Tuesday, 26 July 2011

A change in riding routine

So my general riding pattern has been Tues through Thursday; early morning, cross country MTB trail ride of around 33-38km prior to breakfast. Saturday and Sunday; late afternoon ride around 45-55km plus. Monday and Friday are normally rest days. The current westerly monsoon wind pattern tends to bring building afternoon clouds, which usually result in typically tropical down-pours. More often than not I cop a real drenching and even when it does not rain the weather tends to be sultry and oppressive. This weekend I decided to change things around and switch my weekend rides from afternoon to early morning, when the weather is generally cooler and the rain storms few and far between. So Saturday past saw me rise at my normal weekly time of 5.40am and after preparing the hydration pack and wolfing down Weetabix and milk I was ready for the off.

Well, as Rabbie said; the best laid plans of mice and men.... around 1/3rd into the ride the heavens opened!! But the downpour was not too long in duration, leaving behind however a muggy sky in no way suitable for the photographic opportunities I had in mind. Still, the ride was invigorating and I managed to cover the 53km, mostly off-road, at an average of 22.5 km/hr. Setting me up nicely for the day, the post ride breakfast of homemade strawberry and banana pancakes was washed down with lashings of fresh brewed Doi Chaang coffee.

Sunday morning dawned more promising as indeed it was to prove! I covered more or less the same route, but in reverse. The early morning low clouds made for some great vistas on the early stretch along the coast at Nang Kam as the sun fought its way through.

 The mid section, predominantly through the rubber plantations was refreshingly shaded and the 'hellos' of the rubber tappers and local children were genuinely welcoming. By now the early morning clouds had scattered and the background sky was a nice shade of mid blue, great light conditions for photography and soon I had reached the object of my photographic quest, Wat Donsak (Singhkon). 

I had skirted this temple on previous rides but had recently discovered a trail that led into and through the temple grounds.

The monks were friendly and asked me to join them for breakfast, but an alcove / small cave in the towering limestone karst, the central feature of the temple site, begged to be explored. Up the steep stone steps I climbed, to find a serene, reclining Buddha, dappled in light.

Truly a great way to start a Sunday; stimulating exercise, friendly faces and some photogenic opportunities.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

The Friday Video

A day early this week as I am off to Bangkok to go look at some bikes and gear :)

Courtesy of PinkBike and Banshee Bikes here's some great downhill action. Damn, these guys are FAST! But towards the end the old saying came to mind "sometimes I flick the Bike, other times the Bike flicks me!"


Friday, 8 July 2011

The Friday Video

For this week’s Mountain Biking video we decided to introduce a bit of International flavour. As the Tour de France is currently underway and serving up some exciting racing indeed, what better than a bit of Gallic fare?
Whilst most of the current crop of MTB and downhill videos now seem to be shot in photogenic, perfectly manicured forests or downhill slopes, this video illustrates the ‘grass roots ‘ side of downhill MTB’ing. The wet and muddy conditions certainly proved to be a challenge!

Brought to you via our friends at Zapiks and 26in France. Visit the Coupe de France Enduro web site for a write-up, race results and more photos.


Tuesday, 5 July 2011

50km X-C MTB Challenge – Part Two

Part 2; Down-Hill.

The time worn saying states ‘what goes up must surely come down’…… and so it does!

After the last climb at 24% incline the maximum elevation of 842 ft was reached at a distance of around 37 km. The plateau consisted of a short 840mt long flattish section that formed the pass between the higher hills to the east and west. At about this time the clouds from the south west monsoon began boiling up the steep valley and the heavens opened up with a torrential, tropical downpour. There was nothing for it, but to take shelter below a deserted rubber tapper’s wooden shack. This did allow me to grab a quick snack of fresh fruit and re-hydrate after the long climb up.

Shelter from the storm

Once off the plateau the trail started to descend, gradually at first but soon the down slope increased significantly. Knowing what lay ahead I had had the foresight to drop my seat post down by around 12cm to allow me to get my weight back and over the rear wheel. This was definitely a smart move, as the estimated 25% gradient proved to be a good test of technical down-hill riding. Pedals balanced level at mid stroke, back side behind the seat post and feather the brakes. The surface was similar to the uphill, with deep ruts, large intermittent rocks and boulders, loose stones and steep drop offs. The rain was still falling and riding into the prevalent wind direction it was driving straight into my eyes. One of the secrets to riding downhill is picking your line nice and early by scanning well ahead. The driving rain made this a challenge. Too hard on the brakes and a skid, easily induced by the slippery surface, could have me careening off the side if not careful. Riding alone, in the middle of nowhere, there was always the thought at the back of my mind – what if? But after the first adrenaline rush the pace, and nerves, steadied and the task became easier. Soon I was romping down the gradually decreasing slope and enjoying the gains of the hard earned ascent.

The view from the top

Once at the bottom of the slope the trail re-joined what passes for the ‘main’ road in these areas – a gravel wash board with rocks and ruts a plenty. The trail now passed through a spectacular canyon with towering limestone karsts on either side. However the continuing rain and low flying clouds did not allow for much of a view or the chance to shoot too many photos.

