A 2-wheeled view of the cityThe Han River has fast become a haven for cyclists. On any given day, you’ll find couples riding tandem and serious cyclists in full gear, some of them grandparents. (You’ll also see runners, walkers and rollerbladers.)
Those who don’t own a bike can rent one at businesses along the river. Those who do can take shorter trips in parks throughout Seoul. And bikers of all skill levels can join a bicycling club, learn about safety and maintainance and make some friends along the way. The city’s got an option for you, whether you’re a novice or a pro.
Rust, no gearshift in sight, seats too low, tires so worn they look smooth, heavy frames and what have got to be the oldest handlebar designs on earth.
The bicycles available for rent by the Han River were not an encouraging sight. But with the summer turning into autumn (for those in denial, like myself, it’s still midseason), the air crisp and blue, clouds visible after the September deluge, the idea of biking along the river was enticing.
In Seoul, people bicycle at Olympic Park, Boramae Park, the Seoul National University campus, near Namdaemun, Amsa Prehistoric Settlement Site, Yeouido Family Park, Yongsan Park and the parks by the World Cup stadium. But the longest stretch by far is the Han River. It takes about three hours to ride one way. Along the way, you can see sites like the Olympic Park Stadium, the 63 Building, bird habitats, water fountains and wind surfers. There’s nothing like biking to get to know a city.
Several months ago, the city began paving over all the manholes and leveling most of the speed bumps along the Han River bike path. The path is now smoother for inline skaters, which in turn means fewer people stopping, falling and getting in the way of the bicyclists.
There are more than 10 rental booths along the river. When I paid my 2,000 won ($1.75) and asked about the best routes, the manager said, “Everyone loves Yeouido. Can I have your ID please?”
(Note: Bring identification, or you have to leave your cell phone. You pay a late fee if you keep the bike longer than you’re supposed to, but without my cell phone or a watch, I wasn’t sure how I’d know the time.)
I hopped on the rusty blue bike I’d chosen, and a minute later, rode it back to the booth. The seat was too low. The manager tried to twist the screws loose, but it refused to budge. She hoisted another bicycle out and said, “Try this.”
I was off. The river was on my right. Apartment buildings, sometimes the highway, were on my left. When the going was filled with flowers and grass, I felt at peace. On weekends, the route is busy, but on weekdays like this it’s more quiet. Still, every couple minutes, someone passed, jogging, biking or rollerblading. Many bikers were groups in full uniform, with water bottles attached to their frames.
(Note: Bring water in a small backpack, or bring extra money. Some of the more populated areas have kiosks.)
The way is mostly level, with some short hills. I took a break to chat with some of the other bikers. One woman, part of the Yangcheong Bicycle Club, was eating cherry tomatoes with three of her peers.
“I’m so fit,” No Mi-hwa said. She turned sideways, and smoothed down her flat stomach. “I’m 60 years old and I look like this.”
A couple minutes later, I was bicycling again. I rolled down a hill shaking my head. (Note: Those wrap-around sunglasses bikers wear are not just for looks. They keep the bugs away.)
What I guessed to be 30 minutes later, I was in Yeouido. The river looked bluer here. Past the National Assembly, people were fishing. I stopped again to take pictures, turned my bicycle and went back.
Renting bikes by the Han River
Bike Path: 3.1 kilometers
Phone: (02) 2666-8290, (02) 3780-0621
Nearby attractions: Herga Rock, Gwangjuam, Gongamnaruteo
Bike Path: 13.2 kilometers
Phone: (02) 302-0276
Attractions: World Cup Stadium, Noeul Park, Nanjicheon Park, Haneul Park, Peace Park
Bike Path: 3.1 kilometers
Phone: (02) 3780-0601
Nearby attractions: Mangwonjeong, Seoul Foreigners Cemetery, Yanghwanaruteo, Jeoldusan Martyr’s Shrine
Bike Path: 5.9 kilometers
Phone: (02) 3780-0581
Attractions: Yanghwa Falls Park, Yanghwa Pleasure Boat Terminal, Seonyudo Island Park
Yeoui Island District
Bike Path: 7.2 kilometers
Phone: (02) 3780-0561
Attractions: 63 Building, National Assembly Building, Bamseom Islet, Yeouido Saetgang Ecological Park, Yeouido Pleasure Boat Pier
Bike Path: 5.9 kilometers
Phone: (02) 3780-0551
Attractions: Catholic Martyr’s Church of Saenamteo, Changhoejeongteo
Bike Path: 7.2 kilometers
Phone: (02) 3780-0541
Attractions: Dongjeginaruteo, lots of people fishing
Bike Path: 6 kilometers
Phone: (02) 3780-0531
Attractions: Windsurfing schools, Saemalnaruteo
Ttuk Island District
Bike Path: 14.2 kilometers
Phone: (02) 3780-0521
Attractions: Windsurfing and jetskiing schools, Ttukseomnaruteo, Nakcheonjeong
Bike Path: 6.3 kilometers
Phone: (02) 3780-0511
Attractions: Samjeonnaruteo, Olympic Stadium, Jamsil Pleasure Boat Pier
Bike Path: 5.7 kilometers
Phone: (02) 3780-0501
Attractions: Amsa Prehistoric Settlement Site, Guamseowonteo
Want to ride a bike? You’re not alone...
