Alishan, April 12 - 13, 2010. Click pic for album

Taroko to Kending

Taroko Gorge to Kending, Feb 14 - 19, 2010.

Northern Cross Island Highway

Northern Cross Island Highway, May 19 - 21, 2008. Click pic for album
24th May, 2008

Shuangbei — the Northern Cross Island Highway and the Taibei – Yilan road

05_baling.jpgThree days on the bike to get from Taipei back to Taipei again. The Northern Cross Island Highway is the most northerly of the cross-island highways, and the proximity to Taipei means that there is more traffic and pollution on the roads leading to the highway. In addition, some kind of construction project is going on at Shimen Reservoir which meant that the sometimes very narrow roads — it is often impossible for two cars to meet — had a string of gravel trucks and cement trucks going back and forth. That is never very pleasant, especially when you consider the fact that the only drivers in Taiwan that are worse and more arrogant than taxi and bus drivers are truck drivers.
In this case, I had a compulsion to actually do the whole loop from Taipei and back again, but if that isn’t a consideration, then the first part of the road along 110 from Xindian to Sanxia could probably be just as well dealt with by getting someone to drive you there, or even better, all the way to Dapu (大埔) and the intersection with the 7A (7乙).
Another way of doing this ride is of course to copyTim, the owner of the Giant store on the NE corner of Da’an Forest Park, who did the whole darn thing in a single day, including time out for a hot spring bath in Jiaoxi. That’s 245km from 5.30am to midnight.

Buying some fruit just before Fuxing

Dapu is where the nice part of the ride begins, although we were caught in the rain long before we even reached Sanxia — the outer edges of a typhoon — and that stayed with us for much of the first day. Together with the gravel and cement trucks, that took away some of the pleasure of being on the road. That said, however, there were several nice views along the road up to Baling.
The climbs the first day weren’t too steep. The ride up to Fuxing (復興) brings you to an elevation of about 450m, which is followed by a 5km long drop down to 300m just before Luofu (羅浮). From here, it is 35km to Baling at an elevation of around 650m, mostly uphill but interspersed with a few descents. In all, the climbs are moderate but extended.

A bridge just after Baling

In Baling, we stayed at Baling Hot Spring Resort (北橫貫下巴陵溫泉山莊). They had a group tour there, so we had to get a four bed room, but at NT$450 each (NT$1,800), that was a steal. There was a wooden bath tub in the wooden interior room, the kind you see in old Western movies, and that was pretty cool. They also have a public hot spring bath down in the basement, but that was reserved for the group tour, so we had to soak ourselves in the separate rooms (湯屋). And listen up: they have a special (unspecified) discount for people riding there on their bicycles. For us, they slashed another 10% off the already discounted NT$2000 they first asked.
From Baling, it is another 20km up to Mingchi (明池) — 10 km persistent climbing from 650m to around 1175m, followed by a drop over about 5km down to 1050m, and then another 5km or so up to Mingchi at maybe 1150m. From here, it’s six or seven km to the high point at just above 1200m before the long descent down to Yilan 45-50km away, where we put R on the bus back to Taipei from the bus station just next to the train station.

At around 1200m elevation, the high point of the Northern Cross Island Highway just after Mingchi

We continued on to Jiaoxi a few km away where we stayed at Kelly Hot Spring Hotel (凱麗溫泉飯店) — a place to be recommended, just like the one in Baling. Clean, nice Japanese style rooms with wooden interior, big bathroom and friendly service. A three bed room was NT$2,300 with breakfast. No dinner in the hotel, but there is a host of restaurants in the streets around the hotel, and we had a nice seafood meal with Gold Medal Taiwan Beer and of course a Heysong Sarsaparilla.
From here, there’s just a few km to the much dreaded “9 turns and 18 bends” (九彎十八拐) section of route 9. It’s not as bad as everyone will have you believe, although it is a long extended climb of about 12km without a single descent. The incline is moderate, however, and it’s the distance that might be tiring, not the incline. A bit up along this road, you can get some great views of the Yilan plain. No pics here, because there was a mist that wiped out most of teh view, and we could hardly even see Guishan Island (龜山島) outside Jilong.
When you reach the peak, there is a long drop down to Pinglin of about 20km. There will be a couple inclines along the way, but nithing serious. From Pinglin, there’s another 11-11.5km climb up to Xiaogetou (小格頭) and Helen’s Coffee, which of course was closed when we arrived on a Wednesday noon. Follow the road a couple km and either take rigth at the switchback that brings you onto the 47 and back to Heping East Road via Shenkeng and Muzha, or continue along the 9 down to Xindian where the ride started.

