Monday, December 18, 2006

Trail Update: PongDinDum

Location: Chonburi
Trail Type: XC

I nearly cancelled this trip due to very strong, gusty winds. But I've been out of my bike for a week. I waited for the sun to come up and around 7am decided to roll out.

No doubt about it, the winds were blowing so hard! I had to lean my bike towards the wind or else I'll topple over! The powerlines were whistling so loud I thought there was a low flying aircraft nearby. There was one time I was on a descent, I HAD to pedal against the wind just to go down. I wasn't even on the trail yet, around 20kms out. Wooohoo!! When I reached the trail entrance, I saw two gents who have just finished a loop. Looks like they brought their vehicles with them (a Fortuner and a Honda sedan). I thought they were done so I didn't stop to say hi and pushed on to the trail. I will find out later on that the guys went in for another loop. The weather was great, sun was out, not humid and very cool. It was not windy inside the trail, only at the peaks.

I wanted to try the counterclockwise route so that's exactly what I did. I've done the clockwise route many times so I had an idea on what to expect. I was not disappointed. Very long stretches of climbs and VERY gnarly drops. I had to chicken out of two descents. Alone and hurt in the midddle of nowhere didn't sound good at all. Good thing I did though. There are hidden ruts which you wouldn't see at the lip of the drop, impossible to read because of the bend, and requires pro-like reflexes.

The drops weren't as steep as I imagined but the loose rocks and 'surprise!' ruts should add to the challenge.

I didn't chicken out of the climbs though. I managed to hammer all the peaks.

At the top, what used to be lush and green pinapple fields turned out to be smoking and burnt. Burning season. Smoke and ash everywhere, I feld I was in Silent Hill. But the view was still great, winds almost breaking the tall and slender trees. Mountains on all sides. I saw a trail on a small hill that may be worth exploring.

The second half of the trip, downhill from the pineapple field was fast. You can just let it all go and navigate all the way down. I was almost tempted to bomb this but decided to play it safe - good call. There are some areas with deep sand which could mess your momentum, deep ruts cris-crossing the small drops and lots of loose fist-size and babyheads.

Summary: Clockwise route wins the fun factor hands down for me. I prefer the steep climbs and loong descents. But if you're looking for a good workout (stamina and bike handling), the counterclockwise route will not disappoint.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Trail Review: Suan Wang Gaew, Klaeng, Rayong

a family resort ... rolling asphalt roads BUT with a 'hidden' gnarly singletrack ...

Location: Suan Wang Gaew, Klaeng, Rayong

Trail Length:
criscrossing smooth and forgotten asphalt roads on a hilly seaside setting -- plus -- a not so noticeable 2km singletrack up a small hill.

Jump-off Point:
Anywhere within the Suan Wang Gaew resort is a good jump-off point. If you are staying in a nearby resort though, you need to pay a relatively small amount to get in. I could not remember if it is 20 or 50THB. As a consolation for paying this fortune, you could take a dip on the beach for the rest of the day.

The Trail:
The resort was built many years ago during Rayong's heyday as a popular tourist spot for Bangkok dwellers during the 80's. Suan Wang Gaew resort is made up of clusters of huts and bungalows spread out on separate beaches on a hilly cape.

Connecting these bungalows is a criscrossing network of asphalt roads. The terrain is hilly and there are some upslopes which are quite steep. I had to resort to low gears just to crest some slopes but not that steep though that I had to call on my granny's help.

Riding is good. You could randomly pick any path and you will be greeted with a shady trail leading to a beachfront. Arrow signs thankfully in both Thai and english provide direction to the different beaches. Even the bungalows have name signs clearly spelled out and visibly seen.

There are some paths leading to sections which are not visited frequently. The asphalt roads are already breaking apart on these areas, on some points disintegrated down to loose gravel. I liked riding through these sections as the path was virtually shaded in trees. Very cool and very isolated. Steep gradients add to the challenge. There are places where the seaview breaks through and you could just stop and take in the scenery. I was a bit wary of snakes though so I kept on moving about and did not stay at a spot for long.

Depending on which path you take, just randomly heading into the numerous twists and turns, a circuit could range from 3-5 kilometers. The nature of the place gives a great workout as the alternating climbs and downhills keep you interested. As soon as you see the next crest, you are already raring to climb it with the promise of a fast roll on the other side. The breathtaking vistas and the cool sea breeze can take away your fatigue and egg you to keep on pedalling.

On the way back to our bungalow after an hour of light workout, I spied a small trailhead intended for hiking. Peering through, an idea formed in my mind that my HT could go up the trail easily. So after a quick water break, I climbed up the trail.

The trail is littered by trees and roots. The roots were the size of my arms, and some even the size of my legs, criss-crossing the singletrack. The trail was so inviting though that I just climbed and lumbered through the trail. At numerous instance I had to dismount and push my bike over roots half a foot high, as I am not yet skilled enough to bunnyhop my way through.

After climbing and pushing for a couple of kilometers, I crested the hill and came upon a small clearing with a great view of the whole cove. Time for another water break. The trail continues on, this time going down the other side. After considering for a few minutes, I decided that the trail was too steep for me and my hardtail. My beloved HT looked flimsy compared to the challenge. Simply put, I chickened out. With nowhere to go, I had to backtrack.

On the way down though, i found to my surprise that this mean and gnarly technical trail was so much fun to ride on the way down. I got in a zone quickly, picking my way through the roots and swerving through the trees. I was always conscious though that on the right side of the trail is a steep nearly vertical drop. My derailleurs were geared on 1-6 setting all the way down as I still needed to pedal my bike over the huge tree roots.

