Hong Kong Trails - Calm Amidst the Chaos

Jan 9, 2014
by Matt Wragg  


CALM AMIDST THE CHAOS
Story and Photographs by Matt Wragg



Hong Kong is a nightmare, my idea of hell. It never stops. The constant rush and bustle has driven any last remnants of peace and greenery far from the city's centre. People cram themselves into sardine-can apartments, paying extortionate rents just to be near. Maybe there's some great wave, an energy people are riding which I don't feel, but I find myself looking out from the shore, confused by the great appeal of this city. As you drive from the airport into the centre, my heart breaks to see the tower blocks that flank the road. Peering up at tiny windows that will never see sunlight I struggle to understand why anyone would choose to live in this place.

It's fair to say that when the Life Cycle team told me that we'd be spending a few days there on our way to mainland China, I was less than excited. At a loss for what I would do in that great urban sprawl I began searching the internet for any hope of riding in the city. What I found surprised me - there seemed to be a strong scene in this most unlikely of all places. Getting in touch with the Vice-President of the Hong Kong Mountain Bike Association, Kenneth Lam, he was keen to show us how much Hong Kong had to offer mountain bikers.

  How do you get four people plus luggage, bikes and camera gear from the airport to the hotel? Creativity.

  Our flight landed at 7.00am, and we couldn't check in until lunchtime, so the only way to pass the time was building bikes.

  After all four of us passed out cold for an hour or so on the hotel bed, Kenneth came by and we began a small tour of the Hong Kong bike scene - first order of business was lunch though.

First impressions are important, so god only knows what he made of the four, bleary-eyed Europeans he was faced with in our hotel lobby. For some reason our travel agent had booked us to arrive in Hong Kong at 7am, so we had a full 15 hours to try and keep going in the desperate hope of a normal sleeping pattern. Maybe Kenneth didn't notice, or was too nice to mention. Greeting us with a big grin, he lead us out of our air-conditioned sanctuary and into the muggy confusion of the city. Navigating the busy streets of Mongkok we followed him across a handful of the main roads and then dived left down a slightly smaller side street and there, nestling under the concrete overhang of tower block, was Gravity Reaction Cycles.

From outside it looks like nothing, a tiny shop front lost in the sprawl. But as you walk in, you realise it is something special. Today bike shops tend to be ordered places, clean and organised with the products arranged sensibly. The owners of Gravity Reaction have completely ignored all of those modern trends and piled everything high with seemingly no worries of ever finding it again. Weird, ancient quill stems sit next piles of $1,000 Enve carbon rims, boutique downhill frames hang next to late 90s frame building experiments that died out along with purple anodising. It was like a window back into your childhood and we flitted round, gleefully uncovering the latest, exotic craftsmanship or trying to guess the age of some long-forgotten, limited edition Rock Shox SID fork. Outside riders beat their tyres with heavy clubs, knocking off the mud before the bikes moved inside. People passed through to pick up some small spare or drop a bike off for service. Take away the high-rise buildings and endless traffic and it's a scene any mountain biker would recognise.

  After lunch we made our first stop at Gravity Reaction Cycles.

  Then we headed to Flying Ball Bikes.

At dinner it dawned on me that we'd falled into a familiar rythmn. Kenneth was excitedly asking us about bikes and rides, crashes and races. We were sharing stories and tips, that same small talk riders always lapse into. Go halfway round the world and into the least likely place you can imagine, and mountain bikers are still mountain bikers. Over bony chicken and noodles we enthusiastically planned our escape from the city, jabbing at the soup-stained maps with our chopsticks and wondering how we would get to the trailhead and what we would find when we got there.

  It's little gems of local knowledge like this, that Kenneth showed, and probably helped us avoid a bad meal. It's an expected custom, not bad manners, to wash your chopsticks and bowls yourself at the table in traditional restaurants.

  After dinner, propping our eyes open after a 36+ hour day, we headed out into the city with the bikes to explore.

  It turns out that bicycle is a great way to get around Hong Kong at night, although rush hour would be a different matter altogether...

