Late for Nowhere

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Posts Tagged ‘Mountain biking Myanmar Burma

Goat-roasting mountain bikers dominate downhill race at Myanmar National Cycling Championships

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After a four-year hiatus, Myanmar’s national cycling championships returned with a vengeance from December 2 to 6, with hard-fought medals awarded in the disciplines of road racing, BMX, mountain bike downhill and mountain bike cross-country.

The Myanmar Cycling Federation (MCF), which organized the event, underwent major restructuring in 2014 and last year set about reviving the sport in the country by holding more events and bringing in more sponsors, such as Myan Shwe Pyi Tractors, Myanmar CP Livestock, 100 Plus and AMI Insurance.

“This is the second year we started seriously organizing cycling races, and the first time in four years we have held the national cycling championships. I think overall it’s a great start,” said MCF president Khin Maung Win.

“There’s a lot of enthusiasm among the cyclists. This event has focused more on elite riders, so we don’t see heavy participation from all the cyclists out there who have emerged in the past two or three years. There are many cyclists out there, but this level of competition is something new in Myanmar.”


The championships kicked off with a three-day road stage race. Prizes were awarded to the top finishers on each day, but the national champion’s jersey was given to the cyclist who completed all three days with the fastest accumulated time.

The first race saw the field of 42 competitors ride 160 kilometers (100 miles) from Nyaung U to Meiktila. A crash on a sandy section of road about 30km into the race took down 10 riders, all of whom were able to remount and continue racing. The combination of hills and stiff headwind split the field into small groups, with SEA Games veteran Soe Thant from the National A Team taking the win in a time of 4 hours, 48 minutes, 18 seconds. His teammate Aung Phyo Min finished second at 3 seconds, while third-place Zin Lin Ko crossed the line 2m 16s behind the winner.


Day two from Meiktila to Pyinmana was similarly contested over 160km, but the course was flatter and swifter than day one. Another crash occurred about 20km into the race when an errant canine dashed through the middle of the group of fast-moving cyclists, causing Aung Ko Oo (Speed Team) to hit the deck. The unfortunate cyclist suffered a broken leg and was taken to hospital for surgery.


Meanwhile, Aung Phyo Paing (National A Team) and Sai Aung Kham (GTM A Team) escaped the field and finished first and second in 4h 4m. Zin Lin Ko led the main field across the line more than 10 minutes later.


The third and final road stage was a 30km time trial on wide roads around Wunna Theikdi Stadium in Nay Pyi Taw, with each rider starting individually at one-minute intervals. The day’s race was won by Kyaw Tun Oo (GTM A Team) in 39m 19s, but the overall national championship title went to Aung Phyo Min, whose accumulated time of 9h 38m 37s over three days of racing bested second-place Soe Thant by 42 seconds and Zin Lin Ko in third by 3 minutes.




On day four, the championships moved to Mount Pleasant in Nay Pyi Taw, the venue for the 2013 SEA Games BMX and mountain bike races. Zar Ni (GTM) out-pedaled 22 competitors to win the BMX championship, while Aung Naing Tun (Mandalay Free Riders) was fastest on the mountain bike downhill course, making it to the bottom in 2m 53s. His MFR teammates dominated the day, sweeping the top 10 spots.


Aung Win Tun – manager of the Mandalay Free Riders team, which prepared for the race by guzzling beer and roasting a goat on a flagpole the night before – noted that Aung Naing Tun’s time was on par with medalists at the 2013 SEA Games. “He rode an awesome speed. He’s racing at the elite professional level,” Aung Win Tun said.


Aung Naing Tun, who has been competing for eight years and who bested second-place Aung Paing Soe by 7 seconds, said he did not find the downhill course particularly difficult.

“The tracks we ride in Mandalay are more difficult than the course in Nay Pyi Taw. This track is better for riding at high speed, but it’s not technically difficult,” he said.

The national cycling championships closed on December 6 with the mountain bike cross-country race, consisting of five laps of a tough 4.4km course that included several technical sections and some very steep climbs and descents. Winner Ben Rowse (Bike World A Team) covered the course in 1h 17s, beating the previous day’s BMX champion Zar Ni by 1m 41s.


Although Rowse is Australian, he was named Myanmar national champion by virtue of an MCF rule stipulating that foreign residents are eligible to take the title.