Just flowing with the trail, I kept my focus 3-5 meters ahead and resisted the urge to see where my front wheels are. Basics, basics, ... This got me going quickly and got my bike over roots easily. As soon as I look where my front wheel is at, immediately I lose my balance and get stuck.

Lesson learned: there is no use fighting this trail as you can easily get a bent wheel or mis-align your handlebars.

It was over before I knew it and I was hooked. I decided to give it another go, and for the rest of the 3-day family trip, I sneaked up this hiking trail a few more times.

Bike Setup:
Fat tires are the order of the day. Suggest nothing less than a 2.0 aspect. Or if you are using thinner ones, best to inflate in high pressure. The roots can easily mess your wheel if you are not careful.

Should be perfect for an FS bike.

Oh, by the way, bring some mosquito repellent. I stopped for a few minutes to take pictures and all the mosquitoes zeroed in on my location. There were so many I thought the mosquitoes were going to fly me away. Apply some repellent on your ears and nape, which should keep the buggers at arm's length.

Fitness Level:

No need to be A-one on this trail. My wife bikes occassionally and even she enjoyed riding through the hilly asphalt roads. She had to push her bicyle on a couple of high crests though.

Almost zero technicality on the asphalt roads. But this 'hidden' singletrack is a nice challenge. You need to be a bit advanced to climb and go down this strip.

Trip value:
It was supposed to be a normal family outing of cooking, swimming on the beach and drinking beer, but I brought along my bike anyway, not knowing that the resort could be a biker's summer haven. Trails are good and challenging, resthouse is clean and cozy, beach is smooth and clear. I am good, the wife is happy, my toddler son is happy. Worth a trip!

By the way, rental rates at the resort range from 1200THB to 6000THB depending on how big the place you intend to rent. There are choices from single room bungalows far away from the beach (cheapest) and 4-room airconditioned houses just on the edge of the waterline (most expensive). Tip: go there on weekdays as all prices are discounted 50%.

How to Get There:

Ride down 20+km out of Rayong on Sukhumvit Rd3. Just after the road leading to the famous Ban Phe, you will take a right on Rd3192. You will come across a major intersection with Rd3145. Take a right at Rd3145 and proceed for about 5km. Suan Wang Gaew is beside the famous Hin Suay Nam Sai Resort Hotel.


Monday, November 20, 2006

Race Preview: 4th Leg MTB Eastern Championship 2006

Pattaya, Thailand

Track length:
One loop 3.5kms; 60:40 mix pavement and loose XC

The Pre-ride:
What happens when you have a mixed group of XC and DH riders design a track for the last leg of the 2006 MTB Eastern Championship? A course which demands both the physical aptitude of a cross-country rider and the mental concentration of a downhiller, that's what!

Our group started out late with Pete having early troubles with his bike. I had to swap tires with Bruised because he wanted to try out semi-slicks for this course. K. Sumet SummitMan, on the other hand, was nursing a hangover and HomeBoy Keang was nowhere to be seen.

Finally, after four swapped tires, one fixed tube, one broken pump, and HomeBoy appearing out of nowhere to rejoin our group, life is good again and we were ready to go. We later learned that Keang already had two servings of the course - one for each category B and C. He was also bleeding below the right calf which was sort of a 'sneak preview' of what was waiting for us in the woods.

The first stretch of the course along the bay was a refreshing, picture-perfect ride with coconuts, boats, and a lighthouse. Then back to reality just beyond the lighthouse - almost 1km of climb over concrete and bricks halfway to the top of the mountain while deciding whether to push through the track or have some coffee first to jumpstart the nerves. We chose XC.

To make things interesting, the course included this climb as we approached the XC track entrance.

It was a short steep drop which leads to a long, fast descent between trees, over roots, and finally to the ramp back to the brick road. SummitMan showed us newbies how to do it. I wasn't paying attention and Bruised was paying attention to me. We ended with our own painful versions of the ride down.
A short stretch of smooth pathway and we were back over soil. Bruised and I were already stirred and shaken but were too stubborn to call it quits and join Pete who was probably collecting chicks' numbers downstairs by now. We pushed on, right behind SummitMan and Homeboy.

The next climb was a test of patience and skill. It was a singletrack climb over loose ground along the side of the hill. This track is just two weeks old and it lacks the hardpack that XC'ers love. Very loose soil at the edge and small rocks at corners all waiting to destroy what was left of our momentum.
Inside the woods again to negotiate rocks and trees. A few more twist and turns and we were in front of a 10-meter steep downhill. We let SummitMan lead the way. This time, Bruised and I paid attention to see how it's done. It was a smooth and clinical descent until SummitMan must have hit a hidden root or rock somewhere halfway down. The result was also a smooth and clinical endo with both man and bike defeated by gravity.

Seeing this, Bruised and I knew exactly what to do - we dismounted and guided our bikes downhill on foot.

Finally, the last stretch. A hundred more meters and we will be back to sea level with promises of coffee and hot bread. The race course follows the PINK arrow but we were told to follow the RED arrow to avoid the downhillers that may be practicing up front (the downhill track cuts directly over the PINK path).

But the RED path was no beginner's way down. It was a steep descent which cuts sharply to the right at the base which then continues to go down and cut's back sharply towards the left before finally levelling off besides the fence and over the parking lot.

Realizing that we have important appointments later in the day which cannot be delayed on grounds of broken arms and wrists, we slowly guided our bikes down on foot - and that was no easy feat either!