Sitting on the dock the next morning, looking up at the great pillars of the skyscrapers, we felt out of place. Four Europeans with complicated, expensive bikes and head-to-toe riding gear stood out among the commuters. Everyone stared as we wheeled our funny contraptions onto the ferry and took seats, nervously watching those prized possessions as the boat bobbled out into the harbour.

  After ten hours of deep, dead sleep we loaded the bikes into another taxi and headed for the harbour.

  Lamma Island is just a short ferry ride from the bustling city.

  We even managed to find a coffee bar on the island. No proper Italian can start the day without coffee.

Lamma Island was a different world to the one we had just left. It seems the money that flows through the finanical centres can't cross that twenty-or-so minutes over the harbour. Disembarking the ferry you land on a rickety pier with thousands of old, rusty bicycles chained along the way. Kenneth led us through the tiny, winding streets and we began to climb up the access roads and away from the uneven buildings. Before long vegetation surrounded us. Then it hit me - we were in the jungle. Half an hour from the centre of the financial district and here we were leaving the world a bit further behind with every pedal stroke, and how many chances do you get to say you rode bicycles in the jungle?

In truth, we probably didn't climb very far, no more than a couple of kilometres, but when it's 28 degrees and the humidity is up in the 80s, it's enough to hurt and feel like a long way. Eventually we made it out onto into scrubland and a red sandstone hilltop where we could look out over the harbour. Even though you can see the skyscrapers and the endless procession of freighters that traverse the waters around Hong Kong, it all seemed remote. Nobody was rushing, nobody was shouting, there was no traffic zipping by. There was just us. Five people and five bikes.

  To say Lamma Island is different to Hong Kong is to understate things.

  On the hill above the village is a network of red rock trails.

Jetlag had been savage up until then, that thick-limbed feeling, watching the world pass-by, unable to quite join in. Dropping into the singletrack began to cleanse that from our limbs. Blood began to flow, senses sharpen and the only thing that mattered once more was getting the front wheel in just the right place to clear the rock formation ahead of you. Scrub gave way to jungle and the trail all but vanished, ploughing blind through dense grass and ducking under rope-like vines, smiles etched on our faces.

Somewhere in the middle of that jungle we met Andrew. I have no idea how Kenneth arranged for him to find us, but he did. Maybe 5'3" tall, grinning and sat astride a tiny, battered Cannondale he was charged with energy. Gesturing for us to follow him he sped off towards what Kenneth told us were his trails. How he rode that rattling, rusty bike as fast as he did I will never know. Everything about it was was wrong, the long, high stem, narrow bar and high saddle, the drivetrain that was crying out for oil. Manuel, one of Italy's top enduro racers, was having to work hard to hold his wheel. It was one of those humbling lessons when you remember that you don't need all the kit in the world to get out and ride, to have fun.

  It's almost surreal riding quiet, peaceful singletrack with one of the worlds busiest cities as your backdrop.

  Below the rocks is the jungle, low, dark and humid, where you're zipping through the foliage and ducking branches.

  This is a creative use of a bike - rigged up to power a water pump.

  Not a bad view to finish your ride with, eh?

Away from the better-known trails on the island, Andrew has built a network around a single hill, a complex series of sharp climbs and flowing descents criss-crossing the sides. It's the kind of network you could lose endless hours on as you zip up and down. With a bit of imagination and a lot of hard work, Andrew and his friends have created one of the most amazing things I've ever experienced on a mountain bike: an oasis of single track barely a stone's throw from one of the busiest urban areas on our planet. A small, but perfect, sanctuary away from the chaos of the city.

Cheers
  No matter where you are in the world, a beer is always a good end to a ride.
  Andrew, our guide.
  Our host, Kenneth Lam. Thanks for everything!

