Taiwan is a cyclist's paradise: Lonely Planet writer

American cyclist talks about his passion for traveling in Taiwan

Joshua Samuel Brown. (By Central News Agency)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- In a recent interview with CNA, lifetime cyclist Joshua Samuel Brown (葉家喜), author of four books on Taiwan including two Taiwan guidebooks for Lonely Planet describes his passion for cycling and why he believes Taiwan is becoming a paradise for cyclists.

A native of Staten Island, New York, Brown says that "Cycling has always been an important part of my life. I was a bike messenger in NYC in my teens, and I’ve been riding ever since."

In 1994, Brown moved to Taiwan to teach English, fell in love with the country and has lived here on and off at different periods since. He had originally contemplated going to Japan to teach, but was talked out of it by the owner of a Chinese restaurant called Golden Pond Dim Sum in Rochester, NY.  "She was Taiwanese and convinced me that people in Taiwan were nicer. So I took her at her word and never looked back," said Brown. 

Brown said his first impression of Taiwan came when watching the Ang Lee film "Eat Drink Man Woman," which showed chaotic streets covered in scooters. "Watching that film made me decide to sell my bicycle before coming to Taiwan, because I assumed riding in Taiwan was impossible," he told CNA. Little did he know that over the course of 20 years the cycling environment would improve so dramatically.

Brown recalled that when he first settled down in northern Taiwan's Hsinchu, he bought a second-hand bike to get around town. The first time he decided to ride it to Taipei, his landlady declared that he was "insane" and offered to drive him.


Brown and fellow cyclists. (CNA image) 

"Those days are long gone,” Brown said. “Taiwan has transformed from a place barely suitable for cycling to a veritable cyclist's paradise." In 1998, Brown explored the eastern part of Taiwan for the first time and enjoyed the scenery in Hualien, Taroko and Taitung so much that he began seeing the potential for cycling in the country.

In addition to being passionate about cycling and traveling, he’s also an author who sees writing about Taiwan as one of the best ways to introduce the splendor of Taiwan to the world. In 2005, Brown published his first book, Vignettes of Taiwan (Things Asian Press), which led to his being offered a job as co-author for the 2006 edition of Lonely Planet: Taiwan.

Since then, he’s authored and co-authored Lonely Planet guidebooks for multiple destinations in Asia and Central America, including a second version of the Taiwan book. He’s also written many articles about cycling and travel for publications like Bicycle Times, Topics, Road Bike Action and Momentum Magazine.

In 2015, Brown co-led two cycling tours around Taiwan with Bicycle Adventures, a U.S. based company specializing in cycling tours.


Brown cycling on the east coast. (Photo by Michael Turton)

“I tried to mix daily cultural activities in with the cycling, things like aboriginal culture and cuisine, introductions to Hakka culture and cuisine, and of course, as many end-of-ride hot springs as possible,” Brown told CNA.

“People often ask me if Taiwan is as beautiful a place for riding as I make it out to be,” Brown said. “I generally tell them to come here and let me prove it.” When asked by CNA for a top reason to visit, Brown laughed. "I can never answer questions like that. But I can easily give anyone dozens of reasons to visit, based on their own personal tastes.”

Brown then listed cycling, surfing, diving, Asia's best cuisine and the blending of Chinese, indigenous, and Japanese cultures as just a few of the many reasons people might chose to visit Taiwan. 

As for the place most worth visiting in Taiwan for cyclists, Brown said, "Taiwan has tons of great roads for cycling, whether you’re into climbing, coastal rides, whatever you like.” When pressed for a top spot, Brown added “I guess Taroko is like the Great Wall in that everyone who visits has to see it, and anyone who cycles in Taiwan should ride through it. Myself, I’m continually amazed with each visit. But I also love the ride to the Lishan Scenic Area in Taichung.”


Brown cycling on the east coast. (Photo by Michael Turton)

Brown admitted that the ride to Lishan is challenging, and maybe not the best choice for every cyclist.  "But for those who make it, the ride is totally worth it. There is something about having your first coffee of the day while watching a sea of clouds pass by in the mountains below the town. It’s an absolutely unforgettable experience.

Aside from Cycling, writing continues to be a passion for Brown. In 2016, he began work with his partner on his fourth Taiwan book, Formosa Moon (Things Asian Press), which he described as a dual-authored romantic travel memoir. “While on what I thought would be a brief stint back in the States, I wound up meeting a woman and falling in love with her. I basically told her that if we were to stay together, I’d eventually return to Taiwan so she’d have to be cool about coming back with me. She agreed, and so we spent the first half of 2017 traveling around the island and chronicling our adventures as I tried to get her to fall in love with Taiwan.”

Formosa Moon will be published later this year. Brown is currently editor-in-chief for MyTaiwanTour, an online portal and travel agency dedicated to facilitating travel to and around Taiwan.