In the end, it was a good ride. The track ate us all and spit us out disgusted but we all learned something new. It was a VERY rude awakening for the first day of the weekend. But we'll be back...OH HELL YEAH!

As soon as you enter the XC course, your focus should be on the track 100% of the time. Let yourself get sidetracked and you'll end up hitting a tree or going downhill in the wrong direction. The singletracks are very very narrow and with sections like those on the hillside, I won't be surprised to see frustrated fast riders having to dismount to pass the slow ones. There's just enough room for one bike and passing zones are VERY few and far in-between - almost only in the paved section.

How to Get There:
Set your sights to Pattaya and follow this map.
Thanks to K. Oo Pattaya (อู๋ พัทยาCraZyGang) of the CraZyGang Downhill Team for the pictures. The original post (in Thai) can be found here.


Saturday, November 11, 2006

Trail Review: Pluakdaeng, Rayong

like a rollercoaster ... endless climbs and downhill ... more of an all-mountain than an XC course ...

Location: Amphur Pluakdaeng, Rayong

Trail Length: 11kms of punishing singletrack

Jump-off Point:
It is possible to park in front of the town district hall, or beside the police hall. The parking lots are shady and relatively safe (as there are police nearby). Or you could park in front of the Doo-dee noodle shop. Though you may have to buy a dish or two when you get back, as courtesy for the owner 'looking' after your 4-wheeled transpo.

The Trail:
Punishing. Technical. Gruelling. Not to mince any words in describing this trail, but just to tell frankly that this is no beginner's sunday park ride. Newbies - Stay Away! Or, at least, know in your heart beforehand that you are not going to conquer this trail today.

It is mandatory to have a decent set of technical skills AND a high enough fitness level in order to successfully tackle this trail. Otherwise, you will just be pushing your bike up and down the hills. There are hardly any flats.

The 2nd leg of the MTB Eastern Championship is just a couple of weeks history, so the trail is still clearly marked. The race guides and tapes are still in place. Since some sections of the race trail blazed through pineapple and cassava fields, i expect that most of the trail will be wiped out come harvest season at the end of the year.

However, no big loss as these sections are just to get you warmed up anyway. The meaty technical sections are always there the whole-year round.

The trail alternates between steep narrow climbs and harrowing descents in closely spaced saplings. My handlebar length is still the original length and was never cut, it felt like huge clunky carabao horns navigating through the tight switchbacks. I had difficulty riding through these sections as the trees are really spaced tightly.

At one point, my left bar end hooked in a small tree and so OTB I went, resulting in ugly bruises at my whole right side.

There are a number of good opportunities to catch air as you will encounter a number of 2-3 foot drops in the trail. If you get a read on where these are, then you could do some spectacular jumps.

In fact there are 2 (not one!) places where there are four consecutive meter-high drops. One is what is popularly known as "Haa Chan", literally meaning five levels as it resembles a huge staircase with 5 steps.

The second set of drops, I dunno what its called but I would definitely call it a twisting 5-step staircase, as not only does it have five levels but it twists 90degrees to the left after the second drop. Go too fast on the second drop and straight you go to a 3-meter vertical.

Bike Setup:
This is a great trail for FS and all-mountain setups. It gives you a great opportunity to flex those frame suspensions.

Bring chunky off-road tires. The trail, which is mostly singletrack, is mixed loose sand and soft earth. Very smooth and very tricky when you are climbing.

And watch your bar ends! It can easily get tangled in vines and small branches. I kid you not when I say that this is a narrow trail.

Fitness Level:
Bring your A level of fitness, in addition to all the bags of tricks you learned.

Highly technical. steep narrow climbs. steep narrow descents. lots of 2-3 foot drops. I give this trail 5 chilis, with lots of jalapeno (the red ones).

Trip value:
Amphur Pluakdaeng is a small sleepy town. Not much to offer in terms of trip value. But then again, if you wanted an easy leisurely sunday spin - then you would not be here anyway. At least, there is this noodle shop which serves delicious noodles.

How to Get There:
According to this map, if you are coming from Bangkok, take the Motorway Rd7 to Chonburi. After the last toll station (Chonburi station), turn left at the exit going to Ban Bueng, which is Rd344. Go on for 10 kilometers, until you reach an intersection. Make a left on Rd3138, go another 20km to meet Rd331. Make a right and look for Rd 3138 again on the left side. I know it sounds crazy because you were just on another Rd3138. Go for another 14kms.

Once you see Rd3245, turn left. Proceed along Rd3245 for another 6km and you will be at Pluakdaeng town center.

When you get to the town center -- check out the detail below.

Kudos to MTB Pluakdaeng 2000. All the pictures courtesy of them. Guys! you sure make it look easy.


Thursday, November 09, 2006

Single Track in Bangkok?

You're itching to push your bike over soil, not concrete. It's six more days before your next trip to the nearest singletrack. What do you do?

That's exactly what this team (Deep Salsa) did. In a busy metropolis like Bangkok, is it even possible to find a strip of land large enough to cut some singletracks? It was right under their noses, er under the bridge to be exact.

Under the interchange criss-crossing between the Panasonic plant and Central Plaza (Fashion Island) is a huge idle land. Scattered trees, tall grasses, and rolling landscape - it was like the perfect lump of clay waiting for the master potter's imagination.

