Posts in Photo Set


China Sichuan - LabRat Run Review

12 June 18

PaintedRoads’ LabRat runs are fast becoming a popular tradition amongst our more adventurous guests. A new tour in an interesting and off the beaten path location, these inaugural runs contain, to one degree or another, an element of uncertainty somewhere along the way. Whereas usually I go over a route one final time alone before running an inaugural tour, a LabRat Run involves taking a small group of laidback adventurous PR regulars along to join in the fun of the final pre production ride. 

This year's tour was through a region of China through which I have long planned to run a tour. Indeed as far back as the dawn of this century, when I travelled overland from Kathmandu to Hong Kong via Lhasa, I have been of the opinion that the Kham region of Sichuan Province was perhaps an altogether better place to experience Tibet than the Tibetan Autonomous Region. This felling was reinforced when, in 2007 and 2008 (as far as my tatty olf memory recalls) I explored the area on a somewhat overloaded bicycle, camping and exploring and pondering running my own tours.

And so it came to be that at the tail end of May this year seven PaintedRoads regulars join me to ride the inaugural Sichuan Tour. We were supported by Echo, and our regular driver, mechanic, tour explorer, and trusted friend Lee. Additional support was provided by cycling guide Monk, and second driver Maveric.

The ride is surly beautiful, and challenging. And this year the challenge was even tougher than expected with a startlingly early onset of the rain season and a two day section where the untimely demise of the main road building contractor had left the road in a state far worse than it was a year ago, quite the opposite to the situation we had been led to expect when exploring the way last June. It transpired that not only had the chap in charge of road repair operations made his way prematurely to the Happy Hunting Ground, he had also managed, rather cunningly, to spirit all of the contract’s money with him, leaving a swath of disgruntled peasants along the way eager for payment and and making sure that work didn’t not continue until they received satisfaction.

The route was nothing if not eclectic. Road surfaces ranged from pristine tarmac, to wet and muddy, to gravel, to rural concrete byways. Climbing was an ongoing theme of the tour, with some of the longest ascents and consequent descents imaginable. Climbs of over 40 kilometres were all but a daily occurrence, and the downhills that followed, with the often shallow(ish) gradients that such a long climb often ensures, were a laid back relaxing affairs through exquisite mountain scenery. Not all hills are surfaced equally in Sichuan though, and those seeking a more exciting pass to cross were not left wanting, as on occasion we ascend and descend on loose and exciting byways - shredding dude!

The highest pass of the tour was 4700 metres, with roads above 4000 metres cropping up on a leg shatteringly regular basis. However with sleeping elevations considerably lower that our highest point each day altitude related health issues never cropped up, save of course for the inevitable breathlessness while crossing an oxygen depleted pass. What was interesting to all was the difference a few hundred extra meters in altitude could have on a fellow, or lass. When 4000 metres seemed OK, an extra 500 metres could take the wind from even the largest lungs. The passes were not only metaphoricaly breathtaking, but also quite literally. 

I feel that I have rambled on quite long enough, now I should leave the pictures to tell the story. 

Before singing off  though, I would like to thank David, Kreg, Marko, Dianne, JP, and Allison very much for not only their participation and good humour, but also their enthusiasm for adventure through a beautiful and challenging wilderness.

Entering Tibet

Ladies of the Yi minority group

The first major climb, 45 KMS of ascent from Daju village

Mani stones - the mantras of Tibetan Buddism carved in stone are a regular feature 

One of many pristine road surfaces...

and one of many gravel roads

Village life

Local ladies at Bao Shan village

Leaving Bao Shan by boat

A chicken

Coffee break

The begining of two days of less than pristine byway

Oops!

Two day's of unexpected road works left us all a tad tired

Lunch at 4500 metres

Desending from 4500 metres  we loose 2000 metres on one wonderful descent

Tibetan architecture 

A buddhist monastery 

Another 40 kilometre descent

Prayer flags

Many thanks to Echo, seen here at 4400 metres, for her endless hard work running the tour, always with a cheery smile

Later in the tour the Tibetan homes are treated to a coat of white paint.

