Skimming the surface of Hong Kong cycling culture
We’re writing this post from the departure lounge of Hong Kong airport, as we wait for our flight to Milan. Over the past three days we’ve spent time in and around Hong Kong with the team at Champion System to get a feel for what the cycling culture in Hong Kong is like. Of course, this is by no means an exhaustive account of the Hong Kong cycling scene, rather it’s some reflections on what we’ve experienced, seen and heard in the past few days.
Hong Kong mightn’t strike you as a particularly cycling-friendly city and in some ways you’d be right. The traffic in the built-up areas (i.e. most of it) is chaotic, there are many freeways and tunnels that you can get funnelled on to if you’re not careful (and on which cycling is prohibited) and the locals don’t appear to be as used to cyclists as they are back in Australia (and that’s saying something).
But head out of the busiest parts of Hong Kong and there’s plenty of fantastic riding to be done.
On the day after arriving in Hong Kong we went out for a ride with a handful of local Hong Kong riders led by a couple from the Champion System Pro Continental team. We rode north out of the more built-up areas of Hong Kong into a region called the New Territories.
Unlike the concrete jungle that makes up most of the well-known parts of Hong Kong, the New Territories are more or less rural, with far fewer cars to deal with.
The ride we did was only short — somewhere around 40km — but it gave us a feel for what the riding around here is like. In a word: hilly. There weren’t too many flat sections on the ride (apart from the riverside bike track at the start) and there are definitely some steep climbs to be found. We would have loved to have had a crack at Victoria Peak which is quite popular amongst local cyclists, but unfortunately we didn’t get a chance.
One of the hardest things to get used to on the ride was the weather. Having come from Melbourne where it’s been 5 degrees C in the early morning, the 30+ degrees C conditions, with almost 100% humidity, were a shock to the system. Still, it felt good to sweat out the long day of travel we’d done the day before.
You won’t find many places in the world where cars and bikes get along, and Hong Kong is no different. We asked one of the Champion System sales reps, Edward, what the relationship between cyclists and drivers is like in Hong Kong. He told us: “Hong Kong people believe roads are for cars. Anything else …” At that point he started laughing.
And it would seem that it’s not just the drivers that haven’t got their heads around road cycling yet. From what we’ve heard cycling is barely even on the government’s radar in Hong Kong. Worse, we were told of races in Hong Kong that had been cancelled as a result of a single complaint to government from local residents, even when the races were being held in sparsely populated areas.
The Hong Kong National Championships are coming next month, and the individual time trial was just moved because of complaints from locals. The title is now being contested on a 2.8km climb.
The lack of government support for road cycling in Hong Kong could be to do with the fact that the sport is still very much in its infancy here. We’re told that it’s very much growing in popularity, but it’s several years behind the likes of Australia, the UK and elsewhere. There’s still lots of growth potential, but it will be interesting to see if that’s stifled by the limited size of Hong Kong and its infrastructure.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t dedicated cycling groups here. We were told of one group, the South Island Road Cycling group (or SIR), comprised largely of expats, that has a bit of reputation for doing some tough hilly rides early on weekdays. You can learn more about them here.
In the past few days we’ve also spent a bit of time at local bike shops trying to get a feel for how cycling retail is doing in Hong Kong and what differences, if any, there are between Hong Kong and Australia. We visited three popular shops — Flying Ball, Bull Bikes and Pro Bike — all in Kowloon and we were struck by just how much stock each of the shops was carrying.
The shelves and displays were chock-a-block full of all manner of gear, clothing and accessories — far more than you would see in an Australian shop. We tried to get to the bottom of how they can afford to stock so much, but it was a difficult subject to communicate. From what we understand, some of the shops are also distributors, which allows them to have an abundance of stock.
We asked a number of people whether they prefer to buy from bike shops in Hong Kong or online and there doesn’t seem to be a particular preference for online shopping in Hong Kong. Perhaps it’s the low taxes in Hong Kong, but from what we’re told, the prices in-store and online are more comparable in Hong Kong than they are elsewhere.
Even with three very full days dedicated to learning about Hong Kong’s cycling scene, it’s fair to say we’ve barely scratched the surface. We’d love to come back some time to do some more riding — including up to Victoria Peak — and to find out more about where cycling is at in Hong Kong. In the meantime, we hope you enjoy the photos we’ve taken from the past few days.