*WORDS:* Fraser Young
When I was little, every cheap toy of mine had the words Made in Taiwan stamped on the bottom. As I grew older and began to work on my bike, I learned to avoid any tool that had the word Taiwan stamped on it as it was guaranteed to break the part that it was ostensibly helping to fix.
Skip forward a dozen years.
I land on a small, densely populated island in the middle of the night. Upon entering the airport I see signs with what look more like pictures than anything that might communicate meaning. I understand not a word of Chinese and not one person seems to understand English. I am lost in confusion. Over time I begin to recognize some characters and learn a few basic sentences. I buy a bike to escape the buzz of scooters, honking horns, the smog filled air, ugly factories and general chaos of the cities. Every weekend I ride a little further. The further I go, the more amazing the island becomes. Cities slowly disappear behind me and lush forests appear on impossibly steep hillsides. The air is cool but not silent. The soft calls of birds and frogs fill the air or sometimes the deafening roar of thousands of cicadas. Wild jungle scenery lures me into riding to see what lies beyond the next bend and over the next hill.
There are a handful of roads that all lead to the same place. Yet people in cars only take the fastest ones, leaving the rest to us on bikes. I learn these roads because I ride them hundreds of times. Want to climb a three thousand meter mountain? I can show you the way. Want to see the sun setting over the ocean from the top of a hill? Follow me. Like to laugh at the antics of monkeys? I know where they hang out.
A couple of the guys from Rapha arrived in Taiwan a few days ago. I was lucky enough to accompany them on a hilly 160km loop past the largest lake in the country. The following day we did a punishing 100km ride over three mountains. They promised to return and I promised that I will lead them to hidden places via the hardest rides and friendliest people they could imagine. I promise to take them away from the factories and show them a side of Taiwan that most people have never imagined.