www.hkmba.org

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75 Comments

  • + 23
 The problem in HK is when you are hauling your bike around the busy urban areas trying to navigate your way to get to the trail heads using public transportation people literally hate you and think you are a complete idiot for taking up so much space with your so called mountain bike. I'm assuming they showed a little more patience with your crew since you are all white europeans, however I can tell you that if you were local chinese doing the same thing I'm sure your would have heard a lot more " dew lay lo mo's ". Reason why the sport of mtb is not well suited for many HK locals.
  • - 65
flag kYing (Jan 9, 2014 at 1:53) (Below Threshold)
 There is absolutely no room on the streets esp. in the open 大排档s, let alone anywhere else. So of course the best thing to do is to ride through the streets and do a wheelie! Do yourselves a favor and stop with the tourist attitude that just because you're visiting you can act like idiots. Between that other female riding on the Great Wall and this, you guys aren't exactly doing any favors with how people perceive MTBers. The same applies to anyone of us going/riding out of town, heck even the next state.
  • + 48
 kYing - I find it hard to understand your problem, we were made to feel very welcome in Hong Kong, had a wonderful experience there and people seemed to be excited that we wanted to come and explore their city with bikes. So much so that the original magazine feature from the trip was commented on by the South China Times: www.scmp.com/lifestyle/article/1292787/right-track-mountain-biking-increase-hong-kong I'm not sure how you've decided that we were actling "like idiots", but nobody we met through our trip seems to share you opinion, in fact, after our trip Kenneth came over to Italy last Autumn to race at the Superenduro in Finale Ligure.
  • + 16
 Kying - your way of thinking is a sin to this sport
  • + 23
 kYing, bro, do you even ride?
  • + 2
 Matt what do you think of the evoc bike bags? Im heading on a few trips trips next year and looking for a good heavy duty bag for AM/DH bikes, ibe been told that they are good. I presume they are sponsors but an honest opinion would be appriciated, also did you not invite Valentina to the pub?
  • + 1
 dbox123 I'm actually just waiting to get my bike bag through - I borrowed bikes on this trip as we were short on baggage allowance.
  • + 2
 I've only used my EVOC bag twice so far, but found it to be excellent.
  • + 10
 It's usually the racist assholes with low self-esteem that don't feel welcome anywhere they go...
  • + 1
 My mate has the evoc bike bag and uses it a lot. It seems like a great bag. Only problem is, it weighs about 10kg empty. That means you're going to be paying a lot of extra to get it on a plane I reckon. Put a DH bike and some kit and tools in it and you're easily over 30kg.
  • + 1
 Evoc bike bags are the bomb. But like everyone pointed out, its a heavy bag and youll be paying excess baggage, but bloody hell its a well thought out bag.
  • + 2
 kying probably feels stupid right now
  • + 1
 Generally that happens when people forget how to brain Razz
  • + 6
 KYing, are u Chinese American by chance? Cause ur making all of us Chinese American riders look bad. That's very a old school way of thinking - like my grand parents and their WWII mindset. Don't draw attention to yourself cause you'll be killed, and save everything and waste nothing - which makes sense up to a point.

While I think you have valid points, you also have to realize that people are evolving their mindsets all over the world. 100 years ago racism was acceptable in our country, today not so much. The same goes with traditional Chinese thought. Perhaps the only people who thought they were dumb tourists were the people who think anyone who isn't like them or doesn't think like them is dumb or inferior.

Yes the streets are crowded, yea they might look like tourists, but that doesn't matter. They aren't idiots just cause they are a bit different from the majority population. Streets are crowded cause people drive too damn much. I doubt they pulled stunts in super crowded rush hour anyways, and were probably very considerate of their surroundings and other people. No need to talk about them as if they are rude inconsiderate jerks, you weren't there. See, I have an opinion too.

I'm probably reading too much into it but yea. KYing, I think your opinion is valid and you're entitled to it, but opinions are like penises. They're great to have and it's fine to be proud of yours, but don't go whipping it out every chance you get, and certainly don't try to shove it down someone's throat.