And master potters they were indeed. The team was able to cut switchbacks, climbs, and even a deep drop from this property! For city MTB'ers, this is like a dream come true - away from the cars and motorcycles and the nearest to nature that they can get with their bikes in this concrete jungle. With no joggers to worry about, this place is almost like an exclusive mini bike park!

Lights out.
Ready for some challenge? What about night rides. Yep, the team also rides this track at night. The lights from the nearby highway makes it bright enough to ride but also dark enough for some adrenaline pumping action. But if you're planning to go there at night, I seriously suggest to go with at least two buddies. Do not ride alone!

How to Get There
Not so easy if you're coming from outside Bangkok. If you're coming from Chonburi, follow the Route7 Motorway through Bangna/BangPaIn Motorway. Exit the Bangna-BangPain Motorway / Ramkhamheng interchange. The parking lot is across the PANASONIC plant.

For those coming from Bangkok, set your GPS to track Ramkhamhaeng Road The trail is right where it intersects with the Motorway. [Hey, Bruised! If you can give better directions, please add to comments. Thanks!]

Props to the DEEP SALSA Team for taking time, building this track, and sharing it with the rest of the biking community. More info can be found here. Thanks also to ThaiMTB, as always.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

SPECIAL FEATURE: Bangsaen Bike Week Vol 2

Following last year's success, November 04 marked the 2nd Annual Bangsaen Bike Week (this year dubbed as Bangsaen Bike Week Vol2). This event is for bikes with engines - yep, no MTB action for this one. Over one thousand motorbikes, hogs, scooters, etc. - mostly from nearby Bangkok and Pattaya - came, saw, and conquered the roads of Chonburi for a day. Seriously, when the parade started, I thought the noise was from a Boeing 747 flying VERY low along the main road!

I will post some pics when I did a walk around the meeting place of the bikers early in the morning and early evening. The website is only in Thai. Fortunately, the clickable links are in English for more bike pictures with some women and a lot of men with long hair and leather jackets.

Parades, mini-concerts, and Miss Bangsaen BikeWeek '06 were just a few of the events featured this year. Very, very strong support from the biker community makes next year's event very promising!

Here are the links to the rest of the lot: [1], [2], [3], [4], [5], [6], [7], [8], [9], [10].
Ok, Bruised is going to kill me now for posting a non-MTB related article. Well, FWIW, BikeWeekVol2 was held the same day as the 3rd Leg of the Eastern MTB Championships at Silverlake.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Downhilling in Pattaya?

Location: Pattaya Hill, Pattaya, Chonburi, Thailand
Length: Less than 2kms

Pattaya is a very popular destination for tourists in Thailand. Lots of things to do, lots of places to visit. On one side there's the beach where you can just kick back and have some sun. On the other side, there's the mountains overlooking the small city and the bay.

But there's one place in Pattaya that most returning tourists and even the locals do not know about - a downhill trail right under the Pattaya Hill (or Radio Mountain as some people will call it).

Bruised and I featured it one time but only the "XC" trail. This trail is dead but hey Bruised, apparently there's another XC trail over there cut by the downhilling group for us XC'ers. This is for next month's last leg. It should be ready by now! Woooooot!

The local DH biking group call themselves CraZyGang. This is actually a misnomer since none of the members are nuts and all of them are respectable and responsible members of society -executives, business owners, and topnotch college undergrads. I know some of you will think "elitist" or "snobs". On the contrary, they're one of the friendlier bike groups in Chonburi. These are the guys that ride this trail most weekends.

What's crazy are some of the tracks that they run, just like this one in Pattaya - very fast and extremely furious. In a country where DH is just a baby, going down this hill at 50-60kph on two wheels with no engine is just like having a big red neon sign over your head saying "NUTCASE". Then they'll be surprised when you take of your helmet,"Hey, that's the bank manager!" Ah, the stereotypes that we have to live with - people usually associate DH'ers with long-haired dudes bumming under a tree or by the beach. Us XC'ers are not spared even on our HTs associating us with FR's and Extreme Sports.

The Trail.
The trail takes off right behind the Volkswagen coffee stall. As I've said before, the second XC trail is already in bad shape and only the DH course remains decent so think twice if you're going to bring your hardtail or anything with less than 5inches travel.

These pictures will show that this is a VERY serious DH course. When Bruised and I saw it, we could not believe that people actually go down on a bike on these hills. The tracks were insanely steep. But then I logged on to ThaiMTB and realized that the track is very much alive with activity! The group was there last weekend to check out the track for this year's Pattaya MountainBike Downtown Race on Dec 02.

Beyond the short strip right behind the volks cafe is all down down down. The track is fast and creative crossing pathways and connecting dirt to stairs to dirt again. These crossings are potential hazards since the pathways are used by joggers and bikers, too. Although they seldom come here to jog or bike, it only needs one serious collision between an incoming 590kph Intense and a jogger for the officials to shutdown the track. No warning signs at the crossings so be careful and eyes wide open.

How to get there:
When in Pattaya, just ask the locals for directions to Khao Phra Tamnak. Foreign tourists know this place as Pattaya Hill or Radio Hill. It's overlooking the bay and about 100meters past NipaHut Restaurant.

Trip Value.
Hey, it's right in Pattaya. 'Nuff said.


All photos were taken by K. Oo Pattaya CraZyGang (อู๋ พัทยาCraZyGang) who is also a very good DH'er! Thank you, Sir!

*This article is not only to introduce the trail but also to give an idea of the kind of equipment available here. Some people seem to have the impression that Thailand is one big backwards village with buffalos, rice paddies, and smokey markets with boats - just like in the movies.