Monastery feline 

KOM Keith

This chap offered us yak butter tea as we crossed the tour's highest pass

Cooking up lunch

Visiting a monestery

We were not always the only two wheeled adventurers 

The final high pass

Descending towards the fabled Shangri-La on the final day

Cycling guide Monk

The group - JP, Dianne, Allison, Kreg, David, Keith, Marko, and at the back Monk

Inaugural South China China Tour

02 October 17

Wooden houses, rice terraces, rivers, valleys and rural lanes. Long climbs and lovely descents sweeping through terraces of rice and past traditional dressed minority ladies in working the fields.

A small group is never a bad thing with an inaugural tour as it allows some flexibility to iron out any creases. It also gives opertunity to assess the tour in a real world situation, with guests on board. And so when Pat & Keith got in touch to say they would like to join this year's South China tour we jumped at the chance to run the tour with a couple of good fun good riding regulars. And so, with Echo taking the roll of lead guide we all set off with our regular driver and ace mechanic Lee at the wheel of our support vehicle. 

What followed was two splendid weeks of bicycle exploration along the byways of China’s Guiyang Province and Guanxi Autonomous Region. Ancient wind & rain bridges, villages of wooden houses, intricate terraces of rice, bamboo forests, challenging climbs and winding descents, the cycling was as beautiful and enjoyable as the food was fine and the company a pleasure.

Thanks Pat & Keith, looking forward to seeing you both again, hopefully before too much time passes.

Echo takes care of most of the organisation of the China tours, and South China was her first time as local guide - a task she carried off with aplomb.  

Keith takes a rest by the Li River

Pat on one of the many extended downhill sections

Rural riding

Long Ji Rive Terace, the dragon's back - it's a fine challenging climb to reach our guest house with a view by noon. The afternoon can be spent relaxing or wandering through the beautiful hills, crafted by hand.

Pat & Echo.

Refered to by some regulars as "David routes" PaintedRoads tours are just not right without some gravel excersions. 

It's China, some construction is inevitable.

Not as lost as she looks, of felt, it's always great to explore the countryside at close range.

PaintedRoads' tour always take post ride rehydration very seriously.

Rice riding.

The back streets of Da Xu old town.

Guide on parade. Wooden house are typical architecture in the villages of Guiyuang Province. 

With the building of new highways, such as can be seen top right of this image, the old roads are left quiet, ideal for rural riding.

Bamboo.

heading out of town following our rest day.

Ancient (or at least a little bit old) storage huts with corn cobs drying outside.

Winding a path along the Li River.

Posing for a snap shot a kilometre before tour's end.

Our driver, mechanic, and tea brake provider Lee. 

 

 

 

A Ride Through The Pearl River Delta

02 July 17

Apparently the largest urban area on earth, the Pearl River Delta may not be the fist place to pop into a cyclists mind when looking for a rural ride. The nine largest cities in the area have a population pretty much the same as the UK, so solitude is not something that one expects to find in ample abundance. However, the Perl River Delta is where Echo and I are to be found between our recent exploration of Sichuan Province and our forthcoming Mongolia Lat Rat Run, and so, with the desire for a ride we set of one recent sunny morning for the 155 kilometre ride from Zhuhai to Chiken.


Chiken is little more than a village, but is reasonable well know for it’s rather novel architecture. The nearby county town of Kaiping was home to an adventurous bunch of Chinese who early last century made their way overseas in search of wealth, something that had enough success in to be able to spawn a small building revolution of more European type dwellings, and fortified towers deemed necessary to protect themselves from marauding bandits intend on relieving these nouvo rich traveler from the hard earned wealth.

With the mercury showing in excess of 35º I was nothing short of impressed with Echo’s performance on her first ever 150 kilometres cycling day. I was also rather happy happy with the majority of the route we managed to find, courtesy of some fine fellow’s route on Strava mixed with some walking routes courtesy of Google’s algorithms. Even navigating out of  Zhuhai was a painless affair, with small riverside paths and some leafy shaded streets more reminiscent of Hanoi than a typical contemporary  Chinese city. 

Out in the countryside we found the sort of landscape one may expect of a huge river delta, with lots or riverside paths, bridges and fish farms that put us in mind of PaintedRoads’ Mekong Delta Tour. And the lovely quiet streets of Chiken, where we enjoyed an evening of street dining and cold beers in a cooling breeze, was a fine destination in which to relax after a fine day on the 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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