Painted Roads Blog
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 Lao. Back then I was using a titanium rack with a pair of Ortlieb panniers, a small frame bag, and a handle bar 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. This bike is touted  as a bike one can load up with luggage and travel the world. What to my way of thinking the standard 11-28 cassette on the back proves is that either the designers know little of the world, or the gearing was dreamt up with bar stool banter in mind, it certainly doesn’t strike me as the creation of someone who has been on a real world adventure.

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 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.


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.


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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September 27, 2015 by David Walker

New Adventure Bike – Kinisis ATR Tripster

Kinisis ATR

The ATR in tour leading guise


It was zipping up my jacket that bought me from the meditative state I often find myself in when cycling. It had been three weeks since last I had ridden a bike, the longest I have been without cycling for ten years, and I confess to having been a tad concerned as to how I would get along as I clipped the small panniers to my neat little titanium rack that morning. The rain was lashing down, and on the potholed roads of Lao extra caution was needed in case a wheel bending trap was set beneath one of the many small floods crossing the road. And as I closed my jacked against the rain I realised that I was passing through this beautiful landscape effortlessly. I looked down at my Gamrin, 30KMH cruising speed, 83KM behind me, and 15KMS covered since I was last aware that I was putting effort in. This was the first time I have ridden this new bike alone, properly, for any distance, and I was loving it. The bike in question? A titanium framed Kinisis Tripster ATR, or for the sake of brevity, an ATR.

I had used the ATR a just a handful of times in the UK after building it up before the time came to pack it in a bag and head to Sri Lanka to lead PaintedRoads’ latest tour. The thing that bamboozled me a tad in Sri Lanka was that the bike seems to get more compliant over the two week period. Light weight, efficient power transfer, and a comfortable ride are some of titaniums most alluring features, and the ATR seems to epitomise these fine qualities. The bike was comfortable from the first. I built the machine up one weekend whilst visiting my dear old mum in England. Having positioned the bars and seat somewhere in region of correct I mounted up and hit the road. After 20 metres I stopped and raise the saddle 20mm, after 500 metres I stopped again and swivelled the handlebars a few degrees, and that was it, done, the bike was Walks shaped.

Kinisis Tripster ATR with light luggage in Laos

The Kinisis ATR looks out at the Laotian valley it has just climbed out of

Sri Lanka has a host of surfaces to test a bike, smooth tarmac, smooth hard packed red gravel trails, rougher dirt tracks, course tarmac, potholed crumbling roads, there is a little bit of everything happening there, and the interesting thing is that after a week of this the ATR seemed even better than it had at the beginning. The tyres help of course. I first tried Clement’s fantastic X’plore MSO 120tpi around a year ago and I cannot rate this tyre highly enough. But more of that another time – let us return for now to Lao.

By the time I got to press down on the pedals in Lao I had been off a bike for so long I had nearly forgotten what to do. I clipped my luggage to the bike, clambered on board and pressed on the right pedal. This was the first time I had ridden the bike with luggage and the first thing to strike me was how effortlessly it lurched forwards, the next striking impression was the smoothness of the ride as I crossed a rough section of old course tarmac, so smooth did it seem considering how rough it appeared that I stopped and gave the tyres a prod assuming that they were low on air, but no, the 4 bar of air pressure I had put in a couple of days previous still seemed to be there, the bike sure seems to be delivering.

It is early days with ATR. I have some distance to go in Lao as I explore a new route to the Thai border (more of which soon). It is not my intention to carry heavy loads on the ATR, and it was never really my intention to use a rack and panniers when touring. When I get back to Chiang Rai and my worldly possessions, such as they are, I will introduce the ATR to bike-packing luggage, IE a frame bag and a large saddle pack and take the machine to explore further. I will, of course report back, and for those keen to know exactly what my custom build consists of I will publish a full build list before too much time has passed.

For now though, I have a tour to explore.



bicycle touring Lao's Plain of Jars

Stunning views wherever we have been so far on this new route.

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September 9, 2015 by David Walker

Exploring Lao


A tough climb cycling in Laos

One of the better roads in Laos. Judging by the quality and gradient I strongly suspect the road is Thai built.

As I freed myself from the side of the thundering agricultural contraption I shouted cheerio and many thanks as best as I could muster in Lao, and fell back from the waving family. Silence fell across the scene, mist rose through the jagged hill tops and clouds drifted through the jungle below. The strong wind that always seems to await at the top of high passes began to blow and I stopped to slip on my jacket. Through the breaks in the mist and clouds the scenery was stunning, Lord Of The Rings stunning at the very least.

The climb had been tough – no, tough! The wretched fat slob that is my eternal alter-ego had a tremendously successful three weeks after Sri Lanka keeping me from the bike, and most other forms of exercise, and now I was suffering for it. How I would have coped a month, or a year before I am unsure, but today I struggled. The climb was relentless with my Garmin reading between ten and twelve percent all but uninterrupted for ten kilometres. After that the road fell briefly then undulated across an other-worldly plateau before the final ascent, five more kilometres of eleven percent climbing to over seventeen hundred metres. And it was on this climb that I shamefully resorted to that wily old trick of the knackered cyclist and grabbed hold of the cobbled together tractor transporting a family of hill people as slowly it rumbled alongside me.

A stunning  view at the top of a 1700 metre pass in Laos

A stunning view seldom seen by tourists

My reason for crossing such silly hills at present is two fold: one, to put my internal tormentor Mr Wobbly in his place, if not once and for all then at least for a little while, and also, rather importantly, to find a fine tour through this beautiful land.

One may perhaps go so far as to say that I cut my adventure cycling teeth in Lao. I cycled here back in the days when most roads were dirt, when a tent was a necessity away from Highway 13, and when nary a motorcar was to be seen.