So yes, we do ride the kind of bikes that you ride, most of us have MTBs under 25lbs, and yes we do wear helmets.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Training Loop in Amata City Rayong

I found the perfect place to workout during weekdays. As with any other weekend warrior balancing time between job and family, it is always difficult to find any decent pattern to workout within the week.

Of course, i could just hook my bike to the trainer and spend an hour there, but where is the fun in that. On the other hand, if I go outside and commute to work using my bike, distance from my crib to the office is a manageable distance of 37km, I would be totally stressed out from looking over my shoulder watching out for cars zooming past. Both options available but not quite desirable.

I kept on wishing to find an isolated place to do some intervals and incorporate some Fartlek training, on a lonely trail with a nice view ... only to find that it was in front of my nose the whole time (actually its in front of BMW Mfg Thailand where I work).

The place I am referring to is a rainwater reservoir right inside Amata City Rayong. There is a sandy fireroad circling the reservoir with a circumference of 2 kilometers. There is a nice 10-15 degree incline on one section, giving just the right amount of resistance for intervals training.

I try to be there by 6.15 am a couple of times a week at just the right time when the sun has broken out from the horizon. Orange skies, still, 'greenish' water, fresh air, ... isolation. I am done by 7.30am, at which time, I would have gone a distance of 14-16km mixed with some intervals within the laps. A quick shower and I am at my desk checking out the latest sports scores by 8.05am. Minimal disruption to my mundane daily life.

You're welcome to join if you are located within the area.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Race Preview: 3rd Leg MTB Eastern Championship 2006

Silverlake Vineyards, Najomtien Sattahip
Roughly 18 kilometers from South Pattaya Rd.

One loop: 6 kilometers, 50/50 mix sandy flats and loose XC

'B' Category -- 3 rounds
'A' Category -- 4 rounds
Although this is still being contested. Check again on race day, the organisers might realize they still have a heart and change their minds last minute. pls, pls.

How to get there:

From Pattaya:
From South Pattaya, mark your odometers and head further south for 12 km. You will reach Nang Ab Tao - Wad Yan Rd. Turn left. About a 3 kilometers, you will start seeing blue signs directing you to Silverlake Vineyards. Just follow these signposts and you will get there in no time.

From Motorway
Or, coming from Motorway Rd7, just motor on until you reach Rd36 going to Rayong. Turn left on Rd 36. After a few minutes, you will see a 4-way junction. Go down to Rd331 heading Sattahip. On Km161, turn right and then you will start seeing the blue signs directing you to Silverlake Vineyards.

The Pre-ride:

Race 3 of the Thailand MTB Eastern Championship will be three weeks from now. The trail is already marked so we made an early pre-ride.

The race course is inside the Silverlake Vineyards, somewhere 12 kilometers south of Pattaya. The vinyards are situated right beside Khao Chee Chan, which has a huge, huge Buddha figure carved onto a hill face.

Course is a 50/50 mix of wide dirtroad and very fast singletracks.

The most challenging part of the race is a gruelling long hill climb. Roughly 300 meters long on a steep rocky loose surface, this is likely the defining point which separates who will struggle and who will breeze through the race. Wetsprocket decided to hammer it out, he got past halfway before turning the white flag. I, on the other hand, decided early that I could not make it, and carried my bike uphill.

Downhill is the next up on the menu, again on sandy rocky road. Recent rains have formed some rain ruts so one has to ride loose but careful.

Then another short climb on a grassy singletrack. This is the second and last significant climb. And its all downhill from here.

There is a small steep section which is easy but tricky. At the bottom, it curves out as soon as you reach your fastest speed. Watch it as there is a small tree at the bottom. Really, I should not be telling you this because you would then be watching out for it. You know the golden rule of riding, 'if you keep starin at it then you will definitely hit it'. The organisers were considerate enough to carve some steps going down if you want to go the hiking way.

Uh-uh. One other small, small thing. This steep section is surrounded by trees and quite dark. Just before you reach this point though, you are showered in very very bright sunlight. When you hit this hole, it takes you awhile to get your eyes accustomed to the change. A few seconds sure, but being a short steep section, you would need to react quickly.

Its all fast downhill after this section. Very, very fast. Without doing anything, my bike computer is reading out 30km per hour just letting Mother Earth do all the work with her all-encompassing gravity. You will come out of it directly into the vinyards.

Its just then a series of turns within the vinyards. Nothing fancy, all flats. You will eventually reach the start/stop point from hereon.

The course is just a bit under 6 kilometers. Short, sweet and very fast.


On the bike setup, choice of tires figure to be important strategic part of the race.

Find something that can hurdle the rocky loose surface on the long hillclimb, but can be quick on the flat sections, which is packed sandy roads.

I used a Specialized FastTrack Pro on the pre-ride and was happy with it. My buddy WetSprocket used a GEAX Mezcal 1.90. It gave up on him during the climb, spinning out a couple of times on the uphill. On the other hand, he was pretty quick on the flats. So find the best compromise tires you can. Local bike shop might have a few suggestions.

Some more details on this ThaiMTB link:

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Race Report: 2nd Leg MTB Eastern Championships '06

"To be a cyclist is to be a student of cycling's core lies pain, hard and bitter as the pit inside a juicy peach. It doesn't matter if you're sprinting for an Olympic medal, a town sign, a trailhead, or the rest stop with the homemade brownies. If you never confront pain, you're missing the essence of the sport. Without pain, there's no adversity. Without adversity, no challenge. Without challenge, no improvement. No improvement, no sense of accomplishment and no deep-down joy. Might as well be playing Tiddly-Winks." -- Scott Martin

Location: Pluakdaeng, Rayong
Date: 07 October 06
Race Type: XC
Course Type: Singletrack, mostly soil and mud. Very steep climbs with technical downhills.

