Dmthoth [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
Korean Culture and Information Service (KOCIS). "New Bike Route Runs along East Coast." :: Korea.net : The Official Website of the Republic of Korea. Web. 17 Sept. 2016.
Is it worth it?
Yes, yes and yes. Riders all have differing opinions, but I think the East coast route is one of the most interesting routes in Korea. The road is never boring, never the same, the views change from little harbour towns to beaches to hotels to farmland to barbed wire fences. The Seoul to Busan route is very popular and can at times even be overrun, while the East coast is not yet so well known and popular among riders. Many want to wait until the whole East coast route has been completed up to Busan, but I'm glad I did not. I've cycled parts of the Southern route to Busan and I think it will take a long time to complete the rest of the cycle route, there are signs and part cycle track, but the coastal industries and mountainous areas make it very difficult to develop into a safe and enjoyable route. If you want to wait, you might have to wait a long time. So rather do the route that exist and enjoy the wonderful experience available! Also if you like fast in and out, the East coast might not be your favourite route, it will appeal to the adventurous rider who takes in all the little things, stop, enjoy the views, people, culture and challenges it offers.
Where to start? North or South?
If you would like to do the East coast trail the first question you will have to ask yourself is if you want to go North to South or South to North. There are reasons for both and you will have to decide what works for you. Here are some facts that will help you make this decision.
How to get there and back?
Most riders would depart from Seoul where there are many bus terminals, but to travel to and from the East coast you have to use the Dong Seoul Bus terminal (동서울종합버스터미널). This terminal is right at Gangbyeon station on the number 2 green line, exit number 4. It's a busy place with lots of buses and lots of people. If you go during a national holiday it might be hard to find a place for your bike on the bus.
The Southern part of the East coast route is closest to Imwon intercity bus terminal (임원시외버스터미날). The certification center is just about 1km South of the bus stop.
The Northern part of the East coast route is closest to Daejin intercity bus terminal (대진시외버스터미널). The Unification Certification center is about 3km North of the bus stop. These are small bus stops and can be tricky to find or identify. Have a look at the pictures below.
What is the best time to go?
The best time to go is when you have the time to go. Some riders go in the deep of winter, some in the heat of summer, it's all up to how determined you are. We went in July, in the middle of the Korean summer and I would recommend it very strongly. We were worried about summer rains, but even though we had a day or two of rain most of our days were either quite hot or cool because of clouds. When we returned home after our trip we found that the East coast was also much less humid than the rest of Korea. July and August are the official summer vacation months in Korea, which means the beaches and 2000 won showers are all "open" only at this time of the year. Any other time, you will not find a shower, parasol or lifeguard anywhere in sight.
How easy is it to follow the route?
With any cycling in Korea your best tool for navigation is Naver maps on a smart phone, it can indicate where you are, where the cycle roads are and where hotels, bus stops etc can be found. Knowing how to read Korean would be essential to use this tool to it's fullest.
The East coast route has a painted blue line following the cycle path, always make sure you are cycling along this blue line and you should be fine. Along the road you will also find various maps and lots of direction signs. In spite of all of this we still managed to stop and check our maps many times and even missed a stamp booth.
Of course part of the adventure is trying to find the route, stay on the route and getting a little bit lost from time to time. And Korea is a great place to do this with safety and without ever really getting into any trouble. There's always a Korean close by to help, just remember cyclists are always better to ask, taxi drivers or other people will give directions kindly, but will not take into account that you are cycling and need safe roads.
What bicycle should I use?
The East coast is a true mixture of all kind of roads (and even stairs). There are lovely stretches of separated bike path, wooden boardwalk style paths on or next to beaches and gravel or dirt roads with mud and holes. Tar roads include riding with a dedicated double bicycle lane indicated by painted lines or nicely separated by barriers from the cars. Sometimes you are just on the road next to cars with almost no shoulder and nothing but a thin blue line to indicate that you are on the East coast route. The route also takes you through rice patties on old forgotten cement roads or zigzags through little back roads of neighbourhoods. At times you are faced with wooden stairs as steep as you've ever seen or narrow grass and gravel forest paths.
I would not recommend a road bike for the East coast, but we passed many a road bike on the way. I also don't feel the East coast is a route you should ride as fast as you can from A to B, it's a journey to enjoy with lots of sights to see and adventures to have. You could rather do the East coast in 2 weekends, than trying to squeeze it into a few days. It's such a fresh change from the long boring straight flat cycle roads following many of the rivers in Korea, that it's best to enjoy every moment and stretch the experience as much as you can. A hybrid or mountain bike would be my choice of ride, but of course it's all up to each rider's preference. One advantage of a carbon road bike is it's easier to carry or push up and down stairs than a loaded pannier bike and you can take detours on the road with cars to avoid the off road parts.
How hard is the cycling?
This will all depend on your riding experience and training before departure. If you ride 100km and hilly roads often, then you will love the East coast route and not find it particularly challenging. If you ride 20km to 50km and do less hill climbing, you will find the East coast doable but challenging at times. If you rarely ride a bike you will have a sore butt due to suddenly spending hours in the saddle and the hills will make you suffer.
We have many kilometers of cycling experience but did not do much training before our trip and found the hills from just before Samcheok to Imwon quite challenging, especially the last day. Some people report the East coast is a flat ride, maybe for a very fit super cyclist, but for the general rider it will be hard work at times. Of course the feeling of achievement, the views and beautiful roads make it all worth it. I hope to do it again, with some more preparation next time so I can enjoy the climbs more.
Where to stay?
When touring through Korea, the most convenient way to plan your accommodation is simply to cycle until you want to stop and find the closest motel. They always have rooms and are not too pricey for 2 or more people. It also gives you the option of being flexible with how far you cycle each day. Using motels (40 000 - 60 000won) means you can carry much less weight on your bike. No need for towels, shampoo, soap, toothbrush etc, it's all provided each time. If you like your comforts and have the money to spend it's the best way to travel by bike in Korea.
We took a very leisurely 2 weeks to enjoy the sights and beaches of the East coast and so decided to camp instead of using motels each night. We carried our tent, mattress, sleeping bags etc with us, making for a much heavier bike load. After long sweaty days with lots of sunscreen we wanted a shower of some sorts at the end of the day but found the official well equipped camping grounds quite expensive and the cheaper or free areas without real facilities. At times we used the beach showers for 2000 won, but they all close around 6pm and only open around 10am, so it's not really so convenient if you want to depart early morning or cycle till late at night. Of course it's possible to just jump in the ocean each morning or night if don't really care about showers and soap. We enjoyed the adventure of camping and just sleeping where we wanted, under the stars and on the beach, but we balanced it out by sleeping at a motel here and there.
One night we splurged and stayed at the brand new Daemyeong Sol Beach resort. It's right next to Samcheok beach. Quite a treat.
What were the highlights?
Any information about cycling in South Korea.