A city of 25 million. Early starts, leaf-strewn streets, and flyovers. Explore Seoul’s burgeoning cycling scene and get kitted for its winter riding.
Seoul wouldn’t be the city it is today without the Han River. It splits the city’s perpetual traffic jams and gives cyclists an real sense of escape and fresh air.
Just how many of Seoul’s young professionals ride road bikes today is hard to determine, but it’s a figure that has risen rapidly over the past decade. The city is shaking off its reputation as not−really−being−hat−great−for−cyclists and has seen bike shops spring up from east to west. No longer isolated by concrete in the city of 25 million, the act of riding − both for fitness and as a way to to cement friendships − has clearly struck a chord. Over by the Olympic Stadium, known for hosting the Games in 1988, small groups gather each weekend and well into the evenings come summer, making it hard to deny that cycling is having something of a moment.
These days the Han River isn’t short of bridges, and this winter we found ourselves riding underneath two of the most impactful ones with ASSOS ambassadors Eunju Son, Lee Hoeyeon, and Seonho Park. Beyond just impressive statements on how the city has rebuilt itself, these striking feats of engineering play a pivotal role in Seoul’s burgeoning cycling scene. The narrative is one of a young demographic that don’t think twice about spending long summer evenings cruising along the river until midnight, unabashedly joining group rides as a way to make new friends, and hanging out in packed bike shops with floor space hurriedly repurposed to fit their rollers in winter (or even hot summer).
As the country is well into preparations for the 2018 Winter Olympics, there’s been major investment in infrastructure, creating hundreds of traffic-free bike paths along its rivers and vastly speeding up the train line between Seoul and Pyeongchang (which, in our eyes, is well worth the two-hour train ride for the swooping road climbs around the ski resorts). Out from Seoul the most favoured routes head eastwards, where the Han River splits into North and South Han, winding away from the high rises and flyovers and venturing into hillier terrain. It is a largely mountainous country.
We tagged along with Ms Son, an elite cyclist in the national track and road cycling squad, as she crossed the city to join Ms Lee on a social ride with retired ex−pro Mr Park. Despite the temperature hovering around −5°C° for this ride, they were unfazed, displaying a sort of self-assuredness that likely comes from confidence in the city’s ability to cope with cold temperatures and ice.
The culture of riding, or even commuting, is still very much a work−in−progress. Plus there’s the climate to battle as well. Continuing to road ride as the temperature drops or soars isn’t easy. In South Korea, daytime highs in winter can be as low as &munus;15°C while summer often reaches +35°C with high humidity, which prompts many of this flourishing generation of riders to take shelter with indoor training.
Interestingly, spinning studios are largely bypassed, and these riders go straight to rollers. Mr Park, a stalwart of the Seoul riding scene, has recently set up a road rider’s sanctum with a cycling studio and club in the city’s Songpa−gu district. Housed in a former ballet studio complete with wooden floors and mirrors, the former track cyclist now caters for the growing demand in high−quality training.
But whether you’re on the bike paths, out in the rolling mountains or training indoors, Seoul’s approach to riding is one in which we’re excited to play a part. Here’s to more tailwinds on the Han River, more views over the urban jungle from the top of its main climb, and more morning loops with fast riders and enthusiastic amateurs.
Where to ride:
Recreational ride: Banpo (often called ‘Banmini’, with stops at the mini−stop convenience store for a mid-ride regroup and snack. Route: banmini −> namsan tower −> banmini
Intermediate ride Banmini −> Namhan sanseong fortress −> NamhanSanSeong −> Banmini (AKA ‘Wild Pig Course, due to the shape on the map). It’s an undulating 70km route that’s easy to find.
Tougher ride: YangSu Station (subway) −> Dongbu 7 hills −> YangSu station. Get acquainted with the Seoul suburbs and take on the seven hills to the East of Seoul. Options to lengthen the ride include starting from your home in the city instead of taking the subway out to YangSu station.
With such a harsh climate it’s a city that merits layering. Our W17 collection knows exactly what’s needed in a city like Seoul.
Where to hire:
Korean speakers can turn to the Lycle app for short−term bike hire of anything from an e−bike to a high−end Pinarello and more. Alternatively head to Seoul’s Watts Cycling for decent, road−worthy hire bikes.
Seoul essentials for winter: sturmPrinz, bonka, zehgo eyewear.
Seoul essentials for summer: ns.skinFoil hotSummer, laalalai jersey + shorts, equipe jersey + shorts.