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Painted Roads Blog
January 16, 2016 by David Walker

A Cycling Tour Is Born – Tri-Nations. Vietnam, Laos and Thailand.

Vietnam, Laos, Thailand bicycle tour on

Lao is a land of stunning and deserted mountain scenery.

Having led a Vietnam-Laos cycling tour on numerous occasions for my erstwhile employer, I often waxed lyrical to newly arrived guests about how fascinating I found the contrast between two neighbouring countries. Both buddhist, communist (in name at any rate) nations one could be forgiven for expecting them to be very much the same, but they are, as the briefest of visits will vividly display, remarkably different. The contrast between the culture, the people and the language, the written script, and even the importance of the buddhist philosophy of these two countries is remarkably different, as the tour we were to embark upon was to reveal.

Geographically next in line if the cyclist continues to pedal west is of course Thailand. Respectively modern, developed, and in many ways Western compared to its easterly neighbours, Thailand, I always though, should have been the final destination to this tour of contrasts that I so enjoyed. And so I long harboured the desire to create and run a tour from Vietnam, through Laos, and on into Thailand. But planning, exploring, promoting and running all of my tours personally means that time for exploring can be at a premium, and so it took some time to get around to putting this tour together.

Vietnam, Laos, Thailand bicycle tour on a Kinesis Tripster ATR

Stunning mountain scenery abounds on this tour – hence it being a tad undulating at times.

September was my second visit to Lao last year. A Laotian friend and I decided to go over some ideas we had for new and interesting sections for a Lao tour. In the interest of time we took his van, and we saw much that we liked. We drove a loop through the northeast of the country (more of which soon), but after a week of driving I was itching to get back on my bike, and so, judging the amount of food I had with me and the distance to the next town along the remote jungle road, I was dropped off at the foot of a long climb to resume cycling after a two week layoff. I confess to struggling a tad to begin with, my legs were weak and weary, and my rear end was soft and soon felt as though a surgeon would be needed to remove me from my saddle. As I plodded up that hill enjoying the solitude and silence, save for the chorus of cicadas and hooting of birds from the forest, I reflected on a discussion we had had before I was dropped off. I had learned during that conversation of a border into Thailand’s Nan Province that opened, without my knowledge, a couple of years earlier. Not only does this border open a new route between two nations, it opens a wealth of possibilities for my imagination. As I rode on, huffing and puffing and grunting in a most ungainly manner I reflected on what we had seen over the past week, I thought of tours and rides I have done over the past 10 years both in Lao and in Vietnam, and I thought about my explorations of Northern Thailand over the past few years. And with much excitement a plan hit me, not for the two week Lao tour I was here to investigate, but for the tour I have desired for many years – Vietnam, Laos, Thailand. I was excited and keen as can be to find a guest house, to spread out a map to see if the route in my mind was feasible, and to quench the thirst that I was rapidly developing. The guesthouse I found had a balcony overlooking the muddy waters of the Nam Ou river, it was quite beautiful and a most apt spot to ponder my route over an ice cold Beer Lao – and as I pondered I excitedly realised that my route would work, I was elated, the tri-Nationed tour was born.

vietnam, Laos, Thailand bicycle tour

We found some lovely roads through the tea plantations of northwest Vietnam

Vietnam, Laos, Thailand bicycle tour on a Kinesis Tripster ATR

Exploring the Lao section of the tour, possibly the last time I will use panniers on the Kinesis ATR bike. Oh what a lovely ride that was.

Vietnam, Laos, Thailand bicycle tour on a Kinesis Tripster ATR

Back in Thailand I had a wonderful time exploring the small roads and trails that have given me a huge amount of options for the final few days of the tour. Which route to use? I may well decide that one on the hoof depending on each individual group.

Vietnam, Laos, Thailand bicycle tour on a Kinesis Tripster ATR

The road less travelled for sure.

Kinesis Tripster ATR bike packing in the jungles of Asia

Exploring jungle trails.

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January 14, 2016 by David Walker

Packing your bicycle for flying. The Ground Effect Tardis

Packing bicycle for flight with Tardis bag

Bike and Tardis ready and waiting…

To bring your own bike or not to bring? This is the question that has been raised by several people over the past couple of months prompting me to get on with the long overdue sequel to a blog post I wrote over a year ago regarding flying with a bicycle.