I think that these guys visiting Hong Kong was an excellent experience for them to understand a bit more about Chinese culture and to experience a different lifestyle. It's also great cause they are exposing more people to our sport and at the same time, taking riders (like me) who don't have the opportunity to travel, on a trip somewhere far away. Just my 2 cents.
  • + 3
 KYing; relax dude. You just got neg-propped into the dickbagoshpere.
  • + 16
 Welcome to china . welcome tO HK................................brothers. I want to invite you to drink, dance, China Food taste!
  • + 10
 Strange, I might be the only HongKonger to respond to this post. Yeah, when folks come here for only business or just 2,3 days visit they probably can get in mind that we only have busy traffic and cool (somewhat impolite) faces, people walk like running and tall buildings make you feel that you cannot breath...
That is only part of Hong Kong. Fact - total area of HK is 1108 SqKm whilst about 3 quarters are countryside and 443 SqKm in there are country parks. So, we have a looooot of places to ride. How pity, our bureaucratic government do not encourage sports of any kind. Those enthusiasts, however, will keep looking for nice places to ride. So, next time when you come you can check it out by yourself. One of my favorite riding places is just a few Km from my home -- www.youtube.com/watch?v=hqnkyYd3Mo8. You can also search "MTB in Hong Kong" on YouTube and you will see there are indeed some good places for MTB here.
In respond to Newik, yes, MTB is growing really fast in HK...
  • + 2
 Yes I agree with you. I have camped on a beach near HK on Lantau Island for 1,5 weeks with my girlfriend and we felt like being the only two people on the world. Pretty funny because it was max 10km away from the city centre.
  • + 2
 I agree. When I first arrived to visit my brother, jet-lagged and horribly tired, I really didn't feel as though I would warm to HK. After a total of almost 3 weeks over 2 years in HK, I love the place. The people are lovely, that vibe in HK is incredible and has a unique feel. Of course, it all gets a bit much even after a few days, but the wonderful part of the city is that it's so easy to hop on a boat and find yourself on white beaches and the amazing waterfall in Sai Wan. Great place.
  • + 2
 Went HK two years ago for rugby seven, its the most craziest city I have been to (the food, buildings and way of life). Sssooo rammed in the city but a 30 minute taxi ride later on and you could of been on a deserted island with brilliant hilly jungle to explore. Will defiantly go back and have goose intestine again yum
  • + 3
 I'm stunned by the lazy arrogance of your intro to the city of Hong Kong - a nightmare? your idea of hell?

For the record, from the center of Hong Kong Island you can take a 20 minute taxi ride to some of the most challenging XC and DH riding on the planet (I'm thinking of Tai Mo and the surrounding country parks, but would point you to RogerAuYeung's comment above).

I did this on a regular basis for almost 5 years, after having lived on the west coast of the US, throughout Europe and the UK, (not to mention I'm a born born and bred Canadian), and I can honestly say it's among the highest quality, most challenging stuff I've had the pleasure of ripping.

Not only that, but Hong Kong is a progressive, democratic, beacon of prosperity in a very dark and despotic region. I could go on.

In any case, a word of advice - next time you decide to post a travelogue, please take the time to do some actual research - hey, maybe even do it before you arrive at your destination - it'll help you find the spots the kids are actually riding, which is after all why you posted this on Pinkbike in the first place.
  • + 2
 You speak the truth, brother. Born in the US and grew up as an ex-patriot in Western Canada, SE Asia, and Europe.

There are worst crap holes to be stuck in (i.e.-midwestern US, urban areas of India, etc.).
  • + 3
 Nice pics, but you guys missed the best riding in HK - at Tai Mo Shan. Epic DH runs down rocky, gnarly slopes of 500+ meters up. Come back and try them out! www.hkmba.org/index.php/trail/tai-mo-shan/the-downhill#mce_temp_url#
  • + 3
 It's a pity that you guys only went to the Lamma Island without exploring other trails near the centre of the city. Hong Kong is mountainous, so great trails are everywhere. You can spend your whole day in the moutain with your bike if you want; or if you can only spare a few hours, you can always find yourself a trail in the closest mountain in minutes or hours, if you know the way. But indeed, mountain biking is not very welcomed here. I'm not talking about the citizens. I mean the government. We have teams of supervisors from concerning government department who keep patrolling in the trails, who would stop you and fine you for possessing a bike if you are riding in the non-designated mountain bike area. Yes, mountain biking is only allowed in a few designated trails. Some of them are KINDLY paved with cement by the government (Aww... thanks...). Often MTBikers in Hong Kong need to take the risk of being prosecued in order to enjoy some excellent trail which is not in the list of official MTB trails. So, somehow, MTBikers need to go underground and sometimes we need to run like hell or hide like rats in order to escape from the authorities. Nevertheless, some of the official trails are still good. If you guys would like to come again, you may want to take a look at the list of the official MTB trails and the maps: www.afcd.gov.hk/english/country/cou_vis/cou_vis_mou/cou_vis_mou_mou/cou_vis_mou_mou.html
In which, Tai Lam Country is the most popular MTB trail in Hong Kong. Views in trails of Clear Water Bay Country Park and Lantau are excellent as well.
  • + 3
 Hey Eric, I don't think the ridiculous action of AFCD may influence those foreign visitors because :
1. It takes 6 months to complete the prosecution process. So, by the time they are ready the visitor has gone.
2. Most of the wardens of AFCD speak "veeeeeeery good" English. So, visitors can keep bla bla bla.... and go. Just don't give any shit!
3. If they really make trouble to a visitor, it comes to news report, become international joke that MTB is not allowed in countryside but legally ridable on busy traffic system in urban area, then that would be a good fun..

