TheTsukemen 55 Cycling Club Saturday ride.

This Saturday morning ride, organised by one of the local Thai groups seems to be becoming a regular feature of the Chiang Mai road cycling scene, though, as you will see, its not for everyone!

First the details:

The ride starts from a 7/11 on Canal Road, south of the old city. Woah! I hear you cry, is there a worse marker point in Thailand than a 7/11?? As a result of this, this particular ride has led to a little confusion and doubt from some first-time riders about exactly where the start point is. Well, fear not fellow cyclists, because what the organisers fail to point out is that this 7/11 is next to a much easier-to-find way-mark, and that is ‘pet mart’ which is clearly marked on Google Maps.

But if you really want to make it hard for yourself, the official instructions are: the 7/11 on the left on Canal Road just before the Royal Flora.

[Alternatively, I’ve added the location to the map of Chiang Mai Road Rider meeting points – ed]

Start time is 7.30am and, though they will wait a short time for late-comers, I wouldn’t turn up more than 5 mins late unless you want to risk missing the train.

Ready to roll.
Ready to roll.

Distance is 90kms total, so that’s 45kms to Chomthong where we take a break at the Esso station just outside town before riding the same route back to town.

I’ve been on this ride a few times now and really love it. I very much appreciate being invited by the locals and getting to ride with them, but what I really like is that this ride pushes me to limits that I could never achieve alone. Yes, this ride is what is traditionally called ‘hardcore’!

The start may seem fairly innocuous and easy-going, as the group rolls out at a fairly sedate pace… well, if you call 35-40kph sedate that is.

But at some point, and you never know quite when, some crazed fool (Mr T voice) will kick things off by either taking a very fast turn on the front, or just by all-out attacking. And the chances are, others will soon join in.

Thus follows a period of crazed racing and attacking, getting dropped and fighting (perhaps in vain) to get back onto a group that can be going anywhere north of 50kph! Add in to the mix the rolling terrain as we near the turnaround point and you have the recipe for a lung-bursting and leg-sapping ride.

But, hey, its not compulsory to stay with the big guns at the front and, without doubt, the ride will splinter into smaller groups only to meet up again at the meet point where friendly relations can be reestablished and rivalries forgotten… well, until it all kicks off again on the way back that is.

So, if you like the idea of riding in a pace-line / chain-gang type group and seeing if you can fight it out with some really fast and explosive riders then come along… you’ll soon discover where you stand 🙂

I also have to say that the locals have been super friendly and accommodating so far… even when 4 of us foreign riders made a crazed attack a couple of weeks back and managed to stay away from the main peloton.

No doubt they are planning, as we speak, to get their revenge!

A big thank you to fellow Chiang Mai Road Rider Kieran Barry for contributing this post to my blog.

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Bicycle Rental

The first three times I visited Chiang Mai, way back when, I rented a road bike, an old aluminium Trek with  Shimano 105 components. In total I rented the bike for just shy of two months. When I eventually did the calculation I realised that the money I’d spent could have bought me a brand new version of the bike I had been renting plus a fortnight in my basic Thai apartment.

Choice is better now than it was then. It is possible to pick up a cheaper deal (with commensurately cheaper components)  or a fancy carbon steed (at some considerable cost)  but ever since I have been something of a sceptic when it comes to Chiang Mai  road bike rentals. If at all feasible, I’d bring my own bike or even consider buying a bike and selling it at the end of the holiday.

However, that isn’t always going to be practicable or cost effective, especially for a short trip. So here is a list of the bike rental options currently available in Chiang Mai. I have no recent personal experience of any of them so there is no endorsement (nor criticism) implied by their inclusion.

Spice Roads

Lanna Roads

NK Bike Rentals

Best Bicycle Shop

One final point. All of these suppliers have a limited stock, especially in the larger sizes. If you are coming and definitely want to rent a bike I’d suggest you make your reservation as early as possible to avoid disappointment.

 

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Elevation Gain

I’ve pondered, considered and reflected. I’ve contemplated, cogitated and ruminated. I’ve weighed up the pros and cons, mulled over the options and stewed over the alternatives. And at last I’ve come to a decision.

All elevation gains mentioned on this blog will use the figure given when plotting a route on Strava.

Yes, I know. Strava is consistently wrong. Strava consistently gives a greater elevation gain than your Garmin. But Strava is at least reasonably consistent. And everyone can access it.  My Garmin is consistent too but it’s mean, consistently giving me a lower elevation gain than all my buddies. Unless you ride with me often or have done a bunch of the same routes as me, there is no way of knowing how our bike computers compare.

Hopefully, you’ll be smart enough to calculate what gain you’re likely to get on a ride based on previous experiences of Strava. If not, at least the error will mean less climbing than expected, rather than more.

Happy riding.

