Posts in Gravel bikes


The Rural Cycling of a Chinese Mega City

31 May 17

The image most hold in their mind’s eye when Chinese cities are mentioned is of densely populated high-rise sprawls, a mass of humanity, blaring horns and pollution. And whilst not always a huge distance from accuracy, there is so much more than this to twenty first century Sino urban living.

Our friends and colleagues Cathy and Lee live in Yunnan Province’s capital, Kunming. With its location just north of the Tropic of Cancer, and an elevation of around 1800 metres, the town boasts a wonderful year round climate giving it the rightfully deserved moniker of the Eternal Spring City. 

Amongst the surprises to great the visitor to this city of six million inhabitants is the dry warm and mild atmosphere, the relative lack of pollution, and the proliferation of the gas guzzling Porsche Cayenne. But for the cyclist lucky enough to have a chum with local knowledge the greatest surprise of all is the quality of the cycling. 

From Lee’s abode on the western side of the city a quick nip through narrow winding lanes of small shops, market stalls, and street hawkers takes us to the edge of West Mountain. The initial climb is on bitumen where heart pumping and lungs searching for some extra oxygen at this slightly depleted altitude we quickly gain 500 metres.   

The scenery up here at 2300 metres is absolutely beautiful - jagged grey rock, pine trees, meadows of flowers, are all negotiated on fantastic red dirt tracks. The views vary dramatically as we circumnavigate the hills - here wilderness as far the eye can see, there a city landscape sprawling to the distance, at times countryside with rural hamlets, all pastoral and romantic looking in the classic sense, and elsewhere modern communities of high rise apartments sprout amongst the trees adorning the hills and valleys.

Lee and his cycling chums have led me on numerous accessions through the environs of his home city, the rides are always different, on occasion we stick to rural byways of tarmac, but mostly our rides take us on a variety of surfaces, gravel, concrete, dirt and tar, which my ever accompanying titanium gravel machine tackles with graceful aplomb, and not once has the cycling been anything less than wonderful.

Think you have an idea of a Chinese mega city? Bring a bike, have a look, and think again.

Just above Kunming are medows...

and grassy trails

Great trails in the hills above Cathy and Lee's home

The hills north of Kunming have some interesting brick roads

L​​​​ee and Lao Fu

Closed trail, never mind, plenty of alternative routes

More brick roads...

and dirt trails

Rehydration stop

Rocky road

Lee in a mulberry bush


Heading back down to town

A Gravel Road Tour In The Offing.

17 February 17

A Thailand gravel tour has long been on my mind. Slowly, for longer than a decade I have been dipping a metaphorical toe into what I thought was a meandering stream of unsealed tracks dotted around this nation that offers so much to the adventurous cyclist, but as time goes by it has become apparent that the babbling brook is in fact teaming torrent. 

Finding routes here has long been a somewhat hit and miss affair. The paper maps available have always been, and I am searching deeply but with little success for a kind way to say this, absolute tat. They showed what any half wit could easily imagine, major roads between towns. So whilst finding a route suitable for a tour was a satisfying activity that left one with a glowing feeling of success, it was nevertheless a trifle trying. And then came Google. In the early days Google Maps were not all that great for exploring, and having to drag a MacBook out of a pannier was far from convenient, but by golly have we not come a long way since then? 
Now the world is mapped, and mapped so bloody well that it leaves me wondering, and worrying a little, about how it's done. Algorithms I am sure the I.T. Savvy are crying out, but what does that mean? Orwell plonked a huge imposing TV screen in the corner of every home to watch our every activity, I expect that the concept of the spy being carried freely in our pockets, and voluntarily, even with enthusiasm, sending all manner of info regarding our every movement and ponder back to Big Brother was even beyond the vision of even the great visionary back in 1948 - but I digress, more than a tad. 

So Google and Garmin (which niggles me greatly but seems to have no viable completion), have come together to make route finding for the gravel loving bicycle itinerant a joy to behold. 

My plan for the past week was not to create a tour suitable to add to the PaintedRoads website this year, rather to give me an insight, knowledge, and confidence necessary to ensure that my long hoped for for Gravel Tour of Thailand could soon be a reality. And in this respect it has been an outstandingly productive week, as well as a lot of fun. 

