Searching for open spaces, Bike The Moment tour the city at night
Hong Kong doesn't have a good reputation among cyclists. Local cycling activist Martin Turner is constantly championing cyclists' rights in a city he feels doesn't support the pastime.
There are Hong Kong travel pieces in The Guardian and on CBS News that specifically discourage cycling, and even David Byrne, the front man of Talking Heads (and an avid cyclist), called Hong Kong "the worst city for cyclists that I have encountered in the whole world".
A young couple in Hong Kong hope to help change that perception with Bike The Moment, a tour they hope will promote night cycling. For a fee, they'll provide a bike, and lead riders through Hong Kong island.
The latter is a big draw in itself - most Hongkongers have only cycled along bike paths, almost all of which can only be found in the New Territories. To ride on Hong Kong island means to ride on the road, which is completely foreign to most of us because, well, have you seen how narrow Hong Kong's roads are?
Not to worry, Bike the Moment's founders are adventurous, not crazy. Their night tours start after midnight, because any time before that, Hong Kong's roads are dominated by cars and probably too dangerous for anyone who's not an expert cyclist.
The after-hours approach not only works on a practical level - the roads are less crowded - but also fits what co-founders Hughes Lau Kai-hin and Queenie Chu have in mind.
"We are not serious, competitive riders," Lau, 27, says. "We both live on Hong Kong island and enjoy exploring the city by doing something alternative, so we each bought a bike and started riding."
The "doing something alternative" part was what sold me on Bike the Moment. I love Hong Kong, but its relatively tiny size and lack of open space (at least compared to my native California) has often left me feeling like there isn't much to do at night, other than the movie or bar routine. So cycling through the city at night is literally a breath of fresh air.
Plus, it's romantic, so I invite a girl I have a crush on to participate in the ride. We arrive at Sai Wan Ho - where Chu lives - at midnight and find the couple waiting for us with four bikes.
We have a choice of either a full-sized Mini Cooper 7 speeder, a smaller, foldable Mini Cooper, or two Stridas, a funky looking brand of triangle-shaped foldable bikes. As interesting as the Strida looks, my friend and I both choose the Mini Cooper.
The ride starts off easily enough. We leave the Tai On Building in Sai Wan Ho and cycle towards the Shau Kei Wan Typhoon Centre, passing by the SoHo East stretch of bars along the way. That part of town is relatively quiet, even during the day, so at night, it's an easy ride.
Then Lau curls out towards Shau Kei Wan Road, the main thoroughfare on that part of the island, and rides west towards Causeway Bay.
I've cycled on the road in London, New York, and Los Angeles before, but that first minute or two riding on the main road in Hong Kong still leaves me nervous.
Although we ride mostly on the side of the road, venturing out to the middle lane only to make turns or avoid stopped buses, Hong Kong's narrow roads have me riding closer to vehicles moving full speed than at any point in my life. But with Lau, and my brave female friend seemingly unfazed, I ride on.
We turn into Tai Koo Shing and ride through Cityplaza, venturing onto the Via Flori, a private landscape where Swire Properties hold music and art performances during the day. "Yeah, we're not really allowed to ride through here," Lau says. "But who cares, it's late."
We reach the Quarry Bay Promenade by the Eastern Corridor. Lau says he and Chu came up with the idea to start Bike the Moment last autumn, and they spent several nights trying combinations of routes to find the best one.
"We're not really about challenging rides," he says as we hop off our bikes to admire the view. "Our rides are casual, with as much emphasis on the view as the ride."
After the brief stop, we venture back onto King's Road and ride to Causeway Bay, stopping by North Point, for some late night desserts, and a visit to Victoria Park along the way.
Inside the dark and empty park, Lau encourages us to let loose and ride full speed through the deserted football fields. It is there that I realise that Hong Kong does have empty space - I just have to explore after hours.
We continue riding through Times Square to Tai Hang, then through Hong Kong Stadium to Happy Valley before making the return ride.
Here are roads and iconic spots I have frequented hundreds, if not thousands, of times. Yet riding through them offers a new perspective.
By the time we return to Sai Wan Ho after the 13-kilometre ride, it is nearly 4am. As Lau bids us farewell, my friend and I, both exhausted and drenched in sweat, look at each other. "That was fun," she says. "That was different," I reply.
Bike the Moment offers night tours from Sai Wan Ho to Causeway Bay and Causeway Bay to Kennedy Town. Visit bikethemoment.com for booking details