As winter sets in, Northern Thailand enters the very best season for cycling. Combined with beautiful scenery and rural byways free of motor vehicles, cycling life in Thailand is going to be splendid for months to come. But, best of all is the endless network of unsealed tracks and trails, single track, and jeep tracks to explore. Here, in glorious colour, is a moving picture of a Sunday morning blast on the PaintedRoads' scrambler in the hills, rice paddies, and pineapple fields of Chiang Rai.
Back I was a lad, when the world was black & white, and we had to dodge dinosaurs on the way home from school, we used to find old bicycle frames, big wide handlebars, hopefully a Sturmy Archer three-speed, and if we were getting high tech, some brakes; we'd cobble 'em all together, and make - a scrambler.
These machines were named after the off-road racing motorcycles, which were little more than thumping four-stroke road bikes with high-level exhausts, raised mudguards, and slightly elongated suspension (if you were an ace). Just as motocross machines superseded these behemoths, so, the scrambler bicycle was soon outshone by the BMX, and the mountain bike. However, although the motocross machine and the mountain bike are undoubtedly better for winning races, jumping onto and off of improbable, and being generally rad and gnarly, it doesn't mean that there is no place these days for the humble scrambler. For those of us who don't wear a trucker cap backwards and talk with passion about "getting air dude", the scrambler offers an alternative, laid-back, super fun way to discover the unchartered territory of hills, valleys, jungles and plains.
More words and images about the build of this machine will come soon, but for now, by way of an introduction to PaintedRoads newest machine, Echo and I are rather pleased with our most recent video:
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.
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.
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.
Yuletide 2019 was a splendid time for PaintedRoads. Eight jolly folks, all wishing to escape winter's gloom, joined Echo and me, Thai guide Natt and support crew P Gor and Thon, for a tropical beachside ride from Bangkok to Phuket.
PaintedRoads original tour, South Thailand was conceived as a winter escape, mixing balmy weather, quiet roads and beaches, super cycling, delicious food, and plenty of cold beers. During its eight-years, it has never failed to fulfil people's expectations, and I feel confident in saying Christmas 2019 is no exception. Many thanks to Jo, Mike & Berta, Gill, Debbie, Last Minute Paul, and Brian & Sil for coming along and being such good fun folks. I will leave the images below to tell the tale.
Koh Yao Noi.
As with all PaintedRoads tours, South Thailand is always in a state of flux as the route evolves and improves. This year we made a change of route that has long been on my mind, a change that will become a feature of the tour - at least until the next change.
What happens when the tour leader takes a wrong turn.
Temples are always a good spot for a picnic lunch.
Friend and guide, Natt,
Visiting a Buddha cave.
The road less travelled.
Tip-top support is guaranteed from our regular driver P Gor, with back up from Thon.