“The mountain bike track was really good. A lot of the riders struggled, but it’s good that they can see what a challenging track is like and what they need to improve on,” Rowse said.

“There were some good riders out in the front. One guy [Zar Ni] was pushing me all the way to the finish. I think he crashed on the fourth lap and couldn’t catch back up, so I got a bit of a break and managed to win.”


Bike World team manager Jeff Parry said he was happy with how his riders performed, considering they were competing against the top national cyclists.

“In the mountain bike section, I think we excelled. We came in first and seventh places, and the winner comfortably came in first,” Parry said. “The course was certainly up to Asian international standards. It was fast in places, with a couple of steep climbs and sections that were technically challenging. I think it’s been a successful five days of cycling.”


MCF president Khin Maung Win said he hopes to build on the momentum of the national championships.

“One positive thing I see is that are a lot of new sponsors coming on board,” he said. “And of course the most exciting part for me is the young 18- or 19-year-old cyclists winning. They are showing great potential. That’s the future of cycling. Going forward, we want to go into the middle schools and high schools so the younger kids can enjoy competitive cycling.”


Mixed fortunes at Sagaing bike races: Report and photo gallery

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Your blogger, grinding up the steep hill. Photo: Jeff Parry

The fifth and penultimate round of the yearlong MSP bike race series in Myanmar was held in Sagaing, near Mandalay, on the weekend of August 22-23, with proceeds going to benefit the victims of this month’s flooding in Sagaing Region. Our team, sponsored by Bike World bike shop in Yangon, drove up with six riders, including locals Lance Thein Soe and Moe Han, and foreigners Jochen Meissner (Austria), Ben Rowse (Australia), John Henderson (US) and myself (US).

Ben, Jochen and I were the only ones to take part in the road race on August 22, which was only 50km (30 miles) long on flat roads. My ride is best forgotten: I got a flat tire around mile 5, fixed it and carried on, only to get a second flat around mile 15, only to find that my second spare tube was faulty and could not hold air. So I packed it in and caught motorized transport back to the start/finish line. Ben did a bit better, finishing 10th overall and 3rd in the Over-26 age group in a chase group that came in around 1m 30s behind solo winner Kyaw Tun Oo.

The mountain bike race on August 23 consisted of four laps of a beautiful 7.2km (4.5-mile) course with a moderately long and steep climb, a tricky single-track descent identified on the race map as the “danger zone” (cue Kenny Loggins), and a back section on fast, flat and rolling fire roads. Nearly 60 riders participated, and the local villagers came out in force to watch the race and cheer the riders. I did a bit better than the day before, coming in 15th overall and 2nd in the Over-40 age group. Ben, a mountain biker at heart, blazed the course and took the overall win. Jochen dropped out after the first lap, as he was still suffering the effects of the previous day’s road race, which he had ridden on his mountain bike. His presence was not entirely in vain, though: Moe Han snapped his chain on the first climb but finished the race on Jochen’s bike. John Finished mid-pack, and Lance Thein Soe was more interested in having fun than exposing himself to too much pain – he even stopped for a chat or too along the way – and finished well back in the field.

The final round of the series is slated to be held in Yangon in late November or early December.


Rocky departure from Yangon. Photo: Douglas Long


The mountain bike course.


Jochen (left) and John point out the “danger zone” on the course map. Photo: Douglas Long


Ben tackles the climb. Photo: Jeff Parry


Ben on the climb. Photo: Jeff Parry


Ben on the back straight. Photo: Jeff Parry


Your blogger on the hill. Photo: Sai Yout Kyio


Villagers line the finish straight. Photo: Douglas Long


Some local spectators. Photo: Douglas Long


Lance Thein Soe cruises across the finish line. Photo: Douglas Long


Moe Han (left) laments his broken chain. Photo: Douglas Long


Your blogger (left) getting his medal for second place in the Over-40 age group. Photo: Sai Yout Kyio


The Bike World crew. Photo: Jeff Parry

And some random photos from the race by Jeff Parry:





Written by latefornowhere

August 29, 2015 at 1:11 am

Taunggyi cycling weekend: My races

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In action in Taunggyi. (Photo: Nyi Nyi Zaw)

The fourth round of the year-long MSP Cycle and Make a Difference Charity Series was held in Taunngyi, southern Shan State, Myanmar, on May 30 and 31.

