Taiwan pedals ahead with bike tours to lure visitors

Tue May 19, 2009 10:05am EDT
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By Ralph Jennings

TAIPEI (Reuters Life!) - Taiwan is rolling out Asia's first comprehensive bicycle tourism plan, including rentals, special railway cars and guides for rides down the rugged coastline or up the island's steep central mountains.

The tourism package, spearheaded by the government and private companies, lets cyclists rent bikes in one place and drop them off in another along the tropical, sparsely populated East Coast, where the government seeks to develop tourism.

Map-savvy tour guides on two-wheels show cyclists the roads, while Taiwan's flagship Giant Manufacturing rents bikes along popular routes and will expand to eight railway stations by the end of the year.

The railways were also tearing out seats in some trains to make space for cyclists headed to the East Coast.

"When you get off the train, you can rent a bike, whether it's an average bike or a high-level bike, whatever makes you happy," Taiwan transportation Minister Mao Chi-kuo recently told reporters at an event to promote tourism.

Though matched in Europe and North America, Taiwan is ahead of the pack in Asia, cycling authorities say.

To keep its lead, island President Ma Ying-jeou announced this month the government would spend more than $20 million on a new network of bike paths.

Over the past two years, as fuel prices rose and keeping fit became trendier, East Coast cycling has gone from the odd loner braving speeding gravel trucks to group after organized group of cyclists who spend two or three days on the road.   Continued...

<p>The Taipei 101 building is seen beside a bicycle sign in downtown Taipei March 4, 2009. REUTERS/Nicky Loh</p>