Friday, October 4, 2013

Scooter Market on Bade Road

The last scooter shop on Bade Road near Songshan Station

From looking at the viewing stats for the site, I understand that there is interest in learning about where in Taipei one can look at scooters and motorcycles for sale. I've already visited Yenping North Road with the video camera and filmed the blocks where the scooter shops are the densest. I bought one of my first motorcycles in Taiwan there (my second or third, I believe) in about 1991.

Used scooters for sale (NTD55,000 and up!)

Another area where I was aware of a concentration of scooter shops was Bade Road, across from Songshan Train Station. In my memory, the shops on the north side of the road almost all sold scooters, and right behind them was the Raohe Street Night Market. To feed the appetite for information about shopping for scooters in Taipei, I decided to revisit the area one day to grab some photos for the blog.

A pair of used Symco Fighters

With a free afternoon and nice weather, I jumped on a YouBike along Hsinyi Road, near a station entrance on the yet-to-be-opened Hsinyi Line of the Taipei MRT system. After cruising the sidewalks around Taipei 101 and the Warner Village/Mitsukoshi shopping/entertainment district, I crossed Zhongxiao and headed for Songshan Station.

That doesn't look like the station entrance I remember

And I rode right past it. It wasn't there anymore. Instead, the tracks are underground and so is the station, I guess. I never ventured into the entrance, which appeared to be a tunnel leading into an active work site. A steel skeleton for a highrise was being erected, and thanks to a helpful taxi driver, who thought I was photographing the art installation on the sidewalk, I learned the building will be 13 stories tall, a lucky number, and would open two years later.

Bade Road, formerly lined with scooter shops


But the station wasn't the point of my journey. I was in search of the row of scooter shops I remembered. And they were no longer there. There was one shop -- the last one. The boss of the shop said that there used to be 13 of them at one time, but they had all gone out of business. I asked how business was, and he said not good. The market has changed a lot. I didn't ask him what he meant, but I believe I understand part of what he was alluding to.

A taste of the way it used to look

There are certainly more scooter shops thoughout the city than there used to be, and many of them sell new scooters. They may not have all of the models on display, but they can have the specific model desired by customer delivered to the shop overnight. That way they don't need to have a large shop with lots of bikes on display. The big shops on Bade Road used to have large inventories on hand, and that much space isn't cheap in Taipei anymore, certainly not on the first floor of a major road less than a kilometer from Taipei 101. No one is going to confuse Bade Road with Hsinyi Road or Zhongxiao Road, but it has definitely seen its commercial prospects rise as redevelopment has taken place.

A screen grab from ruten.com.tw, one of many websites for used scooters and motorcycles

As for the second hand market, space is again a consideration. The shops along Yenping had new and used bikes lining the street in front of their showrooms, but that wouldn't be an option in Songshan. In fact, there was no on street parking along Bade in that section, and a shop that tried to line scooters along the road would surely get a ticket for obstructing traffic. Furthermore, the popularity of Internet sites like ruten.com.tw, where used scooters are sold by individuals and shops, has reduced the number of customers who browse scooter shops for deals.

Conspicuously devoid of customers


The concentration of shops selling similar products in certain parts of Taipei is one of the interesting features of the city's economy.  As the retail industry has taken off in the last twenty years, many changes have taken place, and one of those is the fragmentation of these clusters. The area near the train station is still the place to go for cameras, and Chongching South Road is still lined with bookstores, but the rapid development of the eastern districts of Taipei and the ongoing real estate boom has altered the commercial landscape.

Sales office at the last scooter shop

Little shops that used to give character to their neighborhoods are being replaced by more modern establishments. Mom-and-Pop shops close down and chain stores open up. Clearly, the process is integral to the economic vibrancy of Taipei, pushing less profitable enterprises aside so that high value can be extracted from the real estate, but the city seems to lose something of its soul in the exchange.

No scooters lining the roadside, and no legal parking of any kind

Nostalgic for the way it was, I am, but also satisfied with many of the changes I have witnessed. Riding my bike along Bade Road this afternoon, I was surprised at how little traffic there was. The air was not choked with exhaust, and the sidewalks weren't packed with motorcycles. At least not too many.

Standing where Sungshan Station used to be, with Taipei 101 looming in the distance

I remember one visit to this scooter market when I was living in Donghu in 1991. In one scooter shop, perhaps the very one I visited today, I ran into a young secretary who worked at the same English school that I did. I was with my housemate at the time, a single Taiwanese engineer, and he offered the woman a ride home in his car. She lived all the way out in Xizhi, past Nankang, which was just coming to the end of its industrial era. I hadn't seen much of Taiwan at that time, and I remember my interest in looking out the windows of the car at the old factories and equipment yards we passed along the way. The redevelopment of the last two decades has changed the face of this part of Taipei, but my visit today uncovered a trace of the way Taipei used to be.

Classics in the second floor display window

I was reminded of those long ago days as I pedaled around the Songshan District looking for the scooter market. I was several years late, but I learned that one holdout remains. But for how long?  And from the scooter shop boss, I also got the handle on another old scooter center, on Jingping Road in Zhonghe. Perhaps it too is just a shadow of its former self. A further adventure awaits.