I love Korea. Wonderful place. But the drivers here have to be some of the worst on the planet.
Too many of them are helling around like they’re trying to get their pregnant wives to the hospital. Traffic “laws” are suggestions at best. Bus drivers treat their buses like Formula 1 race cars. The streets in Korea just aren’t safe.
I should know.
In June 2009 I was hit by a 1-ton truck while cycling in Korea. My bike was totalled. My body went flying. It could have been really bad. I was lucky enough to walk away — figuratively speaking — in decent shape. Twenty-odd stitches in the heel of my left foot. A dislocated shoulder. An assortment of scrapes and bruises.
It beats ending up as roadkill, anyway.
For two years I couldn’t bring myself to get on a bike. And then this summer I received a bicycle as a birthday present. Damn if it doesn’t feel great to be out cycling in Korea again. But you can bet your bacon I’m being safe about it.
Consider this post a PSA for all you folks who in the immortal words of Queen’s Freddie Mercury “wanna get on your bikes and ride” here in Korea.
Here are five obvious, but easily forgotten, ways to keep yourself safe while cycling in Korea. Plus, you’ll get info on how to rent bicycles for a leisurely ride along the beautiful Han River.
Read on dear readers and then get on your bikes and ride!
Arrive Alive: Safety Tips for Cycling in Korea
Don’t Rush. Never, ever rush. Rushing to make a green light on a crosswalk is what got me intimately acquainted with the grill of a moving truck. I don’t recommend the experience. Waiting two minutes would have saved me six miserable weeks in an itchy cast. If I’d not been so lucky it might have cost me my life. Breathe. Slow down. You’ll get to wherever you’re going when you get there.
Always Obey Traffic Signals. This seems obvious, right? But trust me: Obeying traffic signals will put you in the minority here in Korea. But, hey, it’s not always such a bad thing going against the grain. Especially if, y’know, doing so might help you not die.
Never Trust Traffic Signals. In Korea green does not mean “go”. It means “proceed cautiously praying to the deity of your choice.” Just pay attention. Again, common sense. Of course, if common sense was common practice I might not have had my make out session with a speeding truck.
Use Those Bicycle Paths. Not every city out here has bicycle paths, but most of them do. Use them when cycling in Korea! I see too many cyclists jostling on the roads alongside cars and trucks and motorcycles. It’s dumb. Avoid it if you can. Just remember: You’ll see many a delivery boy (illegally) zooming on their noisy scooters down one bicyle path after another. Bicycle paths are safer than the roads, but only relatively so.
Wear a Helmet. Okay. Full disclosure: I don’t wear a helmet when I ride. But I know I should! Why don’t I wear one then? Well, unprotected riding might be risky but it feels so good! The wind in your hair, au naturale, riding the way it was meant to be experienced. Glorious. But it only takes one time to end up with scrambled brains on the sidewalk. So a helmet is a good idea. And I’m going to get one. One of these days. Pretty soon. Honest.
Get On Your Bikes and Ride!
Ready to ride? Look, cycling in Korea can be scary — but it can also be a truly wonderful experience.
I love the intimacy of riding a bike. I know my city in a completely different way from having explored it while on my bicycle. Getting around by taxi and bus just doesn’t offer that kind of experience.
One of the best places to enjoy a bike ride is Han River. And if you haven’t tried it yet, doing so might be easier than you think.
BYOB (Bring Your Own Bicycle). If you’ve got your own bike and want to take a spin around Han River, no problem. Just bring your bike to the nearest subway station and get on the subway. Two caveats apply: 1) Avoid bringing your bike on the subway during peak hours. Weekdays 7AM — 9AM and 6PM — 8PM are no good. 2) Make sure to use either the first or last subway car. These cars have specially designed spaces for bicycles.
Bicycle Rentals. If you’d rather rent a bike on Han River you have lots of options. Bicycles are available for rent at Yeoido Park and the following stations: Yanghwa, Gangseo, Ichon, Gwangnaru, Jamsil, Jamwon, Nanji, Mangwon, Banpo, Ttukseom, and Yeouinaru. Rentals are available from 9AM till 6PM. A regular bike runs 3,000 won per hour. Tandem bikes are available for 6,000 won per hour. Make sure to bring cash and your ARC card or another form of photo ID. If you have questions call 02-1330.
Simple. And an experience not to be missed while in Korea. This map should make deciding which station to rent a bike from a breeze.
Have fun! Ride safely! And if you know someone who is thinking about cycling in Korea please share this post!