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.