Taiwan’s Grand Riders

“I Didn’t Stop Riding Because I Got Old, I Got Old Because I Stopped Riding.”

By Peter Starr, Photography by Richard Greer

Their uplifting story made the Grand Riders celebrities in Taiwan, and thanks to the Internet they have inspired people all over the world. TC Bank’s commercial doesn’t have much to do with finances, but it carries a powerful message of hope, which is its own kind of valuable currency. The video’s nearly 4 million views and countless comments attest to the riders’ inspirational potential, speaking to those who feel their best days are behind them.

The Grand Riders have continued to gather annually to relive the ride and enjoy the morale boost it offers, and thanks to the Hondao Foundation and the Taiwanese tourism office in Los Angeles, I was able to join them on their most recent outing. The 11 of the original 17 riders that made this latest journey are an amazing mixture of personalities, with an uncommon-yet-infectious sense of humility, reality and humor that was palpable even without the luxury of a common language.

Miao Guei Jhu, 94, a grandfather and the oldest Grand Rider, told me that “riding around the country is the best present to myself.” He toured Taiwan for the first time when he was 63, long after many riders hang up their helmets. Ying Mei and Hong Dao were the only couple on the ride and the youngest among the group, and they each rode their own scooter. Ying Mei is a grandmother who has undergone breast-cancer treatment, but that didn’t stymie her ambitions or her spirit to live. Instead of feeling sorry for herself, she rose above her affliction and now helps others who struggle with cancer.

After several months of trading E-mails with Doris Lin and Emma Huang of the Hondao Foundation, who organized the ride, my adventure started in the southernmost city of Koahsiung at Kymco’s scooter factory. There I picked up a new MyRoad 700 and was baptized into the traffic of the city’s busy streets. Joining up with a contingent of the group, I headed south to the coastal town of Taitung, where we met the Grand Riders and set out on the official journey. This leg of my eventual 650-mile, eight-day journey was only about 140 miles, but it took us the better part of 5 hours due to the mountainous roads.

My group consisted of tour guide “Paul” Hsiao, Kymco executive Devon Wu and photo-grapher Richard Greer, and when we arrived at the meeting place we were totally overwhelmed. The warmth with which the Grand Riders welcomed us was incredible,

and I spent a couple hours talking with them through Chrissy, our English-speaking, American-educated translator. Through our parsed conversations I learned about their lives, their motivations and their hopes for the future. This initial meeting was full of subtle perceptions of a society about which I was completely ignorant. As I have gotten older, I have often wondered how I would handle the aging process. I just hope I can be as gracious, energetic and outgoing as these Grand Riders.

That evening there was a dinner and party with a rock band, attended by 60 motorcyclists from the Cruiser Riders Club. This was turning out to be a much bigger event than I had imagined! The Grand Riders are stars, and there were numerous TV and newspaper reporters on hand to cover the event. The Cruiser Riders Club, most of whom rode Harleys, had traveled all the way from Taipei (12 hours and 325 miles distant) and Taichung (8 hours and 200 miles) to take part in the ride.

By Peter Starr
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