Amongst other riveting topics last year’s article explained how to box a bike for flight. As there have been no revolutionary changes to the general design and mechanics of the bicycle since then I will revert you to that article should you be interested in the basics of stripping the machine for packing, whilst here I shall talk about my favoured packing method, the Tardis bag by the Kiwi brand Ground Effect.

PACKING AS DOCTOR WHO WOULD: IN THE TARDIS

Three years ago I made a purchase to settle a curious itch. I had already found that flying with a bike was no problem, but getting to and from the airport could be a different kettle of fish. With the bike in a box it was always touch and go whether it would fit across the back seat of a taxi, and with both hands full of bicycle box carrying any extra bags could be a pain, as was walking more than a few metres at a time. It was a chance meeting with a cyclist in a small Bangkok café that led to the convivial banter that taught me of The Tardis bag, I was fascinated by this new learning and eager to know if it really was as good as it sounded.

Named after Doctor Who’s famed police-box time machine, the Tardis is remarkable in its ability to swallow a whole bike plus hordes of other luggage in a sturdy bag that one can slig over one’s shoulder and amble effortlessly down the street in search of a taxi. Once said taxi is located there is no doubt that this diminutive bag will sit happily across the back seat, even allowing room for a passenger to squeeze in next to it.The only down side to The Tardis is that the bike takes a tad more stripping and rebuilding than with other bags. But with both wheels having to be removed and placed across the frame’s main triangle I feel that the wheels are less vulnerable than when the rear is left on the bike, likewise the simple removal of the rear deraliur leaves it less prone to damage.

Once the bike is in the Tardis you will note that there is lots of spare space, which is ideal for tucking away clothing, luggage etc. If carrying panniers keep one out for hand luggage on the plane. For most light trips in the tropics I can generally get everything in the Tardis without any problem and even carrying extras for running a tour I remain below 25kgs. Easy hey?

Packing Salsa Vaya bicycle for flight with Tardis bag

Salsa Vaya ready for disassembly

Packing your bicycle for flying. The Ground Effect Tardis

All necessary tools for stripping (if removing a crank set from an external bottom bracket you will need the little plastic tool for removing the screw from the end of the BB spindle).

Packing bicycle for flight with Tardis bag

All necessary tools for stripping (if removing a crank set from an external bottom bracket you will need the little plastic tool for removing the screw from the end of the BB spindle).

Packing bicycle for flight with Tardis bag

Note where the crankset is positioned and tied in place along with the rack, theory being it is less likely to become damaged. Wheels are strapped into place with straps I carry in case I need to secure a bag to the rack. Note discs facing inwards out of harms way.

Packing bicycle for flight with Tardis bag

I loosen the steering stem and turn the front forks flat, thus protecting them from potential damage. I always feel the STI leavers are a little vulnerable but so far no damage. The saddle and seat post are tucked in a safe and convenient spot and loose items are all placed in the bag that houses the Tardis when it is not in use.

Once the bike is in the Tardis you will note that there is lots of spare space, which is ideal for tucking away clothing, panniers etc. If carrying panniers keep one out for hand luggage on the plane. For most light trips in the tropics I can generally get everything in the Tardis and the one pannier that will be my carry-on bag.

Ambling the streets with your bike and belongings is a relative breeze with The Tardis. Here I have just arrived in Rangoon and have everything necessary for a few weeks exploring Burma slung over my shoulders, including the bike.

Ambling the streets with your bike and belongings is a relative breeze with The Tardis. Here I have just arrived in Rangoon and have everything necessary for a few weeks exploring Burma slung over my shoulders, including the bike.

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January 2, 2016 by David Walker

A Potted History in Photos of PaintedRoads 2015

Sitting with a beer and a MacBook on New Years Day I flicked idly through some photos of tours from the year just past. What follows is a selection of a few of my favourite pics from a year of cycling with groups, and alone, through Asia. Many thanks to all who joined in and made it a special year, and I very much look forward to a throughly splendid 2016 sharing great rides through Asia.