This time I attended as a cyclist rather than as a journalist, although taking part in the road race required borrowing a bicycle from Bike World that was affixed with appropriate mountain-goat gearing: a vintage 1983 Pinarello with aluminum Vitus tubing. It was a fun, lightweight bike that would prove to be an asset on the uphills but a bit unstable when the speeds got too high on the descents.

Excluding the neutralized start (see below), the race was run on a 54 kilometer out-and-back course starting with a fast 5km descent followed by 10km of flat riding, a harrowing 7km climb with switchbacks, and a slightly downhill and flat 5km run to the turnaround.

The race started at 6:30am at Bogyoke Park in the center of town, but the prelude was a slow neutralized start for the steep, 10km descent off the Taunggyi Plateau to the real start line in the town of Aythaya, home to Myanmar’s first European-style winery.


Negotiating the neutralized descent from Taunggyi. (Photo: Nyi Nyi Zaw)

We stopped there for a quick photo-op, and then the starting gun was fired – at which point a group of elite riders from Nay Pyi Taw went to the front and flew down the first hill at a pace that had my crusty old Pinarello suffering from speed wobbles. I reached a top speed of 66.6kph, and later learned that the faster guys had exceeded 85kph. At any rate, the front guys slowed down when we passed through the toll gate at the bottom of the hill, allowing me and a few others to latch onto the back of the front group.

Once on the flatlands, the race was largely shaped by the lack of any tactical sense among the younger cyclists. The action (or lack thereof) started when one rider jumped off the front. In response, a single rider moved to the front of the peloton and set a tepid pace. No one would help him work, not even his teammates. Then another rider jumped off the front to join the solo break, and the single-rider chase effort was repeated. After a third guy escaped, the pace in our group dropped to about 30kph. The race for the top three places was effectively over.

Did I contribute to the pace? No, I did not. Among my excuses were: I was the sole Bike World rider in the race (and also the only foreigner), and so lacked teammates with/for whom to work; my training time is limited to five to six hours a week, compared with the 30-plus hours logged by the Nay Pyi Taw riders; and I was twice the age of most of the other cyclists – let the young’uns do the work.

Plus, I had to save some energy for the 7km climb. As soon as the road started sloping upward, I watched the fast climbers pedal off as I settled into my own pace, which was enough to leave a few of the sprinter-types in my wake. One young Nay Pyi Taw rider followed me most of the way up, only to “attack” and leave me behind about 1km from the top.

Just past the crest I caught another rider who had taken off at the start of the climb but had not been able to hold the pace of the fast climbers. He sat on my wheel during the entire 5km to the turnaround at Heho Airport, at which point he went to the front to take his turn. But our speed immediately dropped by about 3-4kph, so I went back to the front and set the pace all the way up the gentle slope to the top of the long descent.

We swooped through the hairpins and flew past trucks, cars and motorcycles, and we caught the rider who had followed me up the climb. He latched onto us for a while, but then, inexplicably, he tried to pass me on the inside of curve as we crossed a set of railroad tracks. It was a bad move as there was no space between me and the edge of the road – I felt his elbow hit my right hip, and then heard his bike hit the pavement at about 50kph. By now we were near the bottom of the hill, where an ambulance was parked alongside the road; as I sped past, I shouted for them to drive back up and check the rider who had just crashed.

Meanwhile, me and other rider continued toward the finish. Knowing that I was unlikely to catch anyone ahead of us, and determined more than anything to get in a good training ride, I went to the front and did all the work along the entire 10km flat section without asking the other rider to pull through. I tried to keep up a decent pace, at times threading the needle down the center line between slow-moving trucks in our lane and oncoming cars in the other lane.

I was pretty toasted by the time we passed back through the toll booth, at which point we faced the 5km climb back up to the finish line. I moved over and waved the other rider onward: He promptly pedaled past and finished about a minute ahead of me. Incredibly, the guy who had crashed on the descent caught me about halfway up the climb: Having flown off his bike and landed in the vegetation alongside the road, he had suffered only a few minor abrasions on his arms and legs.


Approaching the finish line in Aythaya with my very own police escort. (Photo: Nyi Nyi Zaw)

With fewer than five riders over the age of 40 in the race, we middle-agers were not given our own age category. Still, my efforts were enough to earn me fourth place in the Over-26 age category, which was a bit better than I had expected. The mountain bike race the next day did attract five 40-plus riders, myself included, so in this case we were given our own age group.

