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A thrilling ride through picturesque Hong Kong : The Hong Kong Cyclothon offers bicycle enthusiasts the chance to ride through the whole city

Oct 25,2017
Professional riders bike through the streets at the Hong Kong Cyclothon. [HONG KONG TOURISM BOAR]
Top: About 2,600 people get ready to start the 50K race at 5:30 a.m. Above: Teammates celebrate completing the race. [HONG KONG TOURISM BOAR]
HONG KONG - The fall breeze makes even those who prefer to be inside venture out to enjoy some outdoor activities. The waterfront and mountains are packed with people getting some fresh air and working out muscles that rarely get used.

After I completed the 30-kilometer (18.6-mile) race at the Hong Kong Cyclothon in 2016, I decided to join the longer 50K race this year. The fall weather in Hong Kong offers a much-needed break from its infamously humid and hot summers, and the perfect temperatures for cycling, so it didn’t take too long time for me to decide to join. The total number of participants went up slightly compared to last year, after the city’s attempts to promote the event to local and international cyclers. More than 20 riders from Korea joined the 4,900 riders this year.

The race is relatively easy as it takes place on flat roads in the middle of Hong Kong which are usually filled with cars. The thrill of riding through roads that are normally off-limits to pedestrians and bicycle riders was enough to make me want to return.

The second coming

Since this is the second time I took part in this race, I exercised more caution than last year. I made the decision to go as slow as possible after what I had seen during last year’s race, when some riders who were focused on going as fast as they could missed their chance to brake at critical points in the race, fell off their bikes and injured themselves. Although there weren’t many who fell early on, I started to think that a slow start was better than not being able to enjoy the 50-kilometer ride. I thought that a slow start wouldn’t do much to stop me from finishing the race.

At 5:30 a.m., when the sky was still very dark, I started off my race, feeling a bit nervous. But after some pedaling, I realized that the early start was better than it had been last year. The air was less humid and hot, which really made a difference after hours of riding through the course. The fall breeze was calming and watching the sky get progressively brighter throughout the race was energizing. My slow start gave me much more room to relax and take up almost entire stretches of the course to myself - it really felt like I owned the road.

Since I didn’t have a watch and had left my phone in my back pocket, I couldn’t keep track of time. Judging by how much energy I had, I assumed that I hadn’t even made it through half of the race. As I rode away from the Ting Kau Bridge, I started to see signs for the 30-kilometer mark. I couldn’t believe that I already ridden that long, and remembered that I was struggling after only 25 kilometers last year.

Around one corner, a biker in front of me fell while making a turn, which put me to a stop. Then, I checked the time.

It was about 6:30 a.m. It seemed like I would have ample time to finish. How naive was I.

After crossing the Stonecutters Bridge, there was one last uphill run to the Eagle’s Nest Tunnel, and then I would head back to Tsim Sha Tsui, where the race began.

Then my gears failed.

I struggled to climb up the hills without the help of shifting the bike’s gears, but I remained optimistic. By the time I could see the entrance of the Eagle’s Nest Tunnel, the noises of security staff alongside the race felt louder, as if they were really cheering me on. Soon after I got a clearer view of boards that the guards were holding up, and I could read what they said: 7:30 a.m. Cut off.

I started to pedal a lot faster, trying my best to go as far as I could.

Finally, a ray of light came into sight, signaling that I was one step closer to the end. One of the diligent volunteers for the event was picking up safety cones that were placed to separate the lanes. The volunteers were working quickly to clear the roads.

“What’s happening?” I started to feel that something was not quite right.

Right before I was to take a U-turn outside of the tunnel, a sign reading “Stop” appeared in front of me. I saw a group of cyclers in one corner standing next to a group of gigantic buses and trucks waiting to transport those still on the road after the time limit.

I never knew I had such a competitive side, but at that point, I wanted nothing more than to finish the race. Only seven kilometers short and I wasn’t even tired. It felt like I still had too much energy, which was totally different from last year, when I thought there was no way I would be able to finish the race. If I was exhausted, I would have been happy that I managed to go over 40 kilometers, but not feeling sore or even minimally tired, it felt like my efforts had been wasted.

All I could do was to say to myself, “I will do this again next year,” over and over while I took my seat in the front of the double decker bus.

Out of the 2,600 people who participated, over 96 percent made it to the end on time, and only 109 were picked up by the bus. I was one of the 109. My pride was hurt and from the moment that they made me get off of my bicycle, I was focused on trying out the 50-kilometer race a second time.

Getting prepared

No need to worry about not owning a bicycle to bring to Hong Kong - the tourism board will arrange a rental. However, it is recommended to bring your own helmet, as helmets they offer to rent may not fit, as well as personal items like gloves, racing shorts and glasses. The participation fee is 100,000 won ($88.67), but the Hong Kong tourism office will provide free tickets on a first-come, first-serve basis. It is most likely the board will continue providing support in the coming years, but make sure to check again before signing up for next year’s race.

If you have never participated in any kind of cycling race or event before, you are asked to take a simple test to show the organizers that you can actually ride a bicycle with some skills. At a designated stadium, you will be asked to take multiple laps to prove that you have energy to go through longer rides. The course has riders make constant turns through a pre-made trail with cones to show that you can keep your balance even when making U-turns. The overall test does not last more than one hour, depending on how long the wait is. While you can always sign up by yourself if none of your friends or family wants to ride a bicycle together, there is an option of joining a tour. Some local tour agencies arrange special trips to the annual events, so that those with similar interests can ride together. This year, OD Bike, a wholesaler of sports equipment, worked with the Hong Kong Tourism Board to provide group tours. For more information, inquire with the Hong Kong Tourism Board through www.discoverhongkong.com or call the local Seoul office at (02) 778-4403.

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