Sunday, January 20, 2013

What is a Dutchman without a bicycle?

"Where to spend the Christmas holidays?" is an always returning question by the end of the year.

Somehow for the past few years I always had a crazy idea of going somewhere far away where it is cold and uncomfortable.

For example, I can remember the extremely cold days in Lithuania where some years ago I ended the last day of the year with lots of new friends at a superb new years eve party, after sightseeing for a few days with -25 degrees outside with my best buddy.  

Another time I ended up in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, where it was so "interestingly" cold that the filling of my polyester winter jacket froze so badly that it made cracking noises when I moved my arms. "Mmm, interesting!"

To balance the average temperature divided over my total of Christmas trips, I decided to fly to Singapore this time, where it is +30 instead of -30.

My family from The Netherlands also flew over to Singapore, so we were able to spend a warm and relaxing Christmas together. After having spent those relaxing days in Singapore, I flew back to Hong Kong with my girlfriend, and after we arrived we only had a few hours to pack for another trip to Taiwan on the next day.

While Singapore was to relax and enjoy some family time, the Taiwan trip was to fulfill one of my greatest passions: Cycling. 

As you probably know, cycling is one of the daily activities for most Dutch people. Children learn cycling from the early age, teenagers take their bicycle to get to school and may other people peddle their way to the office. (My Dutch readers probably recall their daily cycling route now.) Besides using bicycles as a necessary means of transportation, many people take their iron horse out in the weekend to explore the Dutch scenery while sitting on their saddles.

Being Dutch, I am all into cycling, and that is a challenge in Hong Kong. The roads are busy and dangerous, and there are only a few places where you have separate roads for bicycles. (Needless to say the average Hong Kong apartment does not really have the space to store your bicycle.)

All these factors had me convinced that it was pointless to buy a bike in Hong Kong, so during the past 2 years I have cycled only a few times on a rental bike outside the city. 

So you can imagine I was excited to spend a few days for cycling in Taiwan, where the possibilities for cycling are endless in comparison with Hong Kong.

The famous Sun Moon lake near Taichung.
Awesome views!
We spent a few days in Taichung, where we cycled around the famous Sun Moon lake and a few other locations in the coastal area.

The cycling trip was organized by two friends of ours, one from Hong Kong and one from Taiwan. In total 15 friends joined us for this exciting trip. 

Cycling around the Sun Moon lake is fantastic; the roads are not too busy, and while you are cycling you can enjoy the view of the immense lake and the forests in the mountains. Some of the roads are pretty steep, but overall it was pretty doable. 

Beautiful views at the coastal area of Taichung
A few days on the bike in Taiwan made me think about my life in Holland, where I used to take the bicycle to go cycling through the tulip fields around my home-town in the evening. 

While cycling, I often recalled everything that happened during that day; all the issues at work, all the challenges, yes, cycling was definitely a way for me to digest it all. 

And exactly this refreshing feeling from cycling had been missing in my Hong Kong life so far. That's why on the first day of returning to Hong Kong I made my mind up. 

"I got to get a bike. Period."

Immediately I started looking for a way to be able to have a bike here. "Where to get it? How to store it? Where to cycle? Can you take it in the MTR?"

My girlfriend must have thought I had some weird obsession, as the bicycle subject came up almost every 2 hours of the day.  And besides that, many people say here that cycling is a "form of suicide" in Hong Kong; The roads are too busy and the drivers either have a blind spot for cyclists, or practice the rule of "who is the toughest driver on the road". Either way, you can imagine it is dangerous to cycle on the roads here.

Then secondly there is the lack of space in the small apartments here. Most people do not have the space to store a bicycle, and if you look for any parking space for your iron horse, you will end up disappointed.

So either way, I figured out that if I really wanted to have a bike here, I needed to sort of compromise. Cycling in Hong Kong will never be like it was in the good old days in Holland, where I could take any road from my house and cycle until I could touch the sun. Here around my apartment in Hong Kong island there is almost no road where you can have a relaxing ride, and the MTR (Hong Kong Metro) does not really allow bicycles unless you remove the front wheel and walk with it. (which is really impractical as you can understand). 

I thought of buying a foldable bike, as it may be a solution for the transportation issue and the lack of storage space, but those foldable bikes always have small wheels which make the feeling of cycling not as exciting as it normally is. So...foldable bikes were not really an option for me as well.

All those issues kept invading my mind over and over again. Did I really get insane? (as my girlfriend was politely suggesting..) "No I am Dutch, and Dutchmen are born to cycle, and so shall it be!"

It was my father who had the ultimate answer to my questions. A while ago he had purchased two bicycles to take on his sailboat. Those bikes are full size, but can be folded into half and stored in a special bag so he can take them on board his boat. 

When he suggested this idea to me I felt this was the "eureka" moment. I finally had a solution; I could ride a full size bike with no compromises, and also be able to take it with me in the public transport and store it at my Hong Kong size apartment!

A few days I spent online looking for dealers in Hong Kong, and finally I bought two bikes yesterday at a bike shop in Cheung Sha Wan. 

The bikes I bought are from the brand Montague, which (to my understanding) is one of the few brands that has a full size foldable bike. The bikes come in a black bag with an armband so you can (easily?) carry them anywhere. I am not affiliated in any way to Montague, but if you are interested take a look at their website here.) 

 



Hong Kong people, beware of a new Dutchman on the road!

(To be continued...)

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