The year began with two tours through Thailand, first in the cool mountains and valleys of the north.

Sunrise over lao from phi chi fa

Watching the day dawn over Lao – Pu Chi Fa

Wonderful gravel road riding

bicycle touring north Thailand

Some great traffic free gravel roads on the North Thailand tour

The moon rises above a Salsa Vaya

The moon rises above the hills and a Salsa Vaya

cycling through bamboo in north Thailand

Riding through a bamboo forest as we head through the countryside of North Thailand

The PaintedRoads Thailand team then saddled up for the 1000 kilometre journey south to Bangkok, for the eternal favourite Southern Thailand PaintedRoads triathlon – Bike Beach Beer

bicycle touring southern Thailand's beach side roads

Beautiful empty roads give us hundreds of kilometres of ocean side biking…

bicycle touring south Thailand's palm groves

and riding through palm groves.

sunrise on over Thailand east coast

Morning coffee view last February as we cycle the east coast

Phuket sunset whilst bicycle touring southern Thailand

The sun sets on Phuket at the end of a splendid South Thailand Tour

and then back to Northern Thailand for some relaxing riding on the wonderful gravel roads, trails, and rural byways that make this, in my modest experience, one of the finest places in the world for a cyclist to live – I love it.

Gravel road cycling in northern Thailand

Chiang Rai in the far northeast of Thailand is surly amongst the greatest places on Earth for a cyclist to live.

In April I headed to Lao with my bicycle. To be honest the main purpose was quite simply that I love cycling in Lao, but the idea of a tour there has been on my mind for years, so with some time free I went for a little ride.

Kinesis ATR bike packing

The PaintedRoads Kinesis ATR in exploring bike packing mode

Sunset view at 1500 metres in Lao

A beautiful sunset view at 1500 metres in Lao

Monks collecting alms, Luang Prabang

Dawn in Luang Prabang sees a procession of saffron robed monks collecting alms in Luang Prabang

And then to China. For the third year in a row our extremely popular Yunnan tour was fully booked. This year saw a new working partnership as Echo and I teamed up with Cathy and Li to take a wonderful group on an absolutely stunning ride through one of the most beautiful parts of Asia.

cyclists below a blue sky in Yunnan China

Beautiful weather acompanied us all the way as we cycled through Yunnan

Bicycle tour of Yunnan Province China

The group rides through Tiger leaping Gorge, The walls of which rise as much as 2000 vertical metres above us as we ride through

Bicycle tourers on Shaxi's main square

The group arrives on the main square in Shaxi. This wonderful old tea trading town is a wonderful rest day venue.

Cyclists passes a lakeside temple  whilst bicycle touring China's Yunnan

Cyclists crossing a bridge on the edge or China’s Er Hai Lake

And then briefly to Macau, which, although a great place to wander with a camera is not ideal for a bicycle tour.

Street photography Macao

A street scene in central Macao

Street photography Macao

Macao is awash with beautiful old streets and crumbling architecture.

A summer sojourn visiting my family in the UK was followed at the end of July with our inaugural tour of Sri Lanka. The group was great fun, the tour was beautiful and PaintedRoads was back biking in Asia.

portrait of a Sri Lankan man

Sri Lanka is a delight for street portrait photography

Cyclists riding past fire whilst touring sri lanka

Exciting roads in Sri Lanka

a rural picnic whilst Sri Lanka

Lunch alfresco in rural Sri Lanka

Cycling Sri Lanka's gravel roads

Cycling Sri Lanka’s gravel roads

With Lao still on my mind I return in September to explore a Vietnam-Lao-Thailand Tri nations tour, as well as a new Lao tour, more of which soon I hope.

A Kinesis ATR gravel adventure  bike in Thailand

Exploring the road less travelled for the Vietnam-Lao-Thailand tour.

