Dropping back to the shelter of the bunch having done a brief turn helping to pull the impressively long, snaking peloton, I couldn’t help but marvel at how far the Thai cycling scene has come in such a short space of time.
Only a few short years ago, the sight of a lycra-clad road cyclist was likely to attract reactions ranging from amusement to bemusement. Any road cyclist you came across back then would probably be one of a select bunch of farang pioneers who spotted early Chiang Mai’s potential as a cycling nirvana. The small number of recreational Thai cyclists would be found on mountain bikes.
Now things are very different. Word has got out about the awesome cycling here, especially during the winter months and more and more westerners are coming to enjoy riding on quiet and well-surfaced roads that wind through fantastic and exotic scenery over terrain that ranges from the pan-flat to backbreaking steep.
But more exciting is the astonishing growth in popularity of road cycling with the local population as epitomised by the SoiTan Hansaa club. I recently joined the club for a ride to Chom Thong. Accompanied by a support vehicle, thirty or forty cyclists (all Thai but for three western interlopers) left the PTT station / Cafe Amazon meeting point just after the appointed start time of 07:30 and pedaled steadily down the Canal Road. We rode in double file. The pace was easy, the mood relaxed and I was able to enjoy a sociable chat with some of my fellow cyclists as we span our way southwards. I was vaguely aware of small groups of cyclists tagging on to the group and by the time the pace started to pick up, just south of the Samoeng turning I guessed we were a fairly impressive sight.
Eventually, the riders who had started in front of me had all taken a turn and I was at the front. We kept a steady pace between 38 and 39 kph for three or four kilometres and then, following the lead of the Thai youngster who had been pulling alongside me, pulled over and drifted back along the bunch. It was at this moment that I realised just how impressive a sight we were as a seemingly endless line of cyclists passed me by.
Discipline was tight, etiquette followed and as far as I am aware, nobody got dropped until the rolling approach to Chom Thong when some of the stronger riders put the pressure on. At this point the closely bunched group split to smithereens and the hitherto brisk but steady ride became a series of lung-bursting races to bridge a gap that someone had let open up or a scramble to find the back wheel of the stronger riders coming past. It was exhausting but brilliant fun.