Wednesday, 11 February 2015

riding the ’hood

When we moved to our present house on the outskirts of Fanling in 2008, the prospects for cycling in the immediate neighbourhood appeared to be extremely limited, and since our main cycling activity had previously been on the extensive cycle track network that links the towns of Taipo, Shatin and Ma On Shan (see Saturday Morning Adventure), we decided to stick with what we already knew.

However, after a serious accident at the end of 2011, and fuelled by a dislike of cycling on dedicated cycle tracks, I thought that I should see what other options were available locally. Not much apparently. If I had only an hour or so to spare, there appeared to be no choice but to ride up and down the Drainage Services Department (DSD) access road that runs alongside our local river, which, as you can imagine, is flat and singularly boring. It was only when I found a way to cross the main railway line into China (The Hill), about 3km west of our house, in 2012 that things began to look up, although at first all I could find was more DSD access roads (Across the Tracks).

Then, in 2013, I started exploring even further west, which resulted in three new rides (Journey to the West; The Long and Winding Road; The Final Frontier). Nevertheless, I felt sure that there must be more possibilities in the immediate neighbourhood, and I decided to do some exploring on foot (following narrow paths on a bike can be awkward if you come to a dead end, especially when the only way to turn around is to tip the bike up on its back wheel and pirouette through 180 degrees). This exploration has resulted in the compilation of a short tour of my immediate neighbourhood that nevertheless features some extremely technical moves and a vicious hill.

The area between the Ng Tung River and Ma Sik Road has no roads, despite the map showing otherwise, but it is criss-crossed by several paths, including ones between the two footbridges across the river and Ma Sik Road, and a third crossing these two at right angles. I already knew about these paths, but the challenge was to combine them in such a way that no path is traversed twice. This problem is similar to a famous puzzle from the eighteenth century, and I resolved it in a similar manner.

Apparently, the citizens of Königsberg, in East Prussia, wanted to know whether it was possible to cross the seven bridges over the River Pregel once and only once and return to the starting position. The following diagram illustrates the problem.

The problem was eventually solved by famous mathematician Leonhard Euler in 1735, although ‘solved’ could be considered a misleading description. Euler proved that such a traverse is impossible. Note that both islands, A and D, and both banks, B and C, can be reached by an odd number of bridges, and the proposed traverse would be possible only if each was reached by an even number of bridges, although it would be possible to traverse all seven bridges but end up in a different location if no more than two of the locations A–D had an odd number of connections. The best route I could devise would necessarily have no more than two intersections from which an odd number of paths radiated.

However, my route starts by crossing the river to the north and follows a narrow road to a firing range that was originally set up by the British Army but is now operated by the PLA. It is from here that the short but savage hill starts that I alluded to earlier:

Once I reach the top of the hill, it is downhill all the way on the other side, but this is a very rough dirt path, and a mountain bike and total concentration are both essential:

It is impossible to describe in any kind of meaningful way the remainder of the route, so here are a few photos, in sequence, to give a flavour of what is involved. The concrete bridge in the first photo is alarmingly thin, and I do wonder how much rebar it contains.

The next two photos show a desperately awkward left turn followed a few metres further on by an only marginally easier right turn. The problem in each case is the drop off the outside of the corner if you fail to make the turn.

I often wonder, when I see a path that meanders like the one in the following photo, whether it was established originally by grazing goats, which can still be seen in the area from time to time. This section is easy despite the big drop off the left-hand side (the fence on the left marks part of the exclusion zone set up by the henchmen of Uncle Four).

The next photo looks back along the line of the route, which runs alongside the storm drain before crossing it via the makeshift ‘bridge’, which is merely a piece of wood that I scavenged from a recently demolished dwelling on the other side of the river. This leads to a tricky section through the trees and a couple of dirt ramps, the first up and reasonably easy, the second down and quite scary, because there is an abrupt turn at the bottom, and braking too hard on this crumbly surface could be painful.

Incidentally, I’ve made three attempts so far to ascend the second ramp, all of which have ended in failure because it is far too easy to lose traction completely.

I’ve devised a similar route on the south side of Sha Tau Kok Road, which ends with the eastern descent. This will be the subject of my next post.


  1. Fascinating insight into an area I certainly don't know well (it seems few do). Thanks for sharing Dennis.

    1. Martin, it may surprise you to learn that the section down from the top of the ‘vicious hill’ is popular with mountain bikers, but even the locals are never seen on some of these paths.


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