Tuesday, June 7, 2011

While Out Riding: Tips for Cycling in Korea, Adventure Touring, Bicycle Freedom

Hi Brian,

I stumbled upon your blog and was hoping you could answer a question for me. I am preparing to teach English in Korea (Seoul most likely, though I don't know which area yet) and I have been wondering about the city's cycling culture. I'm not a very experienced rider. During college (I graduated one year ago) I lived in a small community making cycling an easy, safe, and quick mode of transport. Since, I have moved to the outskirts of Washington D.C. Though there's a growing bike culture here, the streets are narrow and drivers are not yet prepared to "share the road" with cyclists. This results in frequent car-bike collisions, and also in me being afraid to ride downtown.

I have never been to Asia, but as Seoul is even larger than New York (somewhere I have been) I was hoping to use my bike as a healthier and faster way of commuting around the city. Maybe as I get more comfortable, I'll take longer rides, but right now my goal is simply to get to and fro.

My main questions are:

1. How bike friendly is Seoul (are there bike lanes, do cars watch out for bikers, are there a lot of bikes, etc.)?

2. What does it cost to buy a road bike normally? (Keep in mind, I don't need anything fancy. Something used, bare bones will get the job done, at least for now.)

3. Do you have any recommendations for bike shops in Seoul? (I don't know Korean :( Just English and Spanish)   Thanks so much. Can't wait to hear from you!

Here's a detailed version of an English-version Seoul metropolitan map*

Hi Cassandra,

Koreans are culture keen to see change, Cycling in Korea is much a part of the growing lifestyle choice for millions of nationals here, and foreigners who Teach English in Korea (as in elsewhere in Asia) find their new host culture to speak a universal language -Bicycles.

That said, you will find that pedestrian sidewalks exist all over Seoul as well, there are tributary rivers that connect different urban areas of the greater metropolitan areas. The Han River connects many riders due to its tremendous geographical length and the use of bike paths along the banks with areas for refreshments, rental bikes available free to registered local residents (Mountain bikes available for a few hours, I have tried and liked using them...from Yongsan Digital Market, I walked up to the Han River and rented one. I rode to Bukansan National Park and back in 2 hours and thoroughly enjoyed the urban riding. At times, the sidewalks exist and there is enough space to ride along until you reach a patch of people, and the streets do not generally have designated bike lanes, you ride at your own risk and should be aware of the hazards accompanying Cycling in Korea along heavily used auto routes. Therefore, the alternatives (paths along the rivers intersecting Korean urban areas, such as Seoul) and the pedestrian walkways are alternatives. Cycling is friendly in Korea, it is also quite safe when you understand the nature of traffic and the laws that are somewhat breached by drivers in Korea as well. Traffic laws are not heavily enforced, therefore, riders should be aware of their surroundings and ride with an alertness to any sudden danger.

It is quite safe, I must stress the "Safe Cycling in Korea" - Wearing a helmet, cycling gloves, and bright/reflective jersey, reflective decals and definitely lights for later rides/after dark (headlight and tail lights, available for $10 at $1 stores here, or bicycle shops). Korea is safe and secure, the culture lends itself to protecting their own homogeneous people, this reduces crime and any threat to personal property and your personal well being as well. I enjoy living in Korea and find Koreans to be a welcoming culture collectively, as well, they extend kindness to foreign nationals in many ways, just smile and be polite -ask anyone for help, and they will respond and most will jump into action to assist you.

I know a few locals that enjoy Cycling in Korea - My friend Brian Sullivan and son Matthew James

Sourcing a bicycle once you have landed in Korea is easy. Either a local Samchully bicycle store (Korean national brand, some of these shops sell high-end Giant, Rockey Mountain, Trek, etc...and some sell the local, or now Made-in-China varieties - Lespo, Alton, Blackcat (best entry level bike in Korea, Blackcat is a OEM aluminum frame similar to Giant in the MTB category. I rode 10,000km on one of them (6/2009-2/2011).

