Busan or Bust: epilogue

Or, “Things my bike has taught me.”

In which I reflect on beginners’ lessons about bikes and parts, packing for a cycling trip and how to cycle long distances comfortably, and also include links to all the useful information that helped me along the way.

On the way in Hangang park

On the way in Hangang park

About parts and packing:

Of the ‘essentials’ that my friend, an earlier Seoul to Busan cyclist, advised me to carry, I thankfully only needed the bike tools for tightening and adjusting bits along the way – particularly the seat post bike rack, which wasn’t really suited to the job, and the brakes, which take a real beating on the hill climb days. The wheel spokes held out just fine, I didn’t get a single puncture so I still have both spare inner tubes and I haven’t needed to haul out the puncture repair kit. I’m still glad I had those things as I think I was pretty fortunate.

One thing I didn’t have when I needed it was a spanner. This could have been a real problem if day 6′s valve incident had occurred on the trail, rather than when we were setting off from a town and could pop into a shop and buy one. It was a stupid oversight, definitely take all the tools you need for wheels and bolts!

As for bike parts: make sure your tyres are in good nick. I had my rear tyre replaced before setting off, but by the end of the journey my front tyre was definitely shot, too. Have spare brake pads if yours have had any significant use; you will need to replace them by the end.

Worn out

Worn out

Regarding accessories and accoutrements, I hummed and hawed about whether to invest in ergonomic grips and a gel seat cover and eventually bought them, feeling like I was splashing out on holiday luxuries. They are not a luxury! There will be pain, and it will manifest in your hands and your arse. A good seat and ergonomic grips are the most you can do to minimise it. At best, you’ll finish the ride able to sit comfortably and with full use of both hands, other than for high-fives and clapping with glee – both of which Wonderboy and I tried when we finally finished our journey only to groan in pain. At worst, without these you may end up with ‘handlebar palsy’ and the old John Wayne walk. My friend and advisor was unable to use his hands to grip things properly for up to six months after he finished his journey. And see this article on a common cycling problem for men which should not be ignored and can take weeks or even months to get back to normal.

About cycling health and comfort:

I spent seven days religiously observing three main rules to keep my level of comfort and endurance up:

Rule 1 ~ for every hour riding, take two minutes standing up.

I heard a couple of variations on this and I can’t remember where the advice came from, but a quick Google reveals similar advice, even up to one minute standing for every ten minutes riding. At one point I was advised to factor 15 minutes break for every hour riding into any time and distance calculations, and I think as an average that probably works out, but it doesn’t mean you’ll need to get off once an hour. When the course is flat and you’ve really got some momentum going, keep at it, it feels great to cover more ground than you expected. However, take two minutes to cycle standing up – it really pays dividends at the end of the day.

Rule 2 ~ for every hour riding, use Alexander Technique like a mantra to send through your directions seven times.

OK, so this one is from fairly specific personal experience because I was lucky enough to get two years of Alexander Technique lessons at university, but for demanding physical exercise like cycling, which places a prolonged strain on your natural posture, I would strongly advise either looking up some information online or finding a teacher for a few classes in advance of your trip. I alternated the two minutes standing riding and sending my Primary Directions to release tension in my riding posture at regular intervals throughout the day. I settled on seven repetitions at the start because it’s been a really long time since I used AT in my everyday life. I found that after the first time through, things tightened straight back up again, so the first two or three times I sent my directions I was covering the same ground. By four or five my shoulders and neck started to feel genuinely freer, and by seven or even eight I was holding a better, more relaxed riding position again for a time.

I also discovered on day 3 that if you spend some time repeating the Directions while you’re cycling uphill, it takes your mind off the effort of the hill and makes it naturally easier. How’s that for an extra bonus!

Rule 3 ~ Try to spend an hour over lunch in the early afternoon to escape the worst of the sun.

After the first two days of riding without a thought for anything but reaching a destination further than I had ever cycled before, I swiftly realised that – strong suncream or no – summer cycling demands a certain amount of respect for the sun. The changeable weather meant that we had pretty fresh mornings, which was great, and that the day was hottest between about 2 and 4pm. However, knowing that the sun is strongest between 11 and 3, we aimed to take around an hour’s break when opportunity arose between 12 and 2pm. If nothing else, sitting out of the sun and wolfing down some of those much-needed calories gives your bum and your hands the break they crave!

Along with all of the above, I was aiming to drink at least 4 litres of water a day and to take in as many calories as I could fit from fruit, meat and salty Korean soups like 해장국 and 순대국.

About planning:

I found a whole host of great blogs from the Cyclists Who Have Gone Before, as well as useful apps to have for the trip and handy official websites for the trail. They’re dotted throughout the day-by-day blog, but here they are all assembled in one place.

My main comment on What I Learned Before the trip and What I Wish I’d Learned before the trip is this: Suanbo to Ihwaryang sounds more daunting than it is. They are long, high climbs, but very gentle. You can have that stretch under your belt within a couple of hours and barely break a sweat. The stretch between Guji and Namji is a full day of hell! Be prepared.

The official sites

The most useful part of this site is here: http://www.riverguide.go.kr/eng/page.do?menuIdx=632. If you click on the list of courses in the right-hand sidebar, you’ll get to a page with a basic map and description of each part of the route and the distance from every Stamp Stop on the way. This is useful for calculating your daily journey, although it is very wise to cross-check the journey for elevation on a different site (like Google Maps), too. A bunch of hills can really put the brakes on your plans.

