▲ With clean air and relatively uncrowded roads, bicyclists on the island can enjoy their journeys. Photo by Brian Miller
A longtime favorite activity of both tourists and Jeju locals alike, exploration of the island via bicycle offers an opportunity to experience Jeju’s abundant natural beauty at a leisurely and appreciative pace.
Cited by CNN iReport as one of the “Five Best Biking Cities in Asia,” Jeju in autumn, with its cool temperatures and colorful scenery, is a particularly popular time of the year for cycling. Thanks to the abundant bicycle lanes and low-traffic roads, which stretch over the majority of the island, sightseeing on Jeju by bike has grown in popularity over the past few years, although many safety issues still exist which might deter potential cyclists.
Until the 1970s, bicycles were a common sight on Korean streets, and were the most common mode of transportation in the countryside. But an increase in the number of cars on the streets prompted a decline in cyclists, and travel by bike has only recently been revived as both tourism and environmental awareness have risen in Jeju.
Scott’s Bike Shop in Tapdong has been serving the community since 2007. Originally opened as an inline-skate shop in 2002, Seoul native Kim Kyeong Woo caters mainly to tourists interested in biking Jeju’s most popular routes, including the coastal highway, Udo Island, and by various museums, oreum [secondary volcanic cones], and Buddhist temples.
Although a cycling advocate, Kim warned that biking on Jeju is still “very, very dangerous” due to a lack of adequate lighting on streets, disjointed bike paths, careless drivers, and cars using bike paths for parking.
According to government data from Jan. 1, 2008 to Dec. 31, 2009, there were 64 reported accidents involving bicycles in Seogwipo City (30 in 2008 and 34 in 2009), and 216 in Jeju City (91 in 2008 and 125 in 2009). Reported injuries and fatalities in bicycle accidents on the island totaled 132 in 2008 (127 injured, 5 killed), 124 in 2007 (118 injured, 6 killed) and 158 in 2006 (151 injured, 7 killed).
As a car-dominant nation, most of Korea seems to leave little room for cyclists and their bicycles, but determined riders can find a semblance of a cycling home on Jeju’s scenic routes.
Local Jeju resident Greg Collier set out over Chuseok with a group of other island locals with the intent of circumnavigating Jeju via the coastal highway. Their journey began in Tapdong with rented bikes and gear from Scott’s Bike Shop.
Beginning on a rough note, Collier burst a tire within the first 15 minutes of the first day’s ride, and was forced to return to the shop for a quick repair. Beyond that, however, he noted that the majority of the trip was a “flat, easy ride,” with minimal debris on the roads and sidewalks.
“Thankfully the streets and sidewalks were clear of rocks,” Collier said. “And we had a full moon to ride by.”
Although relatively cyclist-friendly, Jeju riders should remain carefully aware of wayward buses and taxis, both of which are commonly known to disregard traffic laws. Kim encourages cyclists to always be aware of their surroundings, and to take adequate safety precautions.
“Always use bike lanes, wear a helmet, and use a light if you’re riding at night,” Kim said.
Adequate preparation is also key, as Collier found during his trip. He noted that cyclists should make sure to have enough water, a tire patch kit, and an air pump, along with proper safety equipment.
Thanks to Jeju’s tourism industry, most areas near bike trails and paths are fairly well populated, but finding a bike shop that can offer assistance in the event of an unforeseen issue can prove difficult, as Collier’s group found while riding on the coastal highway from Seogwipo to Pyeosan. Stuck with a mysteriously flat tire that wouldn’t hold air and with no bike shop nearby, the group wasn’t sure what to do.
Luckily, a local, bike-savvy man repaired the tire and sent them on their way. Such luck, however, can’t be counted on, so adequate preparation is of the utmost importance when setting out, particularly when cycling in the countryside.
As tourism grows in Jeju, Kim noted that cycling continues to increase in popularity year after year, and doesn’t foresee the trend slowing down anytime soon.
When asked if he would send cyclists off with any particular words of advice, Kim laughed and said, “Be careful!”
Additional reporting by Chris J. Park
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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