Using http://gmarket.co.kr and searching for MTB in the terms I used (bicycle brands here...Alton for example) turns up many low-priced options to start Cycling in Korea. Have a Korean national at your new employer help you order the bicycle and have it delivered to your school.

Safety lights "On" in urban areas and rural areas where visibility is in question

 Suitable protection from climate and the possibility of a fall (GOPRO camera mounted to helmet)

 Riding on sidewalks as the alternative when bike lanes are not available

 Watch out for ice in winter and car, bus, truck traffic -all year long.

 Intersections, you must be very cautious in Korea (notice location of truck at intersection)

 Urban cycling, going with the flow of autos

 Urban riding in Gangneung, Gangwon Province (northeast coast of South Korea)

 Hwy 7 - Getting outside the cities and into the provincial territories

 This is my favorite style of Cycling in Korea, on Tour

 As the seasons change, so will the crops. There fields will be lush green in summer with rice

 On tour while Cycling in Korea

 This is a Blackcat MTB, this particular bike cost $400 and covered 10,000km

 Qualityisn't always in a name brand, it's in the build. I replaced the cranks, chain, rear cassette and brakes after 10,000km

 Uljin County, Eastern coast (inland) of South Korea, paved roads for farmers and cyclists

 Crossing tributaries of rivers that orginiate in the Eastern coast mountains

 Cherry blossoms and a man-made reservoir

 Finding the alternative to the urban/rural pavement is another option

 There are also folk-lore and defenders of the friendly spirit in South Korea

 Awesome woodart en route to Busan, Gyeongsannamdo, South Korea

 Love the "rolley eyes" on this one

 Are you fueled on fruits and vegetables while out riding? You should be.

So, for under $250 you can now use http://gmarket.co.kr/ as your search engine for bike shopping (Alton, Lespo, Blackcat, etc...for the cheap starters, still good quality though) and if you want something more expensive, you can search for Trek, Scott, Marin, Giant, etc. for much, much more money. You can also visit your local bike shop, regardless of where you purchased your bike, if you become familiarized with them -practice your Korean and the owner/operator or other customers will practice their English, you can accessorize your bike, get it tuned up from time to time, and make new friends in the process. Find out where they are riding and join them if your bike fits their groups intended usage.

Getting started Cycling in Korea is easy (join the Facebook group too) and you will instantly find your new home in Asia easier to navigate speaking that universal language of love for two-wheels that you probably grew up with and keep firing up today! Gareth Z Barker is a Cycling in Korea enthusiast and administrator for the group locally (based in Gimpo), he has recented posted his bicycle tour from Seoul to Mokpo (West Coast Tour 2011), it looks to be awesome too! This is the sort of exchange happening in social networking sites, where riders can connect, exchange route ideas and socialize -while out riding, or preparing for the next one.

Cycling in Korea is an international spirit, a language which stops at no borders, no languages, no cultures, no boundaries -except the ones we build for ourselves (growing more confident, these boundaries will disappear as well) and eventually, you will be Cycling all over Korea. This is a great place for bicycle cultures to find their place and many Koreans are keen to see those changes come true - helping the bicycle culture grow in Asia.

Hope this message helps you, I'm glad to share it with you.

Peace from Korea,


...Response from Cassandra (in DC): (Brian says, "THANKS MUCH FOR THIS MESSAGE!")

Dear Brian,

Thank you so much for your thorough response. It was extremely helpful. My good friends works at CityBikes here in D.C. I'm going to browse the links that you've sent me and talk to him about buying in Korea v. bringing one on the plane/ shipping.

Thanks again. You've made me extremely excited for the move!

Warm regards,


View Larger Map Map for West Coast tour of South Korea (4-5 days)
Ansan-si, Gyeonggi-do, South Korea (Hwy 1 Route)
Suwon-si, Gyeonggi-do, South Korea
Pyeongtaek-si, Gyeonggi-do, South Korea
Osan-si, Gyeonggi-do, South Korea
Cheonan-si, Chungcheongnam-do, South Korea
Daecheon-dong, Boryeong-si, Chungcheongnam-do, South Korea
Buan-gun, Jeollabuk-do, South Korea
Muan-gun, Jeollanam-do, South Korea
and Mokpo-si, Jeollanam-do, South Korea.