The mountain bike course was about 5km outside of Taunggyi toward Hopong. It was a nice 4km loop – which we did five times for a short, fast race – winding through a pine forest, starting with a fast, swoopy downhill and then a sharp right turn onto a short but very steep climb. Deceptively, the apparent top was not really the top: Although the grade lessened considerably, there was another 200 meters of slightly uphill grinding before hitting the next downhill. This section flummoxed quite a few riders who pushed too hard on the steep section and had little left to keep pedaling.


Near the start of the mountain bike race. (Photo: Thandar Khine)

The backside of the course featured a short, easy climb, another descent, another tough hill and then the fast descent to the start/finish. Rain the previous evening had made the red soil quite tacky, and the added grip meant that braking was required at only three or four points around the entire course.


Speeding across the red soil of Shan State. (Photo: Nyi Nyi Zaw)

I was one of the few riders who tackled both races over the weekend, and my legs were a bit heavy from the road race so I tried to get a good warm-up on the paved road near the course. Still, I lined up at the very back at the start so the young racers with something to prove could race without interference from my relatively slow-moving self.


Passing near the start/finish area. (Photo: Thandar Khine)

Still, I managed to pass five or six riders on the first descent, and despite my determination to take it relatively easy on the first lap, I dropped two more on the first climb. The first two laps were pretty painful, but by the third time up the most difficult hill I was feeling pretty good and started picking off riders who had started too fast. I passed five or six more before the finish, and during the entire race was caught by only one rider on the last lap. I kept him in my sights all the way to line, and when the dust settled I found that I had finished second in the Over-40 age group, bested by a very short, very fast 40-year-old from the Myanmar/Thailand border town of Tachileik.


Waiting for the awards ceremony with the other medalists. Over-40 winner Sai Tun Aung is standing just behind me in the orange jersey and blue Sky cap. (Photo: Aung Win Tun)


Shaking hands with race organizer Khin Maung Win. (Photo: Nyi Nyi Zaw)

Road-race to Mandalay

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My story on last weekend’s cycling events, published in the April 1 edition of The Myanmar Times:


Nyan Linn Htet (006) and Kyaw Htet Aung lead a group of cyclists on the Mandalay Hill climb. Photo: Douglas Long / The Myanmar Times

Competitive cycling in Myanmar took a step forward last weekend when the third leg of the inaugural Cycle and Make a Difference Charity Series hosted the country’s first-ever nighttime mountain bike race in Mandalay.

Held on March 27 – as part of a three-day cycling competition that also included a road race on March 28 and a cross-country mountain bike event on the final day – the event was described as a “milestone for the local cycling scene” by Khin Maung Win, owner of Myan Shwe Pyi Tractors, the series sponsor.

“I think the cyclists found it rewarding. Riders came from all over Myanmar to compete. It was quite amazing to see them all here,” he added.

The winner of each event was given a K1 million certificate to donate to a charitable organisation that works in a community in the vicinity of the race course.

The night race, which started at 7pm at the Nature’s Life Sporting Ground near the base of Yankin Hill, consisted of 10 laps of a fast 5-kilometre (3-mile) course, contested by relay teams made up of three to five riders each. The rules stipulated that no rider could do more than two consecutive laps before handing off to a teammate. Fourteen teams participated.

The winning team of Sai Aung Hlaing Sae, Aung Naing Tun and Sunny Aye, representing the Mandalay Free Riders cycling club, finished in front of a screaming crowd with a time of 2h 4m 47s, just 18 seconds ahead of a three-man team from Nay Pyi Taw.

The 50km road race on March 28 started with a quick cruise around Mandalay Palace before diverting northward onto a tough circuit that included three leg-curdling ascents of Mandalay Hill. The tattered field of 45 riders then faced a long, flat stretch to the finish line in an industrial zone southeast of the city.

The race was won by 37-year-old Min Min Han from Mandalay in time of 1h 24m 5s, with Chit Ko Ko, 21, trailing in second place by 11 seconds.

Min Min Han – who also managed third place in the over-26 age group in the cross-country mountain bike race on March 29, despite having to dismount to squeeze past a truck that briefly blocked the course – was modest about his accomplishments.