A Thailand gravel tour has long been on my mind. Slowly, for longer than a decade I have been dipping a metaphorical toe into what I thought was a meandering stream of unsealed tracks dotted around this nation that offers so much to the adventurous cyclist, but as time goes by it has become apparent that the babbling brook is in fact teaming torrent. 

Finding routes here has long been a somewhat hit and miss affair. The paper maps available have always been, and I am searching deeply but with little success for a kind way to say this, absolute tat. They showed what any half wit could easily imagine, major roads between towns. So whilst finding a route suitable for a tour was a satisfying activity that left one with a glowing feeling of success, it was nevertheless a trifle trying. And then came Google. In the early days Google Maps were not all that great for exploring, and having to drag a MacBook out of a pannier was far from convenient, but by golly have we not come a long way since then? 
Now the world is mapped, and mapped so bloody well that it leaves me wondering, and worrying a little, about how it's done. Algorithms I am sure the I.T. Savvy are crying out, but what does that mean? Orwell plonked a huge imposing TV screen in the corner of every home to watch our every activity, I expect that the concept of the spy being carried freely in our pockets, and voluntarily, even with enthusiasm, sending all manner of info regarding our every movement and ponder back to Big Brother was even beyond the vision of even the great visionary back in 1948 - but I digress, more than a tad. 

So Google and Garmin (which niggles me greatly but seems to have no viable completion), have come together to make route finding for the gravel loving bicycle itinerant a joy to behold. 

My plan for the past week was not to create a tour suitable to add to the PaintedRoads website this year, rather to give me an insight, knowledge, and confidence necessary to ensure that my long hoped for for Gravel Tour of Thailand could soon be a reality. And in this respect it has been an outstandingly productive week, as well as a lot of fun. 

I would venture to say with some confidence that I now have 50% of a brilliant route ready for a group to ride. Even better than that I have the knowledge and understanding of the lay of the land, and the working of the necessary apparatus, to finalise a tour with just another two weeks on the road. 

And be assured that this will be a most beautiful tour. I have traversed mountain paths, riverside trails, cattle tracks and rice paddy gravel roads, and byways free of traffic enough to be able to create a wonderful and varied route. 

More than ten years ago I cycled the length of Thailand for the first time and saw the country afresh, a land not awash with backpacker's and tourist, but the real Thailand, a land I quickly developed a great passions for. And now, all these years later I have cycled half the length of the land on roads most will never know exist, and my love for this country is refreshed anew. 
Should a gravel adventure through Thailand tickle yer fancy then please either sign up for the PaintedRoads news letter, "like" PaintedRoads on Facebook, or better still drop me a line and I will keep our up to speed. 

Oh, and one last thing, fancy an adventure in Mongolia this summer? If so, please email me, I have a little something brewing.. 

 

The Kinesis ATR shod with Clement MSO tubeless tyres is the perfect machine for this sort of riding. Averaging 150KMS on day with a mix of gravel, dirt tracks and sealed roads the mantra Fast Far, as coined by the ATR's designer Dom Mason is most apt. Having converted to tubeless tyres last summer I feel that  the 30 to 35 psi pressure I was able to run without fear of punctures was ideal both on and off road. Way to go dude, as I believe the young say these days.

 

 

Gravel riding in North Thailand's Wonderful Winter Weather

25 January 17

 Winter weather in north Thailand is as close to perfect as one can hope for. Think of a perfect summers day in the UK and you’ve got it, warm days and cool evening that may, or may not, require a light jacket over a tee-shirt - oh, and it’s 95% certain to be dry each and every day. 

And for the cyclist it just gets better with a wonderful web of secluded byways weaving through the rice fields, across mountains and along the wide fertile valleys of the region. And as if all of this is not enough, if you happen to have a bit of a passion for gravel bikes the unsealed roads tracks and trails that spread like groping tentacles through the hills and valleys that are home to the north’s hill tribe people are a gravel bike utopia. 

With our Chinese tour partners Lee and Cathy visiting, Lee and I have been making the most of things and having a blast, shredding out in them there hills.

Gravel roads abound in Northern Thailand...

and unsealed jeep tracks...

a few river crossing

this image fails to tell the full story, this hill is just shy of 30% gradient.

Jungle trails...

and tea plantations.

The bike Lee was riding in the photos is my old Salsa Vaya with a twist, a 27.5" x 2.1 wheel and tyre combo I happend to have kicking around on an old bike - Lee's verdict? Fantastic. More of this later.

 

 

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