sometimes you'd almost think i meant it, in the way that one day's article effortlessly segues into the following. but if you have read here for long enough, you will already have had such conjecture banished from thought, for organisation on that level is currently beyond my capabilities. i was, if you will allow a brief reprise from yesterday, laying bare my lack of affinity with a need or desire to travel further afield than specific areas of the united kingdom, most notably this comfortable little rock in the atlantic.
thankfully, both for the future of cycling and providing interesting subject matter on which i can digress to my heart's content, there are many who shrug off the hardships, the danger, the unexpected, and thrust themselves into the unknown with nary a look over their shoulder. for such intrepid adventurers, the very notion of an organised cycling adventure is tantamount to an attack on their virility and man or womanhood; they look upon the catered-for cycle excursion with disdain. for me, and many others like me, being provided with a bullet-point itinerary, sensible feed stops, and the local equivalent of a mavic car driving behind is definitely not a step too far.
for many a year, so-called training camps have been provided on many of the spanish islands, masquerading as the ideal spots for pre-season training. only we know better; none of those attending such pain and suffering for softies have much intention of imitating cav or brad through the coming months. that is not to say that it's all a waste of time, for there can be little doubt that most will come back fitter than when they left, it's just that all will likely be squandered within a few weeks of reality. there are little if any bragging rights to be had by casually mentioning that one had spent the previous weeks amongst the hills in majorca, and at the risk of being struck off sven thiele's christmas card list, riding for three days from london to paris is no longer the trial of strength and endeavour it was once thought to be.
so what now?
when at school i was introduced to thailand by a studious geography teacher, though it was years later when i realised my mistake, having thought it was tie-land; in much the same way that everyone thinks those of us north of the border wear tartan skirts, i was of the impression that the population of this far-off land wore ties. sad, but true.
thailand is, of course a far more interesting location than my misapprehension would have me believe, and now offers even more than i had at first surmised, due to apparently being the hidden secret of the cycling world. and should you need any convincing of this fact, perhaps a look at the crouching tiger cycling tours website would cure of any misgivings.
the mention of the london paris bike ride is not entirely co-incidental either. in 2008, i rode this event in the company of many fine and friendly cyclists, one of whom was a chap by the name of gary thomas. riding events such as l2p, the tour of wessex and the tour des cols had already convinced the man of his affinity with cycling, so when he shifted to thailand, he felt he'd like to offer some of the same, but in the unarguably more exotic surroundings of this asian paradise.
crouching tiger cycling tours.
"the initial business plan was to run open fixed date tours on the routes that can be seen on our website, and that is still a future objective. however to date, we have found ourselves needing to cater for groups of riders who already ride together regularly and are looking for a new challenge. in general the majority of enquiries are from customers who are looking for tailor made tours to fit in with their existing schedules. we have happily adapted to this booking pattern and this has become our speciality."
now, doesn't that sort of sound like what we've just been talking about? but is it therefore a case of getting oneself to thailand with bicycle and being handed a route map, a monogrammed water bottle and told to have a great time? for instance, does anyone know what the thai is for inner tube, or, perhaps more salient, which side of the road they ride on?
"all tours are fully supported. our clients' safety and comfort are of the highest importance. our cycle guides take a similar role to the group captains on london-paris, assisting with marshalling the group along the route. we have vehicle support to assist with mechanical issues; and as an option for anyone who wants either a morning or afternoon off, a lift up a long climb, or simply a short rest. the support vehicle also carries refreshments and energy sustaining snacks. we have an excellent photographer on the team capturing memorable moments from the tours.
as well as our everyday support, we have an excellent relationship with the local police authorities and can arrange an escort where group numbers require.
if we assume that most of us will employ the same well-used euphemism, and ascribe the word training of a pre-seasonal variety to a week or couple of weeks in thailand, the ideal would be that the pelotonese joining a crouching tiger cycle tour ought to get a bit faster and fitter. since this would require to be gained from a base level of some description, is it necessary for the incumbent to maintain at least a minimum speed to partake of a tour? or, given the exotica of the surroundings and thailand's reputation as a holiday destination, are the tours geared more towards the family group looking for something a tad more strenuous than lying on the beach.
