A meeting on Sunday afternoon may not sound exciting to everybody. But for almost 80 downhill mountain bikers from across the country, the meeting last Sunday at Khao Yai Da in Rayong made their hearts thump days before it took place.
To Thai downhillers, a meeting is not a gathering of like-minded bikers to discuss a certain issue. Their topics of conversation never stray far from mountain biking. As a matter of fact, to them a meeting means a party-cum-race on a downhill track specially prepared for the event. It means fun!
So why don't they call it a competition? Well, that is because if you hold a competition, you must ask for approval from an authoritative body that oversees the sport, otherwise, athletes joining your race might be in trouble the next time they apply for the national championship contest. Who needs the complicated bureaucracy when all you want is just to have one heck of a good time?
The meeting at Khao Yai Da was the first of its kind this year. Actually, it's the first since the one at Khao Makha, Nakhon Ratchasima, held in June 2010. (The CNX event in Chiang Mai, which takes place every year end, doesn't count because most of the participants are local riders).
So despite the fact the Sunday event was announced merely two weeks in advance, it drew a large number of riders (80 is a lot for a downhill race in Thailand). And it wasn't just Thai mountain bikers, but expats as well.
The trail at Khao Yai Da, which is near Ban Phae _ the coastal town with piers for ferries to the famous Samed island _ was featured in this column earlier this year, soon after it was built by local downhillers. It's a short course, about 1.5km, but it's full of drops and jumps of various sizes and types. With so many "playthings", it is one of the most exciting trails within 200km of Bangkok.
And for the race last Sunday, more jumps _ one of them a chest-high gap jump with a distance of 3m between the launch mound and the landing mound _ were added for extra thrill.
On the day of the race, many riders showed up at Khao Yai Da half-awake. While some arrived after a long early morning drive, others had arrived in Rayong in the preceeding days and had been busy catching up with fellow riders from other provinces until late at night. My friends from Hua Hin, for example, said they had beers with the downhillers from Chai Nat until 5am!
So it was no surprise that spectators were entertained by the sight of some unfit racers struggling and panting as they tried to use their last burst of energy to reach the finish line. But that is part of the fun. After all, winning is not the priority at a downhill meeting.
After the race, trophies, nicely designed in the shape of a full-face helmet, were presented to the winners of each age group. Lucky draw prizes _ mostly bike parts complementary of participating bike shops _ were given out to both racers and those who came to watch. Prizes for teams from the farthest provinces went to those from Chiang Mai, Ranong and Hua Hin (Prachuap Khiri Khan). Oh, and there was also a long jump contest to see which of the participants could go airborne the farthest from a launch mound that was only a half-knee high. The winner went 8m!
By now some of you who missed the Khao Yai Da event might feel the itch and wonder when the next meeting will take place. The good news is I heard the riders from Hua Hin and Chiang Mai are planning to host one at their hometowns sometime this year. The first said theirs is likely to take place either at the end of June or early July, while the latter said their event would be in December, maybe a week or two prior to the annual CNX event.
Of course, I'll keep you posted.
Well, see you here again next Thursday. Until then, if you have questions, news or biking insights you wish to share, please feel free to send an email to email@example.com or go to "Freewheel Bangkok" community page on Facebook.
Pongpet Mekloy is the Bangkok Post's travel editor and a mountain bike freak.
About the author
- Writer: Pongpet Mekloy
Position: Travel Editor