Cycling across a pass in Norther Lao

After more than a decade of cycling through Lao I still find new and beautiful places

Back to northern Thailand for a month of merriment and further route exploring followed Lao

cyclists leg tattoo and mountain biker

Exploring the trail of northern Thailand

 

And then to Vietnam for a month with my old chum Phong and another Northeast Vietnam tour. Since first running this tour in 2012 we have never run this tour the same way twice. Not because it hasn’t always been a stunning tour, because it has, but because even the best can be bettered. And – if you will for a few moment forgive the immodesty – I think this is what sets PaintedRoads tours aside from the rest. The people who run the tours, and the people who created the tours, and the people who make the decisions about the tours are always on the tours – its always me and the in country agent. And with a passion for what we are doing there is a constant desire to improve the route, see what’s down that road, what’s over that hill, check out that new hotel, see how the change of management has worked with that restaurant. We love what we do and we are on each and every tour, and we are curious to see where that new road goes, and we strive to provide a satisfying bicycle tour. So with that said, new for this tour was a slight change of route and a new rest day venue, both of which went down a treat with a group, who’s company I found to be most gratifying – a perfect tour one could say.

cyclists on a bicycle tour in northeast Vietnam

This road is part of the new section we added to the Northeast Vietnam last year – a road that I suspect is very seldom visited by Western cyclists.

beautiful green valley in northeast Vietnam

This valley is just one of many stunning scenes that we spend our days cycling through

Hmong girl in Northeast Vietnam

A curious girl out collecting wood seemed fascinated by the foreigners exploring by bicycle

cyclists on a bicycle tour in northeast Vietnam

Passing an adobe house on one of the regions wonderful climbs

cyclists on a bicycle tour in northeast Vietnam

The group – cheers folks

Before the tour Phong and I explored a new route in the northwest for our forthcoming Tri Nations tour

Before the tour Phong and I explored a new route in the northwest for our forthcoming Tri Nations tour

For our final tour of the year we ran our oldest tour with a new twist – an entirely Chinese group. Our friends and agent from China bought a fantastic group of cyclists from the mountains of Yunnan to the beaches of southern Thailand which they found both beautiful and warm after their high altitude weather back home. The group were fantastic, a real delight to travel with and to ride with, and I very much look forward to seeing them all for our next adventure together.

cyclist on the beach in Thailand

Cycling on the beach, a fine way to spend a couple of weeks during the winter

cyclists passing a temple in thailand on south Thailand tour

Leaving a lunch stop in the grounds of a temple

Chinese cycling group on southern Thailand beach

The group relax on a beach as we cycle south beside Thailand’s deserted beaches

South Thailand bicycle tour group

Taking a rest on the beach

South Thailand bicycle tour group and a penguin

A very warm penguin

South Thailand bicycle tour group

Exploring small rural trails is a part of the tour.

South Thailand bicycle tour group

Happy days

So the year for PaintedRoads ended with a new era dawning, taking Chinese cyclists to tour the world. Where to next? Watch this space.

Koh Yao Noi sunrise

The sun rises on a new day, a new beach, and a new year – Wishing you happy cycling for next year and many many years to come

Another year over, and a new one just begun. Many thanks to everyone who joinded us on tour and helped make 2015 so much fun.

And finally, on a personal note, many many thanks to Echo and Frodo.

Echo and Frodo rehydrate the PaintedRoads way at the end of a great days cycling through Yunnan Province

Echo and Frodo rehydrate the PaintedRoads way at the end of a great days cycling through Yunnan Province

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December 1, 2015 by David Walker

Northeast Vietnam Cycling Tour Photos

Vietnamese Hmong boy in the hills

A young Hmong lad out collect wood, behind is the valley we have just ridden through

 

PaintedRoads very first tour was our classic Northeast Vietnam tour which, when Phong and I explored way back in 2011, I found revitalising, to say the least. We first ran the tour a year later to great acclaim, and have taken eager guests along on this adventurous ride once or twice a year ever since. As is the custom with PaintedRoads we did not sit back on our laurels and keep plodding on with the original tour. Indeed we have never run the tour the same twice as Phong and I constantly strive to improve both the adventure and the comfort. And this brings me to the present incarnation of this tour with a revised starting point, and new rest day location, a route that has once again been revised and improved upon, and a cooler time of year to run the tour.

It only remains for me to thank Amy, Morgan, Andy, Stewart, David, and General Arthur  for coming along and making the tour so much – looking forward to seeing you all again soon.