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Ride of the week: The new Ob Khan

The ride to Ob Khan National Park has long been one of my favourite rides. Indeed it was my very first ride of the week. Recently though a number of new roads have been built, dramatically transforming this ride. And it has all been for the better. A big thank you to the Thai Highways Department.

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We still start the ride from the regular PTT / Cafe Amazon meeting point on Canal Road (highway 121) about 600 metres south of the intersection with Suthep Road and make our way to the Samoeng Road via the scenic back route and a short climb. But now we have a choice to make and what a choice it is.

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The first option is to turn left as though we are doing the traditional route but, before we reach the Canyon Road, turn off onto a brand new, undulating road that takes us onto the Ob Khan Road. We’ve taken to calling this road New Hope after the dog shelter that is somewhere along here.

The second option is to turn right and take the old concrete road leading to the village of Ban Huai Sieo. Until a couple of months ago this road turned to dirt just past the village. Now we have beautiful, smooth tarmac. This road emerges a few kilometres further west on the Ob Khan road.

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Whichever route we take, we are confronted by a short, steep climb but rewarded with stunning scenery. The climb on the Ban Huai Sieo road is the longer and harder but both routes are fabulous so we tend to alternate.

The climb up to the Park HQ and the descent after is as pretty as it ever was but we no longer stoUntitled_Panorama15jpgp at the bottom of the descent. Instead we continue another 4 kilometres on more brand new tarmac (thanks again Thai Highways Department) through beautiful, rolling scenery to a small village and the picturesque temple, Wat Nin Prapha.

We’ll usually return along the route we didn’t come on. Going back on New Hope is definitely the easier way. The climbs are maybe a little longer but more gradual. Going back via Ban Huai Sieo gives you a short but properly steep climb.

The new route is shorter than the traditional one but hillier, with five or six short hills to get the heart pumping. Ridden hard, this is an excellent short training ride with the rolling terrain providing natural ‘intervals’. This may only be a short ride but it punches far above its weight.

IMPORTANT NOTES:

  • The village of Ban Huai Sieo was, until very recently pretty much at the end of a concrete road that went nowhere. The residents will have seen very little traffic. There are toddlers and elderly in this village who  do not have much traffic sense. I hope we always ride cautiously through local villages but please take extra care through Ban Huai Sieo. This particularly applies to the descent into the village when heading southbound. Please resist the temptation to race down the descent.
  • There is a Strava segment (Ob Khan to temple) at the far end of this ride. The final 400 metres of this segment is the road leading to the temple. It is usually littered with sleeping dogs. Please don’t race on this road.

 

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Facts at a glance

Distance: 58 kilometres

Elevation Gain: 970 metres

Terrain: Rolling with some short hills

Type: There and back with a loop in the middle.

Road surface: Moderate to excellent.

Traffic: Moderate to quiet

Posted in Chiang Mai Rides, Ride of the week | 2 Comments

We’re back

After a long hiatus (from posting, not riding) we will be back very soon with regular updates.  As well as updated information on existing rides and some great rides we never got round to telling you about, we have a bunch of new, exciting rides courtesy of the Thai Highways Department

P_20171112_094418 (2)Thanks for staying with us.

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Ride of the week: Mae Ngat Dam

A few years ago, this was one of our regular rides but, for some reason, it seems to have gone out of fashion. When we rode it last week, for the first time in ages, I was reminded just how splendid a ride it is. Someone described it as the northern “Khun Bee’s” which, in terms of distance and profile, is fair enough. But they each have a distinct feel.

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Water is very much the theme of this ride. We spend much of it alongside a river, then a canal, then we ride across a dam, a weir and several bridges. Those of you who believe that, once you start a ride, you shouldn’t un-clip until the finish will be disappointed. There are a couple of barriers to negotiate but we think that the breath-taking views are worth it.

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We head north from the Convention Centre and pick up the river road just after the junction with the main road to Chiang Dao. This takes us through suburban Chiang Mai, with its bustling activity, into the countryside where small groups of workers tend to the rice fields. We emerge on the Phrao Road. Further north, this is a great road to ride but here it can be a little busy, so we cross the road and pick up a small road that runs alongside the Mae Faek irrigation Canal.

The canal is a vital source of water to the many rice fields in this valley but it so much more. Cattle graze the banks. Fishermen, waist deep in the water, cast their nets. Children splash each other as they cool off in the shallows. The bird life is spectacular. As we pedal by at an easy pace we see kingfishers, bee-eaters, heron, egrets and storks plus a whole bunch of exotic species we cannot identify.

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We meet the Phrao Road once more but this far north the traffic has thinned considerably, the road is wide with a good hard shoulder and the pace picks up over a pleasantly undulating terrain. There is one small climb but, before we reach the top, we turn left and are immediately swooping down an exhilarating descent on a quiet rural road. More undulations follow until the road emerges onto a secondary road. We sometimes turn left here and head back to Chiang Mai without bothering to visit the dam. But today we have guests and we want to show them the views of the reservoir so we head right. There is a very short but brutally steep climb up to the dam and then we are dismounting and lifting our bike over the barriers.

