Photos: Henrik Moller
Foreign tourists arriving with oversized luggage — bike bags — are a common sight at Chiang Mai International Airport. Although unknown to much of the general public and tourism policymakers, the northern city is one of Asia’s most popular destinations for downhill mountain bikers from around the globe, including World Cup pros. Over the past decade, Chiang Mai’s position as a bike Mecca keeps growing stronger. And now it is boasting a new downhill track that is sicker than any of its predecessors.
Unlike Chiang Mai’s famous trails such as Bamboo, ATV or Gee’s House, this new addition is not on Doi Suthep or Doi Pui, the big mountains that loom over the western boundary of the downtown area. It’s in Mae On, about a 45-minute drive from the city to the east. Known as Ronny-Racing track after the team of two German mountain bikers who played a leading role in building it, the DH trail was one of the latest projects by Bike Park Chiang Mai, which is located in the area.
Unlike other features of the bike park, such as the dirt jump park with a giant airbag for safe stunt practising and the pump track, there’s no fee for using this new DH trail. Still, not everyone can ride it. You can’t unless you’re courageous. The accompanying photos do not truly portray the intimidating feel of the real thing. On the day these pictures were taken, I was accompanied by local friends who are skilled riders. However, there were certain scary jumps that none of us dared to try.
The trail starts from a roadside pavilion on a hill not far from the bike park. You set off down a mild slope and the next second you hit a banked right turn that shoots you downward. Without touching the brakes, you will gain enough momentum to send yourself to the top of an upward slope upfront where you steer left and the real thrill begins.
In a blink of an eye after the left turn, there is a drop with a gap between the lip and the landing so you need to approach it with decent speed. Suppose you clear that first drop, you’ll be storming through big rocks and a couple of jumps. The scariest one, in my opinion, is the one in the main picture.
After that section, you will be flowing along a fast but chill section for a few seconds before entering another dangerous zone via a narrow boardwalk that ends at a group of boulders. You need to ride down the side of one of those big rocks to the ground below. If you survive, as soon as you catch the next breath, you will find a chest-high drop that throws you into a sharp right turn. One of my friends tried this and crashed. Luckily, there were no broken bones and the bike was still intact, except for the front tyre, which popped, forcing him to walk the bike down the rest of the trail. He didn’t miss much though since from that point on there was no special feature that distinguishes it from other trails.
In case you want to know, it took the trail builders Jan Feyser and Robert Schulz two minutes and a few seconds to ride the track from start to finish. These Ronny-Racing guys also created an easier line that allows riders to skip the risky parts.
As we left Mae On, I could tell from my friends’ faces that some of them are determined to come back and clear every section. Too bad that day we did not have enough time to visit the nearby Doi Sam Ngok where Ronny-Racing has recently joined hands with local riders in adding two more trails to the original Sankamphaeng DH track, these days known as the CDC after the Chiang Mai Downhill Competition, which took place there several years ago. Next time, maybe.
Well, that’s it for this week. If you have questions, news or biking insights you wish to share, please feel free to send an email to [email protected] or go to Freewheel Bangkok community page on Facebook.
Pongpet Mekloy is the Bangkok Post‘s travel editor and a mountain bike freak.
Ronny-Racing DH Track
GPS co-ordinates (trailhead): 18°43’38.30″ N 99°15’51.06″ E
Trail condition: Downhill single track with awesome drops and jumps and an optional line for those who do not wish to risk it.
Distance: Less than 1.5km.
Getting there: The trailhead is on Road 1229, just a short drive from the bike park.
Parking: There’s some space at the trailhead and the trail’s end. If you use the bike park’s shuttle service, you can leave your car at the park.
Food drinks: There are several shops and restaurants on Road 1317, the main road in this area. But the bike park’s coffee shop is convenient and offers decent coffee.
What your family can enjoy while waiting: They can try riding the pump track or just chill out and watch riders trying out jumps.
Accommodation: Right next to the park is a place called Sabai Sabai Resort which also has its own pump track. You can find more choices of accommodation along Road 1317 and, of course, in Chiang Mai city.
Local contact: Visit bikeparkchiangmaith.com or facebook.com/bikeparkchiangmai or call 053-106-719. The bike park is closed on Mondays.