Cheers everyone

D

A group of cyclists in Northeast Vietnam

The group pose for a snapshot

sun lit valley and cloudy sky seen whilst cycling through Vietnam

Typical scenery when cycling through the mountains of northern Vietnam

a group of cyclists on gravel and cycle cross bikes in Vietnam

The group all on drop bar gravel and ‘cross bikes – my kind of bicycle

Cyclists passing an adobe house whilst touring Vietnam

The group pass an adobe house

Two distant cyclists on the climb to Dong Van in north east Vietnam

The climb onto the Rocky Plateau en route to our rest day stop

A lady cyclist on a drop bar bicycle in Vietnam

Amy going strong deposit her rather tall gearing for the job in hand

Beautiful valley in north east Vietnam

Scenes such as this are common place day after day

Close to China in northeast Vietnam

This road is little travelled and little seen by outsiders. Phong and I discovered it by chance a couple of years back and added a day to the tour to ride this stunning loop. Too good to miss was our rational.

Western couple in traditional clothing in Vietnamese buckwheat field

Not many people pull it off when dressed in traditional garb by enthusiastic locals; I thought Amy and Morgan looked fantastic though

Cyclists resting beneath a moody sky in north east Vietnam

Arthur and Stewart rest after a tough climb.

 

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November 13, 2015 by David Walker

Kinesis ATR Gravel Bike Update.

 

Kinesis Kinesis ATR titanium gravel adventure bike

The Kinesis ATR fully dressed and in its natural environment exploring the trails of Asia.

My Sunday morning ride through the beautiful hills of Northern Thailand has prompted a long overdue update on my Kinesis ATR gravel bike. The last time I wrote of this titanium framed machine I was exploring a new route in Laos. Back then I was using a titanium rack with a pair of Ortlieb panniers, a small frame bag, and a handlebar bag to carry my gear. Not only was this not as I planned to carry luggage on this bike, but the gearing was, to my mind, a tad up the creek. And so it was that I returned to Thailand eager to get the ATR set up as I felt it should be.

Kinesis ATR on a gravel road in Asia

This is what the Kinesis ATR is all about, getting off the asphalt and onto the gravel. This was a fantastic descent from a pass between Chiang Rai and Thoeng in Northern Thailand that will feature in the upcoming Vietnam-Lao-Thailand tour.

Kinesis ATR in bike-packing mode

The Kinesis ATR exploring the byways through Thailand’s rice growing valleys

Gearing Issues

Wishing to use Shimano’s new hydraulic disc brakes when I built the bike I had little choice but to  go 11 speed, meaning an 11-32 cassette at the back, and to begin with – as I happened to have one kicking around, a compact 34/50 crankset. Whilst OK for short climbs in a temperate climate this setup proves a tad trying on some of Asia’s steep and prolonged climbs, especially with the mercury nudging 40º. The bike is touted as a machine to load up and see the world, and I believe that for those of us wishing to travel light it is a perfect machine for such. However, the gearing is, quite simply, wrong.

Kinesis ATR with Sugino compact plus crankset. 30/46 chainrings

To my mind the Sugino OX901D Compact Plus crankset finishes the bike off a treat. I find that the 30/46 tooth chainrings coupled with an 11-32 cassette provide ideal gearing for the intended use of this bike. OK, so I have to freewheel if I go much above 50KMH on the downhills, but I do that whatever – and not being able to pedal above 50KMH on the flat is not really an issue at all, well, not for a big girls blouse like me anyway. But when it’s 37º, I have luggage, and the climb ahead goes on for over 10 kilometres at an average more than 10% and rears up to 20% at times I am very please to have low gearing. Likewise the dirt trails I love to explore on this bike – most of the time I can stay on the big chainring, but when the trail rears up the 30 tooth chainring is ideal. Call me soft if you will all yeh with shaven legs and snug shorts, but this, to my mind and at least two other ATR owners I know, is how the bike should be built if it truly is an adventure bike to see the world on.