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Although the water levels are alarmingly low following some unnaturally dry weather over the last few years, the view from the dam is spectacular. To our right, verdant green mountains provide a dramatic backdrop to the peaceful looking lake. To our left a vast, fertile plain stretches into the far distance.

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We are soon clambering back over barriers at the other end of the dam and speeding down a gradual descent. There is a gentle climb (more of a drag really) up to Mae Taeng hospital and then we are once more hurtling downhill to the main road that links Chiang Mai to the tourist and trekking destinations around Chiang Dao. We head back towards Chiang Mai and almost immediately turn off the main road onto a small service road that leads us past the Mae Taeng Correctional Facility (best experienced from the outside I’d suggest) to a weir across the Ping river that controls the flow of water into the Mae Faek irrigation canal. There is a little more dis-mounting and re-mounting here but we don’t mind. The weir is pleasantly scenic and a popular picnic spot for local Thais.

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We follow the canal for a short while, taking care to avoid the occasional pot-hole (this is the only sketchy section of the whole ride) before cutting back to the river which we will follow all the way back to Chiang Mai.

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MaeNgat

Facts at a glance

  • Distance: 126 kilometres
  • Elevation Gain: 782 metres
  • Terrain: Flat then rolling.
  • Type: Loop
  • Road surface: One short sketchy section. Otherwise generally excellent.
  • Traffic: Light.
  • When: Posted occasionally on RoadRiders.

 

 

 

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Riding in the rainy Season

The rain is angry and intense, not so much falling as hurling itself viciously and indiscriminately against everything below and exploding with a roar of rage. The sound is deafening, a staccato drum roll, drowning out the noise of traffic. I can barely see through the sheeting downpour. A headwind blows gigantic raindrops into my face, stinging my eyes. I seem to be riding through a surreal landscape imagined by a half-crazed impressionist painter.

I am completely soaked through. That sentence does not do justice to the way I am feeling. I am drenched, sodden. I don’t think I could be any wetter if I were stood, fully submerged in the river that runs alongside the now flooded road. I would stop and shelter from this torrential assault but it’s getting late and I haven’t got lights on my bike. If I am to get home before dark I need to soldier on.And anyway, I am already soaked to the skin. Did I mention that?

I reach an overpass. Water is streaming down the slope, several centimetres deep. I laugh, just a little maniacally. Forget, the headwind, I’m riding upstream…

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That was a truly unforgettable day. But one of the reasons it is so memorable is that it is a unique experience. I have rarely gotten very wet while cycling in Chiang Mai at this time of year despite riding four or five times a week throughout the last three rainy seasons. In fact, the vast majority of rides in the rainy season have been completely dry.

Northern Thailand has a tropical wet and dry climate with the south west monsoon usually arriving late May from India and bringing with it torrential rains that last until mid-October. That sounds grim doesn’t it. But it’s not all bad news.

The first bit of good news is that the vast majority of rain tends to fall from late afternoon until early morning. Mornings can be quite fresh at this time of year and the humidity will build up over the course of the day. Late afternoon and overnight rains provide a welcome release.

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Obviously, there are occasional days when it does rain during your ride. When it rains in Thailand it tends to really rain. Sudden and fierce gusts of wind will announce the imminent arrival of a downpour.  Free-standing signs will crash to the ground, plastic chairs will be picked up and hurled against a wall, drying laundry will be ripped from the washing line. Then the deluge will begin, slowly at first. Huge raindrops will drop individually and splatter on the road. But soon momentum picks up. More and more drops fall until it is a constant stream, a monstrous power shower.

Something so intense cannot last for long. It doesn’t.  Usually, after ten minutes or so, the worst is over and it will generally be completely finished within an hour. If it does start to rain while we are out riding we can generally find shelter and wait it out.

The final thing to bear in mind is the temperature. The cloud cover prevents it from getting too hot but, even when it is raining it is generally pleasantly warm. Riding in the rain in temperatures exceeding 20 degrees centigrade is an entirely different experience to the grim torture that can be riding in the freezing rain I was used to in the UK and France.

So, if you leave sometime between 07:00 or 08:00 and are back by mid-afternoon, most days you will probably not encounter any rain at all although the roads may still be damp in a few places at the start of a ride if there has been heavy overnight rain.There may well be blue skies with fluffy white clouds or a forbidding dark grey sky but this will keep the worst of the sun off your backs although don’t forget the sun cream. It is still somehow possible to get sunburnt under the most dark and threatening of skies here in Chiang Mai. In the unlikely event you are caught in a thunderstorm, take cover in a friendly mom and pops’ store until the worst is over. And if you do get caught in the rain, don’t fret over much. You might be getting wet but you won’t be cold.

Now let’s hope I haven’t jinxed anything for tomorrow’s ride…

 

 

 

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