I've wanted to do this for many years, but somehow never managed to do this even back while I was spending a lot of time in Taiwan: A motorbike ride crossing the mountainous center of the island using the Central Cross-Island Highway. This highway is probably not what most people imagine a highway would be like: A narrow road consisting almost entirely only of serpentines with a speed limit of typically 40 km/h. In other words, a motorbiking paradise.
You can enter that highway from the east by starting from Taroko Gorge. In order to get there by motorbike, you take the famous Provincial Highway No. 9 from XinDian via Pinglin to Yilan, which is frequented a lot by Taipei motorbike riders on weekends. The No. 9 further leads along the cliffs of the coast to Xincheng, from where No. 8 starts.
The trip from Taipei to Xincheng is only about 200km, but still you need at least something like 5.30 hours if you want to ride safely. This is once again due to the mountain roads. You can barely see 100m at any given time to the next turn in the road all the way between XinDian and Yilan.
Upon arrival I was greeted by the hotel owner with the news that No. 8 had been closed temporarily due to rock fall at km 150.9. That was pretty devastating to my plan, as this road is the only connection in the northern two thirds of the entire island. There is no alternative, except for No. 20, which would have been probably three times the amount of distance (and thus time). However, as it later turned out, the road would be opened for 30 minutes between 6am and 6.30am. So I had to leave at 5.00am in order to safely ride the first 30 km up to the road block. This turned out to be the best thing that could have happened:
- There was absolutely zero traffic in either direction (the first 25km to Tienshang that are normally full of tourist busses).
- I was able to witness the sunrise at about 5.40am in the mountains
- very clear sight, which at other times is not clear at all
So I reached the road block even ahead of schedule and was able to pass as intended.
I continued along the road, and due to the fact that the road was closed again after 30mins, there was close to zero traffic all day on the entire road. /p>
At Dayuling, you can either continue the 8 towards Lishan (but not much further due to repeated subsequent earthquake and typhoon damage), or you an continue along No. 14 A towards Hehuanshan (Mt. Hehuan). I first went to Lishan (a major tea planting region) and back, as due to my early morning start I had lots of time left for detours, to continue towards Mount Hehuan , where the road reaches an altitude of more than 3100m.
I spent the second night in Renai, where I arrived just in time: The first rain drops of a heavy afternoon thunderstorm were falling. In the morning, I was greeted by the following view from my hotel room:
The first sixty-or-so kilometers are painful, as they lead through heavily populated areas around Nantou and Taichung. This means that there's lots of traffic, and very frequent traffic lights that make you stop. Later on, the road leads through less populated mountainous regions, and driving is more relaxed again.
Having managed this trip without any problems (nor getting lost even once), I'm hoping to find some time in the future to ride No. 7 from Yilan to Lishan, and particularly Provincial Highway No. 20, crossing the mountains much more south.
And if there's one part for me to remember: Always avoid the densely populated regions in the west of the island. If I wanted to ride stop-and-go all day long, I don't have to leave Taipei or New Taipei City in the first place ;)