"the tours are aimed at the more experienced road cyclist with a good level of fitness, but there is no minimum speed or level of expectation. participating cyclists simply need to be aware of the difficulty of the ride they subscribe to. we take great care to plan suitable itineraries, based on experience, expectation and ability so that our cycling friends will not only complete and enjoy them, but will also find them challenging and rewarding.
tours catering for family cyclists is not a market we are anticipating entering."
if you, like me, have taken the time to have a browse through the tours on offer from crouching tiger, it will perhaps not have escaped your attention that there are many with breaks in continuity. by this, i mean, and unlike the london-paris, it is rarely a case of climbing aboard one's bicycle in the morning and setting off into the sunset for a day of perpetual riding, aside from the occasional stop for sustenance. surely cyclists are sufficiently obsessed to have it so, and not stop off to look at the scenery of an afternoon?
"our listed itineraries are designed to ensure that our cyclists have an experience of thailand, not only on the bike but as well as at the end of each day's cycling. we include rest days in listed tours because they are usually necessary, but in the new bespoke world of our tours we will include or exclude these days to our clients' requirements with due consideration and using our considerable knowledge and experience. for example, a group of australian riders recently took on the 700km Ôthai highland tourŐ in just five days.
"any cyclist or group of cyclists who book a tailor made tour can choose to set any pace that they are capable of maintaining. however we offer group tours and would not allow any individual rider to set off alone and unaccompanied. we offer a fully supported tour with safety foremost in our minds. While cycling on thai roads can be considered safe, in many regions we can be quite isolated. It can be many miles between anywhere to buy or beg drinking water and places where there is no mobile phone signal in the event of an accident or mechanical failure. with all cyclists to date being club mates, colleagues or team members, we have seen the usual camaraderie and encouragement we all enjoy as cyclists. donŐt get me wrong, itŐs fine to sprint for a post or be first to the top of the climb and wait, but a group ride should be just that, we start together, ride together and finish together.
so far, so good. thailand seems like the ideal location to combine rest and recuperation with days of pain and suffering, and much-a-plenty scenery to occupy the senses on the days when turning another crank is just a chain link too far. but on the days when cycling is the prime objective, there is little doubt that this will take place over the roads that thailand's population use for the day to day, likely less than wholly concerned with the proclivities of those awheel. so can the average crouching tiger peloton experience closed roads?
"quite simply, no, but wherever possible we use quieter routes, and we are in the lowly populated areas of the country, meaning that traffic levels are generally relatively low. in our experience thai drivers are very aware of and considerate towards two wheeled traffic. our support vehicles will be on hand to lead and or follow if necessary. safety is a top priority."
let's, for a moment, take a step backward and look at life in the real world. finding an easyjet or ryanair flight to spain or its surrounds is a particularly economic, if not entirely luxurious travelling experience, and once there, the worst that can happen by way of internal transport, is perhaps the need for a taxi to a local hostelry. thailand is half-way around the world, so what sort of costs are likely to be involved in transporting self, sportwool, lycra and carbon from here to there?
"there are a number of factors to consider, but typically you can fly from london to bangkok from about £550. some clients who may not live a suitable distance from heathrow might find departures from their local airport that connect via amsterdam or other hubs for similar prices. luggage can be an issue, with a bagged bike weighing close to 15kg, but i recently flew with emirates who offered a generous 30kg. in my experience, eva and thai airlines offer the best direct service, eva with seatback personal choice entertainment. emirates were also excellent.
"and certain of our tours offer free internal flights within thailand."
so there you go. while the rest of the velo club are finding odd bolts in the bike bag from last year, and perhaps in one or two cases, a bike that appears not to be theirs, as they pack for next year's flight to benidorm, having packed enough sandwiches and cans of fanta to obviate any excess fees from ryanair, you can smugly announce that your bike bag will be travelling emirates to thailand, fully catered for several days of an altogether different quality of cycling.
gary affirms that crouching tiger cycle tours are in their infancy; they have likely only scraped the surface of what is possible in an emerging nation. he figures that cyclists across the world are all looking for the same way to the top, (relatively speaking) and crouching tiger would like to help us get there. however, it's not all give and no take. while thailand may be a paradise for western visitors with bicycles, it is not short of problems of its own, and crouching tiger aim to cement their position within the thai community by putting something back. currently the hope is to aid with education and healthcare for refugees, while in the sphere of conservation, they aim to aid work to protect the endangered asian elephant.
can i fly direct from islay?
posted tuesday 7 september 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................