HSINCHU, TAIWAN (BRAIN)—It was a grand send-off Sunday for the A-Team. Several thousand people filled the square in front of the Presidential Palace and shouted their approval as President-elect Ma Jing-jeou said it was time for the nation to get on their bikes, improve their health, clean up the environment and reduce air pollution.
Ma, Harvard educated and a triathlete, was there to launch Taiwan’s National Bike Day and personally greet the 32 A-Team cyclists who are riding some 950 kilometers around the island nation. Ma, immensely popular in Taiwan, gave each rider a “high-five” as they walked off stage to their bicycles—each individually mounted on a stand supplied by Giant.
Ma enjoys strong backing by bicycle industry executives. The former mayor of Taipei has promised to improve business relations with Mainland China, a popular platform given the industry’s investment in Chinese factories.
The tour’s first day, a 75-kilometer ride to Hsinschu, dubbed Taiwan’s Silicon Valley, took riders through miles of city streets and industrial areas as they left Taipei. Cyclists jockeyed with scooters, buses and trucks for most of the day—an amicable scramble for space along Route 1. With temperatures in the low to mid-80s and humidity pushing 75 percent, stops were frequent to refill water bottles.
But when industry executives travel, they want good food. And lunch was no exception—a 90-minute layover at The Duchess, a buffet-style Chinese restaurant in Tanyuan, not far from the country’s international airport. Think Home-Style Buffet only with excellent food and a beer tap.
While the industry’s version of the Tour de Taiwan may seem like a rolling frat party, its purpose is to introduce bicycles and their components to the people make them. Giant’s Tony Lo and chairman of the A-Team used his considerable influence—and perhaps some semi-diplomatic arm-twisting—to convince these men and women to try their own products.
It’s not enough to engineer good products, he said during a break. If Taiwan’s industry is to be a world leader—with the passion often associated with Italian-made products—then its executives need to better understand bicycles and their relationship to cyclists, he added. So they have to ride, he added.
For many, it’s not an easy transition to make. Most have never ridden a bicycle any significant distance. Some continue to smoke. And several have had heart problems. For them, this is a big deal. A very big deal.