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About the Korean-World Author

Brian Perich was an English as a Foreign Language (EFL) lecturer for a decade, father, and adventure cyclist based in South Korea.

Previously, Brian has led Canoe adventures in Quetico Provincial Park, Atikokan, Ontario, Canada (1993/1999); led Grand American camping adventures (2000); lived at Paramahansa Yogananda's SRF Ashram for 5 months (see the film "AWAKE"), formerly worked in titanium welding at Agilent Technologies, formerly worked in Winery industry in Marin County with Kendall Jackson in California; Surfing and Meditation continued for several years in California, British Columbia, South Korea, Yoga training in California 1999-2000.

Between 1994-1998 - Brian completed his own adventures with motorcycles. His motorcycling marathons took him across the United States and central/western Canada, while traveling solo over an astounding 24,000km in 60 days! Brian endured 900 mile/1300km average days in the motorcycle saddle and apparently loved every minute of those adventures.

Today, he has given up motorcycle adventures altogether, but finds an outlet for his enthusiasm in outdoor recreation while bicycle touring and micro-blogging about those experiences on his mountain bikes.

While employed as an English teacher in South Korea, Brian has became an advocate for bicycle touring on his mountain bikes. The Korean-World blog originated from those small adventures in Korea, now expanded to cover his recent trek down the TransMongolian highway to the Gobi Desert, cycling 900km east through the Khentii grasslands and in 2012 crossing Mongolia in 45 days, 2500 kilometers 1553 miles. HimalayasX expedition Brian previously cycled across western China, the Taklamakan Desert, the northern Himalayas of East Turkestan Xinjiang/Uyghur Autonomous Region, the corrugated back roads and mountains of Kham Tibet. Brian successfully completed his 2011 mountain bike expedition with 3200 kilometers / 1988 miles unsupported, on/off road MTB adventure cycling.
Brian has completed his second mountain bike journey, MongoliaX expedition - Crossing Mongolia 2012, an unsupported mountain bike MTB expedition across 2500km of Outer Mongolia from Ulanbaatar to Altai Taven-Bogd National Park bordering China, Russia and Mongolia.

In 2013, as a sequel to a trilogy of cycle tours, Brian enjoyed a more leisure bicycle tour onboard his Koga-Miyata World Traveller seeing the northern tier of the United States and western Canada covering 3400 kilometers / 2000 miles in 30 days. This North American cycle tour was called Totherocktour. Enjoying the adventure of bicycle travel and every great conversation started while traveling on the road - has refueled his inspirations to cycle around the Earth. In 2013, while he cycled solo from the Great Lake State of Michigan, United States to Banff National Park in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. He weaved through local communities and reconnected with friends, family and community after spending almost a decade in Asia.

Brian is now supporting several non-profit foundations through expeditions: IDEAS Foundation of Canada IDEAS is the acronym for Intestinal Disease Education and Awareness Society which supports the IBD community, those suffering from IBD-inflammatory bowel disease, also known as Crohn's and Ulcerative Colitis.

The second non-profit foundation is ETE.ORG - Education Through Expeditions, UK which supports educational outreach programs inside schools around the world. ETE connects explorers with students in the classroom, through an interactive online program in development (Beta).

Brian is researching support for a 18000 kilometer bicycle expedition across the Americas: North, Central and South America - ONE -Arctic to Argentina
Please contact him if you are interested in helping out.

Twitter: Cycleagain
Location: Gangneung, Gangwon-do, South Korea or southern Ontario, Canada.

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Brian's friends have also been...Cycling in Korea!

Brian's friends have also been...Cycling in Korea!

Cycling in Korea, Warning: always wear a helmet! (I gave mine to my friend)

Cycling in Korea, Warning: always wear a helmet! (I gave mine to my friend)

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