Unprepared is how I felt getting off the plane in Taipei. I had one night to get to the hotel, build my prototype road bike (for the first time) and double check that I had everything. Not that it would've made any difference if I didn't - it was too late already. I guess that's why I slept so well.
Also it's not the first time we've done something like this. I've walked the length of Hong Kong non stop in 30 hours, rolled almost every road in Shanghai province and generally always know which way is north.
Still, riding 1000km around Taiwan is no easy task and there are some great touring lessons we learnt along the way. Here are our golden nuggets:
Pack light. The less you bring the easier it is to ride. Cycling gear is fast-dry so can be washed in the evening and ready for the morning. I travelled with two cycling shirts, one pair of bibs, a pair of swimming shorts and then as luxuries, a pair of tracksuit bottoms and a long sleeve t-shirt for evening relaxation.
Wear cycling clothes. If you don't have padded shorts and some chamois lotion then you're going to have a bad time. We saw a lot of very uncomfortable guys in cargo pants and jeans. Unfortunately stupid-looking, figure-hugging lycra is often the most practical solution.
Use sun-tan lotion. Even when it's cloudy, UV gets through and 8 hours in the saddle is enough to catch a few rays. If you're going during a time when the sun is close to the earth then be prepared to keep applying throughout the day. You'll see the other rides dressed up like they're heading to a sandstorm and in the evening you'll know why.
Wear sunglasses. Staring ahead into the wind is really effective for drying out eyeballs and that means an itchy evening. Get a pair which can stay strong even if you're sweating buckets.
Bring a backup phone battery. There's going to be one day when it's getting dark and you're lost, hungry, grumpy... and your phone is running out of battery. I had an external USB powersource which also had a solar panel on the side. It saved us from some crazy arguments.
Plan not to ride in the evening. This is China after all and the drivers can be aggressive - zipping along with their high beams on. To be honest, a nice way to tour anywhere is to get up early, ride for the morning and arrive to somewhere mid-afternoon. Not everything needs to be explored in the saddle.
Convenience stores in Taiwan are amazing. They are every few KMs and sell everything you could possibly need. Most have free tools and pumps outside and you can be absolutely sure there'll be a couple of other bikers examining a map. We went a little crazy for the cartons of passion fruit juice with tapioca during the ride and cans of Asahi in the evenings.
Use the hot springs. They're all over the place so just ask the locals for directions. After a long day of riding they're like nourishment to the muscles.
Find the hills! They're the best part of the island. They're beautiful, rolling, well paved and mostly quiet. You'll thank me for ditching the circle-the-coast plan and getting deep into the middle of Taiwan where all the goodness is.
And if you have no particular itinerary, plan to do 60-120km a day, choose the next destination in the morning and ask your current hotel to book somewhere nearby for that evening. Then there's always a target to aim for. On an island 450km long and 150km wide you really can't go wrong.
For my thoughts on doing the Taiwan island circumnavigation - click here.