Cycling in Hualien, Taiwan

My first time flying my bike overseas was a success and riding in New Zealand was a blast. Similar to my New Zealand trip, I decided to take a day to ride in Hualien, Taiwan on the sidelines of my second  wedding photoshoot. This was also to use the ride as a test to see if I could join the Taiwan KOM Challenge. My wife (then-fiancée) and I visited Taiwan in end May 2018 for a week-long trip post Lunar New Year.


Getting There and Back

We landed in Taipei and spent the first few days sightseeing and having our photoshoot done. The original plan was to hire a car and drive from Taipei to Hualien for the cycling leg of the trip. However, we were advised repeatedly both by friends and locals not to do so. Many cited that while the drive would be scenic, it would be dangerous given the terrain and the presence of many heavy industrial vehicles speeding along our route. So, we decided to take the train instead.

  • Train: My bike box, the Buxum Tourmalet mostly met the limits for train baggage, just exceeding the guidelines by 2cm, and I had no issues rolling the bike box into the train. On the train ride from Taipei to Hualien, there was insufficient baggage storage space because other passengers had already used up considerable space. Hence, I had to park my bike box in the connecting chamber between two train cars and stand with the box to steady it and watch over it. As it was a two hour train ride, I propped myself on the box and killed time with Netflix. My wife volunteered to take an hour shift but I did not want to burden her. For the return ride from Hualien to Taipei, there was sufficient baggage space and I secured the box to the wall of the train car before enjoying my seat.

  • Taxi: Most of our commutes in Taiwan were via taxi which was affordable and offered incredible amount of boot space. Most taxis in Taiwan are seven seaters with the most common car model being the Toyota Wish. Hence, it was really easy transporting the Buxum Tourmalet around. I wish large taxis were more common in Singapore.

The Ride

I had originally planned to cover 50% of the climb but a last minute complication meant that I could not bring my main bike. The Pinarello Dogma F10 Disk‘s MOST Talonr Aero 1K handlebar requires torx keys for disassembly which I did not have. As I only found this out hours before my flight, I had to quickly swap to using my off bike which is 3-4kg heavier and a lot less aggressive. I dialed down expectations to 25% but then concerns about the weather arose.

  • Earthquake, aftershocks, rain and rock falls. Our trip to Taiwan was made at the tail end of spring. Temperatures were just right but it was slightly rainy. We also arrived three weeks after a major quake which had affected Hualien quite badly. There were a number of aftershocks mostly within the  magnitude 1-4 range. My parents were concerned but in actuality I could not feel the shocks even though the epicentres of the aftershocks were close by. This was because the epicentres were mostly quite deep seated and away from the surface. In fact, during my climb, Hualien was hit by a magnitude 3 aftershock but I did not feel anything at all. Nonetheless, all these did add up to one serious concern – rock falls. The earthquake and aftershocks meant rocks would have shaken loose at some parts of the climb and the intermittent rain would ease their dislodgement. A cyclist had been fatally hit by rock falls just a few months ago on the same route. I was advised by locals never to ride into areas of the road where I could see mud because such indicated areas where the rocks were likely to fall on. Throughout the climb, i witnessed rocks fall once. This took place close to the start of my descent where I had stopped for a selfie with my wife who had driven behind me throughout as a safety driver. At first we could not make out what the splattering sound was. We then turned around and I noticed two to three rocks the size of my head tumbling down to the road close to where my bike and her car was parked. I motioned for her to quickly get into the car and I immediately continued my descent.
  • Cold, Wet and Rolling. The first couple of kilometers into the climb was done in beautiful weather. It was bright and cool averaging at around 27 degree Celsius. However, the rain descended midway through the ride and brought temperatures down to 18-22 degrees. The gillet I brought along was useful. I was finding the terrain somewhat enjoyable. It was 90% uphill throughout but there were sufficient changes in the gradient which made the ride less intense. Most of the climbs varied between category four to two. There were no category one or HC portions (they come much later at the end of the full ascent to Wuling Pass). However, the rain got more and more relentless as I ascended higher and higher. At the 1,000m vertical mark (and 30km into the ride), the rain got too heavy and I found a nice scenic spot that appeared close to the clouds. Since I had exceeded my goal to cover 25% of the climb, I decided that I had dealt with enough rain and made a u-turn to begin descending. It was at the point that the aforementioned rock fall took place and cemented my decision to descend. The descent was very cold due to wind chill. Speeds downhill were around 35-55km/h (no pedalling) and I was grateful to have disc brakes on especially in the wet. Temperatures dipped to around 13-15 degrees during some fast segments and my teeth were chattering. However, I was very much enjoying the descent and decided not to stop. Things got better when we reached the 500m vertical mark as the temperature was warmer and the rain stopped.

  • Scenic. As one would expect, the climb brings you through mountainous terrain including through the Taroko National Park. The views are great and you get a close up view of waterfalls, streams and small lakes including looming mountains. While the views are not as varied as that in New Zealand, they are one of the best I have seen in my travels within Asia.
  • Friendly road users. I was cheered on by a few drivers while I was going uphill. The drivers here are used to seeing cyclists tackling the climb given that a national event takes place here annually. There is plenty of space to share the road and never once did I feel I was put in danger by a vehicle. I saw a few cyclists at the start of the climb but did not see them thereafter. It was a bit disappointing not to have ad hoc company from other cyclists for most of the climb.
  • Sufficient amenities. There are natural rest points throughout the climb if you need a quick break. I stopped at Tianxiang recreation area which was around the 40% mark of my ascent and there were restaurants, a resort and a 7-Eleven. Nonetheless, I would still recommend having car support in case of emergencies.

The climb was sufficiently challenging and it was a pity that the weather did not allow me to go further. This ride convinced me to join the Taiwan KOM Challenge this year and I am hoping to go further up this infamous climb hopefully in much better weather conditions. I recommend this ride for anyone who enjoys long hours in the saddle riding uphill.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *