Introduction by Brandon Van Haeren // Photos by Simon Baungård and Taiwan KOM Challenge
Growing up in Canada, it was difficult to escape the feeling of home. A five-hour flight would barely get me halfway across the country and more often than not, the city you touched down in would be a modified clone of the city you had just left; an urban metropolis with an arterial system of motorways carrying the mass population from the heart of the city to the outlying suburbs.
Until my early 20s, my travels never took me outside the confines of North America. In the years leading up to my first trip outside of North America I had always believed that the ultimate travel destination was Europe; the cultural capital of the world. And as a cyclist, the places I was told to visit came in the shape of France, Italy, and Spain. My only exposure to the world of international cycling at this time came during a three-week period over the summer in the form of a one-hour replay of the last 30km of the day's Tour de France stage which aired on the local sports channel between replays of hockey games from earlier in the year. But this was enough to convince me that places like the Pyrenees and the Alps were the definitive destination for cycling; a utopian paradise with roads that were seemingly paved solely for the purpose of riding your bike.
In 2016, I packed up my things and moved across the pond, settling down in Copenhagen. Since then, I have been lucky enough to have these dream destinations in my backyard. A day trip to Sweden or a long weekend trip to Spain have now become common occurrences. Having spent the last four years living in Europe and cycling my childhood dream roads, it occurred to me that the people living around me have been riding these roads their entire lives. So what location presents this same romantic idea of cycling to the locals? Where is that destination that encapsulates their childhood dream roads? Where is “Europe's Europe"?
As cycling destinations have become increasingly popular over the last few years in the Western Hemisphere with destinations such as California and the Midwest of America, Mexico, and Colombia, it is in the opposite direction we should be looking. The destination that has unequivocally taken the global cycling community by storm over the last decade is none other than Taiwan.
Boasting the largest number of high mountains in the world, you will be hard-pressed to find a more exceptional destination for cycling. Even off the bike, the food, people, and culture are what truly sets Taiwan apart from any other place you have ever visited. There is a reason why the Taiwan KOM Challenge has grown in exponential popularity since its inception in 2012. In 2019, Pas Normal Studios made its second trip to Taiwan where we sent out an open invitation to those that wanted to join us for a week on the island, exploring all the roads it has to offer, imbibing in the local cuisine, and finishing off the week with the Taiwan KOM Challenge.
We spoke with Petter Andersson, a Swede who was one of the 10 cyclists who joined us on this latest adventure to Taiwan. Petter has been living in Los Angeles, California for the last seven years and is no stranger to the mountainous roads which surround the city.
Can you tell me about some of the most memorable moments/experiences from Taiwan?
This is hard because there are so many memorable experiences. Taiwan was so much better than I could have imagined. Every day we had moments that I will always carry with me. I'm super spoiled by living in California, but Taiwan was on another level. We ate local food, we stayed in a remote mountain village, and one day we saw monkey's along the road. It's hard to narrow it down to just one thing.
But if I had to pick one, it has to be the KOM challenge. It's an amazing event, from the mass roll-out to heading into the mountains and riding through some of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen.
And what about the people? What was the atmosphere around the locals?
This is what really made this trip unique. PNS teamed up with local people that were some of the most generous and helpful people I ever meet. We never had to think about anything but riding our bikes. I think that goes for everyone in Taiwan. I felt that they really treated us tourists so well and everyone wanted us to have a great experience in their country.
The landscapes in Taiwan have always looked so stunning in the photos that come out of these trips. How did you find it?
I had never been to Taiwan so I didn't know what to expect. It's hard to do it justice by describing it in words, so I will not even try. But what was fun was that we got to see many varieties of landscapes. We rode in an urban landscape around Taipei, we rode through a jungle and we rode along the coast. Every day was different in some way. But it's hard not to say that riding through the gorge and up the Hualien mountain was the highlight. I've ridden some of the biggest mountains in the US and Europe, but the Hualien is just massive.
How did you find the group you were riding with? Did you know any of the others that joined on the trip?
I had never ridden with any of the people that came on this trip. Yet, that didn't matter. From day one, it was like we had all known each other for a long time. It was a diverse group with people from multiple countries and continents. That everyone was sort of on the same riding level created a very friendly and great atmosphere every day. I was probably one of the slower people, but I never felt left behind or looked down on. I still keep in touch with the people from this trip and I hope I'll get to ride with them again soon.
The Taiwan KOM Challenge easily sounds like one of the most challenging one-day races out there with its distance of 105km leading up to Wuling which sits at 3275m above sea level. Can you tell me about the atmosphere during the race?
I must start by saying I was not in the front group of the race. I left them fairly early on and I managed to squeeze in the top 10 percent. In my part of the race we probably had a little bit of a different vibe then in the front. I had never raced or competed in Asia before, but the vibe on the race day was pretty casual. It wasn't too competitive and people were not elbowing to get an extra inch at the start as you can see in other places. During the race, the atmosphere was very friendly and riders were not really racing but helping and pushing each other. The people along the course were all super supportive and made you push even harder. Overall, the race is just one part that made this trip special. The other days were as much if not more memorable in other ways. The food, the people, the group, all make this week in Taiwan an unforgettable experience.