DESTINATION: RIDING TAIPEI WUZHISHAN TRAIL
THE FIVE-FINGER MOUNTAIN TRAIL 五指山
Ever since I started mountain biking overseas some years ago, every holiday overseas has involved packing my bike and gear and researching on good places to ride. Then came an opportunity to go to Taiwan for the Taipei International Cycle Show 2016. I thought, “Finally a trip without packing my bike!” A little disappointed to be without a ride-fix, yet a tad relieved that I could forgo the hassle for once.
RENT BIKES, RIDE!!!
Little did I expect that a few days prior to leaving Singapore for Taipei, I chanced upon a contact that provides a half-day guided ride to the trails in Taipei. Not personally knowing anyone who had gone to Taipei with agenda of riding yet, I was thrilled. Trails in a highly urbanised city most well-known for eating and shopping??? That would be quite cool. Bike rental was available too so I only needed to pack my riding gear. How convenient. Obviously I jumped at the opportunity.
Being a self-professed bicycle-tech geek, the Taipei Cycle provided many valuable insights on bicycle innovations, manufacturing and its related industries. We’ll leave that to another article, but much as I tried, I couldn’t contain my excitement for the highlight of the trip. The riding day.
THE RIDE AT FIVE FINGER MOUNTAIN
Getting to the trails was a simple affair of getting on the Metro to Jiannan Road Station. It was a few stops away from where we were staying. The Metro system at Taipei is easily accessible from most hotels and it was easy to find our way there. Upon reaching, we were greeted enthusiastically by our service providers from Simple Gravity MTB. They are experienced riders who have travelled all around the world to ride out their passion.
We took a slow drive up Five Finger Mountain and engaged in deep conversation about our riding experiences while soaking in the immense tranquility of the surroundings. While shuttering uphill, we would catch glances of the urban city of Taipei from a distant elevation.
OUR AWESOME RENTAL BIKES
Up at the trail-head which was about a half hour’s drive from the foot of the mountain, we caught the first glimpse of the bikes we were riding that day. A Kona Process 167, a Kona Process 134 and a Mondraker Foxy – much to my editor’s delight (he rides a Mondraker Dune back home, a current “Best Bike”, according to him). Both Bass Lu and Tokai Huang, our guides, made no less than immaculate preparations to our bikes, making sure that our suspensions were measured to sag according to our weight. Further fine adjustments on our bikes were made to our preferences before we set off.
CAN’T WAIT TO RIDE
On the first few pedals into the trails, the cool fresh air hit our faces and we couldn’t help but notice this was the sweetest smelling trail we had ever ridden. We were told by Bass that, the trail is divided into five sections over a distance of over 12 kilometres. It consists of mainly downs and hiking climbs. “Bravo,” I thought, “Who likes climbing during a supposed relaxing holiday anyway?”
THE FIRST SECTION – The Fragrance of Freshness
The first section of the trail was relatively easy and un-dramatic. Kind of like a warm up to tougher sections according to Bass and he was not wrong. The terrain was rather hard packed with short rough sections of rocks and roots. Moderately fast and pedal-free.
THE SECOND SECTION – Boulder Gardens
The second section of the trail was a little rougher. There were long sections of natural rock gardens. Actually rock garden is an understatement. Boulder gardens would be more appropriate to describe these technically challenging sections. I took multiple attempts at some of them before I was successful in riding a smooth line out. Bass was patient enough to wait while I settled my bruised ego trying out the tougher lines which were mainly used by the experienced locals.
Moving along in between such sections were moderately mild stair rides which were actually constructed for hikers climbing up in the opposite direction of the riding trail. Yes, you heard it right. This is a shared trail as told to us by Tokai during our break between the second and the third section. (They provided us with nice cool Pocari.) Bikers and hikers alike give way to each other courteously. Encounters with hikers, though rare, were often echoed with greetings of, “Paiseh paiseh…… Paiseh paiseh.”