I was very excited about this one since this is my first race after 9 years of being literally off-the-saddle. I was also with Bruce on the last one 9 years ago so, yeah, we go a long way. Fast-forward to the present - a couple of beer bellies, a wife, and a kid later (not necessarily in THAT order) - we found ourselves in a familiar atmosphere, ready (or not?) to jump-start the long-idled heart and muscles.

Plus we get to see a lot of cool bikes. I know I couldn't win this even if I wanted to. I mean, just look at these guys. They look like they can finish this course even with me on their backs! Nah, I'd be just chasing that life-long dream of completing something, like finishing a race.

The race started late so Bruce and I had time to walk around and mingle with the rest of the guys in tight spandex and skull guards. The quiet town of Pluakdaeng was transformed into a mini-bike village - serfs going about on their iron-horses, bazaars with merchants vending their wares, blacksmiths tending the injured beasts. There was a tent setup for a mini-market selling stuff from scarves to complete bike sets.

Men in orange overalls were all over the place. These guys overlooked the checkpoints and medivac. Obviously, this event was not shorthanded in terms of staff. They were everywhere except the race course which told us that the race was again delayed for another hour.

A liter of water (IT WAS HOT AND HUMID!) and a couple of speeches later, the race was under way. Race pictures can be found here and here. I don't have any because 1) I thought I won't have time to stop and take pictures along the way (which I was very wrong) and 2) Bruce decided to be press at the finish line. Well, that's one motivation - I had to cross the finish line at least once or else I won't have a racing picture to show the wife when I get home.

Like I said, it was hot and humid so what better way to start the course than put the first kilometer under the shades of rubber trees? The track around these trees can be very confusing and we had to pay attention to the arrows and look for the Orange-and-Yellow guys with walkie-talkies.

Before we started to feel comfortable under the shade, bam! there it was, 3 kilometers of clearing where the tallest vegetation we can see were cattail-like grass about shoulder-high (on a bike). Nothing but grass under the blazing afternoon sun! I thought,"I'll be ok". I was well hydrated with 1.5liters of water a day for 2 weeks. This induced confidence was short-lived when my hand reached for the water bottle after the first climb, 500 meters before we entered the woods! I looked at my computer just to confirm what was happening - 4kilometers out, 8kilometers more, and I was ready to bonk out! Let's see, how many B5's did I already pass? Four? And how many were in B5? 35. Damn. Swoosh! There goes another guy from B6. Double damn.

The fast downhill before the entrance to the woods was like a mad rush to escape the midday tropical heat, emphasis on MIDDAY and HEAT. To think that the course will welcome us in the shade with a nice flowing singletrack was an illusion, probably heat-induced. In reality, what lay before us was a 100-meter climb on sticky soil with a 50-degree incline. As if on cue, everyone dismounted and pushed hard.

Upon reaching the top, we mounted but only to dismount again after seeing what the descent looked like - a downhill singletrack fit for a pro! So off the bike again and down. This went on for the next 2 to 3 kilometers with places to actually mount on the bike and pedal few and far in-between. Very steep climbs and very demanding descents. A few strong groups attempted to pedal the climbs only to dismount because of the other bikers slowly pushing their bikes uphill.

Exit from the woods opened to a wide pinapple plantation. Great, another sunbathe. At least I will finally be on my bike instead of beside it. Surprisingly, the flats after the ups-and-downs of the woods was very fast! I was zooming past the field and in between the rubber trees at warp speed, almost pacing the A-Class starfighter that passed me at warp speed earlier.

The last kilometer of the course was a pain. It was a zigzag technical track near the start-finish line with LOTS of people watching. Murphy must have been wide awake that day and amongst the crowd, looking at me, perhaps, and murmuring something about a crash. And crash I did - at a switchback right after another A-Class cruiser sneaked on the inside. I slowed down to let him pass and race, which I did perfectly. What I did not realize was the sharp switchback up ahead. I slowed down some more, came to a complete stop, did not unclip on-time, and fell down like a tree - which I also did perfectly.

Medic! What? No medic? No press? With my head close to the ground, I can almost hear the distant rumblings of tires fast approaching. Oh shit, more A-class incoming! The thought of tires and metal going over me was a welcome stimulus, the pain went away and I was on my bike not a moment too soon.

One lap down, one more to go. I felt I still had enough reserves to finish the race in a decent position other than last - I later learned that about half of the racers in B5-class fell after the first lap - so I pushed on. So on to the tarmac, into the rubber tree forest, and out to the grass field averaging 20kph. I was careful not to burn all my matches before entering the woods. It was already late in the afternoon and the Sun-God was still unrelenting.

And then the unthinkable. Three kilometers out, I was flagged by one of the Orange sentries. He said he had to take my number and I was being disqualified for missing a checkpoint. WTF? Realizing that it will take more than my boyish charms to persuade the guy for letting me continue, even if I had to backtrack to the checkpoint that I missed, I removed my tag and went back to the start-finish line.

It was over. Destroyed by the elements and blinded by my lack of experience, I not only missed the checkpoint but the realization of my goal as well. A while ago, I can almost hear Greg LeMond biting my ear saying "It never gets easier, you only go faster" egging me during the long, fast stretches. In the end, it was Scott Martin who accompanied me on my way back to the start-finish line. It will be a while before this pain goes away, 24 days in fact when the 3rd leg goes underway.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Safety First: Mountain Biking Injuries

I found this on the web.

