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February 20, 2018

Off-road adventures

A range of cycling and mountain-biking experiences allow leisure and competitive riders to experience Australasia on two wheels

CRAIG MCTURK

FROM relaxing rides through verdant fields to strenuous two-wheeled climbs up steep mountains, cycling holidays are rising in popularity.

Not only is cycling an ecofriendly and healthy activity, it also allows tourists to explore less travelled places and see a country from a different perspective.

Here are a few destinations to consider if you wish to sightsee from the vantage of a bicycle, whether you’re a leisure cyclist or serious mountain biker.

RECREATIONAL GETAWAYS

You can often book a trip in which a guide and rental bike are provided — be sure to reserve an appropriate bike for your size and ability.

Bring along your own helmet and cycling gear to ensure a proper fit and comfort level. If you use shoes that are compatible with clip-in pedals, inform your service provider about this when booking. You may want to bring your own pedals with you so that they can be attached to your rental bike by the staff.

Northern Thailand

If you have the time and money to invest in a longer trip, consider SpiceRoads’ (www.spiceroads.com) 11-day Tribal Trails of North Thai land tour. It brings you through 470km of jungle trails that are accessible only by bike or on foot.

This trip starts in Chiang Rai and ends in Chiang Mai; along the way, you will ride to mountain temples, alongside rivers and to remote hill tribe villages.

Of course, you can resume gift shopping, getting a Thai massage and watching Muay Thai bouts once you reach Chiang Mai — but you are certain to see Thai culture through a new lens after this experience.

Bali, Indonesia

Bali Rides (www.bali-rides.com) can create an itinerary tailored to ability and interests, whether you are a couple looking for a one-day cycling outing or a group of two dozen seasoned riders like the one I was with last year.

You can use your own bike or rent one from the company’s stock of Specialized Bikes. Some of its trained guides are former competitive cyclists.

Bali’s rice fields, hills and lush greenery make it an interesting destination to explore on two wheels. Its diverse offerings — from art galleries and cafés in Ubud to the countless beaches — will also appeal to others in your party who may not wish to see the island from a bike.

Dalat, Vietnam

If a multi-day cycling outing in the green karst mountains of Dalat strikes your fancy, check out SpiceRoads’ itinerary (www.spiceroads.com).

The company, which operates in various countries in Asia, Europe, Africa and the Middle East, does only cycling tours, and I recently used it for a half-day tour through some Bangkok districts.

A guide and rental bike are included in its packages.

SpiceRoads partners customers with a local guide who will explain the history and background of the places visited to provide a deeper insight into the country, its people and traditions.

While in Dalat, see the architecturally distinctive Linh Phuoc Pagoda, built from glass, pottery bowls and porcelain, and take in the natural wonder of Elephant Falls.

Myanmar

If you are looking for a destination that is a bit off the tourist map, consider a biking adventure in Myanmar.

Bike World Explores Myanmar (BWEM, cyclingmyanmar.com) in Yangon offers everything from lodging at its bed and breakfast establishment to a Sunday bike ride through the scenic hills of Hmawbi township north of the capital.

Participants are driven to the starting point and spend a few hours cycling through rubber plantations and bamboo forests, passing reservoirs and hidden pagodas.

There is a stop for a quick swim on the way back.

As the guides can adjust the pace to suit most cyclists, riders of all age groups and abilities will be in their comfort zone. Children’s bikes can be rented, making this a family friendly destination.

For seasoned riders who want to cycle through more of the country, BWEM can provide customised tour packages.

FOR THE WEEKEND WARRIOR

There are enough regional mountain-biking races — both one-day events and multi-day stage races — to keep your calendar full. Many have a general classification for most cyclists and an elite category geared to top-level riders and professionals.

Tour of the Dragon (Bhutan)

The ninth anniversary of this event (tourofthedragon.com) is scheduled for Sept 1 this year.

Cyclists will leave Bumthang from an altitude of 2,610m at 2am and cycle 268km across four high mountain passes, making this one of the world’s most demanding one-day rides that a weekend warrior can check off his bucket list.

For those who are not physically or mentally prepared to take on that challenge, there is a shorter 60km version called Dragon’s Fury.

Yet even that is difficult, as riders have to start at 1,410m and ride to a gut-busting summit of 3,150m. The start and finish points for Dragon’s Fury are different from those of the Tour of the Dragon.

When I visited Bhutan in 2016, I traversed much of the Tour of the Dragon from the comfort of an SUV. The scenery was majestic, but there is no escaping the bumpy roads and unforgiving altitude.

Visitors to Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, can shop for handicrafts, visit the earthy coffee house-cum-handicraft shop Ambient Cafe and see Bhutan’s national animal, the takin, at the Motithang Takin Preserve.

Tour de Timor (East Timor)

Taking place every September, this five-day stage race (www. tourdetimor.com) starts and ends in Dili, the East Timorese capital. It offers cash prizes that draw a number of professionals, mostly from Australia.

Participants have to ride over broken roads and trails, and manage more than 10,000m of vertical ascents. Sleeping in your own tent and eating from a communal buffet line fosters a camaraderie among the riders.

Upon reaching Dili at the end of this gruelling stage, unwind by visiting sites like Cristo Rei — Dili’s answer to Rio de Janeiro’s renowned Christ the Redeemer statue.

Learn about the country’s independence at The Archives & Museum of East Timorese Resistance.

Stock up on souvenirs at Tais Market or explore the magnificent underwater landscape through a scuba or snorkelling outing.

Mongolia Bike Challenge

This six-stage mountain bike race (www.mongoliabikechallenge.com) is open to both professionals and high-level amateurs. Limited to only 108 riders, it is not for the faint-hearted. The longest day of cycling at the 2018 edition will be a gruelling 143km.

With a Mongolian yurt as your nightly accommodation, this event is designed to let you commune with the Mongol steppe people. Your tour will begin and end in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia.

After you conquer the race, take in some of the sights of this fast-growing city.

Genghis Khan Statue Complex, Genghis Khan Square and the National History Museum provide information on this infamous warlord, who has become woven into the Mongolian national identity.

Take a day-trip to Gorkhi-Terelj National Park or Hustai National Park. Yurts and nomadic tribes can be spotted amid the stunning topography.

Cape To Cape (Australia)

Held every October, this fourstage mountain bike race (capetocapemtb.com) is set in Western Australia in the vicinity of Margaret River. It drew more than 1,700 riders last year.

Popular with Australians and international visitors from Singapore and the like, this race is open to all skill levels, but it is best to train since each day of riding entails distances of 50km or more, with plenty of hills and singletrack throughout.

While the cycling is arduous, riders stay at hotels or shared rental houses and can enjoy the food and wine for which Margaret River (margaretriver.com) is famous.

Some must-do items include a visit to a winery, a stop at a lighthouse (such as Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse), whale watching and an outing to Margaret River Farmers’ Market (open every Saturday morning, year round).

RACING OVERSEAS

- Ensure that your travel insurance policy covers adventure sports activities.

- Most riders bring their own bikes as you are unlikely to be able to rent a bike suited for off-road riding in some places.

- Most budget airlines charge an extra fee for sports equipment.

- Have your bike packed into a bike box or bag at a bike shop and ask them to demonstrate how to assemble it upon arrival.

- Most mountain bike races have marshals, a truck to collect injured or fatigued riders and basic medical facilities, but it is advisable to bring extra parts and supplies, such as a small pump, spare tubes, cables, hubs, energy bars and power gels.

- A certified heavy-duty helmet, sturdy shoes and a hydration system backpack are standard kit to pack.

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