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What should a mountain cyclist bring for a year in Korea?

There are a number of bike shops in Seoul that are relatively well equipped. Outside of Seoul, Pusan and Taegu, the situation isn't too great.

These things are hard to find or are prohibitively expensive: bikes, frames (especially large sizes), fork oil, forks, big bike shoes, small or medium helmets, aluminum racks, panniers, replacement parts for boutique bikes or components, 36h rims and hubs, springs, shocks, true DH tubes, body armor except elbow pads, 8 speed drivetrain parts, bike clothing, bike tools, Sun rims, any 36h rim, aluminum nipples, Sachs/SRAM chains, Pedro's lubes, replacement chainrings, women-specific bike anything, Guinness Stout in any form.

These things are common or affordable: camping gear and clothing, IRC tires (They're made here), current Shimano parts, ATF, common tools, welding shops (free to $5 for a broken steel frame), machine shops, small bike shoes, steel racks, frame painting (US$25-30).

Things to bring: the smallest gearing possible (yes, it's that steep), full suspension preferable over a HT if you've got it, strong wheels, extra components, body armor for the best trails. Good maps are at the airport upon arrival.

What bike shops do you recommend?

I only know the Seoul scene. I often visit MTB House in Bangpae-dong, MTB House in Suwon, as well as Bikeland, which is at Sangbong subway station (NW exit). There are some others, but these are closest to my riding areas. There's also a good road and track oriented shop next to Olympic Park. I forget the name, but it's located immediately next to a gas station on the western entrance to Olympic Park. They also have all the velodrome info you'll need; the drome's in the park, and you can bet on the racers like at a horsetrack.

Can you recommend any resources for roadies?

I don't know any roadies, and after 3 years as a bike courier in Atlanta and San Francisco, I'm fairly burned on the road thing for recreation. I get enough road time riding to and from the trails. For good road touring information, please visit long-time Dutch expat Jan Bostra's excellent site on bike touring in Korea at

How about track racing?

Not exactly a FAQ, but track racing is cool! Take advantage of Seoul's status as a major metropolis and Olympic city. You've got at least two dromes in the Seoul area; one at Uijongbu and one in Olympic Park. Whether they'll actually let you race or not is another story. Try checking in with the bike shop I mentioned above. Bring a translator.

Really, will I die on the roads?

Well, yeah, you might. Korea has a little-known and never-followed law that the motorized driver is at fault if involved in a collision with a non-motorized vehicle. But you'll soon learn upon arrival that most laws aren't usually followed. Does that help? Seoul is currently expanding or introducing bike paths along canals and the main river, the Han. You can use these to get within a 15 minute ride through traffic of whichever trail network you want to ride.

Can I take my bike on the subway? Bus? Train?

Subway: technically prohibited, but if challenged, just flash 'em your 'dumb foreigner smile' and cruise on through. Be polite, though, by avoiding rush hours and boarding at the first or last car, where you can prop your bike against the wall, which you can't do on other cars. You may have to take your front wheel off if it's very crowded.

Intracity buses: no, and not a good idea. You can ride faster anyway.

Intercity buses: absolutely! This is the best way to get out of town. The bike simply goes underneath with no special box or anything. You might get a few frame scrapes, but it's a mountain bike. You may have to take off one or both wheels and lower your seatpost.

Train: usually. Depends on the train, the conductor, the ticket gate, and the destination. I prefer the bus, but some destinations, like Kangchon, are more easily accessed by rail. The express trains (Mugunghwa) have less room for bikes than do their slower cousins.

How should I bring my bike over there?

Bring it with you on the plane, so you can start riding immediately. By treaty, transoceanic flights must accept your bike as a normal checked piece of luggage with no surcharge. In 20 something flights into or out of Korea, I've had no problems with the bikes. You can use a cardboard box (Cannondale boxes are strong as hell), a hardshell flight case, or my new favorite method: two plain old sturdy suitcases with your full suspension frame disassembled in two halves. No airline or customs hassles.

Will customs hassle me when I arrive with a bike?

Nah. If it's a concern, make sure the bike looks obviously used when you arrive. No one I know of has ever had a problem getting hassled by Korean customs because of a bike. If you aren't US military and have to have expensive bike parts sent over through the Korean post, you may have to fight to avoid the charges. Last I heard, there’s a 20% customs tax, but it really depends on who you talk to and what the claimed value is on the package (US$50 seems to be the magic number). I got out of the last one when I received a SID fork as a gift, by talking to the lowest-level guy I could find, but it was a hassle. Do your shopping abroad if you can and carry it in.