OFF ROAD MOUNTAIN BIKING is now an extremely popular recreation and a potent cause of serious injury. To establish the morbidity associated with this sport, data were collected prospectively over one year on all patients presenting with an injury caused by either recreational or competitive off road mountain biking.

Eighty four patients were identified, 70 males and 14 females, with a mean age of 22.5 years (range 8?71). Most accidents occurred during the summer months, most commonly in August. Each patient had an average of 1.6 injuries (n = 133) and these were divided into 15 categories, ranging from minor soft tissue to potentially life threatening. Operative intervention was indicated for 19 patients (23%) and several required multiple procedures.

The commonest injuries were clavicle fractures (13%), shoulder injuries (12%), and distal radial fractures (11%). However, of a more sinister nature, one patient had a C2/3 dislocation requiring urgent stabilization, one required a chest drain for a hemo-pneumothorax, and another required an emergency and life saving nephrectomy.

Always be careful out there!


Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Race Preview: 2nd Leg - MTB Eastern Championship 2006

The second leg of the MTB Eastern Championship 2006 will be held this coming October 7 at Pluakdaeng, Rayong.

The next leg will be on Nov 4 at Silverlake Grape Farm at Najomtien Sattahip Chonburi and the fourth and final leg will be on Dec 9 at the Pattaya Bali High Sea Wharf.

To get to the second leg: here is the link to the get to the place (if you can read Thai).

According to this map, if you are coming from Bangkok, take the Motorway Rd7 to Chonburi. After the last toll station (Chonburi station), turn left at the exit going to Ban Bueng, which is Rd344. Go on for 10 kilometers, until you reach an intersection. Make a left on Rd3138, go another 20km to meet Rd331. Make a right and look for Rd 3138 again on the left side. I know it sounds crazy because you were just on another Rd3138. Go for another 14kms.

Once you see Rd3245, turn left. Proceed along Rd3245 for another 6km and you will be at Pluakdaeng town center. The map claims that you have to proceed to the Town Hall (left at the only traffic light) and the registration point should be there.

I went there earlier today (today is Wednesday) to check out the area. All I saw were banners on a Buffalo Race this week. Well, I hope there is really a MTB race this saturday. I would look funny with my cycling gears on, riding a cud-chewing buffalo this weekend.

The course is roughly 12km long with lots of climbs and downhill sections. The A category will go 3 rounds while the B category will have to go 2 rounds.

Registration starts at 9am. Unconfirmed reports say you have to shell out 300THB to register. Hopefully you get something to take home with that. A water bottle, maybe?

If what i have heard about this course is true, then this is an ongoing series of ups and downs. Many describe it as fun with many switchbacks on the downhills. It is fun, of course, if you have the stamina and strength to climb on the numerous hills.

Pictures of the different sections of the course: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20.

From the pictures, you can see that I was not kidding when I described it as a neverending up and down. Overtaking can be done on the flat sections and there are a couple of them at the start and near the end of the course. So bring on that explosive sprinting ability to be used on these sections. Other than that, its just keeping with the main pack on most section of the course.

All pictures courtesy of Pluakdaeng Club 2000. Here is their link.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Trail Tales: Bruised Knee the Prophet

Location: KhaoKeow - PongDingDum Loop, Sriracha, Chonburi

The Plan: The original plan was to go with a local group but I was slow going to the meeting point so me and Bruised Knee decided to burst our lungs climbing KhaoKeow and hurt ourselves descending PongDingDum.

The Do: Meeting point was at the Zoo Gate, 7.30am sharp. Right. The weather was pleasant and we rolled out quickly to catch the low clouds near the summit.

We started out with a liesurely pace, even telling jokes about the animals we see along the way. And then BAM! the 70-ish degree climb hit us in the face like a wall. Memories of our first trip here on two wheels came back as the air on our lungs went out.

We rested halfway. This is the last serious climb on this loop. The only thing that kept our legs going is the promise of the Weeee! XC downhill on the return trip behind the mountain.

The moment's rest seemed to have been a blessing in disguise when we met a group of riders going in the OPPOSITE direction! We were sitting on the side of the road catching our breath when the rode by. I cringe at the thought of seeing these guys going down at warp speed on the narrow trail near the summit while me and Bruised are slowly hammering uphill.

This is the case on most of the trails around here, bikers going in opposite directions on a trail. I saw the signs even in Tam PraToon where the markers seem to indicate that the Dirtbikes who frequent the trail go in the opposite direction as the MTB'ers. Me and Bruised once saw 4x4's emerging from the TestTrack Loop's trailhead while we were ENTERING it!

After a little bit more of pain and suffering, we reached the summit.

The Check: The view up there was great! You can see most of Sriracha - Mt Chalak, Sichang Island, Sriracha. We caught the low clouds and the cool air made for a nice refreshing reward after the hard climb a few moments ago. Better still, it's all downhill from there!

While getting ready, the prophet Bruised Knee asked "What causes a chain to break? I've heard that a lot of MTB'ers experience this on (and off) the trails."

"I don't know man. Maybe because [insert stupid idea here] ." I've had good mileage on my bike thus far and the worst thing that has ever happened to me in the wild was a bent hanger. (The second worst was a snakebite during my daily commute but that was on asphalt and with a phone signal so that doesn't count.)

