Interview with bikeOasis Bruce Robertson Bruce Robertson, editor of Cycle Tours Global, recently caught up in Seoul with Beom-Seok Choi, the CEO of bikeOasis. This is what ensued over a fantastic dinner of Bulgogi washed down with somac! When and why did bikeOasis KOREA get started? BikeOasis KOREA and its bike tours around Korea started by sheer chance. One day two years ago, I decided to take a week off from office to travel around Korea on bicycle. The purpose of that trip was more personal and pleasure than business. But then, as I cycled on the newly constructed bike paths, about 100km a day, I was completely surprised to discover how safe and comfortable these segregated paths were! What’s more, as these bike dedicated trails go along major rivers surrounded by mountains, through small villages and around lakes, the sceneries were very different from what I had seen from cars and trains before. After a couple more cycling trips around Korea, I was determined to design and introduce bike tours around Korea for foreigners who have a passion to discover a new country on two wheels. So, in a way, bikeOasis KOREA was born by a sheer chance when I took the spontaneous bike trip around my country two years ago. What did you do before bikeOasis? BikeOasis KOREA is a business branch of Fortuna Inc., an international sports management company based in Seoul, Korea. I founded the company in 2003 and since then it has been engaged in a number of sports related projects, including FIFA World Cup and London Olympic Games. Is cycling popular amongst Koreans? How so? The population of South Korea is about 49 million, and there are about 10 million bicycles owned by Koreans. Although these bicycles are being used for different purposes, the number of recreational cyclists is growing rapidly. This is easy to confirm when you cycle along Han River in Seoul on weekends. Korean cyclists are especially happy to share their passion with international cyclists visiting Korea. Why or how would you recommend Korea to an international cyclist? Korean peninsula is geographically located in the far corner of Asia, somewhat like Ireland in Europe. One needs to make some extra effort to visit Korea. However, I believe, it pays off to any visitor, especially to a cyclist, because Korea has quite unique nature and culture, even within Asia. First, Korea has four distinct season (spring, summer, autumn, and winter – temperature ranging from minus 15 C to plus 35 C) and the whole sceneries change as the season changes. What one would see on a bike tour in the spring would be quite different from what he/she would experience in the autumn. Second, with the small size of territory (99,720㎢/ranked 109th in the world), Korea can be an attractive country to go on a bike tour because the cyclist can visit different parts of Korea in a relatively short time and distance. Every region has its own unique traditions and history, which are reflected in regional delicacies and culture. Lastly, but not the least, I would like to highlight the fact that Korea has probably the most safe bike-only trails in the world that extends over 1,200km (more distance currently being built). Motorcycles and cars are blocked from entering these paths and there are plenty of convenient facilities for long distance cyclists (public toilets, restaurants, cafes, stores, etc.) along the way. Well, as Koreans often say, one picture (a self experience) is worth a thousand words. Have you cycled in other countries? How does Korea compare? I grew up in Germany and still remember adventurous bike tours along the Rhine River that my friends and I went on. Most recently I was in Luang Prabang, Laos for a short bike tour. I believe, every country on the planet is unique and has something to offer to international visitors. Korea, with its beautiful nature and friendly people, it is definitely worth a visit, especially if you have a passion for cycle tours. How much of Korea have you done by bike? I am proud to say that I have completed all bike paths that are designated as official ‘Cross Korea’ and ‘Four Rivers’ routes (total about 1,200km). I have collected all stamps in the ‘bike passport’ and received two gold medals and official certificates from the Korean government! As a foreign cyclist, you can also receive these medals and certificates once you have completed the official bike routes. Give it a try! I am sure you would have earned more than just medals and certifying papers. What is your favourite bike ride in Korea? Elsewhere? My personal favorite sections of segregated bike trails are all included in our ‘Dream Bike Tour KOREA’ (no wonder, as I am one of its architects!) Cycling along the Han River on a Sunday in Seoul (a city of 10 million citizens) is quite a scene and fun. Namhan River and Bukhan River bike trails are simply beautiful with water, mountains, tunnels, bridges….The Sangju-Andong section is also very pretty with all the rice fields and traditional villages. Andong Hahoe Village, a UNESCO designated World Cultural Heritage, is such a peaceful and unique place to cycle or walk around. The only time Hahoe Village was exceptionally busy and crowded was some 15 years ago when Queen Elizabeth II paid a visit there. She had to take her shoes off in public (known to be her first time in life) to enter the Hanok living room. The bike trails in the southwestern parts of Korea are also spectacular, as is the trail around Jeju Island. Tell me about the bikeOasis tours? Do you have any future plans you'd like to share? Now we have three regular Korea bike tours and tailor-made private tours being offered to international cyclists. And we are developing more bike tour programs for the future. Because Korea is still relatively unknown as a cycling tour destination in international community, bikeOasis KOREA has extra tasks to promote Korea itself. Over 90% of international clients, who have been on our tours, rated us ‘very satisfactory’ and our team is very happy with the results. However, as the first tour company offering bike tours in Korea, bikeOasis KOREA has still a lot learn from its clients, and many details to make even better. Have a look at some photos from Cycle Tours Global recent tour in this amazing country.