More Than a Hobby – Cycling in South Korea

Cycling is undoubtedly a beautiful way to explore any country – giving you access to picturesque roads and panoramic views inaccessible to cars or public transport. However, it is also an effective way to network and build connections with the local community when living abroad. To delve deeper into the subject, we sat down with Malcolm Roberts, Secretary of the Australia-Korea Young professionals Association (AKYPA), to discuss his experience cycling in South Korea.

As a young professional active within the Australia-Korea space, Malcolm has made several trips to Korea, both as part of his studies and to explore work opportunities after graduation. Malcolm’s first encounter with Korea goes back to 2015, when we came to Gwangju as an exchange student at Chonnam National University.

“Gwangju is a fantastic place. Compared to Seoul, the people were more open and keen to connect with foreigners.”

Malcolm Roberts

Malcolm began riding in Gwangju with a local club he met through friends in Seoul. His trips enabled him to explore the Korean countryside and smaller towns, without being limited to larger cities. What’s more, it helped him build a local network of friends that treated him like one of their own – rather than simply a foreign exchange student.

“I started riding there with the Korean friends I made. They took me all around Korea on a bike. It made me feel included – not as a foreigner, but as a local.”

Malcolm Roberts

Discover Korea Like a Local

Malcolm first started biking in 2014 and found it addictive– both as an exercise and social activity. He started his biking journey in Australia and found it an effective hobby both in Australia and abroad. “Cycling is a very social sport, as you spend a lot of time chatting with those you ride with. Because of that social side, it can be a good way to network. Which is equally true in both Australia and Korea,” Malcolm noted.

Looking for tips of how to get fit and start cycling at a competitive level? Check out this YouTube account.

“In Korea, it provided an avenue to explore the country, socialise and network, all at once.”

Malcolm Roberts
Korea Charity Bike Ride 2020, Busan to Seoul

However, Malcolm also noted several cultural differences that are worth keeping in mind. For instance, while in Australia, biking is a competitive sport, Malcolm felt that “biking with Koreans is quite different, there is a stronger emphasis on group dynamics. They tend to be more organized, with allocated team leaders and more safety talk.”

As a result, understanding road rules and unspoken etiquette is really important – as is the case for living and working in Korea more broadly, as the country is famous for its emphasis on cultural nuances.

“The most important thing is understanding the etiquette. The best way to learn this is to ride with others – it’s also a great way to practice your Korean language skills and pick up new vocabulary.”

Malcolm Roberts

Looking for more Korean Language study tips? Check out the Language Study section on Asia Options!

Networking on a Bike

But while Malcolm’s first experience biking in Korea started as a student in Gwangju, upon his return to Seoul in 2019, Malcolm found his professional network growing because of his hobby.

“I’ve met so many interesting people riding in Seoul. The previous Australian Ambassador to Korea, James Choi, was an avid cyclist and I had the opportunity to ride with him and other senior embassy staff – such as the then Senior Trade and Investment Commissioner from Austrade, Rodney Commerford.”

Malcolm Roberts
Malcolm pictured alongside former Australian Ambassador to Korea, H.E. James Choi, former Senior Trade Commissioner at Austrade Seoul, Rodney Commerford, and others.

Rodney Commerford, now undertaking a new Austrade posting in Indonesia, also shared his thoughts on the value of cycling as a networking tool:

“Given both the importance of contacts and networks in Korea and the massive popularity of cycling, it presents the perfect way to build professional networks.  Its far more accessible than golf and you will meet a more diverse cross section of people, certainly in terms of gender and age.  During my time in Korea, I cycled with Chairpersons’ of Chaebol, Professors, government officials and K-POP stars, as well as some very talented local cyclists.”

Rodney Commerford

Having ridden with senior figures in Seoul’s Australian community, including the former Australian Ambassador to Korea, James Choi (pictured above), Malcolm emphasised the importance of connecting with fellow cyclists. As with other networking platforms, be it offline events or casual café catch-ups, it is vital to balance sharing your stories with listening to the stories and insights from your counterpart.

“You’ve got to lean in and just talk. It’s important to take an interest in those around you and learn that everyone has a unique story to tell – and you have hours of cycling to tell them”.

Malcolm Roberts

While it is also helpful to build you professional network while working or interning in the country, hobby activities such as cycling and hiking provide a valuable avenue to connect with people at different stages in their careers, ranging from students and young professionals all the way to Ambassadors and CEOs. Read on for tips on how to get started in building your network though cycling and valuable platforms you can leverage to get involved in the space.

Getting Started – Tips on Finding Information About Cycling in Korea

Watts Cycling Club

The best way to get connected to the cycling community is to participate in events – which could be social or competitive (racing level) events. For social level events, Malcolm recommends the Watts Community Ride, hosted by Watts Sports Seoul.

Handy accounts and groups to follow:

Finally, Strava is a great app to download as it connects cyclists around the globe and you can use it to track your rides across different cities and follow other riders in your area!

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Kate Kalinova

Kate Kalinova is a Project Manager at the Australian Chamber of Commerce (AustCham) in Korea. She writes for Asia Options and