For a previous employer I led many tour here, and it was a land that often I returned to when I simply had two weeks to kill and wanted a ride on my bicycle. Lao, in a nutshell, is lovely, as are its people. But times they are constantly a changing, even in sleepy Lao, and the old classic route along the lovely Highway 13 is, to my mind, no longer suitable. When I rode my motorbike through Lao fifteen years ago if I saw one car every half an hour I thought the road was getting busy, now, with the improved economy it’s not just government officials and aid worker who tear about in big black motorcars like Toad Of Toad Hall, there are plenty of private cars, both Laotian and and foreign. The foreign are generally Thai and Chinese, as are the trucks that now rubble along HW13. And so it was that I decided I would not run a Lao tour until I had a new and suitable route. And with the opening and sealing of roads hitherto to tough to traverse on a regular bicycle it was time to come and look at a new route that has been in my mind for some years now.

And things are progressing very well indeed, so well in fact that not only have I found a new tour, I feel I may well have found two – more of both very soon.

A typical undulating ridge top road, this one close to a newly opened border with Thailand

A typical Laotian road undulating along a high ridge en-route to a recently opened border with Thailand

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August 29, 2015 by David Walker

A New Tour In Laos

Along the way cycling between Paksan and Phonsavan

Stunning views wherever we have been so far on this new route.

As I clipped the luggage to my bike Chit rummaged around in his bag, “your route” he said handing me a sheet of A4 paper. There was a blue line starting near the bottom of the page and rising nearly to the top before dropping back down again forming a triangle shape. There was a vertical line to the left of this and a horizontal line beneath. Each line had numbers written along it – it looked at a casual glance very much like a graph. I point to the number 22 that seems to coincide with the peak of the graph and asked, “what does this mean Chit?” I braced myself, “ that means twenty two kilometres to the top” smiled Chit. Of course it does.

I have not been off of a bike for three weeks in the past ten years. Quite why I have been off of a bike for three weeks now I am a little unsure, possibly being holed up in a Kuala Lumper hotel room for ten days has something to do with it, but whatever, there I was with rubbery legs about to get back on loaded bike with a 22 kilometres on a hot tropical afternoon in August.

Kinisis Tripster ATR touring Laos

Not the luggage setup I intend to use with this bike, but as it happened I had a rack and some panniers with me. Bike-packing setup in future, more of which later.

Actually the load on the bike was light, and the bike, a titanium framed Kinisis Tripster ATR (more of which in future) was an absolute delight to be riding. And even the harsh reintroduction to cycling was far less painful than I expected, accept that is, for my hind end. As I neared the top of the climb I sopped to admire a particularly fine view and as I tried to remove myself from the saddle I discovered it seems to have become a rather uncomfortable part of me. What I learned whilst admiring that view was that buttocks, hardened by hundreds of thousands of kilometres sitting on a bicycle saddle, can revert to their original consistency at birth if not subjected to a bicycle saddle very regularly – oh they hurt.

But my bodily woes are of no concern to this blog, or to you I suspect dear reader, what is of concern is the reason I am on a bike in the middle of Lao – I am here meeting my new Lao partner and going over the route, or routes, that will hopefully be on the PaintedRoads website before too long.

News on progress soon, but for now I have a river boat to catch.

Buffalo on the Plain of Jars

The Plain of Jars at Phonsavan is fascinating for it’s mysterious giant stone jars. It is dreadfully sad due to the amount of unexploded bombs America has left kicking around since it’s relentless raids during the 70s.

Stone jars, Phonsavan
Some of the afore mentioned stone jars. The bottom line is that no one has a clue what they were for – my favourite, although unlikely theory, is that they were for distilling rice whisky.

Laos motorbike, slow shutter speed motion blur

Road, clouds, blue sky, and rice field in Laos

Typical in it’s emptiness, untypical in it’s flatness, a Laotian road



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August 4, 2015 by David Walker

Sri Lanka – A New Tour

cyclists touring Sri Lanka Anuradhapura

Riding the trail through the ancient city of Anuradhapura


That the seven guests starting our inaugural Sri Lanka tour have between them racked up an impressive 19 PaintedRoads tours is, I feel, an auspicious start – they surly must like the way we run an Asian cycling adventure.

The route we have has been carefully devised over several visits to this stunning little island. It provides the touring cyclist with a fine selection of all the gems that make this such a great cycling destination, from the fishing villages of the east coast, to the ancient ruined cities of the north central, up and through the beautiful green tea plantations and colonial architecture of the central hill country, down through the savannah and national parks to the seaside resorts of the south coast, and finally to the wonderful old town of Galle. The hotels have been carefully chosen to add comfort at the end of a fine day’s wheeling through the countryside, with fine rooms and on all evenings bar two a lovely cooling pool. And if you don’t like climbing big hills? No worries, what National Geographic describes as “one of the world’s greatest train journeys is included for those who wish to make there way to the 2000 meter summit of the Hill Country in comfort leaving the rolling down hills to be savoured.

More from the road over the coming couple of weeks, for now a few pics.

Cyclists touring through Sri Lanka PaintedRoads

Sri Lanka’s rural roads are wonderful cycle touring territory

Bicycle touring Sri Lanka's grave back roads

The gravel roads of rural Sri lanka, bereft of traffic, are an ideal way to explore the country

Cyclists taking lunch in Sri Lanka's wilderness

A rural picnic

Sri Lankan architecture as seen from a bicycle on PaintedRoads tour of Sri Lanka

Red tile roofs and white stupas, a typical Sri Lankan scene

The view from Sigiriya Lion Rock

The view from Sigiriya Lion Rock




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