THE THIRD & FOURTH SECTIONS – Butterfly Trail (Singapore) on Steroids
The third and fourth sections are when sh*t gets real. I am sure many of you remember our beloved Butterfly Trail. These two sections are like the older brother of our Butterfly Trail, on steroids. Faced with the greater difficulty which required more focus, we had completely forgotten about taking photos here. Trails became narrower, steeper and roots became bigger and more frequent, or rather, CONTINUOUS. The downs were accompanied by interlocking roots coupled with ruts that were caused by erosion. It was a constant struggle between high speed and low speed control.
At parts where I could not get speed, I had to control the bike carefully with my butt almost touching my rear tires and navigate it over serious bumps through a narrow line where I was guaranteed a ‘ride-able’ path. At higher speeds, the ruts and roots are less noticeable but concentrating on how not to go one-on-one with a tree or a boulder was a whole new challenge on its own.
Oh well, a video paints a gazillion words. Here’s a video of a pro in action. Damn… he makes it looked so easy.
Video credit: Lee Trumpore (Youtube)
I had to stay very focused but as all humans do, I faltered. Not once, not twice, but multiple times more than I would have liked. Ego terribly bruised. Thankfully a few scratches was all the physical abuse I suffered. Walk the sections if you do not have an overly zealous spirit like me.
THE FIFTH SECTION – The View
The fifth section was perhaps the most rewarding part of the trail. We took our time here. There were the usual portions of roots and ruts. However the trail is a little wider here. The beginning part required a little hiking with the bike as some sections were impossible to ride. Soon after, we came to see why this is a favourite section amongst the locals. Wide rock gardens with multiple lines with some drops and an incredible view of Taipei city from over 500m above sea level. We had a lot of fun here sectioning many parts of the trail experimenting with different line choices. The natural occurring rocks coupled with loose sand over hard packed terrain provided many opportunities for involuntary lost of traction but there’s always a rock somewhere to prevent your wheels from sliding further.
All five sections of the trail took us a leisurely 3 hours with many breaks in-between to chat and hydrate. Sections 1, 2 and 5 were generally easy to handle with short sections of gnarliness. Average weekend warriors would have little difficulty in tackling these sections. Sections 3 and 4 were the tough ones. We would give a general rating of moderate difficulty for trail-bike riders although experienced all-mountain bike riders would have a blast through the roots and rocks. ‘Double Black Diamond’ difficulty parts were mainly at section 3 and 4 of the trail. Hike it first if you are not too confident.
WHY RIDE HERE?
Our trail ride that day was very fuss free. Our rental bikes were well-maintained with very decent components. Our guides understood the need for personalized adjustments of our controls. The suspension setting and tire pressures were meticulously adjusted to our liking before the ride started. We felt very well taken care of.
We were also pleasantly surprised that we could find a trail to ride in the heart of Taipei city. It’s hard to imagine the existence of rustic nature just minutes away from a busy urbanized city. No amount of words can describe the pleasure we got from the cool weather, the freshness of the forest, the natural untouched terrain of the trail and the friendship we forged with our Taiwanese guides.
For sure, Taipei is not a typical riding destination for many. It doesn’t need to be. Come to Taipei for a family holiday or a holiday with shopaholic friends. But take half a day off (or more if you can) from the city bustle and go for a ride at the trails, hassle free. You will be truly rewarded by the occurrence of nature’s beauty within the hustle and bustle of a modern Taipei city.
Mel has been clinically diagnosed with a unhealthy obessession with all forms of mountain-biking. a self-professed bike-geek, he likes getting his hands dirty, fixing bicycles and ocassionally damaging them. he is known to be forever 25 years old and has celebrated several anniversaries of this age. being an adventurous person, he has tried many different sports like bowling, billiards, darts but has deemed these activities to be extremely dangerous. he will be sticking to mountain-biking for now.
Photos by Bikezilla
Maps and Altitude chart by Strava and Google
Video of ride by Lee Trumpore on Youtube