Korea Off Road Bicycle Association
Office is located in Mapo-dong
Web site: www.mtbkorea.org
One of the biggest mountain bikers’ clubs in Korea. Coordinates many local, national and overseas events throughout the year. Upcoming events are listed on the Web site, which also provides contact information for other MTB clubs.
Korea Bicycle Association (KOBA)
Southwestern Seoul, Dongjak district
Web site: bikeloveseoul.or.kr
Free bike lessons for women. KOBA, which has more than 25 locations in Korea, offers lessons and cross-country tours primarily for women who have not yet learned to ride. Four-week courses begin the first Monday of each month and meet two hours every day, Monday through Friday.
Natural Mountain Bikers (NMTB)
Web site: www.nmtb.pe.kr
This group of bikers dates back to 1992. NMTB bikers coordinate trips within Korea and abroad. The group’s Web site introduces some good courses in Korea that are not so widely known, including a number that are located on mountains and islands.
Couples Riding Bikes
Various locations near the Han River
Web site: cafe.daum.net/tandembicycles
This club meets every second Sunday of the month. As the name of the club suggests, this club is targeted toward young lovers, which seems appropriate for couple-oriented Korean society. However, singles can join too. Members gather for special occasions besides the regular monthly meetings. Part of the Web site is dedicated to members who live in the southern area of Korea.
Yangcheon Bike Lovers
Yangcheon district office
This group is composed of women from the Yangcheon district. After completing free bike classes, these ladies decided to gather together for MTB bike-riding in their leisure time. The group meets twice a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10 a.m. at Yangcheon Park (near the Yangcheon-gu office) and rides to Olympic Park in Jamsil or to Haengjusanseong fortress. Other occasional trips bring them together for socializing and fun.
Housewives find it’s never too late to learn
It’s a drizzling Tuesday morning, but the weather doesn’t seem to get in the way of about 30 middle-aged women riding bikes in Boramae Park.
They listen to a lecture on traffic rules, then hop back on their bikes and try to manage a round trip around the plaza, as their instructor blows her whistle: “Watch where you are going! Don’t get off the bike until it’s completely stopped!”
These women belong to the Korea Bicycle Association, a group of women whose average age is 50. Most of them are residents of Seoul’s Dongjak district, which includes Boramae Park.
The group dates back to 1995, when a former member of the district council, Kim Young-bok, now 62 years old, began teaching a few housewives how to bicycle.
Eight years later, more than 5,300 members have completed bike lessons.
Beginners’ classes are devoted to basic skills and traffic rules; intermediate classes cover manipulating gears and riding more skillfully. Each stage takes two weeks.
Mr. Kim sees the group as one step toward making Seoul more bicycle-friendly.
“To change society, changes in mentality are the key,” he says. “Housewives are a good target because families are the basis of our society. Also, middle-aged women’s health tends to be unstable, which I believe biking can definitely help.”
Kim Eun-hee, 50, is a founding member. She learned how to ride from Kim Young-bok in 1995. Since then, Ms. Kim has been everywhere the association has been.
She was there as an instructor for novice bikers, as a bicycle mechanic, as a volunteer helping victims of Typhoon Maemi and as an organizer of the group’s many annual events. Ms. Kim recently oversaw 37 bicyclists on a 13-day, 12-night cross-country tour. She has also become quite a photographer, having taken so many pictures on trips, including one to Dora Mountain in which 500 members participated.
In spite of this seemingly fatiguing schedule, Ms. Kim seems more radiant than anyone else in the association’s cramped office in Boromae Park.
“Biking has brought changes to many ladies here, and that brings me joy,” says Ms. Kim as she sipped coffee. “Social connections are made through this association, and mothers find their own lives after their kids have grown, when they tend to undergo mid-life crises.”
Founding member Min Yeon-joo does not seem to feel her age, which is 64. Blushing, she says, “I wonder what I would do if I hadn’t found biking.” She began riding eight years ago, when she looking for a way to deal with arthritis.
Ms. Min says she has become healthier and more social, finding a new way of life and making great friends through biking.
“Both Ms. Min and I have witnessed so many women changing, becoming healthier and more outgoing,” Ms. Kim said. “Sometimes husbands come along and enjoy biking as well, and help out in events, which brings the couple closer together.”
Kim Woo-Chan, 57, is a housewife who used to drive everywhere. But that changed after she took bike lessons three years ago at Boramae Park. After she completed the four-week lessons, she participated in tours to Yeouido and Dora Mountain, and on cross-country trips.
She now bikes about four times a week in her leisure time, besides regular errands. She says riding her bike has spared her a lot of parking hassles, and that she’s saved a great deal of time compared to simply walking. And she says she has never felt better, physically.
For bicyclists in Seoul, things have gotten better. Bike paths connecting Seoul and Bundang opened recently. A year ago, there was a bicycle parade through the middle of Seoul and Han River Park, in which Mayor Lee Myung-bak participated. At the opening ceremony, the mayor reconfirmed his election pledge to make the entire city accessible to bicycles.
by Joe Yong-hee