Thursday, May 28, 2009

Biking in Taiwan

My brother; James and I have been working on a couple of mountain bike trails in Taiwan for the past couple of years. If you do not know where Taiwan is, there is a good chance that something on your bike was made here. When we started building just under two years ago I used to ride with a group of riders that ride the same trail every weekend. They wake up early and battle with the hikers and walkers to go up and down a mountain here in Kaohsiung. For me it was pretty frustrating to be going downhill at a decent pace and meeting an elderly Taiwanese couple walking up. I would slow down and let them pass and then continue on with my ride. It would be a decent trail if it was a bike trail and not a walking path. At about this time I started hearing rumors about a downhill race course a little ways out of town. One weekend the group of riders took me out there. The trail was not the best but the good thing about it is there was no one there. It was the first place I had been in Taiwan where there were no people. After the first weekend I started going out during the week to work on the trail and then riding it with my friends on the weekend. I made a trail branching off from the original trail which was eventually used as the new race course. The problem was that the dirt was hard to work with and forming and shaping jumps was a major chore. After a summer riding in Whistler, Kamloops, Fernie and Hinton we came back to Taiwan with a better idea of what we wanted in our trail.

After doing some searching James found a better place for a trail. It was in the middle of a bamboo forest and we did not have much space to work with so we tried to make the best of it. We started with a small drop to a small gap to another small gap. It was a lot of fun, we had something new to ride and our Taiwanese friends enjoyed it. But as our skills improved the gaps started to grow. As the jumps started to get bigger fewer people came out to ride. We built a second line with smaller jumps in hopes that everyone would still ride there. But they would not practice on the smaller jumps and ended up getting hurt on the bigger ones.

Fast forward to a year and a half later, we are still in the same location. We are still building jumps and trails. We are stilling riding there every weekend … and we are doing it alone. There are less than a handful of people who ride our trails. We have spent hours shoveling, shaping jumps, fixing landings and riding. We have invited riders, bike shop owners, grandma’s riding to the supermarket to get groceries to come ride with us but it is still just the two of us.

The people who show up and ruin lips, case landings, ride through corners … we do not get mad at them, we do not hand them a shovel and tell them to fix it. Usually we give them a couple of pointers or suggest that they should try something a little easier. But nine times out of ten we do not see them again. Once or twice in a month there are signs that someone has been there or someone will show up. But more often than not it is just me and James. Digging and jumping …

We have been trying to get more riders involved in the digging and riding process. I met Jay at the Taipei Bike show. He said build a pump track style trail. Everyone can ride them from beginners to pros. “Mike Weir put one in his back yard.” So we started small with a couple of rollers. We showed the beginners that it was a good place to start. But they still seemed more content to riding over jumps that are way beyond their skill level. But we were not negative about it; we fixed the jumps and kept on making the pump track; which I have been calling the single slalom line, longer. It is a fun trail that we have been working on for the past month or so. But the only people who ride it are us. The Taiwanese riders say it is not fun enough, so they continue to ruin jumps. But as the jumps continue to get bigger and the single slalom line continues to get better and longer. Will it attract more riders or deter them. We are stuck in a Catch 22, we build lines and jumps for less skilled riders to ride, but they will not ride them. We turn the beginner lines into more advanced trails, riders get hurt and they do not come back. We will even stop riding the advanced jumps and ride the easier trail in hopes that they will join in. But usually they will ride above their skill level or sit on the side and watch. All I am left with is questions and maybes. Maybe they see us riding and do not realize the number of hours we have spent there, do not realize that we spent days and days hitting a five foot gap jump, that we have spent almost as much time digging as we do riding. And how do you create a healthy mountain bike scene in Taiwan. (Maybe it is the bicycle community in the south of Taiwan. I have heard rumors of things being better in the north. )

But at the end of the day I am left with a smile on my face from riding and dirt everywhere from digging.

Happy trails and if you ever find yourself in Taiwan. Give us a call.

Rob and Jim Dunnet