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June 28, 2017

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Start a new cycle of commuting and it's all downhill from there

It is easy to get caught up in the Lance Armstrong saga. The story of his rise to glory, courageous fight against cancer and then fall from grace is like a soap opera on steroids. The cycling community and the public in general have been subject to scores of headlines, analyses and rants about what he did wrong and what he did right. Aside from doing a disservice to the reputation of the sport, however, it sidetracks what should be the number one priority of bike lovers.

If you believe what the government says, this has been a brilliant year for cycling in Taiwan. Sun Moon Lake's biking path "won" some publicity on the CNN GO travel website, and there was another successful Tour de Taiwan. More bikes and locations were added to Taipei's YouBike rental system, and the Taipei Cycle trade show was just as big as ever. But these achievements — just like the doping scandal — are distractions. If our country is to take cycling up a gear from just a leisure-time activity to an integral part of our culture, we need to give serious thought about making commuting by bike safe, convenient and most of all popular.

Let's face the biggest problem straight off the bat — the central and local governments like cycling because of cash and self-promotion. It comes as no surprise that this year's Tour de Taiwan route — like those before it — was taken to task by cyclists for being dull. The Taiwan in Cycles blog actually summed it up quite well as "a bunch of boring crap." Instead of showing what they were made of by pushing up the alpine hills of Hehuanshan or following the turquoise seas of the East Coast, entrants battled mainly boredom and muggy air. Keeping the event profitable, both monetarily and politically, means keeping its route bound to densely populated areas instead of using the event's considerable exposure to help make the country be taken seriously by the international racing community.

Indeed this is the biggest problem. Since it was rediscovered by Taiwanese last decade, cycling has been pigeon-holed under the umbrella of recreation, be it hard-core athletes pushing their way up mountains in Taoyuan County or families taking a leisurely ride around Pinglin's tea plantations. Taipei boasts a not-half-bad range of bike paths, but these tend to skirt around the city's outer limits and along rivers. Again the constant feeling that local governments are far too focused on the meager profits of tourism and recreation is present here. Indeed, every level of government has failed to truly capitalize on the popularity of riding.

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