WheeledThing had the pleasure of visiting the island nation of Taiwan. A highlight was a visit to the Giant Bicycle factory, which was arranged with assistance from the Taiwan External Trade Development Council and Taiwan Ministry of Economic Affairs Bureau of Foreign Trade.
Go East Young Man, To Taiwan!
Have you considered a bicycle centric vacation? Think Taiwan, a democratic island nation with friendly locals, exotic locations, great food, warm weather and amazingly few western visitors. Taiwan is not behind the Great Firewall of China, is about the same size as Maryland with a population similar to Australia. Here is a brief travelogue from a trip to “China with Google” AKA Taiwan, the Republic of China. Oh, it’s also the world capital for bicycles.
Now the bad news, Taiwan is far, far away. On China Airlines a nonstop from JFK to Taipei’s Taoyuan Airport takes about 15 hours. When you add in the fact that it’s 12 time zones ahead of NYC, you basically spend a day traveling. On the flip side, you get that day back when you return, as you will touch down only “three hours” after takeoff.
Once you collect your bags, Taiwan is pretty easy to get around, in a European sort of way. High speed rail travels the length of the island with speeds over 185 MPH. Their extensive rail and bus network can get you almost anywhere. There is also growing network of high quality bicycle lanes and paths.
The Taiwan Tourism bureau is promoting a ten day circumferential tour around the island. This ride takes you to both Taiwan’s urbanized west coast and the rugged mountainous east coast. While this may appeal to the “thalon” (marathon, triathlon) people, I prefer avoiding a long distance scenario, especially with luggage strapped to your bike. I rely on public transit between cities and a bicycle within cities. This works well overseas, where unlike the auto centric design in most of America, urban areas are frequently more compact allowing for car free adventures.
In Taiwan, the main form of transportation for locals within cities is the motor scooter. Scooters are parked everywhere, on sidewalks, back alleys and crowded near traIn stations. On this island where two wheels reign supreme, we enjoyed a delightful trip on bicycles.
Workers Even Scooter to the Bike Factory
Taiwan is more than just friendly to bikes, it is home to the Giant Manufacturing Co, led by their founder King Liu which manufactures over six million bicycles per year for export to the United States and the globe. Giant is also the backer of a bike share network,YouBike, which is similar to the CitiBike in NYC and has docks all over Taipei and other cities. The friendly yellow bicycles integrate payments with the EasyCard, which is a national pre-paid tap card which also works on subways, buses and at convenience stores (7-11, FamilyMart…). Important signs are in both Chinese and English, and bilingual locals will come to your aid when necessary.
How they make the magic
Giant provided a tour of their manufacturing facility in Taichung, which was fascinating, as the bikes are built almost completely by hand. In come aluminum rods, which are heated, stamped, welded, painted and decals are applied. Wheels are manually assembled by connecting spokes to metal rIms and hubs. The last step on the production line is the Giant bike box with the name and address of the bike shop where it will be sold. From this facility they produce about 5,000 bikes per day.
Even the wheels are handmade
This tour was a highlight of an amazing trip to an East Asian island nation. The next time you want a warm island destination, broaden your search away from the easily accessible Caribbean nations packed with New Yorkers. Consider Taiwan which will show you both a good time and also modern amenities that make urban living attractive.