Cycling in Hong Kong: The complete guide
You are cycling in Hong Kong. The sun is setting as you speed through the streets, the first cool wind of autumn in your face, adrenaline coursing through your veins and your heart is pumping, but you feel serene.
It's a pleasure too rarely experienced in Hong Kong where double-decker buses and maniac drivers rule the roads and there are few provisions for cyclists.
Luckily, things are getting better, especially in the New Territories, where roads are quieter and the government is investing millions of dollars in new cycle tracks. Here's your guide to experiencing Hong Kong on two wheels.
Get your bike
Dozens of bike shops across Hong Kong allow you to rent a bike for anywhere from a few hours to an entire day. Prices vary by location, but it should never cost much more than HK$40 to rent a bike for a weekend afternoon.
If you go on a weekday or to an out-of-the-way spot, you can rent bikes as cheaply as HK$20 for the whole day.
Check out this fairly comprehensive guide to renting bikes for cycling in Hong Kong on HK Outdoors.
Take the easy route
Hong Kong's longest and most popular bike route runs from Tai Wai to Tai Mei Tuk, a 20-kilometre stretch of paved cycle track that will take you through parks, past temples and along some stunning bits of harborfront.
While there is not yet a website with comprehensive maps and information about the cycle track -- the government plans to launch one next year -- the route is well marked, and you shouldn't have trouble finding it from the Tai Wai, Sha Tin and Tai Po Market MTR stations.
When you reach Tai Mei Tuk, you'll be greeted by spacious barbecue sites, outdoor restaurants and the gorgeous Plover Cove Reservoir.
Some bike shops in Tai Po allow you to return your bike in Tai Mei Tuk. Just ask shop owners for details.
Off the beaten track
Few places are better for an afternoon of cycling than Mui Wo, on Lantau Island. Just about everyone gets around by bike in Mui Wo, which is one of the reasons it has such a strong sense of community compared to other, more hectic parts of Hong Kong.
Rent a bike from one of the shops near the ferry pier and head out through sleepy villages to the Silver Mine Waterfall, passing by a few herds of water buffalo along the way.
But there are even greater cycling adventures to be found in out-of-the-way locations. Two years ago, Irish cyclist Gearoid Pierse spent a week cycling in Hong Kong, covering every corner of the territory.
Given Hong Kong's reputation for skyscrapers and smog, he says he was "amazed at the amount of cycling that can be done." Pierse has collected notes, photos and maps from his trip on his website, Crazy Guy on a Bike.
One of Pierse's trips took him through the Mai Po marshes to villages along Deep Water Bay in the northeast New Territories. With relatively quiet roads, flat terrain and views of Shenzhen across the water, this overlooked area of Hong Kong is best explored on two wheels.
Get closer to nature
There was a time not too long ago that bikes were banned from Hong Kong's spectacular country parks. Thankfully, the rules have changed, and now all you need to explore Hong Kong's most beautiful natural scenery is a free mountain biking permit from the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department.
Official maps of designated bike trails and mountain biking areas can be found on the AFCD's website. Even better is the website of the Hong Kong Mountain Biking Association, which has country park guides, information on gear and a modest discussion forum.
If straying from the usual path seems a bit daunting, two organizations offer guided bicycle tours. For HK$300, outdoor enthusiast Michael Hansen will set you up with a bike and take you along Hong Kong's back roads to some of the New Territories' most interesting attractions.
Some of the available tours include a 35-kilometer ride along the south shore of Tolo Harbour and a 42-kilometer excursion through the picturesque villages of the northeastern New Territories.
Mountain Biking Asia also offers a 35-kilometer tour through Yuen Long and the Mai Po marshes. The HK$600 fee includes bikes, meals and admission to the Hong Kong Wetland Park.
Cycling is becoming more and more popular in Hong Kong, but many casual cyclists are woefully unaware of how to ride safety.
"Because most people in Hong Kong don't know how to drive, they don't really know the rules of the road," says Osman Lee, who cycles regularly from his home in Tai Po to his work in West Kowloon. This much is obvious on the cycle tracks, where clueless weekend cyclists do inconsiderate things such as stopping without warning, riding the wrong way down the cycle track and not looking for traffic when they cross a street.
Even worse, some pedestrians and motorists have nothing but contempt for cyclists. Once, Lee was riding in Ma On Shan when he came across two joggers who were blocking the bike path. "When I asked them to move over, one of them got angry and pushed me off my bike," he says.
Martin Turner, a member of the Hong Kong Cycling Alliance who commutes by bike from North Point to Wan Chai, often encounters bus drivers who cut him off and pin him to the curb at bus stops.
Still, Turner insists that cycling in Hong Kong doesn’t have to be scary. He offers a few pointed pieces of advice: wear a helmet, always be aware of your surroundings, if you're riding on the road make sure you're visible and don’t do something sudden without warning.
Fight for your rights
Since it was founded in 2003, the Cycling Alliance has lobbied the government for better cycling facilities and more recognition of cyclists' place in the city.
Things have improved bit by bit over the years, with more bike parking and a long-term plan to connect all of the disparate bike paths in the New Territories.
"Cycling can benefit Hong Kong in so many ways," says Turner. "If more people cycled, Hong Kong would be a much healthier, quieter and less polluted city.
Unfortunately, the government continues to lag behind other cities when it comes to promoting cycling. "The real overriding need is for a single branch of government to be responsible for all aspects of cycling, so that a coordinated strategy could be developed that encompasses planning, infrastructure, training, education and so on," says Turner.
There’s one simple thing to do to make sure that eventually happens: ride a bike and ride it often.