Tips for cycling Seoul to Busan for first time bike-packers

Cycle path, bridge, and river


I'd never done bike-packing before. In fact I had never really done any long distance cycling, having only used a bicycle to cycle to work and back. So when a cousin floated the idea of riding across an entire country I was a bit apprehensive. However, on research, it soon became clear that if I was going to attempt a trip like this South Korea's 4 Rivers Bike Trail would be the best beginner's choice.

Within here you'll find a bunch of tips and advice on how to cycle from Seoul to Busan from 2 amateur cyclists who had never attempted such a thing before, yet survived.

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Paths and bikeways

The 4 Rivers Bike Trail is not one bike path but a combination of many bike paths and a few country roads that mostly,  as the name suggests, follow alongside rivers. In some places there are parallel bike paths either side of the river, however these often converge at some point so it usually doesn't matter which one you take. The total distance between Seoul and Busan is 633km or 393 miles.

The bike paths themselves are mostly either asphalt or concrete, with a few wood-slat causeways. They are largely smooth but there are some places where the concrete is washed out and pitted or just plain old and bumpy. This may only be a concern for road bike users who's bikes don't have suspension or soft tyres.

There are some parts of the trail that go onto normal roads used by cars, but these are often country roads with minimal traffic.

A lot of the paths are elevated on levies with the river on one side and farms on the other, and you can build up a good speed. Occasionally there are short but sharp detours going up hill when the end of a mountain range meets the river and the path must meander onto a road to summit these hills. In the middle of the route there is a mountain range consisting of 2 large peaks. This range is between the towns for Suanbo-myeon and Mungyeong-eup, a distance of 28km.

Renting bikes

We hired our bicycles in Seoul from BikeNara, which operates out of a Giant dealership in the Seoul suburb of Mapo. Their service was exceptional and I highly recommend them.

BikeNara offers drop-bar and flat-bar road bikes, as well as hybrid/commuter bikes. All bikes are fitted with racks to hold panniers and all come equipped with lights, bike pump, lock, water bottle holders, and a small tool kit with a spare tube. Helmets are free, but panniers are an additional cost.

They also offer a bike pickup service in Busan at another bike shop not far from the finish line. BikeNara even kindly let us store our suitcases at their shop for us to pick up once we returned to Seoul.

Road bikes for bike-packing

Pacing yourself

As this was our first multi-day cycling trip we honestly didn't know how far we could travel each day. That, combined with unexpected weather (rain, cold) and large hills, made it hard to predict when and where we would stop for the night.

It soon became clear, however, that with our level of fitness and payload of gear we had a range of between 80 and 100km a day, and so we came up with a system: we would select 2 potential target towns which we could stay at - one at about the 60km mark and one around the 90km mark. We would ride until around lunch time and when we stopped to eat we would decide on where to stay for the night. If the weather was bad or we were making less progress than we thought we'd book a hotel in the closer town, or if things were going well we'd book for the further town.

Elevated bike path

The bike paths are very well signed, though almost all signs are written in Korean Hangul so a translator app can be useful. Signs specifically for the 4 Rivers Bike Trail have a symbol depicting 4 figures in different colours arranged in a clover leaf pattern.

Despite the good signage, it is advisable to use an app for navigating. Korea seems to shun Google Maps in favour of the local Naver Maps, however for finding cycling paths and routes Kakao Maps is a better choice. We found it easiest to drop a pin on our destination, select the cycle option, and let Kakao figure out the route.

4 Rivers Bike Path Steep bike path


On Kakao Maps pink parts of the route indicated bike paths whilst blue indicated roads.

In terms of finding attractions, places to eat, or hotels, this was a sometimes bit of a pain. Naver had the most options, however it has no English translation option. Google Maps had a fewer places listed and was often unable to navigate a path for us. Kakao was only really good for finding the best cycle route to a destination. We ended up using a combination of all 3 apps, for example: finding a restaurant on Google Maps, checking the opening hours on Naver, and plotting a route to it with Kakao.

