Current Conditions -20160420

Weather

The current hot streak continues and is showing no sign of abating. Long rides are out for the moment. Temperatures are hitting high 30s by mid-morning and exceeding 40 degrees Celsius by lunchtime. We did have the briefest of thunderstorms yesterday at about 5pm but it was over by the time I’d gone upstairs to collect my rain jacket.

Air Quality

Possibly thanks to yesterday’s all too brief downpour the air is a little better today after one of the worst days I have experienced here yesterday. No sign of the mountain from Santitam, eyes smarting, breath short. I can’t remember the air being this bad so late in the year. In my experience it has generally cleared up by Songkran.

Roads

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What have they done!

Typically, after I made the ride to Ob Khan National Park my first ever ‘ride of the week’ the recently pristine road to the park checkpoint is now littered with vegetation and small twigs as a result of some tree cutting. The road is still rideable but with care and an increased risk of punctures, certainly not with the joyous abandon of a few days ago.

 

Apart from that, everything else seems good. The small roadworks on the Prem Road were finished at the weekend and I am not aware of any other roadworks causing a problem.

 

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Ride of the week: Rajabhat University

This route is shamelessly stolen from Jeff Vogel, founder of the Chiang Mai Road Riders Yahoo group and a man with a lot of years cycling in Chiang Mai under his belt. Jeff had posted a ride billed as a “northern meander”, the idea being we’d head north with no particular route in mind and follow our noses. Just how I tend to like it. This was the route Jeff took us on and I enjoyed it so much that it is rapidly becoming a staple of mine.

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Deserted, rolling roads at Rajabhat University

We leave from the Convention Centre and head north via the Military Road. We cross the Samoeng Road and continue alongside the irrigation canal, making our way past an  assortment of “attractions” like Tiger Kingdom, the brand new Magic Land and the gloriously named Elephant PooPooPaper Park. We navigate our way through a wonderfully scenic village (the name of which may or may not be Baan Hong Nai) soon emerging onto the Prem Road.

You won’t find the Prem Road on any map. Well, you will but it won’t be called the Prem Road. The Prem Road is the name given by ex-pat cyclists to a rural road that runs from Mae Rim to the Pai Road. The origins of the name are lost in the mists of time (although Jeff may know) but are presumably related to the fact that the international Prem School is located on an adjacent road. Anyway, the Prem Road as I shall continue to call it, is one of the more popular arteries for cyclists heading north from Chiang Mai and was probably the first ride I ever did in Chiang Mai.

It’s a little busier than it used to be but this is a picturesque, pleasantly undulating road that imperceptibly rises as you head north. The temptation is to blast along it but we’ll usually resist that on this ride and save our legs for the fun to come.

After 12 kilometres we turn right onto the North West Passage. This is another of those ex-pat cyclist names (I can feel a reference page coming along) that presumably relates to the fact that this road can be used to connect the river road to the Prem Road. We won’t be using it for that though. Instead we’ll turn off into the campus for the Agricultural Centre of Chiang Mai Rajabhat University, a 2,300 acre facility with currently barely used, wide and well-surfaced roads criss-crossing the site.

CIMG2518 copyThere are signs that the campus is being upgraded and we are expecting one day to be turned away but, for now, we are usually greeted with a playful salute from the security guards on the gate as we cycle through the entrance and past the Dean’s office. Here we let rip. It is near impossible not to get carried away on roads that seem to swoop and soar. We limit ourselves to a lap and a half at this time of year, a mere 10 kilometres of exhilaration, and exit the University via a short but sweet descent onto Highway 107.  The main Chiang Dao Road is a lot less busy this far north but we hug the hard shoulder and a mere 3.5 kilometres later turn off onto the North-North West Passage (possibly, the consensus seems to be less clear on this one) which takes us through a small, Thai village onto a quiet country road that rolls through a rural idyll back to the Prem Road approximately 5 kilometres north of where we left it.

Here we will usually find a Mom and Pop store where we can replenish water bottles and grab a sweet or savoury snack to restore our energy levels.Suitably refreshed we turn off the Prem Road and head towards the road to Wat Prabhat Tabhat Si Roi (Four Buddha Footprint Temple) one of the hardest climbs in the area. But that is for another day. Instead, we make a small loop that takes us up a small hill, gives us breathtaking views of the valley below, and brings us back onto the Prem Road. Then it’s back home the way we came. The road’s undulations are gradually taking us downwards and that is good news for our weary legs as someone will usually decide to pick up the pace on this stretch.

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NorthernMeander

Strava route

Facts at a glance

Distance: 96 kilometres

Elevation Gain: 615 metres

Terrain: Rolling

Type: Lollipop

Road surface: Moderate to excellent

Traffic: Moderate to almost none

 

 

 

 

 

Rajabhat

The Rajabhat Uni loop

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Ride of the week: Ob Khan National Park

It's a scorcher

It’s a scorcher!

It can get pretty warm at this time of year in Chiang Mai, especially from midday onwards, making those long exploratory rides we love so much not quite as fun. Short and sweet is the order of the day during the hotter weeks and they don’t come much shorter or sweeter than the ride to Ob Khan National Park.

Although people have been riding this route for some time now, the recent re-surfacing of a couple of key, previously very sketchy  sections, make this seem almost like a brand new ride.

We usually 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. We head south for a couple of kilometres on the main road but then turn off and from then, it’s scenic back roads almost all the way. There are a few twists and turns on the next section to avoid the main road so it’s a good idea to take a map or follow someone who knows the route.

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Smooth new tarmac.

We flirt with the foothills of the southernmost part of Doi Suthep so the ride is pleasantly undulating with four or five short hills to get the heart pumping. Ridden hard, this is an excellent short training ride with the rolling terrain providing natural ‘intervals’.

 

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A year earlier.

The 8.5 kilometre stretch leading to the park is particularly pleasant and the short descent from the checkpoint to the turn off to the park entrance on brand new, smooth tarmac is exhilarating. This is a ‘there and back’ ride. There is nothing of any note at the park entrance and the ride is short enough that we generally don’t require a stop, so we usually re-group and head home the way we came.

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Ob Khan NP on Strava

Facts at a glance

Distance: 60 kilometres

Elevation Gain: 897 metres

Terrain: Rolling with some short hills

Type: There and back

Road surface: Moderate to excellent.

Traffic: Moderate to quiet

Ob Khan NP Profile

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Riding With SoiTan

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.

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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.

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A mamil in Chiang Mai

Welcome to the Chiang Mai Cyclist blog. I guess a brief introduction is in order.

As a middle-aged male into road cycling I guess I fit the definition of mamil pretty well, although I’m not sure my low-end Merida qualifies as ‘expensive’.

Over the course of the last four or five years I have cycled quite a bit in Thailand (24,000 kilometres in 2015), mostly around Chiang Mai but have also made tours in the Mae Hong Son mountains, from Chiang Mai to Bangkok, from Bangkok to Phuket and up near the Golden Triangle.

The plan is to share some of my experiences of living and cycling in Thailand in the hope that this blog will become a useful and maybe even entertaining resource for fellow road cyclists planning a visit to the Land of Smiles.

 

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