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No Cyclist Knows Taiwan’s Roads Better: Chatting With Nathan Miller

‘Taiwan offers some of the best cycling in Asia. The network of roads that wind throughout the mountainous terrain is a hill-climber’s dream come true,’ says Nathan Miller, an American who’s been pedalling around and across the island for a decade. It’s fair to say Miller is a hardcore cyclist. ‘I have seven bikes: two CX bikes, four road bikes, and one fixed-gear bike’, he says. In a typical week he cycles between 250 and 400 km. So far in 2018, he has ridden a little over 12,000 km.

Like many other cyclists, Miller finds Taiwan to be an exceptionally bike-friendly society. If you do suffer a serious mechanical problem, it’s almost always possible to hitch-hike with your bike to the next town. Police stations are willing to assisting cyclists with tea and drinking water, as well as directions.

Miller lives in north Taiwan but works as a college lecturer on the outskirts of Taichung. He has been known to do the 180 km commute by bicycle. The North Carolina native appreciates that Taiwan’s subtropical climate allows for year-round cycle adventures. Before relocating to Taiwan, he lived in Kyushu, Japan for ten years. ‘During the winter there, it’s just too cold to ride for a good two-and-a-half months each year.’

For cycle-tourists planning to stick to north Taiwan, Miller has the following advice: ‘When making plans, bear in mind that November sees the least amount of rainfall while June is the wettest month of the year. In Taipei itself, there are a lot of buses, cars, scooters, and pedestrians, but the riverside cycling paths are an excellent way to navigate around the city. From the city center there are hills in almost every direction. For a flatter route with a fairly fast pace, ride from Hongshulin near Tamsui to Jinshan.’

According to Miller, central Taiwan ‘offers some hilly routes and majestic landscapes. If you’re up for a challenge, the famous climb to Wuling starts in the geological center of Taiwan in Puli. This route is 55 km but entirely uphill.’

The best time of year to do this is October or November, he says, stressing that the climb isn’t for the faint of heart, because the road crests at 3,275 m above sea level. Another challenge is to ride from Taichung to Sun Moon Lake. ‘This excursion takes all day, the route varying from 125 km to 160 km’.

Another hill campaign he recommends is the ride up to Tataka in Yushan National Park, pointing out that, ‘compared to the Wuling ascent, the gradient is much more forgiving’. This climb has to be done during the day because the high-altitude part of the road is closed overnight.

‘The east coast is one of the best places to ride a road bike in Taiwan. Accessing Hualien or Taitung by train is an inexpensive way of getting there. Another is to approach the east via the somewhat dangerous Suhua Highway’, says Miller.

Miller has ridden that highway, a scenic yet hair-raising route connecting Yilan near Taipei with Hualien City. ‘The Suhua Highway is 118 km long and built alongside very steep cliffs high above the Pacific Ocean. Most people avoid cycling on this road because of the lorries and the many tunnels’.

There are no epic inclines along the way, but because the road is narrow in parts, Miller advises adding a rear-view mirror to your bicycle, not listening to music on earphones if that’s your habit, and having a red flashing light on your back and/or a reflective vest. ‘I have done this route from north to south and south to north. The latter – going Hualien to Yilan – is better. That way, you ride downhill through the tunnels. Also, you’re on the seaward side of the road, so the views are absolutely priceless!’

‘From Hualien, it’s about 25 km to Taroko Gorge by bike. If you take this route, you’ll be climbing Highway 8, venue of the fabulous annual Taiwan KOM Challenge, and one of the longest paved hill climbs in the world,’ says Miller. ‘Riding up to the gorge isn’t that difficult, but if you intend to climb all the way to top you’ll need to start early in the morning and be prepared for a long day on the bike.’

One of Miller’s favourite shorter routes is also in the east: A little-used 24-km-long back road connects Changhong Bridge on Highway 11 with Ruisui, a town in the East Rift Valley famous for its hot springs.

Renting decent bicycles in Taiwan isn’t difficult to arrange – this is something Life of Taiwan’s travel experts can help with – but Miller says: ‘If you’re coming to Taiwan for some serious riding, my gut feeling is to bring your own bicycle. I think someone who rides a lot will always feel more comfortable on a bike that’s their own.’