Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Biking for Health and Pleasure

What does one need to enjoy biking on a regular basis? Well, a bicycle, I guess, but also a nice environment that is easily accessible from home in which to ride, relatively safe and uncongested roads, as well as dry and not too cold weather. In Niaosong, Kaohsiung county, it is possible to enjoy riding in this way. It takes less than 15 minutes to cycle from our home to this point on the edge of Cheng Ching Lake. In what follows, Jocelyn and I will show you that biking can be a rewarding and healthful experience.
If you are not too familiar with a bike course, a map is helpful and if you don't like carrying a map with you, one etched in stone by the roadside is just as good. This map describes the bike course around Cheng Ching Lake. One loop is a little under five miles. The red lines refer to an exclusive lane for bikes. This unfortunately does not extend the whole way round, but at least it's a start.
Since the bike course goes round a large lake, for about one-third of the ride (mostly downhill in this direction), one can see the lake to the right. Air temperatures close to large expanses of water like this are a few degrees lower, and the view is certainly good for the eyes.
When riding here it is not necessary to wear a face mask, although there are parts of the course, as well as parts of the ride to and from home, where one has to interact with quite a lot of traffic during rush hours. While this is part of the price that has to be paid for living in a big city, at least the contact with dust and internal combustion engines can be kept to a minimum.
To make the ride more pleasant, it is important to have good equipment. A bell is important as occasionally people are so taken in by the scenery that they fail to keep their eyes focused on what lies ahead of them, including oncoming cyclists.
The seat on the bicycle should be designed with the rider in mind, like this one was.
It is necessary to carry water on any bike ride, and the bike should have a bottle cage to allow a water bottle to remain firmly in place (as shown elsewhere), and accessed while on the move.
Bikes no longer come in "one size fits all". It is necessary to find the perfect fit for you. Giant bicycles in Taiwan have come up with a bicycle that is "women specific" and this particular model is designed for the smaller rider. This frame is made of aluminum.
With a good set of gears (in this case Shimano SLX), there are few hills (barring parts of Kaloko Drive in Kona, Hawaii) that one should not be able to ride.
Front suspension will make for a smooth ride when the going gets rough. Disc brakes appear to be the 'in thing", although I find the traditional types of brakes are just as good.

A mirror is a good investment, and saves one having to constantly turn one's head.
Lights are of course important at night, and a lubrication system built into the bicycle should keep the cables in good order.
A speedometer/odometer provides much valuable information on any ride.

About one kilometer into the ride, one passes three pavilions and one can also get a good view of the Grand Hotel on the other side of the lake.
The three pavilions area is an excellent place for watching the sunset. as the sun comes down on the opposite side of the lake as one looks out.
The Grand Hotel from a distance.
A bike helmet should be worn at all times even in warm weather. This one fits well (and is not cheap!) and has good air vents. Its white color is also less likely to absorb the heat.

Here one can see that the bike path is separated from the road by something resembling a 4"x4" piece of wood. The only criticism that could be leveled against the path is that is gets somewhat narrower than this in places, which might encourage some people to just ride on the road instead, which can of course be done, too.
As one turns at the bottom of the lake one sees a huge expanse of water. From this point on, one has to share the road with the other vehicles for about half a mile, but then after that there are more bike paths.
The Grand Hotel is a very famous piece of architecture in Kaohsiung and well worth a visit. After passing the hotel there are more rolling hills and relatively little traffic except in the height of the rush hour.
If one keeps following the route depicted on the map, one will eventually get back to where one started. Since this point where I (pictured) am standing is very close to the swimming pool, I not only biked today, but also swam about one mile in the pool, too. Not a bad workout. Maybe I could add in a short run as well.

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Different Mother's Day

This year, the day before Mother's Day, I found these roses at the local market. Before I gave them to my wife, Jocelyn, I took this photo of them as a souvenir.

Sometimes holidays give rise to conflicts of schedules, and being very busy these days, I am always a little apprehensive about participating in organized activities, for fear of falling even further behind schedule. Besides, on Saturday night the streets were packed with people going out to eat for Mother's Day, and I immediately imagined myself waiting at the entrance of some crowded restaurant on a noisy and traffic-congested street for more than an hour before we could get served.

So I heaved a sigh of relief when my family members suggested we go for a bicycle ride as a family on Mother's Day late in the afternoon when it would be a good time to take a break from the busyness of life, anyway. The idea was to more or less follow the river which runs only a few hundred yards from our house all the way until it hits the ocean at the other end of the city. In recent years, the local government has expended much effort in constructing bike paths, and it is more or less possible to ride on these paths for miles, usually next to a river (or a lake if one goes in the direction of where I swim in the mornings), with only minimal interaction with motorized transport.
We did not leave home until about 5:30 p.m., and after one or two detours (like where we were on the "wrong" side of the river and there were repairs being made to the bike path), we soon found that the otherwise bright and sunny day was quickly coming to an end. At this point looking down the river we were about two-thirds of the way to our destination (had we gone directly there).

We stopped close to where the Love River meets the ocean to take a few photos and decide on where we were going to eat. Like many of our trips, little had been planned. I kind of like things that way, i.e., a bit more spontaneous.

With less and less light, my little camera was becoming less capable of getting a clear shot, and fortunately James had his new camera with him, a Canon with a 30 mm F 1.4 lens, for those in the know.

As we waited there, the lights on buildings started to come on. I could still get a few reasonably good shots on my camera, because there was still quite a bit of daylight left.

However, without a a bigger and better camera, the above shot would not have been possible. I took it, although James set it up manually first. I should have brought a tripod.

In this picture we can see the four bikes we rode. Only mine on the far left, is a "real" bicycle. Even with gear on it and its much larger size, it still weighs a couple of kilos less than Jocelyn's bicycle. Maybe it is time to find Jocelyn a "real" bike.

After these pictures, we rode about another kilometer to the Fishermen's Wharf in Kaohsiung, which as its name implies is part of the port of Kaohsiung. (This was taken with my "little" camera, which was possible because the lights were very bright.) To get there were rode down a street full of small stores with names in various Asian languages, no doubt to serve the many foreigners who work on the boats.

This was the view (also taken with my camera) that we had as we ate a nutritious meal in an oceanside restaurant. However, instead of getting on one of these boats, we together rode (for about one hour) the 11 kilometers we needed to travel to get home, most of which was along the river and the nice bike paths built for this purpose.