I rode around a Taiwanese lake and it was totally fine

Horse for the Course: Taiwanese rental edition

Sun Moon Lake in Taiwan is one of those tourist destinations that always makes the brochure. When the weather behaves, it’s a perfect sapphire blue, flanked by lush green hills.  As part of a media tour organised to promote the Taipei International Cycle Show, a select group of the bike industry’s most influential journalists was invited to ride around it. And so was I.

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Sun moon lake is gorgeous on a good day:
  • The course: 33kmkm around Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan, which turned out to be more like 27km
  • Equipment goals: Goals? We don’t need goals where we’re going
  • The horse: Giant Rapid flat-bar hybrid, heavily used, likely abused

Our ride was arranged by Giant Adventure, the leisure arm of the world’s biggest bike company. Giant Adventure promises to take care of all the hassle on your cycling expeditions, whether that means fixing your punctures or supplying some tunes.

The word was that we’d be riding the latest Giant TCR Advanced, the like of which we’d been admiring in Giant’s lobby the day before. With that in mind, I did the sensible thing and went full roadie, barring flat shoes, as I’d been warned there might be a little bit of walking. If in doubt, always go full roadie.

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Full roadie, sort of: full roadie, sort of

This is close enough

In retrospect, it’s possible I started that gossip myself. Our mount for the day was in fact to be the Giant Rapid flat bar hybrid. The Rapid is the Toyota Camry/Ford Focus (delete as appropriate according to country) of bikes. It’s the everyman, tuck-your-trousers-into-your-socks, original-flavour choice. If life were a three-lane highway, the Rapid would be the middle lane; it’s the screen protector that’s left on for life, the wall socket that’s religiously switched off when the kettle’s not in use. That’s not to say it’s a bad bike by any stretch.

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The giant rapid: the giant rapid

It’s quite a good one, in fact

Before we were allowed to ride, a nice lady from Giant Adventure took us through a few basics of bike husbandry: how to determine your saddle height (neither too high nor too low), how to adjust your helmet straps (insert two fingers, and then make a filthy joke), and how to operate gears (don’t use the big ring, wusses, you aren’t up to it).

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Do what she says, or else: do what she says, or else

No talking or smiling please

She then directed us to perform a series of stretches, and it was borne upon me that there really is no sight more magnificent than 15 or so bike industry professionals trying to avoid eye contact with one another as they pray for the ground to swallow them whole. Afterwards, we took a group photo and rolled out. I say that as though this was the Tuesday night Worlds, and we were about to tear each other’s legs off sprinting for signs. It wasn’t, and we weren’t.

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Magnificent: magnificent

Pictured: not your average club ride

The ride

The road around Sun Moon Lake is a rolling, squiggly ribbon of pleasantly smooth tarmac that spends most of its time heading either uphill or down. At mid-day on a Saturday it is apparently virtually impassable, such is the popularity of the area with tourists. At 7AM on a Tuesday, however, traffic was light and unthreatening.

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It’s slightly less gorgeous before the fog clears: it’s slightly less gorgeous before the fog clears

And the lake was a touch foggy

Almost from the off, the Giant’s generous gearing proved itself very useful. With flat shoes and no particular sense of urgency, sitting and spinning was the preferred option, and we merrily cranked our way uphill before cruising back down. 3km from the start, we stopped for a completely unearned rest, and a group photo. And then we rode some more.

A few km later, we stopped for another rest, with the Giant support van providing a range of fruit, snacks, and water, in case we were somehow inexplicably running low. Next to it, a sound system played bicycle-themed music. Photos were taken in a variety of poses. And then we rode some more. And then we stopped again. There might have been another group photo.

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It’s a group photo folks, one of many: it’s a group photo folks, one of many

Yup. There it is

We stopped at one point to dismount and bypass on foot a tunnel deemed too hazardous for mere cyclists, and we again stopped to pose for photos with a highly excitable group of middle-aged Chinese women, who were engaged in their own similarly epic ride. Over the course of nearly four hours, we pedalled for maybe an hour and a half at most, and stopped roughly eight times. I’m fairly sure I could have covered the distance at a brisk walk in less time, but had I done that, I wouldn’t have got this sweet certificate…

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This is one sweet certificate: this is one sweet certificate

I’m so framing this

The nag

So what of the bike? The Rapid isn’t a set-your-hair-alight speed machine, but even in slightly shagged rental form, it’s a pleasant enough place to while away a morning. Taiwan’s formidable humidity had taken its toll on my bike’s cables, so shifting was sluggish at best, and the brakes were usable rather than good. The plethora of accessories (lights, a bento box, a cycle computer) festooning the cockpit made for a variety of rattles over bumps, but even at tyre pressures meant for fat westerners, the bike was adequately comfortable. It would have been even more so without the hideously soft saddle clearly meant to cater for the un-calloused posteriors of non-cyclists.

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Too much saddle for such a little man: too much saddle for such a little man

The Giant Rapid is the perfect bicycle to ride at walking pace around a very pretty lake in Taiwan, and I can thoroughly recommend the whole experience. If you do it, don’t forget to stop and take photos. And make sure you eat enough.

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Matthew Allen was in Taiwan on a media tour hosted by TAITRA, the Taiwan External Trade Development Council. TAITRA is promoting the Taipei International Cycle Show which takes place from March 2-5 2016. We’ll be posting more highlights from his travels in the coming days.