Where I live in the US, biking is not really accessible. In Michigan, we have sidewalks that do not connect, roads filled with potholes, and hilly roads that make biking to-and-from school a little challenging. Additionally, it snows for 6 months out of the year– so unless you really like to bike– it’s hard to bike year-round. All of that being said, I don’t really have the opportunity to bike that much in my city in the US, unless it’s on bike trails during the summer.
Moving to Taipei, I was surprised at how accessible renting U-Bikes is with an Easy-Card (metro card). At almost every intersection, there are bikes and bike docs, and all you have to do is tap your card to ride. Each ride costs about $5-$15 NTD (.01 USD – .4 USD), and the roads are flat, wide, and bike accessible. One of the culture shocks I experienced while biking is that people do not use the bells on their bikes to let you know that they are approaching, but silently move past you. Therefore, you have to be sort of aware at all times that there could be a bike approaching behind you at any time.
For the first month of living in Taipei, I was intimidated by the biking culture and didn’t feel comfortable riding in the streets. Often, during the day, there are several lanes of traffic mixing with cars, buses, motorbikes, and bicycles. When renting a bike, you don’t wear a helmet, so I was worried about riding and getting into a traffic accident— so I avoided renting bikes. However, this changed one night when my Taiwanese roommate, Jim, recommended renting U-Bikes to get home. I was scared and excited– because I was worried about riding in the streets at night. Jim instructed us on how to rent the bikes and led me and my roommates through traffic and NTU’s campus– one of the most freeing and fun experiences I had living in Taipei. Racing with my roommates through NTU’s campus at night gave me a new perspective of Taipei, and increased my confidence in navigating via bike.
After Jim showed me how to rent bikes in Taipei, I’ve taken every opportunity to rent a bike and explore Taiwan. During the day, I still feel like the streets are too congested to ride a bike, so I often rent a bike at night to explore. At night, after 8 p.m., the streets are almost empty and are easy to navigate. The city is quiet, and I can explore it alone at my own pace. I often ride for about an hour with a destination in mind, but I stop along the way to explore new parks, restaurants, or cafes. Biking has allowed me to wind down at the end of my school day, and help me balance my schoolwork-to-exploration time.
Living in the US, I’ve never had the opportunity to go out alone at night in my city and feel safe. I always feel on guard, like someone will approach me and rob me– but I don’t have that anxiety here at all. In all of my teenage/adult life– I have always had anxiety about going outside at night alone, and feeling safe is a new feeling for me. I never had that perspective until moving here, and it makes me sad that I can’t feel at ease in my home country.
Living abroad in Taipei for a month and a half now, I feel encouraged to bring more bike-friendly infrastructure to the US. Because I live in a city that is very car-centric, it’s inconvenient and unsafe to bike– and my city also lacks bike-accessible infrastructure. Additionally, renting bikes in American cities is often expensive — sometimes $40 for three hours — discouraging frequent bike renting. I think because America is a car-dependent country, we discourage bike-friendly/ people infrastructure. Upon returning, I hope to work with my local city council to encourage safer city bike options. For now, I will cherish my nightly bike rides around Taipei.