“It was a good weekend for me,” he said.

The cross-country mountain bike race – five laps of the same 5km circuit used for the night relay – was taken out by Zaw Win Ko with a time of 59m 10s. He bested his nearest competitor, Sai Aung Hlaing Sae, by 8 seconds. More than 50 cyclists participated in the race.

The women’s road and cross-country races were both won handily by 21-year-old Tin Win Kyi, a triathlete currently residing at the Youth Training Centre in Nay Pyi Taw.

“The mountain bike course was okay. It wasn’t too tough for me,” she said, “but the end of the road course had too much traffic. I had to ride carefully.”

June’s Singapore SEA Games have come too early for the youngster who has only recently joined the sporting academy, but on the basis of this performance she will be one to watch for the future when the 2017 Games roll around.

The series consists of events held every two months in different locations around Myanmar. The first event took place in Yangon last November and the second in Nay Pyi Taw in January. The fourth round is tentatively scheduled to be held in Taunggyi, Shan State, in late May or early June.

Jeff Parry, an Australian cycling guru who lives in Yangon and who participated in the night relay and cross-country races, described the weekend as a “very well-organised carnival of cycling”.

“The mountain bike course was a nice, well-chosen track with a bit of everything,” he said. “I’m already looking forward to the next event in Taunggyi.”

Written by latefornowhere

April 1, 2015 at 3:02 am

Mandalay mountain bike race

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On the last day of the Mandalay cycling weekend, I decided to participate instead of taking photos. The course was the same as Friday night: A 5km (3-mile) loop with a series of short, steady climbs and quick downhills, with nothing too technical. We did five laps, which the fastest riders completed in about one hour. My time was 1 hour 9 minutes, which was good enough for 8th place out of 29 riders in the over-26 age group. Below are some of the photos I took after the race.


The top finishers had blood drawn for drug testing.


A couple of the elder statesmen of the cycling scene.


Awards ceremony.


The Mandalay Free Riders mountain bike club.


Tin Win Kyi, first place in the women’s road race March 28, first place in the women’s XC mountain bike race March 29. Triathlete-in-training at the national youth training center in Nay Pyi Taw.


That’s me after my race. (Photo: Khin Maung Win)

Written by latefornowhere

March 31, 2015 at 1:07 am

Myanmar’s first night mountain bike race

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The third round of the year-long Cycle and Make a Difference Charity Series sponsored by Myan Shwe Pyi Tractors  is taking place this weekend in Mandalay, kicking off on Friday, March 27, with the first nighttime mountain bike race ever organized in Myanmar. The race consisted of 10 laps of a fast 5km (3 mile) course, contested by relay teams consisting of 3 to 5 riders each. The rules stipulated that no rider could do more than two consecutive laps before handing off to a teammate. Eleven teams participated.

My technical skills as a photographer are not quite up to the task of capturing fast-moving cyclists in low-light conditions, but below are some of the less-blurred shots I managed to get.


Cyclists prepare to plunge into the dark countryside around Yankin Hill in Mandalay.


Teammates solve some lighting issues.


Cyclists speed into the exchange area after completing a couple of laps.


Recovering after a hard effort.


One of the three-man teams celebrates after finishing the race.


Representatives of the top three teams get their medals.


Young girls from the national sports training center in Nay Pyi Taw.

Written by latefornowhere

March 28, 2015 at 3:03 pm

My life as a cyclist, documented for bored airline travelers

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The current issue of Air KBZ’s inflight magazine includes an 7-page interview with me about my experiences cycling in Myanmar. The transcript is below, followed by the page layout from the magazine.

How long have you been a mountain biker?

I’ve been a “serious” cyclist since I was teenager, when I started participating in competitive road races in the early 1980s. It wasn’t until the mid-1980s that mountain biking actually started becoming more mainstream and mountain bikes became widely available on the mass market. I bought my first mountain bike in the late 1980s and started exploring trails in the forests of Pennsylvania (on the east coast of the United States) where I grew up. But I still owned a road bike, so I did both kinds of cycling, and still do.

How did you become a mountain biker? What attracted you to the sport?

As I said, when mountain bikes appeared on the market, I was already an avid cyclist. But mountain bikes vastly expanded the terrain you could ride on and the places you could explore. With road bikes, you’re limited to pavement; with mountain bikes you can get far away from traffic and urban noise. You can go places where not many other people go.

