June 7, 2013
By Christopher Fletcher
CAMP HUMPHREYS -- For the bicycle-riding enthusiast, Korea is a paradise. The Korean government and local authorities are building bike paths throughout the country. These paths are for walking and cycling only and although you do see the occasional moped or ATV, for the most part they offer safe riding and a great way to get some exercise and see the country.
The Four Rivers Renovation Project offers some of the best riding in Korea. The project itself is somewhat controversial because of the environmental impact due to the construction. The project objectives center on flood control, improving water quality and ensuring adequate water supplies during droughts. The four rivers in question are the Han River, Nakdong River, Geum River and the Yeongsan River.
As a byproduct of the project, more than 800 kilometers of bike paths were built along the rivers. One such path starts at the western lock or Yellow Sea floodgate, in Incheon, on the Incheon to Seoul canal and extends all the way to Busan, a total of 633 kilometers (393 miles). The rivers are administered by K-Water, the Korean Water Company and they have a series of stations along the rivers. The canal runs into the Han River through central Seoul to Paldang (east of Seoul) and on to Yangpyong, before it turns southeast to Chungju.
Along the rivers are sluice gates or small dam-like structures. In Korean they are called Bo's, as in Ipobo, Yeojubo, Gongjubo and so on. At the K-Water Office at these Bo's you can buy a bike passport which shows all the routes along with the stations where you can stamp your passport. The passport runs 4000 won and is a good way to track your riding adventures and makes for a great souvenir. You can get your passport stamped at the K-Water Offices or at a series of stamp stations that look like red phone booths.
All the trails are well signposted and easy to follow and the bike passport gives the distance in kilometers between stations. The trail along the Han River is accessible by subway; it's just a matter of riding your bike to the nearest subway station and putting it on the subway. The subway runs all the way from Seoul, east to Yangpyong and you can get on or off the subway with your bike at any station. When taking your bike on the subway, stand at the handicap position on the platform. This area, reserved for wheelchairs, is where you can put your bike on the subway. Obviously, wheelchairs have priority.
For access to sections of the trails not served by the subway, a POV with a bike rack is required. I have rode in sections of the trail from Incheon to Yeoju or Gangcheonbo and I am planning the next section from Gangcheonbo to Chungju Dam. One of the nicest rides I've done is the Guemgang trail from Daecheong Dam to Gunsan Estuary along the Geum River. The 142 kilometer ride starts at the dam and leads through Buyeo and Gongju, the heart of the ancient Baekje Kingdom along with the fortress, museums, and historical sites. The trail takes you right in front of the Gongju Fortress main gate, which is quite a photo op. Of course I don't ride the entire routes at one time. I do a section at a time and arrange for pick-ups and drop-offs.
While the trails along the Han River in Seoul are crowded, especially on the weekend, the other trails are not so and at times you are pretty much on your own. As you ride along, you'll come across towns where they rent bikes and the bike traffic will increase somewhat and then thin out again leaving town. They have made sure to have plenty of clean bathrooms and convenience stores along the route and most bike rentals will fix flats for a small fee. But, having said that, riders must prepare for situations like these by carrying food and water and having repair kits and an extra tube along with the tools required.
As you get stamps in your passport and you complete a river course, they are specified in the passport, you will get a seal to show completion. If you complete all the river trails, along with the stamps and seals, you will be awarded a commemorative medal. Google 4 Rivers Bike Trails for more information, also check out http://10mag.com/korean-destination-incheon-to-busan-by-bike/ for an individual's account of riding the entire trail from Incheon to Busan. Happy Trails.