiwan), people simultaneously laughed at us and encouraged us. However, after a few hilly rides, we decided that we’d had our fun and switched the 3-gear YouBikes for some proper road bikes. Since then, our bike rides have varied from relaxing rides along riversides and coastal roads to ascending the highest road in Taiwan [the Wuling Pass at 3,257 m (10,686 ft)].
While cycling routes in Taiwan, you often have to share the cycling lane with pedestrians in the cities or with cars outside of the urban areas, which can be frustrating at times. But in many areas, you can also find beautiful cycling lanes, or if you deviate from the major roads and go inland, you can often cycle in peace, in the absence of any cars. Taiwanese are very friendly to cyclists and always happy to help, even though it can be a challenge to communicate in English. It is easy to travel around the island since you can take your bicycles on the trains and long-distance buses. On local trains, you can bring them for half the price of a regular ticket and place them in one of the wagons with cycling spots. You can also take them for free when you bring your bike in a sack (you only have to take out the front wheel and put a sack around your bike).
When cycling out on the road, water can be tapped from water dispensers at all police stations and other cycling rest stops. When you need some energy, there are more than enough convenience stores spread over the country to get some refreshments or a sugar kick. Since cycling is actively promoted by the government, there are good cycling maps of every area and cycling guides are available online, with tips on where to rent a bike, what are the best cycling lanes, etc.[Editor’s note: Cycling in Taiwan will introduce you to Taiwanese cuisine which is some of the world’s best. Read: 10 Must-Try Taiwanese Dishes
Cycling Routes in Taiwan
Top 5 Routes
Dongshan Coffee Road
For coffee lovers like us, this is one of the best roads you can find in Taiwan! Located in the foothills of the central mountain range, you can tour the coffee plantations and check out the actual red coffee beans growing on the plants that will later turn into your favorite morning drink. These roads see little traffic, especially during midweek, and are great for road cycling.
There are also plenty of opportunities for coffee stops along the way. At Dachu Coffee Estate you can look out over the valley below from within a treehouse while sipping away a delicious regional espresso or cappuccino. You can taste many different types of coffee that are locally grown and produced in this region and some farmers also make products from the leftover coffeeberries (which are actually really sweet), such as jam and cookies.
For cycling, it’s best to start your tour in Chiayi, where you can navigate your way up the mountains to road 175 and make a stop to take a (healthy) mud bad at Guanziling Hot Spring. At the end of road 175, you can go down via the 174 to Linfongying train station. If you want to extend your tour to explore more natural mountain roads, you can continue until you connect to road 3 and then road 20, all the way to Tainan city.
Length: ca. 70 km (44 miles), altitude gain: ca. 1000m (3,280 ft), Link to Route on Map
Pinglin Tea District
So, maybe you’re not a coffee lover…Luckily Taiwan is more famous for its tea! There are multiple opportunities for beautiful rides along the undulating tea fields in Pinglin district and you can visit one of the tea farms to taste the distinct Taiwanese Oolong tea. This district is located southeast of Taipei and is easy to reach with daytrips from Taipei. A ride from Taipei to Pinglin will take around 2-3 hours, via road 9. There are many campsites around Pinglin village, if you like to make it a bikepacking trip and stay overnight. The tea fields are spread over the hills, but for the best views you can cycle 北42, starting from Pinglin village. After having a look at the Ping-Lin Tea Museum, you can explore the tea fields yourself. If you want to keep the ride short you can ride北42 from Pinglin to Shuangxi, where you can hop on the train [ca. 40 km (25 miles)].
From Shuangxi you can also choose to fire up your legs and ascend the 102 towards不厭亭 (Buyanting), which is a scenic road with beautiful coastal views. Descend to Jiufen (also worth a stop, but often very busy) and end your ride somewhere along the coast to enjoy the northern coastal views and eat fresh seafood in one of the small coastal villages. You can take a train from either Ruifang or Keelung back to Taipei.
If you like cats, then you should connect from Shuangxi to 北37 to ride amongst the cute cats in Houting Cat Village. Have a coffee and a snack in one of the many cozy cat cafes such as MEOW MEOW 喵喵 or 食玩咖啡coffee and finish your ride at Ruifang train station.
Length: ca. 40-60 km (25-37miles), altitude gain: ca. 700-1200m (2,297-3,937 ft), Link to route on map
East Rift Valley
The East Rift Valley is truly diverse and beautiful! It is a low-lying area amid two mountain ranges (central mountain range and coastal mountain range) between Hualien and Taitung. The valley has multiple well-maintained cycling paths and you can hop on and off on the train that runs through the valley. There are many places to keep you entertained along the way, for example, step into a fairytale house at Mr. Sam, eat a delicious ice cream at the Hualien sugar factory or stand between two tectonic plates at the Yufu Bicycle bridge near Yuli.
