When I was six years old, my uncle Ira took me on my
first roller coaster. The rickety little metal car seemed to take forever to
make its slow way up the steep hill that rose above Coney Island Amusement
Park. When I thought we could go no higher, and when the city of Brooklyn
lay impossibly far below us, like a child’s toy, the break released, and
little car came tearing down the hill, sending our hearts to our throats. It
was terrifying. I screamed. I cried. I prayed. When it was over, Uncle Ira
asked me. “What did you think?” I was so shaken, that I could barely
speak. “Let’s do it again.” I begged.
We like to be scared, terrified, and exhilarated. Today,
they call that near-death feeling and the tingling sensation in your right
arm an adrenaline rush. And if you’re an adrenaline junkie, luckily,
Thailand has just the activity for you, off road, down hill, mountain
of the wonderful things about living in Thailand is that the country is so
well developed, in terms of infrastructure. Pretty much anywhere you want to
go in Thailand there is a nice, paved road to take you there. So, I had
never found any reason to take my lightweight racing bicycle “off road.”
But for maniac off road mountain bike enthusiasts, like Aidan Schmer, of
Siam Bicycle Adventure, going off road is more than just another option.
It’s a way of life.
do this every day,” said Aiden, referring to the four hour long off road
bike tour he was planning to take me on. I was apprehensive when Aiden
showed me the bike I would be riding. It seemed so high tech. I still
remember when a ten speed bicycle, with fat tires, and a rigid steel frame,
weighing forty pounds was the cutting edge of technology. All you had to do
was put some baseball cards in the spokes, to make a motorcycle engine
noise, and you would be the envy of all the other kids on the block.
apparently bicycles had grown up a lot since I was twelve years old. The
bike Aiden showed me had shock-absorbers on the front fork, a huge spring
under the saddle to cushion the ride, settings for rigid or flexible riding,
twenty-four speeds with indexed gear shifters in the handle bars, and most
importantly, breaks so powerful that they could stop the run-away inflation
of the Brazilian economy.
“Does it also make cappuccino?” I asked.
“It could,” said Aiden, “but that feature costs
From the way Aiden stressed that I shouldn’t toss the
bicycle over the side of the mountain when I got frustrated, and I did get
frustrated, I gleamed that these bikes were probably pretty expensive. But
one of the advantages of going with a tour group is that they provide you
with the bike. They also give you a helmet, eye-protection, and gloves.
Additionally, tour companies can help you find the best routs to ride on,
and provide you with transportation. Aiden picked me up at Rose Guesthouse,
in an air-conditioned vehicle, and even stopped at Seven Eleven on the way
to the tour. He made me pay for my own coffee, however. If only the bike had
had that cappuccino attachment, I could have saved some money.
As a road cyclist, doing a mountain, to me, usually meant
cycling up a near vertical hill, straining and huffing. But for these off
road guys, the only part of the mountain that interested them was the ride
down. So, we drove all the way to the top of the mountain, and then had a
class in bike handling.
According to Aiden, the Master Yoda of bike riding, your
body position and bike handling skills are the most important aspects of
riding, to prevent injuries. The body position is actually a bit
counter-intuitive, and may take some getting used to. But listen to the
instructors, because they know what they are talking about.
You’ll need to keep your body low and your weight back.
Grip the saddle with your thighs. The reason why people fall is because
their front tire turns, hitting the downward sloping trail at some angle
other than dead on. Hold the handlebars firmly, but don’t lock your elbows
or become rigid. Always use both breaks at the same time. Shift easily
before hitting a hill, not after hitting it.
Aiden alerted us to changes in the terrain, informing us
when to change gears. When you encounter a stone, or some other obstacle, it
is important to speed up; unnecessary breaking seemed to be one of the major
causes of falls. Look at the trail only a few meters ahead of you, not the
person in front of you. Avoid deep sand or ruts. Always ride on the crown of
“Oh yeah,” said Aiden “and don’t pick your nose
while ridding. If you need to pick your nose or make a photo, come to a
complete stop first. Don’t put your feet down, and stop like the
Flintstones. Use your breaks.”
It was a lot to take in. And I began to drift off to
sleep. But, I snapped instantly awake when Aiden said, “Now, when you
fall...” “When? Don’t you mean if?” I corrected. “WHEN you
fall...” He repeated, making it clear that falling was an inevitable part
of downhill riding. “Don’t put your arms out, with your hands palms
down, and try to break the fall that way. Instead, you want to tuck, and
roll on your shoulder.”
When we finally started, I was so nervous. It was too
much to remember. And the ride just seemed stupidly dangerous to me. Why
would anyone want to risk falling off a bike? I wondered.
Aiden stressed to me, a number of times, the importance
of wearing a long-sleeved shirt. But, being a macho jungle man, adventure
writer, wearing long-sleeved became a point of contention between us. In the
end, I acquiesced, and I was glad that I had. Not ten minutes into the ride,
I went right over the handlebars. I got cut a little on my right arm, but
mostly my pride was hurt. Wearing a shirt prevented gravel from becoming
imbedded in my skin.
At that point I absolutely hated this failed suicide
attempt, which these deranged persons had made into a sport. Around the next
corner, there was a lookout where I could see the city of Chiang Mai a
thousand feet below. The view was breathtaking. I relaxed a little, and my
body position got better. When my body position got better, I developed more
control. More control meant, less worry. Less worry meant more fun. Now I
could begin to appreciate the natural beauty around me.
There was bamboo and lychee growing right beside the
trail. It was strange to find myself in the jungle, but rolling on two
wheels. And, I was glad that I hadn’t put baseball cards in the spokes,
because I was able to hear the song of the tropical birds, and the cicadas,
whose constant drone reminded me of Tibetan monks, adding a note of
exoticism to our folly.
Of course, the goal of all down hill riders is speed. The
better your control, the faster you can go. Barreling down that hill was
like the roller coaster ride with my uncle Ira, so many years ago. But it
was better. This wasn’t a ride in an amusement park. This was real life,
and we were completely involved.
The trip was unpredictable. Anything could happen. A
stone or tree could jump out in front of you, and you had to react. It was
much more like those race car games in an arcade. You had to stay alert,
constantly shifting, changing, breaking and steering. It was exhausting. But
in a strange meditative way, the deep attention forced you to be present in
the moment. The time spent coming down that hill was time lived and
experienced, not time that slipped away, unnoticed. And just like that
roller coaster ride with my uncle Ira, it was over too soon. We reached the
bottom, and pedaled home. “Can we go again?” I asked.
For more information, contact the author at: [email protected]
or contact Siam Bicycle Adventure at: aidanparagliding @hotmail.com