Day 5: Guanshan - Taitung. Route 197 and gravels..
We had some egg pancake (dan-bing) for breakfast from our host and set off on our journey back on route 197. My buddy mentioned that part of the route was closed off last year and this year he wanted to finish route 197 if its open. Another buddy of mine did some research on the web and found this blog that specifically mention that there will be gravel and unpaved route for a stretch of 14km. This is the only non-tarmac stretch of highway in the country. The terrain is quite rough but its still possible to cross it.
10 minutes into the route I went down on my bike. I braked too hard on the front wheel and while my rear wheel was fishtailing and struggling to get some grip. Thankfully it was not a big spill and I manage to only get a little scuff on my ankle from the bike pinning my leg and a little bruise on my knee from the impact.
It was often difficult to get good grip on the rear wheel during the climbs and moderating the speed for a tight 90 degree turn on downhill. For me, my downhill approach is to let the bike’s momentum go forward and don’t brake too much. Even if the rear is fish tailing right and left the general direction and momentum of the bike is still going forward. Locking the front wheels usually spell disaster as the bike will not be able to steer at all and slide out from underneath me. For the climbs, I had to consistently seek out more grippy lines so that I can get some traction on my rear wheel. There will be certain section that there is just loose gravel and the bike will fish tail and even spin in its place due to the lack of grip during climbs, and I had to compensate to stay balanced with the front wheel steering right and left. Tips: Do not use the easiest gear as it will cause rear-wheel to spun out.
This is by far the most difficult route during our journey. The climbs were a constant struggle to find traction while trying to make it up without spinning out the wheels, the downhill was quite an adrenaline rush because it is so difficult to manage the speed and be able to brake for a tight turn after a stretch of long descent. I think my experience with mountain biking helped me tremendously on this course. I was up and out of my saddle during the descents and manage to complete the course without further spills. There are several occasions when the road was just so rough that the bike was vibrating and shaking pretty badly, it is a road bike after all. Riding a mountain bike would be a much better option if you want to tackle this route and plus it is actually quite fun since it feels more like a mountain bike trail.
The roads were empty, there is no sign of people passing by. Through out the journey we only came across 2 cars passing by the unpaved route. It took us about 3 hours to complete 14km with lunch break to complete the unpaved part of the 197. All 3 of us fell once. One of my buddy went over the bar, but thankfully he was ok except for some cuts on the knee and bruised palm from trying to catch the fall. His bike also started to make some weird rattly noises after the spill.
The best thing about passing that part of the 197 is its rewards. After the crazy climbs and descents we we're further rewarded with a stretch of descent that is to die for. 4km stretch of fast hair pins and silky smooth tarmac with zero traffic at the time. It was quite a cycling paradise to say the least.