Just a few years ago the only place one would spot bicycles in Seoul was along the Han River where well-equipped, sporty looking people would race by at high speed with very serious looks on their faces.
You still see the groups of fast bike riders but these days the bike paths along the Han River are a lot busier, bustling with bicycles.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government has invested a lot of money in making the city more bike-friendly by making bike paths around the entire city, either marked by red paint on the road or a designated part of the sidewalk and the number of bike parking stations have been expanded.
Although Seoul is not Amsterdam or Copenhagen when it comes to biking, it is definitely possible to use a bike as an environmentally friendly means of transportation or exercise all year round.
While there are many options to rent a bike especially with the introduction of the Seoul shared bikes and seasonal bike renting shops along the river, you may wish to buy your own bike. It is worth the money in particular if you plan on using it often, and bikes can easily be bought at inexpensive prices depending on your needs and budget. Bike theft in Seoul seems pretty rare compared to abroad but it is always advisable to buy a lock and park the bike at designated bike parking stations.
If you wish to buy your own bike there are plenty of options and price ranges depending on how you want to bike around Seoul.
During my time living in Korea, I have owned 3 different bikes. The first bike I bought was a second-hand mountain bike I found online. The owner was super friendly and the bike as good as new although it had one flat tube I had to fix. I went to the person’s house to inspect the bike and decided to buy it without trying it due to the flat tube. It was a really good bike and I used it a lot for trips along the river. However, it was a bit too tall for me so I decided to put it up for sale. The buyer was also super friendly and very happy with the bike. We met in person in a public space and I was happy to see the bike get a new satisfied owner.
My second bike I bought online on Gmarket. It was a foldable model but at that time I didn’t read the description online. When the bike arrived it turned out it didn’t have any gears and the wheels were tiny! As the bike had been fairly inexpensive I rode it for a while for shorter trips before I gave it to a friend to use as his backup bike.
My third bike was also a second-hand purchase found online. This model was a sturdy Japanese city bike that came with a basket, lock chain, and a helmet. I met the seller at Hongdae station to inspect it. She had barely used the bike besides commuting from home to the station so it was in very good condition. With this bike, I have more or less stopped using public transportation except for longer distances over 15km in the city. I honestly don’t bike in Gangnam as there is so much car traffic, but everywhere else I am pretty confident and enjoy the exercise over a busy subway during rush hour.
As I have been quite lucky with the 2nd hand purchases I’ve made, I usually didn’t bargain about the price. A lot of people selling their bikes more or less just need to get rid of as much stuff as possible to avoid having to pay for the city recycle truck to pick it up as trash or ship or bring it with them on the flight back home.
The main advantage of visiting a physical shop is that you can see and try the bike you are interested in to check if it fits you. As a rule of thumb, you should be able to reach the ground with your feet while sitting on the saddle. You can also discuss your budget and how you plan on using the bike with the staff and they can make and show you suggestions.
Bike Nara is located in Hapjeong right by exit 5. On their website, only the information regarding bike rental is in English but the staff in the shop speaks English.
While I haven’t purchased a bike there, I walked in one day for service on my bike. The staff was very friendly and accomodating although they were quite busy on a Saturday morning. Due to the convenient location right next to Hapjeong station and close to an entrance to the Han River, a lot of bikers stop by for service or equipment on the weekends.
There are bike shops especially in Yongsan where the staff is used to English speakers. Some of the shops are specialized and only sell specific brands or models.
https://shop.watts-sports.com/ in Hannamdong - this shop is for the bikers who want to invest in a good bike.
Green Bike Park in Itaewon
bb5 Specialized in Brompton bikes - their main branch is located in Yongsan and they recently opened a second shop in Gangdong.
You can find bikes in branches of Emart, Homeplus and Costco and on their online shopping malls.
Online shopping in Korea is incredibly convenient once you know how to navigate the different sites. Delivery is fast, secure, and inexpensive. These days major online malls also have an English site and it is becoming increasingly easier for non-Korean speakers to make online purchases.
It is helpful to know the frame size of the bike you need compared to your height. And make sure you read the return policies of the seller. For online purchase of a bike you can often choose to have it delivered unassembled or assembled - the latter has a higher delivery fee depending on the delivery company.
Coupang You can buy almost everything on Coupang and have it delivered the next day. You can search for “bike” in English but the product description is only offered in Korean. You can, however, search the information on the model you are interested in and look up the specifications in English online.
Gmarket.co.kr - Gmarket is another major online shopping mall in Korea and has an English language option where product descriptions are available in English.
11Street is also a very popular shopping site and has information available in English.
You can often find used bikes for sale online - especially before and during school vacations when a lot of people leave Korea. Be advised to always check the bike in person and never wire money before you have had a chance to inspect the bike in person. When you purchase used bikes it is usually cash payment and bought as is, without the option to return the bike to the seller if you are not satisfied with it.
If you have basic Korean language skills you can use Korean 2nd hand apps. You can search for items in English but will need Korean language skills to register as a user. A search in English for “bike” may give different results compared to a search in Korean as not every seller posts in English.
The sites and apps below are widely popular in Korea and you can search for bikes for sale in your local neighborhood which makes it convenient to meet the seller and inspect the bike.
Karrot Market 당근마켓 Website and app available for both Android and iPhone
Joongonara 중고나라 (“Secondhand Land”) Website and app available for both Android and iPhone.
Due to limited shipping options to Korea and potential imposed custom fees, it may be quite costly to purchase a bike on Amazon, eBay, and other international websites.
You will often see small shops in local neighborhoods repairing and selling bikes. A punctured tire should cost less than 10,000 won and up and it is done while you wait. It takes 10-15 minutes if there is no one in line before you. You can also leave your phone number if you can’t wait and they will call to let you know when it is done. They will usually give your bike a service checkup, pump your tires if needed, and oil the chain for free.
If the staff thinks additional repair or replacement is needed they will let you know and give you an estimate before they go ahead and do it. Even without Korean language skills, it is not too difficult to communicate if there is a problem with e.g. a brake. You can point or show and say the word in English with a Korean accent.