The Action: After the first DH which rolls out into a nice flat singletrack before the next slope, guess what? my chain broke. So what do you do in a situation like this?

"Holy sh*t Bruised! Look at my chain!"


"Quick! Pick a number, let's get out of here and buy a lottery ticket before you're fortune-telling heat gets cold. Or say something about my rear der, I've been wanting to buy the '07 XT to match my ano frame."

After the whole thing has sunk in, we began to move around looking for the broken links. Our eyes were still (very) sharp (btw Bruise, the doctor WAS wrong) enough to find them a few meters back. We weren't engineers for nothing, no sir, so we actually TRIED to fix the damned thing using only best tools that we have for the job - rocks. That's right, we don't have the whatchamacalit tool to fix a broken chain. We do have a tire patch kit (each), spare tubes (each), and a multitool which we carry everytime but we never, ever had a flat in the wild.

We never finished the return DH and I had to push my bike over the first slope to go back to the gate the way we came.

I say, next time we carry one of those chain tools and leave the patch kits behind to see if how jinxed we really are.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Trip Report: Doi Angkhang, Fang, Chiangmai

Angkhang Nature Resort
Doi Angkhang, Fang, Chiangmai

Trail Length: ranging from 25km to 80km, mostly asphalt with some dirt roads

Jump-off point:
Starting point is at the Angkhang Nature Resort. This resort is part of the Amari hotel chains - so you will get great rooms, great facilities at 4-star prices. Expect to shell out 100$ US per night. There are other places nearby at backpacker prices (25-40$ per night) though the facilities are quite basic.

The Trip
At the resort, you could get a map outlining bike routes. There are a number ranging from fun rides to the serious 75km loop which goes down Angkhang mountain, go thru Amphur Fang and then up again on the other side of the mountain via Tambol Mae Ngon.

We arrived at 3 in the afternoon. It was 20 degrees Celsius. Wow. For someone spending time in Bangkok and Pattaya, I do not get that often. I was shivering and my teech were ch-ch-chattering by the time I got out of the car and into the reception desk.

There are mountain bikes at the resort for rent or you could bring your own.

The rentals are not so hot though. Just regular ones and not well maintained. They probably asked the head chef to bring back a couple of mountain bikes when he was out doing his daily runs to the market. The bikes are really, really low end. Tires are worn out. I made a quick look at the V-brake and saw that the brake shoe was still there. I guess that should be good enough. Do not even think of lubrication or adjustments, somehow just be glad that all the parts are there when you get a rented one. I wish I brought my own bike.

Still, the minute you go out of the resort and head into the mountains -- you do not even really care that the bike is all rusty and rickety, or that the chains skip a beat, or the gears continually get stuck. You forget all that because the view is so breathtaking, the atmosphere is just awesome! Heck, I would even have carried my bike just to be here.

The ride is a 70-30 mix of asphalt roads and dirt roads. The dirt roads are packed and solid so it is pretty easy going. It is pretty hilly. The road curves and follows the terrain ever so gently, so in a minute it could be a short uphill and then a sloping downhill after it.

I left my room at 630am in the morning. It was so cold, I could see mist forming from my breath. The air is crisp, fresh but very thin. For one not used to it, I felt out of breath and was breathing heavily in just a few minutes of pedalling. Maybe in a few days of being here, my body could get adjusted to the thin mountain air.

Bring some sort of eye protection. I was thankful I brought along my goggles. There are a lot of insects flying about, so you need some protection to shield your eyes from small insects.

Follow the asphalt road leading away from the resort. You will pass by a bonsai farm and a vegetable plantation garden sponsored by the King's Royal Project. Scenes of serenity abound - farmer watering the plants, hill tribe people strutting about, green trees swaying in the wind and oh! so pretty gardens line the road.

Bring your camera. Take pictures. Take lots of pictures.

After a couple of kilometers, the asphalt road gives way to a dirt road and the road is now progressively sloped up. You will eventually come across a parking lot, heading into a medium sized teak house. I chatted with the caretakers and they say the Royal Family stops by from time to time in this place when they are in Doi Angkhang.

Again, the view from this place is awesome.

After a few minutes break, I decided to ride on up the road. I met someone in a motorbike and asked where the road was headed. To another town 11km up ahead was the answer. Seems reasonable, but my lungs felt they were about to burst. I was getting light-headed already so I decided today was an off-day and headed back. I blame the thin air today.

If I was game, then that would have been 25km back and forth on a decent dirt road. Oh well, maybe next time.

On my way back, I stopped at a small market where hilltribes people were selling their wares. I wanted to buy a trinket or two, but on hearing the price, I decided to buy everyone I know two or three. It was so cheap! and the old lady was so happy I bought so much it felt really good.

I got back to the resort just in time for breakfast. Hmm-mm ... bacon, scrambled eggs and a hot coffee after a morning workout. Perfect.

Trip Value
After Doi Angkhang, me and my friends drove up to the famed Golden Triangle, the point where Laos, Burma and Thailand met each other. This place is infamous, as this was where the opium smuggling and drug trade of a few years back were quite rampant. Now, its just a tourist spot filled with shops and restaurants, overlooking a wide-brown river.

I guess the trip is more for bragging rights to friends on being able to go to the Golden Triangle. So we each took our pictures to earn our bragging rights, had a nice lunch beside the river and headed on to Chiangrai, where we stayed the night.

The trip from Doi Angkhang to the Golden Triangle took a little over an hour and from GT to Chiangrai took a couple of hours.

How to get there
See this map from Amari.