What are the main challenges of mountain biking?

An important component of the term “mountain bike” is the word “mountain” – many off-road trails are hilly and therefore require a certain amount of fitness to ride while still having fun.

Dirt trails can also be tricky to ride, with obstacles like rocks, ruts and sand along the way, so mountain bikers need to learn specific bike-handling skills to avoid crashing.

Also, since mountain biking can take you far from civilization, you must be self-sufficient: able to fix flat tires and broken bike parts, and able to find your way if you get lost.

How does mountain biking in the US compare with mountain biking in Myanmar?

In the US, there are vast protected parklands where development is prohibited. Mountain bike trails can take you into remote areas where you might not see another person for hours, and where your only companions are nature and wild animals. By contrast, Myanmar does not have a tradition of protecting wilderness areas: Even when you’re out on a trail, you’re likely to be passing through agricultural areas with villages and farms, so there are usually other people around. In Myanmar, it’s more of a cultural experience than a wilderness experience.

Where have you done most of your cycling?    

Although I lived in Pennsylvania when I started mountain biking, most of my riding in the US occurred in California, where I moved when I was in my 20s. In Southeast Asia, I’ve mostly ridden in Thailand and Cambodia. In Myanmar, I’ve mountain biked extensively in areas near Yangon and Mandalay, and of course on the pathways around Bagan. On longer, more exploratory tours, I’ve ridden in Mon State, Shan State, Chin State, northern Kachin State (Putao) and elsewhere.

What was your most recent mountain biking trip?

Most recently, I took my mountain bike with me on a trip to the US, which I had not visited in more than three years. I was there for three weeks, and I cycled nearly every day: In the rugged mountains north of Los Angeles, the desert of Joshua Tree National Park, the high altitudes of the Sierra Nevada near Lake Tahoe, and the badlands of Death Valley. The rides ranged in length from around 15 to 30 miles.

What destination will you choose for your next trip and why?

I’m still trying to decide. I’d like to spend some time exploring the area around Taunggyi in southern Shan State, and I’m also interested in cycling the partially paved stretch of road between Kyaingtong and Loimwe in eastern Shan State – it’s about 20 miles long and uphill all the way to Loimwe, and of course downhill all the way back. And there are also vast areas of Chin State that have only recently been opened to foreigners.

I’ve also been feeling the urge to take part in competitive racing again, which I haven’t done for many years. Unfortunately, there are few races in Myanmar. The government-affiliated Myanmar Cycling Federation, which is supposed to be responsible for organizing such events, is completely incompetent and seems more interested in suppressing the sport than in promoting it. So I’m keeping my eye on the race calendars in Thailand and Malaysia to see if there’s anything interesting.

What has been your favourite mountain biking trip in Myanmar and why?

The most memorable mountain bike trip I’ve taken in Myanmar was to Mount Victoria (Natmataung) in Chin State, which I did in October 2009. We were a group of about a dozen Myanmar cyclists and two foreigners, including myself. We started in Bagan, and our goal was to be the first group to cycle to the peak of Mt Victoria, which is about 10,100 feet above sea level. At the climax of the five-day tour, we had to do about 30 miles of very steep uphill riding at high altitude, which we split into two days to help us acclimate to the thin air. We rode most of the way up, but the last part of the ascent was on an extremely steep, rugged hiking trail, which was impossible to ride. Most of us abandoned our bikes by the side of the trail and walked up the last couple of miles, then recovered our bikes on the way back down. But a few riders actually carried their bikes to the peak – so they became the first people to summit Mount Victoria with (but not necessarily on) mountain bikes.

What was your first trip as a mountain biker in Myanmar?

I started by exploring trails around Hlawga Reservoir north of Yangon. These rides were done with a small group of locals and expats who were all fairly serious cyclists, as the trails we were exploring were quite difficult to ride and not really suitable for beginners. Since then, we have found places to ride near Yangon that are more suitable for mixed groups of novice and experienced riders.

What advice would you give a beginner who wants to mountain bike in Myanmar?

The best way to start mountain biking is to go out with a group of people who know the trails and who are eager to show beginners where to ride. At the moment, the only group that does this with any regularity is based at Bike World bike shop in Yangon – they go out for rides through villages north of Yangon every Sunday morning, and they can be done by cyclists of all levels.

