Sunday, June 16, 2013

Ride the 4 Rivers Cross-Country Cycling Road Tour

Bike path along the North Han River

If you happen to be a cyclist in Korea, you may have already realized that you've hit the jackpot. Without much fanfare, Korea has been developing its bike paths over the past few years, particularly through the 4 rivers project, and it is now possible to ride on beautiful bike paths around the country. It's the perfect way to take in Korea's beautiful scenery without having to deal with tour companies, traffic on highways, or overwhelming numbers of tourists at the top destinations around the country.

 
Free bike rental at Yangsu Station on the Jungang Line

If the power compels you, you can start in Incheon at the Ara sea lock and ride all the way down to Busan, a total of 633km. But, for those who aren't ready for a week or more of intense bike riding, anyone can take advantage, either by taking your own bike for a day trip or by renting bikes at many free bike rental stations. To rent a bike, just be sure to bring proper identification!

Bike path signage near Yangpyong Station

While on the paths, you'll discover that they are, for the most part, very well maintained with plenty of signage, often in both English and Korean so you will hopefully never get lost!

Being able to read Korean will help at times though...

A steep hill before Ipobo

The terrain differs from trail to trail, but as most of the trails follow the rivers closely,  you'll find that it rarely gets difficult. Occasionally, the paths must stray off the rivers and that's when you might find yourself on a steep hill or following a road with car traffic. As you can see above, though, they tend to be country roads with few cars, though.

Train tunnel turned bike tunnel

Another neat feature of certain trails is how they have been converted from their original uses. Several trails were once train routes. It was pretty ingenious of them to convert these old tracks into bike paths. The flat land was already there, and so were the tunnels! It can be really refreshing to pass through one of these cool (both temperature- and interest-wise) tunnels when biking through the hot summer heat!

'Certification Center' sign indicating you can stamp your passport soon!

For those who are interested in biking a lot, the most rewarding way to do it is to buy yourself a 'passport' to the 4 Rivers Cross-Country Cycling Road Tour. As you ride along the paths, you will occasionally pass signs that look like the one above. These indicate that a 'certification point' is coming up soon. A 'certification Center' is where, if you have a 'passport' you can stamp your passport to show your biking achievements.

In line to stamp a 'passport'

Certification centers look like this. They are kind of reminiscent of the British red telephone boxes. They're usually hard to miss, but if you don't know it's coming up (like if you miss the sign) you could miss it, so be sure to keep your eyes open! Inside you'll find a stamp and ink pad. Be sure to mark the right spot!

Inside the certification center

Passports can be purchased at many places around the 4 rivers cycling paths. Many bike cafes and repair shops sell them, plus some official certification centers.

 
My first stamp! Neungnae Station
Where to start? Anywhere! If you are living in Seoul, then the Han River would be an ideal place to go. Beginners to long distance biking may like to just start biking the length of the Han River in Seoul, or maybe going to the end of the Ara Canal in Incheon. However, as these paths crisscross the country, and many towns and cities have their own bike paths which are not affiliated with the 4 rivers project, there is no excuse not to give biking in Korea a try!

For more information, check out the following links:
4 Rivers Guide- Official English version of the guide to the 4 Rivers of Korea. Information on biking, camping, walking and more is available.
CNN Go: The US Ambassador's Guide to Biking around Korea- Yes, the US ambassador herself is even taking advantage of the amazing biking around Korea!
Discovering Korea: Cruising the Hangang on a Bicycle- Loads of info on biking in Seoul, including bike rentals.

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