Night riders

If you've fallen in love with mountain biking, it's not unusual to feel as happy and excited as going out on a date every time you get the chance to take your bike out on the trails. And if spending time with your sweetheart after sunset is more sensational than during daytime, riding when the sunlight is out is not much different.

Now imagine blasting down a rugged downhill (DH) track in the dark. Yes, that must be equivalent to a very, very hot date! And last week in Hua Hin I had such an unforgettable night!

It took place on Khao Hin Lek Fai, the hill which serves as the playground for downhillers living in the famous resort town. To be more exact, it was on the iTV track, also known as "sen bon" (the upper trail) because the trail head, located near the transmission tower of the now defunct iTV station, is higher up than that of the other tracks on the same hill.

Actually, I've already written about this trail when it was first built in April. But since then it has undergone several "upgrades", and the current version of the trail is designed to be faster and more challenging. After having added a number of larger jumps and drops, the local bikers decided that it's time for Hua Hin's very first night DH ride.

Of course, I couldn't allow myself to miss this "group date". So I rushed from Bangkok to join my DH buddies there.

Six downhillers, including myself, were in for the ride. To prepare ourselves for the night out, each biker needed a portable light source to be able to see the way in front. Mine was a Chinese-made LED headlamp, which I got for only 100 baht from a Tesco Lotus a day earlier. I tore off one end of the elastic head strap and tied the thing snugly to the handlebar. It held perfectly in place and the beam was sufficiently broad and bright. The fact that it's LED and has a built-in battery with minimal wiring, if any, made me feel positive it would be able to withstand the shocks occurred while riding the 1.1km-long bumpy trail.

To play it safe, we did two practice runs in the late afternoon to familiarise ourselves with track details such as the surfaces of different sections, what to expect after each corner, how to gain enough speed to clear the jumps and where to land, and the locations of those sharp rocks protruding from the ground.

But as we went up the hill on the pick-up truck that carried us to the trailhead for our first run, rain poured. And that meant aside from the fact that the steep parts of the trail would be very slippery, each of us would be soaked and our clothes and protective gear would be damp through to the last ride of the night. Perfect!

Anyway, the rain stopped in less than half an hour and our focus was on trying to remember the track as much as possible.

Finally, darkness fell and we were ready for the night ride. To my surprise, a number of local cross-country mountain bikers came over and offered to accompany us on foot and help illuminate difficult spots for us with their flashlights. That was great news for me because deep inside I was kind of worried whether I would be able to clear the gap jump in the middle of the trail with the beam from my headlamp as the only guide. With extra lighting, our confidence was boosted, so much so that one of the riders, who was using a hardtail bike instead of a true, full-suspension, DH bike like the others, took to the air so high at a jump that he overshot the usual touch down spot and landed on a sharp rock instead. As a result, he got a hole in his rear tire and had to become a photographer for the group instead.

The XC bikers left after the first ride was done and we did the second on our own, virtually non-stop. Amazingly, it didn't take much longer than our average daytime runs. Yes, even with one single light source, each rider was going at pretty much his usual speed. We couldn't have managed that without the practice runs.

It was almost 9pm when we finished riding. Of course there had been some skidding and minor falls, but nobody got hurt. And thanks to the afternoon rain, by the time we did our night ride, the ground was soft and tacky, allowing good traction. At the end, everybody was happy and look forward to doing it again sometime soon.

After my first night-time DH ride, I went to the hotel with a big grin on my face. I remember well how ecstatic I felt after my first date a long time ago, but this was even better.

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 pongpetm@bangkokpost.co.th or visit the "Freewheel Bangkok" community page on Facebook.

Pongpet Mekloy is the Bangkok Post's travel editor and a mountain bike freak.

iTV Trail, Hua Hin

GPS info: N 12 33.537, E 99 56.117

Trail condition: Short DH single-track with steep sections and man-made fun obstacles.

Distance: 1.1 km.

Getting there: Khao Hin Lek Fai is a famous site in Hua Hin. From downtown, it can be reached via Soi Hua Hin 88.

Accommodation & parking: Ban Rai Resort, located right at the end of the trail, offers both. Its rooms cost 500-700 baht. Call 082-189-0359.

Food & drinks: There are a lot of food stalls in Soi 88, many of them are open till late at night.

What your family can enjoy while waiting: Shopping or dining in the downtown area.

Local contact: Thagoon Laokosakul or Khun Ae of Velo Hua Hin. Call 089-201-7782.

About the author

columnist
Writer: Pongpet Mekloy
Position: Travel Editor