Smitten by two wheels
With cycling now almost a cult among trendy Thais, a day magazine organises the first Bike FestivalChina, once the Kingdom of the Bicycles may have ditched the humble pedal bike in favour of more polluting four-wheel vehicles but other parts of Asia have been quick to catch on to the cycle culture of the West. The Taiwan Cycling Festival is the biggest trade show in Asia, Tour de Korea is Asia's largest cycling festival and Japan hosts the annual Tohoku Cycling Festival.
Now Thailand is jumping on the bandwagon with the "a day Bike Festival 2012", which kicks off on Thursday at the air-conditioned Airport Rail Link Makkasan Station.
"We would like it to be a community cycling centre. In time, we hope it will become more of an international festival like the one in Taiwan. We will certainly be inviting international cycling organisations and cyclists to participate in the future," says Zcongklod "Kong" Bangyikhan, editor-in-chief of a day magazine.
Bt10 million is being spent on transforming the vast terminal into more than 10 zones to support an expected 50,000 people over the four days. Among them are an exhibition zone showcasing the history of bicycles in Thailand and the cycling policy in the Netherlands and the "Forum", where talks will be held on how to select bicycles, care for them and pack up them for travel. The "Trip" zone will introduce 10 conceptual bike routes countrywide and there'll also be shows of vintage bikes, concerts by selected artists who will also ride bikes on stage, and the chance to donate cheap rides for disadvantaged students in Buri Ram.
"We have a booth where cyclists can make thoughts on cycling infrastructure and others matters known to the governor of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration. The Thai Cycling for Health Association is among the groups leading nightly trips from the terminal to Chokchai 4 on Lat Phrao," says Zcongklod.
The festival draws on the a day "Human Ride", a 90-day adventure which saw Zcongklod and six other staff spending 45 days preparing then the second 45 days pedalling 1,800 kilometres around the country. The full story of the trip was published in the magazine's June edition.
"Cycling has become almost a cult since last year," says Zcongklod, who paid Bt27,000 for his Fuji touring road bicycle. "We don't ride our bicycles to travel but to meet people who have interesting, sometimes inspirational bike stories."
The seven bikers started their journey by packing up their bikes and loading them on the bus to Chiang Mai. From the northern capital, they rode to Lamphun, Lampang, Sukhothai and Tak before turning around and heading back to Sukhothai and on to Phitsanulok. They also pedalled along the mekong River in Loei, and through Buri Ram before taking train back to Bangkok.
For the southern leg of their journey, they travelled by train to Hat Yai then rode to the border town of Padang Besar.
"For some of the destinations, we spent four days biking and two days on the bus. Our main problem was being able to load all seven bikes on a bus. But we succeeded in our plan to identify 10 important cyclists and in capturing some amazing scenery, such as Sam Pan Boak in Ubon Ratchathani. These beautiful pictures can certainly encourage people to go on cycling trips and upload their pictures to facebook and twitter," says Zcongklod.
"Mostly we stayed away from tourist attractions and landmarks, sticking to bike routes and stopping off at bicycle shops. We met several friendly cyclists along the way. In Vientiane, we found a guy eating moo ping at a food stall who turned out to be a collector of vintage bicycles. He took up cycling for his health and went on to became a judge for the Olympic Games Track Cycling event."
The cyclists questioned by the a day team gave a variety of reasons for choosing two wheels as their preferred mode of transport, among them environmental concerns, exercise, belief in the sufficiency economy philosophy and, the simplest of them all, having fun.
"A monk in Nong Khai compared riding a bicycle to a religious proverb, 'ton pen thi pueng haeng ton' ['God helps those who help themselves'], which means, I guess, that pedal power depends on our energy and state of mind. We came across a 70-year-old man in Trang who cycled 7,000 km from China to Malaysia with his elderly friends. When I asked him why his children allowed him to ride a bicycle, he laughed and said they preferred it to having him stay at home. People think that biking is dangerous for older people but it's actually good exercise and keeps them healthy."
Zcongklod was also fascinated at how something as simple as a bicycle could reveal so much about history.
"A collector explained to me that in the past, the only bicycles found in Northern provinces like Chiang Mai and Lamphun were Raleigh models, which were made in England and transported to Thailand from India and Myanmar. In the Northeast, however, people rode old French bikes imported from Laos and Vietnam, while in the South, they had BSA paratrooper bicycles used during the Greater East Asia War."
The magazine's "Human Ride" issue received such a good response from readers and drew so much correspondence that Zcongklod organised a workshop to offer advice on selecting a bicycle. More than 300 people showed up.
He's hoping the enthusiasm will spill over to the festival. "It will answer everything about bicycles," he insists.
The editor-in-chief is also busy planning a new project called "Ride to Meet U" in collaboration with several universities like Chulalongkorn, Thammasat, King Mongkut's Institute of Technology Ladkrabang, Mahidol and Chiang Mai.
And of course, he and his team are still cycling. They're off to Kyushu over the New Year holidays to prepare the "Human Ride in Japan" issue and will be going to the Netherlands in April for a "Cycling Dutchman" edition.
ON YOUR BIKE
<< The "a day Bike Festival 2012" runs from Thursday until November25 at the Airport Rail Link Makkasan Station,
<< It's open daily from 10am to 9pm.
<< The vast rail link has parking for 500 vehicles and 500 bicycles.
<< For more information, go Facebook.com/adaymagazine or www.DayPoets.com/bikefest.