At the high point of the road
Facts The Shuangbei (雙北) — the Northern Cross Island Highway and the Taipei-Yilan road — is probably of intermediate difficulty: the inclines are not too steep, but often extended, running between 10km and 20km. We did Xindian to Baling the first day, beginning with the 110 in Xindian and then switched to Route 3 in Sanxia and 7A in Dapu. After 84km and just below five hours on the bikes, we reached Baling at three in the afternoon.
The second day, we went from Baling to Jiaoxi, another 84km. This is the prettiest part of the road, with quite a few stunning views of bridges over deep valleys, mountains, forest and houses perched periloulsy on the mountain ridge or almost slipping off the mountain sides.
From Jiaoxi, we continued via Pinglin and back to Taipei, first in the 9, and then on the 47 through Shenkeng from just after Xiaogetou. That added another 76km to the meter, adding up to a total of about 245km.
If you decide to take the bus back from Yilan, get the Shoudu (首都) bus: you only have to take off the front wheel before chucking the bike in the luggage compartment, where as the other company (forget which one that is) requires that you take both wheels off, although you don’t have to bag the bike on either of the companies. Shoudu runs buses every 40 min from early in the morning to late in the evening, and brings you to Taipei City Government MRT station in 1.5hrs.

7 comments to Shuangbei — the Northern Cross Island Highway and the Taibei – Yilan road

  • feiren

    Ah the old 110 from Xindian to Sanxia–AKA Ankeng Rd. In the bad old days of the early 1990s, this was the only way out to Sanxia. The first 10km are pretty unpleasant and often have very heavy traffic.
    Alternatives these days include taking the MRT out to Tucheng on weekends or riding out on the bike paths to Tucheng along the Dahan River.
    There is all kinds of construction/ flood control going on at the Shihmen dam and much further above. The gravel truck traffic is a bit hit or miss. It actually might be lighter on weekend because they may have the day off.
    Summer vacation is coming up soon and there will be heavy weekend traffic on the Northern Cross as a result. Traffic is the bane of riding in the north.

  • tbv

    Yeah, the beginning of the Ankeng Rd sucks. We were picking up a couple friends in Xindian, so it just was the natural choice.
    Although there might be fewer trucks on the weekend, there will probably be more private cars, especially if the weather is good. It’s a good outing: a beautiful road, and then maybe a hot spring in Jiaoxi and some seafood in Toucheng or somewhere else on the coast, so people like it.
    When you’re right, you’re right. There is a bit too much traffic in the north.

  • feiren

    There really can be too much traffic out on the northern cross, but it does really vary. I’ve been out there on a weekend in beautiful weather with the road to myself—and also stuck in traffic jams.
    Timing helps. That’s why my preferred method now is riding over from Zhudong in Hsinchu and coming down the to Baling the first day. Very little traffic on those backroads, and you can beat the traffic on the Beiheng by getting on the road at 5:30.
    I’ll try to write up my Lixing Access Rd. route on the central cross soon.

  • tbv

    5.30 just sounds awfully early to me. I think 7am is a good time unless you have a really long ride ahead of you in the middle of July.
    I’ll be looking forward to your write-up of the central cross — it’s in the cards for the post-typhoon season, maybe Oct-Nov some time.

  • Feiren

    Here is the central cross ride write-up:
    You could always swing back over on 8 back to 14 from Lishan and come down in Taroko.

  • tbv

    Thanks for the link and the write up. We were just down in Nantou at the beginning of the week and drove the Central Cross over to Taroko and Yilan. I was wondering about going on the 8 rather than down to Tianxiang so now I know a bit more.

  • Here’s a more challenging version of the Northern Cross Highway ride from Tucheng to Luodong that eliminates a lot of the city riding and traffic.Great Taiwan Bike Rides XI: Northern Cross Remixed.