It’s deep summer in Taiwan, hot and humid, but cyclists who can manage the extreme conditions complete epic rides like the Shuang Bei, a 200-kilometer ride with over 3000 meters of climbing.
I’ve done it several times in the counter-clockwise direction, beginning on Highway 7, the North Cross Island Highway (NCIH) and returning on Highway 9 from Ilan to Taipei, but for my most recent long ride, I decided to do it in the clockwise direction, packing the big climbs into the first half of the day.
I thought this would leave me feeling fresher at the end of the day, and it turned out to be true.
This clockwise route ascends two climbs to the pass above llan, travels up the river valley to the beginning of the 800 meter climb to the highest point on the NCIH, and finally descends a river valley and follows that back toward the Taipei City, with a few minor climbs at the end.
My regular riding partner John met me at 6 a.m. in Xindian, and we began the first climb of the day up Highway 9, reaching the top of the first mountain of the day at 500 meters less than hour later and descending through the tea fields to Pingling.
After a quick stop for water, we began the next climb through the mountains and along river valleys up to the pass above Jiaoxi, in Ilan, where we stopped to take in the view of the coastal valley and seaside below.
Reaching Ilan, we rode to a 7-11 for resupply of water and food, and rested in the air conditioned space before heading up the river valley toward the intersection of Highway 7, the NCIH.
Temperatures were reaching 37 degrees as we rolled over the hills along the side of the wide river valley, and soon we reached our turn-off point, where we rested in the shade of some trees next to an abandoned military bunker.
By noon, we were climbing up the NCIH, with a steady grade of 5%, through a series of switchbacks that cut through the lush forest, but then the heat and humidity finally reached a climax, and the skies opened, dumping rain on us as we rode for the saddle at the top, 1200 meters above sea level.
At Mingchi, a forest recreation area with a pond that tourists enjoy visiting, we found a covered parking area for forest service vehicles and sheltered there till the storm lessened, grabbing cups of fresh watermelon juice and hot soup at a stall near the park entrance.
At 3 p.m., we began the 90 kilometer descent to Taipei, first riding along a stream through the cloud forest below Mingchi, then down the twisting road to Baleng, pushing through sudden localized downpours.
A stop at a roadside coffee stand was an opportunity to charge our Garmin cycling computers and rest our legs before the final push to Taipei, passing the bridge at Fuhsing, before making the last of the minor climbs that remained.
At the end of the day, more than 12 hours since we started, John still had a lot of energy, so I took the opportunity to draft behind him along some final kilometers of the ride.
I had pulled him along the flats in Ilan in the late morning, and he was happy to repay the energy to me at the end of the day.
In all, it was a great ride, even with the time we spend riding in the rain, and one that I would be happy to share with riders interested in joining Bike Monkey Tours for a once-in-a-lifetime cycling experience.