More experienced cyclists can plan independent trips to other areas around the country, but it’s hard to know where to mountain bike without local knowledge of trails and dirt roads. Most independent cyclists therefore stick to long-distance road-riding on paved routes. The area around Hpa-an is good for this, and Shan State is also popular but can be quite hilly.

What is your biggest achievement as a mountain biker? What is your biggest failure?

I don’t really see mountain biking in terms of “achievements” or “failures”. It’s more a matter of simply getting out and seeing new things, making new friends, while at the same time enjoying some exercise. Every single ride can be seen as an achievement of sorts: Successfully tearing yourself away from the hypnotic lure of television, getting away from the routine of everyday life and having a small adventure on your bicycle. For me, even those rides where something goes wrong – mechanical breakdowns, crashes, failing to reach your destination – are valuable experiences, and they’re often more memorable than those rare rides where everything goes perfectly.

Do you have any souvenirs from your cycling trips?   

I have a few permanent scars from crashes, but that’s about it. I don’t think about buying things when I’m cycling. When you’re travelling under your own power, it’s better to travel light. If you buy something, then you have to carry it while you’re pedaling.

What is the difference between cycling in a group and cycling alone? Which type do you prefer and why?

Cycling in a group is obviously more social and can be a fun way to meet people. You can hang out afterward to drink beer and talk. Plus, it’s safer: If you get injured or lost, you have other cyclists who can help you. On the other hand, cycling alone can be a great way to really “get away from it all” and clear your head, and you can ride at whatever speed you prefer. I usually ride alone due to time constraints, but I also like to ride with others when I’m able.

What kind of mountain bike do you ride?

Right now I’m riding a Trek 4700, which is a decent enough bike but a bit low-end compared to what I usually ride. Previously I was riding a higher-end Trek 6900, but I cracked the frame after several years of hard riding and had to give it a Viking burial. At that time, the 4700 was the best complete bike available for purchase in Myanmar. I’ll eventually get an upgrade, but for now it’s doing the job.

What is your ambition as a mountain biker?

I have no ambition as a cyclist except to ride as much as possible and to have as much fun as possible while doing it.








Written by latefornowhere

February 19, 2015 at 6:26 am

Nay Pyi Taw cycling weekend: My races

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There I am: the fat white guy in the middle of the group.

The second round of the year-long Cycle and Make a Difference Charity Series was held in Nay Pyi Taw on January 24 and 25, featuring races for both road cyclists and mountain bikers.

I had been doing a fair amount of cycling throughout December and January, but many of the competitors were residents at the youth training camp in Nay Pyi Taw. I was interested to see how my 47-year-old lungs and legs would hold up against the young locals who were training for the Southeast Asia Games scheduled to be held in Singapore in June.



The road race on January 24 was short and fast, starting with 35 kilometres (21.7 miles) on flat roads before tackling the steep, unrelenting 8km climb to the peak of the inappropriately named Mount Pleasant. I had little trouble keeping up with the main group on the flat section, despite speeds hovering in the 40-50kph range: My advantage over the young riders was my racing experience, and I was able to hide in the middle of the peloton without expending too much energy.


This all changed when we reached the bottom of the hill, by which time we had shed about 20 rider out of the 50 or so who had started the race. Once we hit the slopes, there was nowhere to hide: I was one of the first riders to be ejected out of the back, and all I could do was pedal at my own pace while I watched the young, fit national-level riders disappear up the road.

I eventually finished in 27th place (1h 24m 46s) overall, and in 5th place in the Over-26 age group. Chit Ko Ko, 23, was first across the finish line in the men’s race with a time of 1hour, 15 minutes and 55 seconds, while the women’s event was won by 24-year-old Thu Zar (1h 22m 20s).


The mountain bike race on the following day consisted of five laps of the 4.5km 2013 SEA Games circuit, for a total of 22.5km. The course is tough, with plenty of singletrack, rocks, ruts and steep hike-a-bike sections.


My effort was doomed to failure virtually from the start, as a I suffered a pinch flat about 200 meters into the race. As I rode slowly back up the first hill to the start line, I thought I would pack my bike away and spend the rest of the day taking photos of the race. But then I found myself at my car, putting a new inner tube in my rear tire. Before I knew it, I was back on the course riding the race, albeit nearly a full lap behind the frontrunners.