So back in Thailand my first action was to contact  Alex Cycles in Japan and order a Sugino OX901D Compact Plus crankset. My choice of chain ring size was 30/46, and whilst men with shaven legs and snug shorts may sit in a Surry pub flexing their quads whilst sniggering at my choice, for the sort of riding I do, and my perhaps mediocre prowess on the hills, I find this a perfect setup. This combo not only gives me low enough rations to tackle pretty much anything, it also means that the majority of the time is spent on the biggest chain ring, effectively meaning no faff with my left hand clonking between chain rings, especially on dirt roads. However on hilly off road sections or prolonged climbs with outrageous Thai gradients I have the backup of lower rations that can help an old fellow on long tough climbs in the tropics. Gearing sorted!

Bike-packing Luggage

If, upon arriving in the tropics the Kinesis thought it was going to sit back and enjoy a fine warm winter relaxing by the pool it had a rude shock awaiting, this bike has to earn its keep, and its prime function is route finding.

The amount of luggage carried by many travelling cyclists is of much fascination to me. Sure I have set out on long journeys with all I need to survive camping in the harsh climate of the Andes, but when cycling through most of SE Asia there is not really much one needs to survive. Racks and panniers weight rather a lot on their own, so why bother with this cumbersome setup when a simple bike-packing solution will suffice? Enter Alpkit luggage. A full frame bag and a seat pack weighs next to nothing and takes all that is necessary whilst keeping the weight to a nice minimum. Unloaded and without pedals the ATR tips the scales at 9.4kgs, not bad for a touring bike. Fully loaded for a week or two exploring the hills of Northern Thailand it weighed in at around 16kgs, including the stash of emergency food necessary when exploring the wonderful tracks, trails and gravel roads of the region.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Kinesis ATR fully dressed for adventure. Clothes, toothbrush, flip-flops in the saddle-pack. bottom half of the frame bag for food and bits and bobs. Bag on top the crossbar for tools and tube. For this sort of use a half size frame bag would suffice but on the right side of the bag is a document pocket that is perfect for holding an iPad Mini. Not only is this the best map available, it is also the PaintedRoads office when away exploring. Water is help in a Camlebak backpack.

So how does the bike perform? Well, in short, most splendidly. The titanium frame combined with carbon forks give an amazingly smooth ride on the dirt and gravel trails that abound in this part of the world – no doubt this is helped to a not inconsiderable degree by the wonderful Clement MSO tyres.

This bike is build to explore the road less travelled, and for my purpose it would be hard to imagine a better machine. Cruising at 30kmh on sealed roads is a relaxed affair (well, maybe 28), and once the tarmac turns to gravel the ATR seems to come alive and speed up a little. Perhaps the sound of gravel crunching beneath the tyres wakes me up and ups my heart rate a tad, but as the red dust swirls up I am sure the speed ups a tad with no further effort.

Exploring

Google maps are so good these days that even the smallest paths seem to be included on them, and with the mountains here this means a labyrinth of foot paths and trails to be explored are easier to find than ever.

The climbs are steep and the views are stunning and and a better way to while away time than exploring these routes is hard to imagine. Exploring a route for a tour, or just for devilment can mean an endless succession of surfaces and terrain, and whilst a road bike may ultimately be a tad quicker on road, and mountain bike more suited to rougher off road sections, that the ATR can take pretty much anything it comes across with style and comfort really is difficult to better, and then factor in the fun of riding a drop bar bike off road and for me…… well, I think you get the point, I like the ATR.

Now I am off for a ride.

Kinesis Crosslight wheels on Kinesis ATR

The Kinesis Crosslight wheels are light and so far seem tough. Only time will tell how they hold up.

Kinesis ATR and Clement MSO X'plore tyre

Plenty of clearance here for the Clement X’plore MSO 40mm tyre. I use the 120tpi version and it is absolutely splendid. Light, comfortable and fast rolling. These tyres have a surprising amount of grip off road, or me it is plenty. And amazingly, in a year of using them for work and play, on road and off, in Sri Lanka, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and China, I have had just one puncture. I like them very much.

Kinesis ATR titanium gravel bike

A.T.R – Adventure Tour Race. I like the round the world logo very much, now, lets just have real world gearing to match the sentiment and it will all make sense.

Kinesis ATR carbon fork and 40mm Clement tyre

Carbon fork is nice and comfy. I was surprised when the frame arrived to find a full carbon fork with carbon steerer tube.

 

 

 

 

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