Now the trail branched off onto a very quiet side section and around one bend I was amazed to see a large water monitor ambling across the track. I slowed down to a quiet stop at which point the large lizard (about 1.5 mt. in length) did a slow u-turn and back tracked off the road. I approached quietly with my camera at the ready and peered into the bush to see a large pond and small river system. Although I had clearly heard the large reptile slide through the undergrowth it must surely now be hiding around the pond area. A short wait proved to be in vain and no further sighting was made. Ah well, maybe next time.

Back onto the trail, as the rain started to alternate between a constant drizzle and hard downpours. The trail surface had been recently re-laid after several flooding events in the area and consisted of a sand/red-soil undersurface covered with a thin layer of fine, small stones. A worse cycling surface you could not imagine! It acted like blotting paper, soaking up all the moisture and really sucked the tyres down deep. I remember my thoughts at the time ‘this must be how it feels trying to swim the breast-stroke in porridge!’

After a really fun roller coaster section skirting the mountains and through a double river ford the vista opened out onto rolling moors where sections of the rubber trees had been recently cleared allowing for some pleasant views, well, at least whilst the rain was not so heavy!

I was now getting back into familiar territory from my regular early morning rides and the rain was just getting heavier and heavier, but I knew the end was soon in sight. A final blast over Donsak Hill and it was a short road section back into home for a well deserved cold beer!

Fact File:
Total Distance covered; 54km
Total time taken (including stops); 4h 5min. Riding time; 3h 5min. Av. Speed 17.5km/hr
Max. incline +24% decline -25%
Max elevation; 842 ft.
Total height; gained 2,938 ft. lost 2,851 ft.

View Donsak 50km MTB Challenge in a larger map

Sunday, 3 July 2011

50km X-C MTB Challenge – The Reccy

Saturday 2nd July 2011

Ready for the Off

Headed off from home at Tong Ao, Donsak just after midday. The weather was partially overcast but pretty hot and humid. The first short section along the road brought a nice cooling breeze pedaling at around 24km/hr. But knowing this was going to be a reccy and not a race my head told me it would be wise to take it easy and conserve energy, who knew what lay ahead?

The first section over Donsak Hill, through Khao Kloy to Nam Chaa was all familiar territory on quiet backroads interspersed with a high percentage of gravel dirt roads and soily/rocky trails through the rubber tree plantations. As I pushed on the hills ahead ominously started appearing in clearer view, giving a foretaste of what was to come. Turning left into the ‘Hidden Valley’ at 17.5 km the size of the task became more apparent but the pace was good as was still the weather. A bit more cloud, but that meant a pleasant relief from the overhead midday sun. The trail got quieter, apart from the odd motorcycle, local croppers heading into town for Saturday afternoon shopping. From the looks and usual ‘farang’ comments it was clear that they had never encountered any cyclists in this neck of the woods. The scenery was beautiful, the small river running through the valley featured a number of fords and side trails – all good for future exploration.

At a fork in the junction, close to my previous end of the road assessment, I wondered whether the trail to the right might in fact be the correct route. Fortunately a couple of Thai ladies on a motorcycle were just leaving a house close by and I was able to quiz them. I knew the general name of the area I was aiming for as Pak Phraek. The normal way to get there is along the main 4142 highway via the junction at Ban Nai. At first the ladies tried to steer me back towards the main road citing a ‘Big Hill’ as an impediment to my progress. But a quick ‘Mai pen rai’ from my side and yes, they said, ‘pai dai’. I guess the concept of a ‘mountain bike’ was beyond them.

So, off on the left fork and past the Thai Sign on the side of the road, which I had been informed said ‘a road will be built here’, the extent of my previous trip. The trail started to climb and climb. Loose stones, gulleys from the recent rains, rocks and drop offs, quite a technical up-hill section. Unfortunately my front derailleur is on its last legs, which means I can only select the big ring from my most used centre, no access to the granny ring! But by now the slope was steep enough such that even if I was able to get in the granny ring it would probably still be quicker to push the bike and walk!

200 mt. to the summit?

A hundred metres or so and the incline crested. Back on the bike, along a leafy, wooded section the trail was double with tall grass growing in the centre. The weather was closing in, the humidity rising and the closeness of the jungle made it feel like a sauna. A bend in the road and here we go – the killer hill. Wow! Just up, up, up. Shortly after I dismounted a pretty young lady passed by on a motorbike, all dressed up for Saturday afternoon, gingerly making her way up the rutted loose gravel, over the rocks and channels. A long hard push up, what I hoped would be the steepest section, turned out to be around 300 mt. until the summit was finally crested. Relief at last, it would all be all downhill from here on.

Stay tuned for the next part.....

Friday, 1 July 2011

The Friday Video

Another great MTB video from Scotland, brought to you by Vimeo and http://www.mtbcut.tv/  Follow the MTBcut Team riding Ben Lomond in Scotland before travelling to the Downhill World Cup Tour in South Africa.