Despite spending 15 minutes changing my tire, I somehow managed to finish 9th out off 11 starters, and 4th out of 6 in the Over-26 age group. The event was won by 18-year-old Mann Tin Khung (1h 3m 55s). No women entered the mountain bike event.


The next round of the six-race series, sponsored by Myan Shwe Pyi Tractors (MSP) and the Myanmar Cycling Federation, will take place in Mandalay in late March. In the meantime, Bike World in Yangon is holding another 11 Hills Challenge on February 8.




(All photos courtesy of MSP)

An off-road cycling adventure in northern Shan State

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(More photos below the text)

One of the most popular routes for bike tours in Myanmar is the paved road between Mandalay and Lashio, a 280-kilometer (175-mile) stretch that gives cyclists a close-up view of northern Shan State’s stunning landscapes and colorful traditional cultures. Highlights on the way include Pyin Oo Lwin, Hsipaw and the spectacular Gokteik Gorge.
On a recent ride along this corridor, our group of four cyclists found that some of our most memorable adventures occurred when we ventured off the main road on our mountain bikes to explore the dirt paths winding through the surrounding hills and villages.
One narrow track we followed out of Lashio led us to a tall limestone outcropping with a pagoda on top. We were met by a Buddhist monk who unlocked a bamboo gate that allowed us to enter a cave at the base of the towering rock.
This wasn’t any ordinary Buddha cave, but a twisting, claustrophobic passageway that led all the way through the outcropping and out the other side.
Accompanied by a legion of young monks and lighting our way with headlamps, we descended into the bowels of the earth and stooped, scrambled and crawled through the tunnel. The most harrowing moment involved climbing back up to the sunlight on a tall, rickety bamboo ladder leaning against the side of tight vertical shaft.
After emerging onto the surface of the planet, we continued pedaling away from Lashio among monolithic limestone formations, passing through wide-open farmland and several Shan villages. We climbed a steep hill on a barely discernible footpath and zoomed down the other side, where we found a lone monastery on the edge of a wind-whipped valley surrounded by high stone cliffs.
The monks there showed us a modest cave lined with Buddha images, and then invited us to share snacks and green tea before we remounted our bikes and made our way back to Lashio.
Two days later we were in the town of Hsipaw, where we asked local guide Myo Lwin (Ko Palaung) to recommend a challenging mountain biking route. He described a mountainous 40-kilometer (25-mile) loop that a few tourists had done on motorcycle, but as far as he knew, no one – local or foreign – had ever tackled it on bicycles.
Ko Palaung drew a map of the route in my notebook. We left our guesthouse at 6am and pedaled west out of town. After less the 2 kilometers of paved road, we turned right onto a dirt lane that curved around a cemetery and then followed a rocky creek.
Near a wooden footbridge, a smiling Shan woman flagged us down and gave us a gift of sticky rice wrapped in bamboo, which we ate on the spot.
The climbing started just after the bridge, and it was four hours before we reached the top of the mountain. Along the way, we made rest stops in the villages of Na Moon and Mon Pyay. We hazarded sips of ice-cold water at a natural spring, which must have had magical healing powers because my flat legs suddenly felt revitalized as we continued plodding onward and upward.
By the time we reached Pankan village, we were among mountains higher than any I had ever seen in Shan State. We stopped at a snack shop and cleaned out their supply of energy drinks. An inebriated Palaung man tried to ply us with dodgy rice wine, but there were no takers among our group.
The dirt trail narrowed and continued ascending through a green tea plantation, and then entered a forest with a nerve-wracking drop-off to one side. We came out at Than Sant village, where shaggy horses grazed among the trees and a fresh wind kicked up dust as it howled across the mountains.
There was only a little more climbing, and we finally topped out at Bongkha village. A local family, dumbfounded at seeing four foreigners on bicycles so far from the main road, invited us into their house for a lunch of noodles and eggs.
From there, the rest of the ride was 90 percent downhill. Ko Palaung had said it would take us an hour to descend from Bongkha to O-Moo village, but we flew down in less than 20 minutes.
After that, we found ourselves on a twisty, semi-paved road that led us down to Bhaju Pagoda, where we picked up the Mandalay-Lashio highway for the 5-kilometer cruise back into town. We arrived exhausted but exhilarated at midday, six hours after we had left in the morning.