The English site is very basic, so if you can navigate a little in Korean, use the Korean site here: http://www.riverguide.go.kr/kor/index.do

The fourth menu down on the left-hand side of the screen (자전거길) lists the different bike paths. Click on the one you are on to get a map of the certification centres and the route. If you’re going from Seoul to Busan, you’ll want: no. 5 Ara sea lock path 아라자전거길, no. 6 Hangang (Seoul) 한강(서울)자전거길, no. 1 Hangang 한강, no.  7 Saejaegang 새재자전거길, no. 4 Nakdonggang 낙동강. If you’re going the other way, reverse the order.

I wanted to get the bike passport, but they were unfortunately sold out at the beginning of my trip, so I made my own and just collected the stamps as a memento!

I found this once I was on the road. As an English language site it has slightly more useful and up-to-date information than the above site. Their packing list, bike guide, and route passport information are spot-on, too!

Although I elected to follow KoWater’s 4대강 (Sa-daegang / 4 rivers) route, many others have used Jan Boonstra’s route maps, which look more direct and take in different stops along the way. It also cuts approximately 100km off the journey in total. I used his live tracking Google map for the final leg into Busan. My friend had advised me that aiming to finish at the final dam of the 4대강  route was a bit of an anti-climax and left you still a long way from Busan centre, and still further from the popular 해운대 beach; my final destination. This is the route I took to get there: http://www.mappedometer.com/?maproute=436563

Boonstra’s Google maps are here: http://user.chollian.net/~boonstra/korea/sebu.htm See the purple box on the top right.

He also lists the pros and cons of the 4대강 trail vs his own trail here: http://user.chollian.net/~boonstra/korea/4daegang.htm I would add to this that the trail is still being developed at this time, but it is virtually completed now (June 2015) and was in mostly good nick and relatively easy to follow. There were still three small still areas under construction: the first and definitely the longest and worst is a few kilometres before Suhaeng dam, the stamp stop before Chungju. This is a kilometre of rubble and will slow you down. The other two are much shorter and less disruptive. One about 5 kilometres after Tangumdae, leaving Chungju and joining the Saejaegang trail, one a few kilometres after Mungyeong and the delicious sundaeguk restaurant I stopped at on day 3. Neither of these is either long or difficult to navigate around.

The bloggers

I would have got nowhere fast without reading for information, for motivation, and in great part for entertainment. Here is my pick of the best I found, but there’s plenty more info out there.

Couch on wheels: http://www.couchonwheels.com/2011/11/seoul-to-busan-cycling-tour-part-one.html Three guys who crossed the country together following Jan Boonstra’s course.

Travelling Hajo: https://travellinghajo.wordpress.com/2013/08/23/across-korea-on-a-bicycle-a-howto-for-the-foreigner-riding-seoul-busan-and-coming-back-in-one-piece/ Invaluable practical advice on undertaking the trip, including maps and Korean – English translations of all the things you’ll need to find a bed for the night and some food for the day. Also includes a great guide on useful apps, such as Naver maps (Google maps doesn’t work so well in Korea) and how to navigate them if you don’t speak Korean.

Tangled Up in Blue: http://someday-on-the-avenue.blogspot.kr/2014/05/4-rivers-trail-prequel-blue-hour.html One woman who undertook the 4Rivers trail alone and suffered some similar trials and tribulations to us. Her ‘don’t go to Chungju dam’ advice is invaluable. Great photos.

Gareth’s Worldwide Blog: https://pulpfixtion.wordpress.com/2014/09/12/busan-to-seoul-a-journey-on-koreas-cross-country-cycling-road/ A man and some friends who did the route from Busan to Seoul. I stumbled across this on day 5 while I was fuming and freaking out that none of my previous research had mentioned more bloody hills. This blog does. It helped me identify how much more agony I would have to endure. More great photos.

Kimchi and Cornbread: http://kimchicornbread.blogspot.kr/search/label/Cycling%20Incheon%20to%20Busan A couple who cycled the full Incheon to Busan route, camping along the way. Here I learned about the ice-cream shop at the top of Ihwaryang pass. Everyone needs their motivation!

There is of course a wealth of great information out there to be found, but I hope this has proved useful if you’re considering attempting this fantastic journey, which I and all the bloggers mentioned above would exhort you to undertake. It’s been the trip of a lifetime, and for someone who makes a mission of finding ‘once in a lifetime’ experiences, I’d have to rate it up in the top ten.

I hope this page has been helpful. If you make the trip I’d love to hear about your experiences on the road so get in touch!

Good luck, good riding and good times be with you when you go for it.

Gangcheon Goryeong dam, Daegu

Gangcheon Goryeong dam, Daegu


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Carlos
    Aug 01, 2017 @ 16:24:08

    I am planning to do Jan Boonstra’s trip from Seoul to Busan, but i don’t receive reply when asking him for the maps.
    if you still keep his maps and gpx tracks, could you please share them with me?



    • Pieces of 8
      Aug 03, 2017 @ 23:36:46

      Hi Carlos. I didn’t take the famed Boonstra route, and the link I had to his maps no longer appears to work. However, the Couch on Wheels guys got their maps from him. Try contacting them as they may have better details.
      Good luck on the road!



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