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On the hunt for two-wheeled adventure: Bicycle enthusiasts have growing number of travel opportunities

Mar 11,2017
People on Ttareungi bikes, which are available for rent at booths set up by the Seoul Metropolitan Government near the Cheonggye Stream in central Seoul. The standard rental bike is usually white with green wheels, but some are made with special colorful patterns. [SEOUL METROPOLITAN GOVERNMENT]
There are many cycling festivals and competitions happening in the spring for those wanting to get away from the metropolitan area and enjoy nature while riding their bicycle. Bikers can check out the rocky mountains in Goseong County, Gangwon, left, or take a unique ride near the Demilitarized Zone, an area that is normally closed off to civilians. [THE BIKE MAGAZINE, HWACHEON DMZ PEACE BIKE RALLY]
Bicycle riders pass by the oceans on Jeju Island, one of the popular spots to go to for looking to ride along the coastline. [THE BIKE MAGAZINE]
With temperatures slowly going up and the sun staying out a little longer each day, many are aching for the weekends to come so that they can spend their free time outside. Activities that have been halted due to the strong and cold winds of winter, such as cycling, are slowly starting to pick up as people make their ways outdoors.

Riding a bicycle isn’t only a simple activity that one does close to home. These days, people travel out to different regions across the country to ride a bike and enjoy different scenery that they don’t usually get while riding in a metropolitan area. Unlike the mostly flat trails found in Seoul, there are many challenging courses that take riders up some mountain terrain or alongside the sea.

Many regional governments throughout Korea, as well as railway companies and cycling lovers are offering new options for those looking for different weekend activities. Below are some of the options for both avid cycling fans and those wanting to get themselves a new hobby in the new season.

Ride somewhere exotic

Korea Railroad Corporation is luring bicycle riders to the southern part of Korea through its introduction of special train travel packages which will allow passengers to bring their bicycles aboard the train. The railway company, which has seen increasing numbers of people going on trips not only to visit the major tourists spots, but to enjoy many different kinds of activities, has decided to operate the bicycle-friendly train 15 times a year.

Passengers can get on from Seoul, Cheongnyangni and Yeongdeungpo stations in Seoul, and will be taken to major travel destinations such as Gangjin, Yeosu, Muan, Naju, Sinan and Mokpo. The decision to run the MTB train came after the railway company tested the concept four times and was met with a huge response from riders. The first train of the year will run in April from Seoul to Gangjin. For more information about the bicycle packages, call (061) 242-7728.

Among the regions that the train makes a stop in, Sinan County in South Jeolla has been popular among bike riders in Korea for its scenic routes that wind past beaches and through forests of pine trees. The county, which consists of multiple islands, has established eight different bicycle routes that total about 455 kilometers (283 miles). Routes 2 and 5 are considered as the most scenic ones, as Route 2 goes by one of the largest salt fields in Asia and Route 5 includes incredible beach views. Route 3 is also special in the spring as it takes riders to a field filled with tulips. A group of five riders or more can receive financial support from the county office. For more information, go to www.shinan.go.kr.

Ride to work and back home

Some people ride a bicycle as a means of transportation for their daily commute, while others ride only for leisure or for a daily dose of exercise. To make it even more convenient for those who commute by bicycle, the Seoul Metropolitan Government has introduced a bike rental system called Ttareungi. The name is an onomatopoeic word in Korean that imitates the sound of a bicycle bell.

The bicycle isn’t for leisure riders, according to the city government. The booths that store the rentable bicycles are usually located close to subway station exits so that Seoul citizens can ride a bike when they are going short-distances. They can also return their bikes to any booth nearby. Commuters don’t need to worry about finding a parking spot for bicycles, and it is cheap. A one-year membership only costs 30,000 won ($25.91) and allows members to rent out bicycles whenever they want. Renting for just one day is 1,000 won.

Those borrowing bicycles need to bring the bicycle back to the booth within an hour, and renew their time at any booth throughout the city. Renewing one’s rental every hour may seem troublesome, but the city government explains that it is to encourage more people to make the best use of the service and use it for commuting and short spurts of exercise rather than long leisure rides. There will be an additional fee for those not returning the bike after an hour, which is 1,000 won per every 30 minutes.

It has been a little over a year since the bike rental system was set up, and the city government has said that Seoul residents want more rental spaces across town. Currently there are 450 rental booths in the city with a total of 5,600 bicycles. As of November, it had 208,000 members and saw 1.6 million rentals. The city government said it will try to add more rental locations in the coming years.

Go for competitions

If riding alone or with only a few friends gets too mundane, find a way to renew your passion for bicycle riding at local competitions or riding festivals. There are many across the country, providing unique topographies in each place to add unique challenges and fun.

The Hwacheon DMZ Peace Bike Rally, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, is one of the hottest bicycle events in Korea, as a portion of the course runs along the Demilitarized Zone, which is usually closed to civilians. The festival, which usually has 3,000 participants, had seen an upswing in applicants wanting to join this year, and decided to allow 1,000 more riders to join the event, which takes place on May 21. Although the festival is currently fully booked, spots may open up if people cancel their reservations, so keep an eye out for an opening. More detailed information is available online at www.dmzbike.com.

For those looking for a race, the f1 track in Yeongam, South Jeolla is the place to go. A chance to step on the track like a professional rider is offered, as long as you bring your own bicycle. The stadium has been used for bicycle races for the International F1 Speed Cycling event, which takes place this year on April 23. The race is open to anyone over 20 and costs 40,000 won, which includes a jacket and lunch.

A little bit farther south, riders can find another festival called the Olle Velo Jeju 2017 Road Hill Festa, set for April 1 on Jeju Island. The event includes a timed uphill road race and a leisure ride along the coast that is about 15 kilometers long. For 10,000 won, anyone over 20 can join the leisure ride, and the uphill course costs 40,000 won.

For a real uphill challenge with scenic mountain views, join the Hana Tour 2017 Goseong Misiryeong Hill Climb Competition set to happen on May 28. It costs 40,000 won to join. For more information about the events in Yeongam, Jeju Island and Goseong, go to www.thebike.co.kr.

BY LEE SUN-MIN [summerlee@joongang.co.kr]