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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…