Where to stay

There were many places to stay on route and there seemed to be several types of accommodation available:

  • Pensions: Large, well appointed hotels with rooms that feature a kitchenette.
  • Business hotels: Small rooms, but comfortable and tidy.
  • Guest houses: Small basic, cheap rooms, usually with a shared bathroom area. Like backpacker hostels.
  • 'Love hotels': Good sized, clean rooms at a decent price but with subtle hints as to what their intended purpose is.
  • Camping: Though we did not camp ourselves, we saw many campsites scattered along the river. Most had power and toilet facilities. Glamping sites were also common.

Honestly, by far the best value places to stay were the 'love hotels'. They were always clean, modern, had good sized rooms with ensuites, and had large TVs usually with Netflix (just don't press the red buttons on the remote). The only difficulty we had with these places was there was sometimes limited service at reception. This is on purpose - most lobbies had a touch screen where you could rent a room on the spot without any human contact. As we booked ahead online finding someone to actually give us our room keys was sometimes an issue, but we always ended up finding a staff member and figuring it out.

At each place we stayed we were able to arrange to store our bikes either in the garage area or a storage area near the lobby.

For booking rooms online we found Agoda had more listings and options in Korea than Expedia or

Camping on the 4 Rivers Bikeway


Ultimately, there is little to be worried about. Korean people are friendly and accommodating, and it is a very safe country. We were never once concerned about our bikes or gear being stolen. As for the cycling itself, 90% of the time you're riding on dedicated bike ways with little interaction with other traffic. For additional peace of mind it's good to remember too that if things go completely wrong you're never too far from a town with a train station.

Cars and intersections
When there are no traffic lights, stop signs, or yield/give-way signs it appears everyone approaching the intersection slows right down and, as one person I asked later put it, "play a cautious game of chicken". Basically, you all kind of "merge" through the intersection, though busses and trucks seem to have a priority for right of way.

Our biggest concern was pedestrians walking onto the bikeway without checking for traffic. This only really occurred when the bike way passed large towns and cities, but happened enough to give us a couple of good scares. Definitely slow down in these areas. We really wished our rental bikes came equipped with bells.

We also had 2 punctures on our trip and though our rental bikes came with basic tools and a spare tube, it was an asset that we had prior experience changing bike tubes.

Not so much a hazard but an annoyance. A few times we came across sections of the bikeway that were closed off or being worked on without any obviously marked detours. We had to use our combination of map apps to figure out ways around.

Cherry blossom lined road Bike path passed temple

What to bring

  • Phone with a local SIM card. We found purchasing an eSIM online to be the easiest as it didn't require a form of local ID. A phone is not only useful for navigating, but also translating and booking accommodation.
  • Phone mount.
  • Rainproof riding gear.
  • Spare tyre tubes, a pump, and tyre removal tools. We had 2 punctures on our trip but were able to fix them on the spot.
  • Allen key set for tightening loose bike parts.
  • A bell (many Korean cyclists don't seem to use bells and our rental bikes didn't have them, but they would've been very useful in cities with crowded bikeways).

Other tips and info

  • There are many rest stops on the route, usually consisting of a few undercover public benches, however not many have water fountains to refill your bottles.
  • At some rest stops you'll find a bicycle pump within a knee-high metal box. These are in varying condition so be wary.
  • At some places on route there are compressed air machines meant for clearing the dirt and grit from your gears.
  • There are plenty of convenience stores: 7-Eleven, CU, Emart, and GS25. As well as being able to purchase usual corner-store items, each of these also sold a variety of instant noodles/ramen along with hot water facilities for preparing them on the spot.
  • Rubbish bins can be few and far between so you'll often need to take your rubbish with you. Look for pink sacks tied to railings at rest spots.


Straight asphalt bike path on the Four Rivers Bikeway, South KoreaPassing a mountain river
Cherry blossom lined bike path on 4 Rivers Bike Trail South KoreaRaining on the cycle path

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