Guys, in fact that most of the trails here are beautiful and more than safety for both hikers and bikers.
AFCD - the so called management department of our country parks just mistakenly apply a Chinese proverb onto their working attitude -- "Manage nothing is the best way of doing management". To achieve this, just stop everything then they can really manage nothing. Sit back and relax.
  • + 2
 Most likely i think Visitors cant see the dark side of a place they visit.....
and as for a chinese place, its more likely to happen cause chinese only bark against chinese...
Its a pity that being Colony of GB/UK for nearly 200 Years, still 90% of HK people cant really communicate in English...lol
and of course our official will never admit any problem we claimed unless it cause Complaints or Death.
We got an Olympic Standard BMX Race Course which built by Charity but no fund for running it....and it actually bankrupted HKCA after the stupid Race...

I'm not racist, I am chinese myself...
  • + 2
 Awesome photos! Nice to see a different side of a city that seems to be so mis-perceived by people who haven't travelled there (myself included... I had no idea there was such beautiful terrain around the city).

Seeing those photos reminded me of my days of taking the bus/skytrain/seabus/bus from south Richmond to the end of Mountain highway to ride Fromme... or when I would take the TTC for an hour to go ride the DVP. You always get those people who will want to spit on your for maybe getting a bit of dirt on their $40 faux-Tommy Hilfiger suit, and you sometimes feel like you're imposing, but then when the tires hit dirt... all that washes away.
  • + 1
 Thanks for a great article Matt! I visit HK about 4 times per year and have only ever taken a pair of running shoes as a means of exercise/ activity. I couldn't have imagined that these types of trails existed based upon the HK I know. Although I never did look into it, since my purpose is business. Next trip I'm taking my bike for sure.

I like the manual on the HK street!
  • + 1
 I've always said, Hong Kong has got potential for some great riding.
I visit Hong Kong every year or 2 for business and family and every time I always wish I took either of my bikes.
Some very challenging roads to road cyclist with equally fun mountains to ride.

And I related to the "the jungle" situation so much.
Staying on the boarder of HK to the mainland during most of my visits, it's amazing how much the city is contrasted.

Great article.
  • + 1
 When I was in Hong Kong there were a lot of areas I saw that would be perfect for riding including a lot of the small islands surrounding HK. I assumed from my experience in the mainland that there wasn't much of a riding scene but I'm happy to hear the locals are making the most of this awesome place. Can't wait to go back and bring my bike!
  • + 1
 Thanks to Kenneth, Brandon and the rest of HKMBA more and more trails are slowly being opened up, for that he gets my thanks as Hong Kong is also my home and itoffers some great riding. For those thinking of visiting check out the HKMBA website for trail details.
  • + 4
 Hong Kong has some of the best trails I've ever ridden. Highly recommended.
  • + 1
 Hang on hang on hang on, you went to HK Island and didn't even hit the mid levels!?!?? That was the most fun in HK I had.
Rattling down stairs next to the beautiful travellator that will shuttle you back up again. And again.
  • + 1
 Anybody looking to do some downhill mountain biking should visit Kenneth's shop (Gravity Reaction Cycles). It is easy to find using the MTR (subway) and they have some awesome rentals such as Transition TR450's and other freeride bikes. Contact Kenneth on facebook as he can link you up with groups who shuttle Tai Po. And they have recently built some new DH trails there that are unreal! I was able to link up with some British guys who live there and had an amazing time with them.

