Posts in Gravel bikes


Thailand's Premier Gravel Tour

03 February 20

It is difficult to gauge just how good a route is when riding it alone. Solitary riding is always a different experience, tending to be harder, faster and more tiring. The consequence is that it's never easy to gauge how well a tour will be received when first presented to a discerning group. 

gravel cyclist on cycling organised tour in Thailand
Living close to the start of the Thailand Gravel tour I had plenty of time to put what we believe to be Thailand's first-ever long-distance gravel tour together. It's a concept I have harboured for some years now, and from inspecting the initial course to settling on the route for the inaugural tour took three years.
I rode the entire route several times, and inevitably each time it changed. I would wonder 'what's along that lane, what's down that path, how far does that red gravel road go', and I would look. Sometimes I would find improvements, and sometimes I would not. Sections closer to home I rode more regularly and changed more often, and the section that traces a seventy kilometres arc around my humble abode I re-rode and pondered and altered and worried over until Echo said, 'maybe you shouldn't ride it again before the tour runs', and she was, of course, right'. 

Fortunately, the five gravel riders who rode out of town with me on a mid-January morning were easy going laid back folks with a mind to have fun whenever possible - and fun we had. Ten days and a thousand kilometres later we rolled into a quiet guesthouse in Ayuthaya, the former capital of Siam, sharing the opinion that the tour had been as described, a 50/50 mix of gravel roads and deserted byways, a ratio we all felt was an ideal mix of exhilarating riding, relaxed cruising, and the opportunity to see a side of Thailand rarely seen, let alone experienced by most tourists.

gravel bikes passing through rubber plantation during Thailand tour

gravel cyclists photographing view in Thailand

gravel cyclists lost in Thailand

gravel bikes on cycling tour in Thailand

passing an ancient stupa whilst on gravel cycling tour in Thailand

gravel cyclists passing old temple in Thailand black and white image

black and white image of gravel cyclists resting by a lake during Thailand bike packing ride

gravel cyclist pushing her bike on tour in Thailand

gravel bikes on cycling tour in Thailand

gravel bikes on cycling tour in Thailand

gravel bikes on tour in Thailand

gravel bikes on cycling tour in Thailand

gravel cyclist in Thailand

If you would like a unique and exhilarating gravel cycling adventure whilst experiencing Thailand in a way most foreigners never will, we have two dates for next year. A Christmas getaway, and a mid-Jan start date. Please click here for full details.

How To keep a Loaded Adventure Bike Down To 15KGS. What to Pack For Bike-Packing Thailand

06 April 19

Having just returned home from 10 days exploring a 1000 kilometre gravel road tour through a rural Thailand, I thought it may be of some use to share some packing ideas for travel in a warm climate.
It should be said that it is the hot and dry season at present, meaning warm clothes are totally unnecessary, and a waterproof jacket could happily be left behind. If I were riding in the north of Thailand in wintertime I would add a layer of merino wool, a wind stopper gilet, and a light down gilet. 
If heading beyond Thailand, to Lao, Burma, or Cambodia for example, I would probably include a small bottle of brake fluid and a bleed hose, not that I have ever needed it, but for peace of mind. Oh, and tucked inside my handlebars is always a gear cable. But otherwise, the info detailed here should cover all your needs for touring Southeast Asia by bicycle.

Titanium Kinesis ATR bike packing Thailand AsiaBack home from one thousand kilometres of gravel road bike-packing. Just before unloading the machine the Kinesis ATR fully loaded tipped the scales at 15KG all in with empty water bottles.

luggage for bike packing Thailand AsiaThe top-tube (gas tank) bag is for fast access high-calorie food on the go - M&Ms, Haribo gummy bears, jelly-babies, that sort of thing. 

Alpkit bike packing luggage saddle bag for bike packing in Thailand AsiaThis old Alpkit seat pack has served me well for many years and contains the bulk of my gear when on the road.

