Posts in Photo Set


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.

 

 

Sunday Inspiration - escape the winter with a sunny seaside cycling tour this February

08 January 17

Six weeks from today I, and a group of PaintedRoads regulars, will be setting of on PaintedRoads’ annual Winter Escape tour as we cycle beachside from Bangkok to Phuket. 

Also dubbed the PaintedRoads triathlon - Bike Beach Beer, this two week trip is arguably the perfect antidote to the seemingly endless ravages of the northern winter.

If cycling in the sunshine next month appeals to you please get in touch, the hardest decision you will have to make on this tour is whether to have your post ride dip in the ocean, or the resort’s beachside pool.

Heading for Thung Wua Laen

Morning coffee sunrise outside the room at Hat Lam Sai

Quiet rural cycling

One of my favourite South Thailand photos taken along a long deserted beach after Ban Krut

After lunch

This beautiful temple is just before the little seaside town of Ban Krut where we overnight early on in the tour

A beautiful bicycle for a beautiful tour

The view from our private longtail boat as we head for Yao Noi Island

Despite Andy's polka dot jersey this is a fairly flat tour

Morning sunrise outside the room on the little island of Kho Yao Noi

Beautiful temples such as this abound - at this one we take a lunch break

Visiting the Buddha caves - Day 8

Meeting the monkeys at Pretchuap Khiri Khan airbase

Sunset at Nai Yang Beach on Phuket

We have plenty of beaches to rest on along the way on this tour

A little exploration of country trails early on in the tour

 

 

 

PaintedRoads 2016 - A Year In Review

31 December 16

Janurary - Thailand

The year began, as it looks highly likely to end, in our residence of choice, the wonderful cycling playground of North Thailand.

February - Thailand North

February was a great month as we remained in Thailand, firstly taking a group of friends, both old and new, to have a look around the finest scenery that the Lao and Burma border region  has to offer. What do I think of Northern Thailand? I chose to make it my home - enough said I think.

Thailand South

It was then a quick dash south to meet a new group with whom I was to spend a splendid fortnight cycling south along the lanes and byways that track the secluded beaches of Thailand”s south east cost. We veered west as we reached Surat Thani and left the mass tourists to the delights of party island of Kho Samui and Koh Pangan, as we continued along the path less traveled, moving via bike and boat to our tour’s end on Phuket.

March - Vietnam

Echo and I celebrated my 50th birthday in the beautiful little town of Hoi An prior to running the inaugural Ho Chi Minh Trail tour through the tranquil mountains of Central Vietnam. It was a small group, all PaintedRoads regulars, and despite this tour not attracting a great deal of attention (a bewildering situation), the tour was declared “perhaps the best tour ever” by one very experienced worldly cyclist. 

Crossing the famed 17th Parallel

Echo's first ever 130 kilometre day, she followed this up with two more such days in a row

A lovely lady met along the way

April - Taiwan

In April my chum Stephan and I loaded our bikes and set out to explore Taiwan. To say that what we discovered pleased us would be a woeful understatement, for it delighted us greatly - the little visited destination of Taiwan really deserves to be a world Mecca for cyclists. If is a stunning place to ride - beautiful, friendly, orderly, and organised, and to top it all off the cycling infrastructure is absolutely splendid. I look forward to next April and our very first tour group there.

May - China Yunnan

It was back to China for May, and what is, at present, my most favourite tour. 

I cut my adventure cycling teeth in Yunnan many years since, and whether it is for this reason, or simply because of the natural beauty, the great roads, the fine company, and the fantastic food I do not know, but I simply love this tour. This is rather fortunate as it turns out to be our most popular tour, and the competition is not mild.

"Um" Cathy and Echo wonder where the group went

Hong Kong

Following the Yunnan tour Echo and I headed across the border to Hong Kong to tie the knot

June - Vietnam's Mekong Delta

This year’s Mekong Delta Tour in Vietnam’s far south was most delightful. Phong and I enjoyed the company of six PaintedRoads new comers, along with friends from years gone by and PaintedRoads most loyal guest, Arthur.

PaintedRoads new commers Deb & Jan, see you in Yunnan ladies

"What, on bicycles, yer must be bonkers?"

Arthur and the lottory lady

and on to - Ho Chi Minh Trail Exploration

Following the tour Phong declared that we should look to continue the exploration of our Ho Chi Minh Trail tour. Our present route take us half the length of the country, and the intention is to extend our path all the way from Hanoi to Saigon. I said I would be delighted to be have his company for another two weeks, he said “tough luck fish face, I’m going home”*, before handing me a route scrawled on an old road map, a scribbled list of Vietnamese dishes he though I might find ‘interesting’, and wishing me ‘heart felt good luck and godspeed’. It was a fab couple of weeks of adventure, discovery, and happy memory making, albeit alone (*Phong can be harsh of tongue).

July & August - UK Summer Hols.

