Recent Ex-Pat and Dirt’s South East Asia Correspondent, Rodney ‘Ginger Pwabs’ Fountain Junior, reports in from the Thai jungle about Downhill happenings coming up in the near future. Anyone wanting to get away from it all with a DH bike and a bunch of Brits abroad, read on!
Words: Rod Fountain
If asked to identify two things unique to the UK riding scene I’d go for our unfaltering belief in the power of a hardcore hardtail and the Mates Race scene. At least I thought these were uniquely British until mates returned from Whistler with tales of silly boys on Chromags doing even sillier things deep in the woods and until the Loose Riders bombed my inbox with a flyer for their second annual race.
It’s a mates race, of sorts, because the Loose Riders are all mates. Think of it as Peaty’s Steel City race with local riders pitching themselves against a healthy pro field, including the great man himself, top prizes and all happening on a Saturday leaving time for a monster after-party. The difference is this race runs on the side of an 1800m mountain. In Northern Thailand. Admittedly getting to the slopes of Mae On will be more difficult for the average Brit’ than getting to Peaty’s beloved Greno but getting an entry won’t be because you don’t have to jump through British Cycling’s web hoops. Another difference is the 10 minute uplift through dusty jungle tracks in 4x4s from which you can stare at lush banana and mango trees instead of wet pine and not very dry stone walls. There’s no real limit to entries though around 100 riders threw down last year. Online reg’ is open and costs 800 Baht (about a £16) or you can turn up on the day and race for 1000 Baht (do the maths). For that you can pitch and party yourself against previous winner Peaty and Wyn Masters who are back for their second year (ask yourself why) plus Sam Dale, recent Dirt cover star Nico Vink, Josh Bryceland and list of ‘strong possibles’ who have yet to clear it with their wives and girlfriends who doubtless heard about last year’s after-party that crawled like a boozy snake around the city.
To whet your appetite get Googlin’ to see not only the DH race on the hill but the Tuk-Tuk race in the city afterwards. If you’ve got anything left after seeding (Friday) and the race (Saturday) then your 800 Baht also gets you entry to Casey’s Long Jump competition in memory of Loose Rider Simon Casey who sadly passed away last year though not in the competition itself, don’t worry. Casey’s comp’ might well be another reason Peaty and Wyn are coming back because they were humbled by a local lad, San, who aced not only them but Brook Macdonald. It’s a great way to end the day and is proper ‘playing out’ on a bike that’d make Casey smile and possibly wince if that tree’s still near the landing strip.
At the risk of sounding like host of a soul crushing TV shopping channel there’s yet more you get for you money. You get to say you’re a Loose Rider. At first glance Loose Riders is little more than a Facebook page centered around the trails that X-Biking, the uplift, guiding and bike hire company set up by local trail builder and ripper King built. But there’s more to it: Loose Riders was formed by Steve Francis and the brilliantly named Johnny Walker to keep the trickle of riders who passed through up to date on how the Chiang Mai trails were running and where to eat, drink and stay in the city. In 2012, on what must have been a very drunk night indeed, they hit on the idea of asking a bunch of World Cup racers to come and race them on their hill despite not owning a roll of tape between them. Not put off by what must’ve been crushing hangovers this small group of mates somehow pulled it off and secured promises from Peaty and Wyn to come back in 2013 with a bunch of their own mates. At this point the Loose Riders went out to by another roll of tape and start their year long fund-raising drive to pay for everything from the PA and prizes to the uplift and bribes to bar owners to let an expected 150 hyped up mountain bikers into their premises.
When they’re not biting off more than they should reasonably be able to chew, the Loose Riders help riders stay in touch after riotous riding weekends and help people from all over the world coordinate that inevitable next trip to the 13 ridiculously long descents (Gee’s house takes a fast rider at least 30 unbroken minutes and the rest are about 10-20 mins without a single pedal-stroke). Tim Soeten, the owner of Liqourbrand clothing, and the man behind Nico Vink’s current sartorial elegance on the trails, regularly makes the 60 minute flight north from his home in Bangkok and is one of the original Loose Riders. He’s also designed a line of Loose Riders t-shirts (the 80’s ‘Back to the Future’ style is my current favourite) that can help you identify a kindred spirit from several berms away: for example, I was riding Revolution Bike Park in Wales last month and saw a lad wearing one so we shared shuttles and stories for the rest of the day and I’m putting him up in Bangkok when he flies over for the race. And that’s the point: like some twisted dating site Loose Riders are now hooking up riders from Hong Kong, Singapore, Copenhagen and after the race in November new ‘chapters’ will open meaning you’ve not only got a t-shirt but also a riding buddy, a cracking night out and a sofa to crash on in an ever increasing number of places around the world (the difference being that this dating will only give you gravel rash). Until raceday the Loose Riders are doing what they do best: hooking first time riders up with flight info’, accommodation, bike hire and anything else they need to make their time in Chiang Mai brilliant. There’s no charge for this; it’s for the love of riding and the confidence they’ve got in their trails.
It’s unlikely that anyone (except the bloke I met at Revolution) is going to come to Chiang Mai from Europe just to race the CDC, but here’s an idea: if you’re about to book a long haul flight with your nearest and dearest (the one next to you in bed, not the one in the shed) then why not make it Thailand? Once here most people visit Chiang Mai anyway because it’s a cheap and easy internal flight from the beaches to this achingly cool and ancient city with its non-chain bars, coffee shops, galleries and clubs; think Berlin but with nice weather and an 1800m mountain, littered with trails, bearing down on it.
Whilst the Mates Race scene no longer seems uniquely British, I’m not sad. That said, it does cause me a bit of problem: who should visit during the holidays?