Bike packing luggage and shoe for Thailand AsiaSeat-pack size comparison with tatty old Chrome SPD shoe. Overall this is an ideal bike packing shoe, as walking is comfortable meaning no other footwear is needed. At times a stiffer sole would be nice on long climbs, but you really can't have it all.

Bike packing equipment for Thailand AsiaSeat pack contents:

  • First aid kit
  • toiletries - suncream, toothpaste, toothbrush, razor, soap, tiger balm
  • Soap powder for clothes
  • charging cables and iPad charger
  • Clothes - long sleeve shirt, tee-shirt, shorts, socks, underwear
  • Bike lock
  • Waterproof jacket
  • Instant coffee
  • Titanium mug and immersion water boiler. Handy tip: Keep your mug in your bag. No idea why carrying the mug on the outside of the bag seems to be in vogue, seems rather impractical if going somewhere dusty muddy or wet I.E. on an adventure).

I carry my own soap as I very much dislike using throwaway plastic bottles of soap in guesthouses. The soap serves as shaving cream. Tiger balms can be used as insect repellent. 

I see no need for more clothes in this hot climate, in fact carrying 2 shirts was a bit of an indulgence, after all, one can only wear one at a time. Give your daytime riding kit a quick wash in the sink each night and all is well. 

luggage for bike packing Thailand AsiaThis Revelate Designs frame bag is new (thanks Wally) and I am very pleased with it. I find the squarer shape far more useful than my old Alpkit frame bag.

Haribos and M&Ms live in the top tube bag. Spare spokes, chain lube, tyre sealant, and a small piece of rag live in the frame bag.

tools for bike packing in Thailand AsiaAlso in the frame bag is this small toolkit:

  • The Blackburn Wayside multitool covers most eventualities, click here for a good review
  • The Leatherman Skeletool features pliers, knife, screwdrivers, and bottle opener. 
  • The little silver capsule is a tubeless puncture repair kit by Dynaplug, expensive but a well thought through piece of kit. A good review can be seen here.
  • A spare derailleur hanger
  • A small tool for removing the cassette called the NBT-2 
  • And a little red box of spares 

spares for bike packing in  Thailand AsiaIn the little red box lives:

  • A few puncture patches and vulcanising solution 
  • A tubeless valve
  • A valve core
  • A quick link 
  • A piece of emery paper
  • A Schrader to presto valve adaptor 

small backpack for bike packing Thailand AsiaAnd finally a small backpack. I use an Evoc CC10 which I find remarkably comfortable, well made, and well organised. It holds my iPad (PaintedRoads mobile office), passport etc, charger, iPhone and USB cables, small power bank, pressure gauge, and spectacles. On the left shoulder strap is an iPhone pouch which allows quick access for navigation purposes. Depending on the journey I sometimes use a 2-litre water bladder, particularly useful on gravel road journeys when water supplies may be further apart, and water bottle quickly becomes coated in dust.

kinesis ATR titanium gravel bike bike packing in  Thailand AsiaThe only other items carried are a spare inner tube in the V just above the bottom bracket, two water bottles, a GPS unit, and a pump - a SILLCA Tattico as you ask, which to date I feel is the finest pump I have ever tried.

Titanium Kinesis ATR gravel bike bike packing Thailand AsiaThe bike all loaded up and exploring Thailand endless network of gravel roads

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 greet 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 megacity? Bring a bike, have a look, and think again.

Just above Kunming are meadows...

and grassy trails

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

The hills north of Kunming have some interesting brick roads

Lee 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 give me an insight, knowledge, and confidence necessary to ensure that my long hoped 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 give me an insight, knowledge, and confidence necessary to ensure that my long hoped 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 passion 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 newsletter, "like" PaintedRoads on Facebook or better still drop me a line and I will keep you 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 a 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 happened to have kicking around on an old bike - Lee's verdict? Fantastic. More of this later.

 

 

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