What do you know about the riding in Taejon, Pusan, etc?

Not much. You'll have to explore on your own, then write up some trail guides for this site. Please. Hook up with locals, but be prepared to explore on your own to find the gems and the steeps.

What's the racing scene and overall riding culture like?

It's small. The infrequent races cost about US$8 and include lunch. XC courses are improving but are still too short and too easy. Same complaint worldwide of the dumbing-down of XC courses. For DH and DS and other jumping arts, see my article on the issue. Trialsin has some practitioners, and even some competitions, but the obstacles are nowhere near as advanced as you might see elsewhere. Almost all racers are part of some team/club, and all of these are based out of bike shops. So if you want to race, it'll be much easier if you hook up with a shop. You'll probably be enthusiastically welcomed, especially if you make some effort to learn the language and eat kimchi. There is no grassroots racing. There are no underground DH events. There are no enduro events. There are no festivals (except for a two-day underground event that Boob, Jeffro and I organized in May 1999, which attracted 65 riders who each paid 70 US cents). There are no trail maintenance parties. There are no trails designed and cut by cyclists (but there are lots of opportunities). There is no freeride culture (or whatever you want to call it). Almost no one rides off-road at night, although this is changing. There are no singlespeeds. Very few people commute anywhere by bicycle. Kids don't ride BMX, and there are no BMX tracks I know of. The upside of all this is that if you're motivated, you can create some events and introduce some bike cultcha. We've been toying with holding a grassroots DH series, but can't seem to get it off the blackboard stage. There are some great possible coursings around Seoul for such a series.

Are there any easy trails?

Despite my rhetoric, easy singletrack does exist here and there. Namhan Sansung's Honeybee (intermediate) and Supercrunch (beginner) are two. We have no signage, though. Umyon-san, in south-central Seoul is the easiest overall trail network--classic meandering singletrack through the trees with a few steeps. Of course, there are dirt roads to ride. Phoenix Park ski resort has one nice, meandering 4.5 km singletrack descent that's gondola served; 10,000 won all day, but you have to ask nicely.

Are there hiker/biker conflicts?

Nope. In fact, you'll be cheered as you pass by going uphill or down. The downside is that on many trails, there are a lot of hikers. But no horses. Despite appearances, there are places to go to escape the Sunday crowds. Many hikers aren't used to seeing bikes, so their surprise might limit their reaction times, so be prepared to stop if you have to.

What's the weather like in Korea?

Temperate. Summer is hot like the southern US, from June to mid September, with 5 or 6 weeks of heavy rain in July-August, which is when Korea receives about 80% of its yearly rainfall. Fall is fairly short and then it gets cold but dry until mid December, when it gets really cold. Then it gets colder in January. You may not be able to ride if the mountains freeze over, but there may be week-long stretches where the ice has melted and the trails are clear enough to ride. By mid February you can ride as much as you want again, but it's still really cold. By April, you no longer have to wear plastic bags in your shoes or bring ski gloves. Spring is relatively dry, but there can be up to 3 days of consecutive rain. The best riding months are May and October, which you simply shouldn't miss. Make yourself free during those times.

Are there any special concerns female cyclists might have?

I've met only a handful of Korean women who ride, if thats an issue for you. If you're a serious mountain bike grrrl then you probably won't have any problem keeping up with anybody. If you're into recreational meanderings in the woods for a couple hours on a Sunday afternoon, that can be accommodated too. Just watch out for road traffic.

Why did you create this site?

When I first came to Korea, there was no resource in any language on local trails. Even local riders didn't know about the trails across town. In my time in Korea, I've developed an intricate knowledge of almost all the local trails, and to the best of my knowledge have even done first descents of many trails, and we're still finding more. Because there is still no comprehensive published source in Korean or English on trail riding opportunities (02/2001), I thought I'd leave something for future riders and try to contribute in a remedial way to bike culture here. I just hope the few remaining riding spots don't all become high-rises, roads, and amusement parks. I mean, isn't 20 million Seoulites enough?

What's your favorite riding area?

Acha-san, because it's where I learned how to really ride steeps and do drops, and where I came to appreciate body armor back in '95. And who can say no to Korean slickrock? There are at least 5 distinct descents and only one of them is easy (which is the only trail on which any of my riding buddies have ever been hurt bad--and he broke his wrist). Bonus points for its being right in the city, and the cool name: Acha means "oops" or "yikes," as in, "Acha! I shouldn't have tried that 2 meter huck onto that 50 degree granite sidehill." Access from Acha-san subway station.

--Steve, 22 February 2001