You can make this a multi-day ride; heading north to south starting your ride in Hualien. Try to divert from the main road and explore some smaller roads or bike paths, for example, paddle your way through the pineapple fields along road 193. Further south in Chisang the ‘Mr. Brown Boulevard’ meanders through rice fields and there is a bike lane that circles Dapo pond, with beautiful views of the surrounding mountain ranges. The valley ends in Taitung, a coastal city in Southern Taiwan with ferry connections to the popular offshore destinations Green Island (Ludao) and Orchid Island (Lanyu).
Tip: Cross the coastal mountain range at one of the roads that connect the rift valley to the east coast (road 11, 30 or 23); you will be rewarded with magnificent ocean views!
Length: ca. 180 km (112 miles), altitude gain: mostly flat if you stay inside the valley, Link to route on map
This is one for people who enjoy longer uphill rides; a continuous climb of ca. 1800 m (5,906 ft) to Daxueshan, in Taichung County. The road is not very steep (average around 5-7% gradient) and it is a peaceful road, with not many cars passing by, making this climb more attractive than other popular climbs. This route starts in Houli, where you first can relax and enjoy perfectly constructed cycling paths (HouFeng Bikeway) along old mining tunnels, iron bridges, and the riverside, towards the beginning of the ascend at Dongshi township. From there the road will start going up and you can observe the vegetation change from tropical flora to mountainous pine forests while cycling your way to higher altitudes. Furthermore, this is one of the sunniest places in Taiwan at altitude so you’re probably in for a sunny ride up.
You could consider a short hike along this road to summit Yuanzui Shan, for beautiful panoramas. Often, during the afternoon, clouds come rolling in from the sea, but at an altitude of 1800-2000m (5,906-6,562 ft) you will find yourself above the clouds, which is a surrealistic feeling! Do pack some extra clothes for this ride, as it cools down quickly when the sun sets and it’s a long way down on the bicycle. You can ride back to the starting point or end your ride in Taichung, by following road 129 from Dongshi township.
Length: ca. 100 km (62 miles), altitude gain: ca. 2000m (6,562 ft), Link to route on map
This very scenic route is located in Pingtung County, South Taiwan. Even in winter, it doesn’t get cold here, and in the low-lying areas of this county you will find all the tropical fruits you can imagine. From pineapples to the characteristic custard apples, each season will have a different treat for you! This ride has an easy start that allows you to warm up for the climb to come, while leading you through the fruit fields from Pingtung train station towards the Sandimen bridge, where the climb starts. It might be quite steep at moments, but you can relax your muscles halfway through the ascent as you go downhill for quite a bit, and throughout this route you will be rewarded with amazing views on the surrounding mountains.
Many indigenous townships are located in these mountains and this route will end in Wutai township, inhabited by the Rukai people and famous for its Stone-Slab houses that are built without using cement. You can walk around and taste the traditional cuisine, such as a delicious doughnut made of local grains at Millet Doughnuts or enjoy a refreshing bowl of aiyu (a jelly made from the seed of the Awkeotsang fig) at the rooftop of 霧台摩凱咖啡. For meat lovers, there are plenty of restaurants serving fresh game meat from the BBQ, and many dishes also include taro, an indigenous crop that resembles sweet potatoes. If you still have some energy, you can continue climbing from Wutai village to the end of the road to get some views over the village and the surrounding mountains. However, the road gets significantly worse at a previous landslide area, about 6 km up from Wutai, and they were still reconstructing the road at time of writing.
Length: ca. 80 km (50 miles), altitude gain: ca. 1500m (4,921 ft.), Link to route on map
When to Go Cycling in Taiwan
While you can cycle all year long, autumn and spring are probably the best seasons for cycling routes in Taiwan. Especially autumn is often drier, and in spring (or actually already from mid-February) you can fully immerse yourself in cherry blossoms, found along many roads on the island, not inferior to Japan. In summer it gets hot and humid and in wintertime it can get relatively cold and wet. Cycling in summer is doable when you take the opportunity to cool down at one of the many rivers found along the mountain roads, but bring enough water and avoid the midday sun. And in winter it’s again the water that saves you, as you can warm up in natural hot springs. In short; there’s more than enough to discover in this cycling paradise… hope to see you on the road, cycling in Taiwan!