Koreans get back on their bikesOnce, bicycles were a necessity of life in Korea. It was hard to imagine making a delivery or sale without having a bike. Owning a bike was also a dream for young students who had to walk miles to school. One day, however, bicycles seemed to disappear from Korea’s daily scene and be replaced by automobiles and motorcycles.
Now, bicycles are coming back to Korean roads. On weekends, many people can be seen enjoying their days off riding bikes beside the Han River. On weekdays, a number of office workers in perfect suits also commute by bicycle.
“The number of community members has jumped at a surprising speed,” said Lee Won-young, 36, who runs Jachulsa, an online community of people who commute by bicycle. “The number of our members was 10,000 previously. But since April, the number has increased by around that amount every month.” The community now has just under 70,000 members. Other online communities for bike riders have also seen a large increase in their members.
“Those who used to ride inline skates have changed to bikes,” said Mr. Lee.
The increasing number of bicycle paths along the Han River has contributed to the increase of the bike-riding population.
“In the past, it was really difficult to cross the Han River by bike. But now it’s much easier because bicycle paths were built on some bridges such as Jamsu and Hannam,” said Lee Nam-woo, 33, a member of Jachulsa.
According to Auction, an online shopping mall, it sold about 83,000 bikes in the third quarter of this year, up 58 percent from the same period last year. “For a month from mid-August, bike sales grew weekly by 18 percent on average,” said Yoon Beom-jin, an official of the sports team at E-Mart.
In the past, people considered bike riding to be a sport but these days it has become an everyday part of life. Jang Cheol-ho, 47, who runs an online community for bike riders, said, “Before, there were a number of drivers who honked as soon as they observed a bike moving on to the road. But these days, they seem to accept it as a natural sight.”
“I ride a bike when going to university and my part-time job,” said Park Mi-rye, 23. “At first, I liked it because I wanted to lose weight and I didn’t need to be stuck in a traffic jam,” she said. “It’s also great hanging around with other riders who have sound minds and bodies.”
“While riding a bike in the fresh air, I feel relieved of all kinds of stress. That’s the biggest attraction for me,” said Lee Nam-woo of Jachulsa.
“The thrill and freedom I feel when riding along the Han River cannot be compared to driving a car,” said Kim Yeong-eun of Balbari, another online community of bike riders. “It is great luck that I got to know bike riding in my life,” she added.
The banks of the Han River in Seoul are havens for bike riders. It has bike paths 59-kilometers (36.7-miles) long in northern Seoul and 48 kilometers long in southern Seoul. The banks of the river also provide broad spaces for bike riders to rest. There are eight parks on the southern banks, in Gwangnaru, Jamsil, Jamwon, Banpo, Yeouido, Yanghwa, Seonyudo and Gangseo, and four on the northern banks, in Ttukseom, Ichon, Mangwon and Nanji.
According to a survey of the Promotional Association of Bicycling for a New Life Environment, there are 36 entrances to Han River parks that are accessible to bikes. By following tributaries of the Han River, it is also possible to ride to Gwangmyeong, Anyang, Gwacheon, Seongnam, Namyangju and Uijeongbu, all in Gyeonggi province.
There are 18 bridges across the Han River in Seoul. Five of these ― Jamsu, Hangang, Hannam, Jamsil and Gwangjin ― allow bikes to cross the river.
Jamsu Bridge is one of the best places for bike riders to cross the Han River. It is low and directly connected to the bike paths so one can cross without needing to dismount.
Renting a bike
One can rent a bike at all Han River parks except for Seonyudo. Bike & River operates the bike rental businesses beside the river. Thus, it is possible to change bikes at any shop if a rider has any problems with the bike they hire. Riders can also return their bike to any shop in the Han River parks on weekdays.
According to the company, its Yeouido shop has the most bikes and the newest models. There is a rental shop right in front of the Yeouinaru subway station, line No. 5, exit 3.
Rental fees are 3,000 won ($3) per person per hour and 6,000 won for a tandem bike. The business operates from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. in October, and until 5 p.m. in November. For more information, call (011) 9161-7675.
Some district offices near the Han River, such as Eunpyeong, Seodaemun, Seongdong, Songpa and Gwangjin, also rent bikes near subway stations.
Good places to visit by bike
For those in a romantic mood, Seorae Island is ideal. This island in the Banpo Han River Park was artificially created during the 1980s when the government developed the Han River. It has a number of native rocks and willow trees, creating a cozy atmosphere. For information, call (02) 3780-0541.
For children, the Yeouido Saetgang Ecological Park, located in the southern part of the Yeouido Han River Park, is recommended. Among the places where public access is allowed, this park is the most natural. It’s easy to observe fish and water birds in the fields covered with reeds next to a path. For information, call (02) 3780-0570.
Seoul Forest is one of the most popular places for taking photographs. It contains a cultural art park, ecological forests, a nature experience study field, a wetlands ecological field and a waterside park.
Seoul Forest is connected to the Han River bike paths and Jungnang Stream. There is an underground tunnel under Seongsu Bridge that leads to Seoul Forest. To get there from Seongsan Bridge or Jungnang Stream, one should take the bike path under Yongbi Bridge. There is a bike rental shop near the information center inside Seoul Forest. For information, call (02) 460-2905.
One can ride on both banks from the point where the Jungnang Stream and the Han River meet, to the entrance of Mount Surak. Cross the Jungnang Stream over Samdo or Sewol bridges at the district border of Dobong and Nowon districts. It’s a 35-kilometer-long round trip. It is possible to hike Mount Surak from near Nowon Bridge.
It is also possible to go to Gwacheon, Gyeonggi province by bike path from the Han River. The path goes through Yangjae Citizens’ Forest, Seoul Grand Park and Seoul Land and past the National Museum of Contemporary Art. From the Jamsil Han River Park, it is 16 kilometers to Seoul Grand Park.
If you want to go further afield, Yuldong Park in Bundang, Gyeonggi province, is one option. There is a 30-kilometer bike path from Jamsil Park to Guseong in Yongin, Gyeonggi province.
by Lee Na-ri, Sung Si-yoon