Matt Wragg - Amazing article! I was also very skeptical about mountain biking when I arrived in HK but was blown away by the amount of trail systems once I got there.
  • + 3
 Went to HK for the first time in september and i didnt know they had epic trails like this, next time ill be bringing my bike. The humidity is torture though Smile
  • + 1
 I went to HK too, transfer flight. But I planned on bringing my bike next time anyways, just to see the inside of the whole Airport.
  • + 1
 hahaha yeah hong kong airport is pretty big. i even had to catch the airport train to get to the other side. crazy!
  • + 1
 I read this article in MBUK a year or two ago. HK's got it going on, it's a paradise on earth! Great to see more pictures of the action and Kenneth at the end there! Thanks.
  • + 1
 Hello all,

I am coming to Hong Kong next week and would love to go mountain biking.

Could someone put me in contact with a tguide that rents bikes and could take me around?

many thanks
George
  • + 1
 matt wragg, why didn't you mention the name of the two guys in almost all the photos? I think they deserve it.

they're two italian enduro racers and champions, Manuel Ducci and Valentina Macheda.
  • + 1
 I did follow the trip since it was posted on FB by Life Cycle and Valentina... I am really happy to see these awesome shots (and thank you Matt for having posted these here). Well done!!!
  • + 3
 Try Chiang Mai, in the Norh of Thailand! Really, Really good riding! But I may check out HK some time soon!
  • + 1
 Shit... that bike shop was loaded with fox forks! That's an odd sight for any bike shop, let alone one in the middle of a city. It illustrates how much money there is over there well.
  • + 1
 You think that is amazing..oh wait till you come to Singapore. There's loads lesser riding ground but the island is peppered with 100+ LBS on a 26 x 42 km diamond shape island.
  • + 2
 I'm moving to HK on the 1st Feb, this article couldn't have come at a better time and has made my day. Happier knowing I should still be able to ride.
  • + 3
 Sam, just let me know and if you come to HK at Feb. You can enjoy the great riding time in HK before the raining season coming. Wink
  • + 1
 i was there about 5 days ago. i cannot image how it would be like with an mtb there. it blew my mind how many people were crammed in such a small place
  • + 1
 I went in HK in 2010 (visiting a friend, doing some tourism and watch HK Sevens), I immediately saw the potential. The mtb scene was new then but it's growing fast
  • + 1
 The mtb scene was new in 2010? No offense but riders have been riding mtb in HK since decades :-)
  • + 1
 Sorry, I didn't want to be rude and mean there was no mtb scene. Just higlight the fact that since 3 years The community dramaticaly develop ped our sport in HK
  • + 2
 Wow, makes me realize how lucky we are to have so much trail access so close and hassle free
  • + 1
 had a chance to live at lamma island. those were some of the best trails i have ever ridden. sweet to see it here in pinkbike
  • + 1
 Hey everybody. I know this thread is a long time ago. But this article inspired me to ride in HK, here's my video...

vimeo.com/108038025
  • + 1
 I like the picture inside the bike store and on the wall there's a sign that says"no pictures"
  • + 2
 No pics of the cannondale. .?
  • + 1
 Just a few pictures down from the........"rude".........wheelie, you will see it. Or at least I would assume that is the cannondale in question.
  • + 1
 mh goi wheelie! I wish I had my bike when I was in HK. All the more reason for another trip! Great article!
  • + 1
 I go to HK every year but never had the opportunity to ride. Are there places where one can rent a decent mtb?
  • + 2
 How about some Urban Freeride action?
  • + 1
 That is also one of my dreams... Like what they have in Valparaiso, Taxco.. !!
  • + 2
 any berms?
  • + 1
 Yep, we're digging some proper ones - www.facebook.com/tmstrailcrew
  • + 1
 Was there 2 weeks ago. Next time im bringing my bike!
  • + 1
 Looks like Kate Middleton in the lift.
  • + 1
 Looks like a very expensive bike ride trip!
  • + 1
 Three weeks ago I was in Hongkong
  • + 1
 Amazing trail.
  • + 1
 lei hou mah?
  • + 1
 Cantonese, please! Smile
  • + 1
 bel viaggio!
  • + 1
 Nice.
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