Skip To Content

Bicycle security in Taiwan

I was surprised to see how little Taiwanese people care for the security of their bicycles after arriving on the island in early 2013. Everywhere I went I saw bicycles with cheap locks wrapped around the wheel—or not locked at all. Sure, most of the bicycles I saw were beaters, but back home they would be stolen in an instant and broken down for parts if they couldn’t be sold outright.

Bicycles in Taiwan are almost never securely locked. Then again, most of them are just beaters.

Over the last year or so I have asked many Taiwanese people about bicycle theft and no one seemed particularly concerned. Some of the time the question didn’t even register. Steal a bicycle? Whatever for? I was mystified. Do people really not care? Is theft not a big deal?

Yes, that’s a pink plastic chain held together with a regular lock. Why even bother?

After moving to Taiwan I borrowed a beater from a friend. He told me that locking up was more or less optional. He’s a Buddhist, which may explain his lack of attachment to his bike, or perhaps he’s on to something. At any rate, I got into the surprisingly liberating habit of not locking up that bicycle much at all. It made me feel like a kid again, riding around the city and throwing the kickstand down whenever I wanted to stop to explore. Some days it felt a bit like testing fate but it is more likely that fate wasn’t paying the slightest attention to my gleeful antics.

The rusty old beater I rode around after moving to Taiwan. It’s an accidental fixie; the gearing was all rusted solid. Still, it worked.

Months later, when I went to buy my own bicycle, a 6,000 NT hybrid commuter, I asked the shopkeep about theft. I was told that some gang had been stealing bikes in Da'an District 大安區 years ago—but the police had arrested them all and theft had become uncommon. There simply wasn’t much of a market for second-hand bicycles, particularly not in Taipei 台北 after the introduction of the Youbike public rental system.

Riding a Youbike in front of Liberty Square. Each Youbike is equipped with a wire lock that extends out of the basket to be wrapped around the front wheel. Not that anyone bothers.

Since then my understanding has become somewhat more nuanced. High-end bicycles are a target for theft, particularly when locked up at MRT stations, but everyday commuter bikes are not. Many serious cyclists will buy a beater to ride around the city and store their serious gear in their flats.

That being said, even if you wish to lock up your cycle in Taipei you’re going to have a tough time of it—there really aren’t that many places to lock up apart from some MRT stations. Even then, many of the spots will be taken by derelicts; bicycles that have, for all intents and purposes, been abandoned and left to rust and decay.

A bicycle lock-up area across from Daan MRT station. Many of these bikes are derelicts.
A completely useless two-level bicycle rack next to Gongguan MRT in Taipei. Most of these bikes are rusty old beaters too.

Curiously, one will find lock-up spots in the most improbable places in Taiwan, most often along designated bicycle paths in non-urban areas. Now, a place to lock your bicycle at either end of a route makes sense, but what’s the big idea behind installing lock-up spots at random locations along a countryside bikeway? This serves absolutely no purpose apart from enriching some construction company somewhere.

Well, that’s one way to park your bicycle.

Whatever the case, I totally don’t mind how cavalier Taiwanese people are about locking up their bicycles. It speaks to the integrity and honesty of the culture here that people don’t feel like it is necessary to go to great lengths to lock up their bikes. Or to the pervasive presence of security cameras all over the please…

4 Comments

  1. Do you listen to music when you ride your bike? Ive always found it difficult. Where do you draw the line when it comes to being aware of your surroundings and still wanting to be able to jam out? Just figured id ask. Your whole life has been on your bike lately. Is listening to music while you ride irresponsible and daft?

  2. I’ve been meaning to write about that, actually. I stopped listening to music on headphones entirely after moving to Taiwan, whether walking or biking or taking transit. The orderly chaos of Taiwanese streets requires you to have your wits about you.

  3. Great to hear this – I bought a bike in Taiwan one evening in 2002 – it was stolen about 12 hours later, despite locking it up thoroughly (at Taichung railway station, though). It wasn’t exactly a high-end bike, either, I payed maybe 1500 NT at the time (for a used bike). Not a great experience.

  4. “This serves absolutely no purpose apart from enriching some construction company somewhere.” You have more or less hit the nail on the head. Its a well-known drawback of the contract construction system used by all public institutions. The joke has been 70% of the funding is for bribes and 30% is the real stuff, and the stuff is not designed to last, to ensure that there will be another round of contracts really soon.
    As for the bikes, simply don’t ride something shiny; you are less likely going to be a target if you are using a rusty old looking one. Some areas where second-hand bikes are popular, such as National Cheng Kung University in the south, there are people who will dismantle other peoples bikes for parts, owned or otherwise. The one of bike vendors in the university even got caught selling refurbished bikes with parts from an owned bike.

Write a Comment

Markdown and HTML enabled in comments.
Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *