Is Seoul a bike-friendly City?

What you can experience as a cyclist on the streets of Seoul, and why Yeonjoon Koh 고 여준 keeps swapping his dental drill for his bike.

10 mins read

I often find that people outside Korea have the impression that Koreans can’t ride a bicycle. This is not true. Cycling has become one of the most popular leisure activities in Korea, along with hiking. The government actively promotes and encourages cycling by extensively developing the cycling infrastructure. For example, along the major rivers, such as the Hanggang (Han River), you will find very well-developed, in some cases even two-lane bike paths, which offer more than 860 kilometers of fantastic opportunities for cycling.

Cycling along the Han River is very popular among Koreans. | Photographer Daniel Thomas Faller

When I moved to Korea a few years ago, it was a wise decision to pack my bike in the moving box along with some books and furniture. Unlike the books gathering dust on the shelf, my “bike” is in almost daily use. Whether it’s for sporting activity, along the Han River, or to explore new neighborhoods and out-of-the-way places. In a city like Seoul, biking is very flexible, you can easily avoid traffic jams and you don’t need a fortune for parking.

I live near the Han River, so “biker’s paradise” is on my doorstep. Along the Han, the trails are only allowed for pedestrians and non-motorized two-wheelers. However, there is still a little problem. Between my house and the bike path, there is a major traffic artery that I have to cross, which often becomes a life-threatening challenge. If I don’t want to push my bike along the pedestrian path in front of me, I have to share the three-lane road with the highly motorized road users on this stretch of road. A reckless undertaking. Because as a cyclist one is not accepted, which makes the thing very dangerous. There is no sign of the otherwise typical Korean friendliness here. They honk their horns and give you nasty looks.

When I finally reach the bike path on the riverbank, I can dive into another world. Flora, fauna endless bike paths, and numerous recreational and sports facilities are permanently maintained by the respective municipalities in Seoul and their employees with great attention to detail. Especially in spring and autumn, the kilometer-long bicycle paths are surrounded by an unimaginable splendor of flowers and plants. If you feel hungry or thirsty, if you need air pumped into your bike tires, or if you need the services of a bike mechanic, you will quickly get help. The infrastructure leaves nothing to be desired and is unique in its kind. Along the route, there are public toilets at regular intervals, which are clean and even heated in winter, kiosks with food options, outdoor fitness facilities as well as pumping stations, and even smaller bicycle repair shops. And since a city, like Seoul, never “sleeps,” most facilities operate twenty-four hours a day. Especially during the hot summer season, many bikers are also out at night. However, it should be noted that weekends are very busy on the bike paths along the Han River. Countless people then spend their free time on and next to the bike track. Among them, there are also many who rent a bike for a few hours at the public bike rental system Ttareungyi 따릉이. Some don’t pay attention to the rules of conduct on bike paths and focus on their smartphones while riding, instead of the road, forgetting about the world around them. Therefore, it is not surprising that more and more often ambulances are found in the field…

I wanted to learn a bit more about the bike culture in Korea, so I had a chat with a passionate biker and dentist, Yeonjoon Koh 여준 (56).

You’ve already explored a few countries with your bike. How is Korea different from other countries?

The infrastructure of bike paths in Korea is unique. But I especially appreciate the public toilets, which are free of charge. When I think back to my bike tours in Europe, it was always a big challenge – especially in urban areas – because of the lack of small change. In Europe, on the other hand, I appreciate the interaction between cyclists and the rest of the road users, as both parties (mostly) respect the traffic rules. Bicycles are accepted on the street, which is unfortunately often not the case on the streets of Seoul.

Many bikers are inspired by famous Instagrammers. They afford the most expensive equipment in order to post the perfect picture on social media later.

Yeonjoon Koh 고 여준

Biking to work. Is this an issue for you?

If my commute to work, leads through the center of downtown, biking is not an option for me. Today, however, there are many more bike lanes in the inner city than there were a few years ago. These are often disregarded by other road users and used for their own purposes, e.g. parking. Much too dangerous. I believe that some European cities are much more progressive in this area. Another reason why many Koreans do not bike to work is that there are no showers and changing facilities at the workplace. This would be especially handy during the summer and the high humidity that comes with it.

Where do you get the motivation to cycle?

In earlier years, I cycled very consciously and systematically. My place of work at the time was only about 20 minutes away. I used the outward and return journeys as training sessions and rode on detours. So I trained for at least two hours every day.

There were shower facilities at your workplace?

Laughs. Yes, that was a stroke of luck. Cycling and sports, in general, are very important to me. But I am also convinced that my clients appreciate it when “their dentist” is in good shape.

Often, I see groups of cyclists who are top equipped from head to bike. Are these all “professional bikers”?

I do not want to answer this question in the negative. But a trend has emerged in recent years. Many bikers are inspired by famous Instagrammers. They afford the most expensive equipment in order to post the perfect picture on social media later. Unlike the sporty bikers, their primary focus is on the picture. However, there are also some motivated, sporty groups. In recent years, the so-called Nambuk riding 남북라이딩 (36km, 756 vertical meters, road) is becoming more and more popular. Bikers meet in Banji and ride in groups a circuit from Hannam-dong towards City Hall – GyongbukgungBugak skyway. Such groups can be seen around the clock. In the summer months, night tours are also very popular.

Sports is very important to dentist and cyclist Yeonjoon Koh 고 여준. | Photographer Daniel Thomas Faller

Which circuits and tours are still on your schedule?

I used to do quite a few. But sometimes there are still days when I want to test my limits. It can happen that I cover 180 kilometers in one piece. But the main thing for me today is my health and the fun of cycling.

How we feel when we venture onto Seoul’s streets by bike. What you can experience when you bike from Seoul to Busan and how exciting it can be when you discover Jeju Island by bike. In our three-part series, we report on our experiences with cycling in Korea.

Daniel Thomas Faller

SEOUL | Korea

Daniel is the founder of Schauplatz Korea Magazine, editor-in-chief and creative director. He is a Swiss native and Korea lover based in Seoul. Daniel is interested in people’s stories and projects and passionate about visual art and photography. And he likes to be seduced by Makgeolli…


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