July saw Echo and I board a plane Blighty bound as we headed to my ancestral home. Whilst there the new PaintedRoads website was conducted by the great Mike of Mikes Imagination. Not only does fellow adventure cyclist Mike create a jolly fine website, we also created PaintedRoads as an image and an entity, all things for which I am eternally grateful - cheers Mike!

Inevitably being back in the UK with Echo meant that my dear mother could not resist celebrating her new daughter-in-law joining the family, and so it was that we enjoyed a modest celebration of our nuptuals on the lawn on a fine summer afternoon. 

September - China

September say us back in China with time to do something I have been eager to pursue for some years, a new China tour. Guangxi and Guizhou are two fascinating provinces that sport not only dazzling nature but also lovely ancient architecture, as well as fascinating tribal minority groups. And so it was that Echo and I set out out with friends and partners Cathy & Lee to explore a tour that has been on my mind for an age. And the beauty of it was that whilst Lee and I cycled the route Cathy and Echo drove ahead searching out restaurants and lodging, as well as ensuring that we always arrived at day’s end with a cold beer waiting for us.

Lee rides into our rest day town

Now that's the way to reserch a tour. Lee and I arrived each evening to find our wives with a hotel room and cold beer waiting - thank you ladies.

October - Tri-nations: Vietnam, Thailand & Lao

Come October it was time to run a tour that has been on my mind every since I first became a tour leader. Three southeast Asian nations, two and a half languages, one religion, and total bewilderment about political systems and their meanings; Vietnam, Lao, and Thailand are as unlikely neighbours as they are likely (if that makes sense), and so this makes for a fascinating tour. 

It was to be a convivial group of just four old friends, until Roman from Germany bumped into us purely by chance as we assemble our bikes in Sapa the day before cycling commenced. He said he would care to join us, and so we had a bike send up overnight from Hanoi and our group of four became an even more convivial five, and a bally good group and a jolly fine ride it was. As a bonus perhaps, the tour group highlight of the year for me was cycling newcommer Caroline’s epic conquering of a 20% gradient climb, even stopping halfway and restarting on the climb, that sure made the tour for me.

Vietnam's Black River

November - Thailand

The Tri-nations tour ended conveniently in Chiang Rai, and Chiang Rai is where Echo and I desire to reside. And so with the tour over we retired to our humble abode to relax for a while, and of course explore the seemingly endless trails and tracks of the region.

Relaxing...

and exploring

December - Vietnam Northeast

The Northeast Vietnam tour holds a very special place in my heart, and with an especially fine group as company this was a fitting tour with which to finish the year. December proved to be a perfect month to run the tour with ideal cycling weather, not too hot, and never too cold. We did have a day of rain, but it rains on the that day of the tour whatever time of year we run it - it is, after all, The Rain Day.

 

The year for us draws to an end in Thailand with both Cristmas and New Year's Eve in Chiang Rai. It has been a fine year, a year of great journeys with many friends both old and new, and now we look forward very much to the year ahead, and many more to come.

Not the usual Christmas dinner

Wishing everyone a wonder and adventure filled 2017.

Very best wishes

David & Echo

Northeast Vietnam 2016 - half way through and all is splendid

12 December 16

It’s rest day here in Northeast Vietnam, so time to sit back with a coffee and post a few images from the tour so far.

As always seems to be the case we are once again blessed with a great group of people all possessing a fine sense of humour, good nature and enjoyable conversation. That they are a group of competent cyclists is the cherry on the top of the cake. Three Kiwis, an Italian, a Canadian and a Brit, along with Vietnamese Phong, and I makes for the sort of cosmopolitan group I love to share an adventure with. Rather than be categorised by our nationality I feel the world be be a better place if we were categorised by our persona, and if this were the case we in this group would all hold the same passport. 

As for the tour, well it’s been mentioned before, and will undoubtedly be stated again, that exploring this route reignited my passion for adventure cycling a few years ago, and since then I have not looked back. The route is stunning, with otherworldly scenery, quiet roads, satisfying climbs, descents that make the climbs more than worthwhile, ever friendly welcoming locals, interesting hill tribe people, and …… Well, I could wax lyrical at length regarding all that makes this tour great, but suffice to say that it is a firm favourite of mine.

                   

We chose to run the tour during December this year in a bid to escape some of the hot days we have at other times of the year, and a tremendous success it has been. A couple of evenings it has dipped to a nippy 13º, but daytime we have pretty much perfect cycling weather with the mercury hovering around mid to high 20s - never to hot on the climbs and never too cold on the descents, one could say ideal.

As is always the case with PaintedRoads tours (and this is one of our rather unique characteristics) the tour has evolved and improved over the years that we have been running in. Phong and I had a quick tot up over dinner last evening and concurred that this is the fifth incarnation of the tour. We have had three different start points, three route variations, two rest day venues, and of course the addition of the stunning and tantamount to secret loop ride near the small town of Tam Son.

I’m looking forward to tomorrow's ride already.

Phong makes a fuss about nothing - no change there then

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