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  • Back to Blog  

    The Bright Downhill and Downmall Thailand Championship 2018

       Words by Kathryn Dickinson

       on 09/01/2019 10:17:06

    racing-the-downmall-thailand-championships

    Article written by Graham Slade. Graham used to be a mechanic for Rutland Cycling and left to live and work in Thailand. Find out more about Graham >

    If you’re much of a mountain biker – or YouTube junkie - you will have at some point fantasised about riding down sets of stairs or other obscure urban features. The excruciating snail pace of most escalators has always frustrated me and I’d always thought it would be fun to ride down them instead of standing in lines. As much as I thought about it, I’d never thought that I’d end up with the chance of doing it without getting myself arrested or harming someone quite badly in the process. In 2018, a new Downhill Mountain Biking race series arrived in Thailand. The Bright Downhill and Downmall Thailand Championship 2018. Sponsored by some strong brands, including Santa Cruz, Crank brothers and Red Bull.

    The-bright-downhil-and-downmall-thailand-championships-escalator

    There have been some impressive Downmall races in Europe, but never before in Thailand. The race series comprised of five events. The first four were off road, outdoors, as you would expect from a mountain bike race. There were the usual race categories for different ages, men, women, elite, as well as a freeride category for those not on DH bikes and a hardtail category for those with no fillings (whether they had fillings prior to the race is to be debated). The final fifth race was in The Bright shopping mall on Rama 2 road in downtown Bangkok.

    The Downhill Races

    Due to logistical issues I only manged to make it to one race before the final. The race in Suphanburi on the 8th and 9th of September was fun, dry, hot and loose. The track there was short with good times running about the three-minute mark. The track has a good variety of steep and loose sections, dusty turns, switchbacks and berms. There are some small rock drop sections and some fast and loose table top jumps. To the dismay of anyone riding a 17kg downhill bike with 200mm of travel, there are also a long flat pedalling section from the bottom of the trail to the finish line.

    racing-the-downmall-thailand-championships-shopping-mall

    Armed with the advantage of shorter travel (and the fastest rider having had an unfortunate puncture) I managed to take fastest qualifying run of the day. Race day came and I managed to stay on my bike still. Sadly, the fierce rocks took to my tyres like a sushi chef with a slab of salmon. Two tyres and a pocketful of cash later, I was back with the bike at full tyre pressure again and ready to race.

    I managed to continue to stay on my bike and mentally relax myself enough to take second place, with the first place going to the young Australian fellow who had punctured in qualifying and who does indeed ride his bike like he stole it.

    The Downmall Race

    The final race in The Bright shopping mall was set to have the best turn out of the race series, with all sorts of bike-themed fun activities going on. Local riders on dirt jump and trials bikes displayed some of their skills at the entrance of the mall, one of whom was the host of the series, the highly skilled and dangerously enthusiastic Gorn Sangkaboon. There were at least two TV channels who had sent film crews and also present were a few Thai celebrities.

    The Thailand records officials were also present to award the fastest rider with the record of fastest ever racer in a DH race in a shopping mall in Thailand. A highly obscure record to anyone outside the cycling community, yes, but undeniably a very cool award to have on your mantelpiece.

    racing-the-downmall-thailand-championships-race-report

    The mental narrative was a little confused at this event and there were all sorts of questions raised in the back of my mind. Do I need goggles if I’m indoors? Do I need knee and elbow pads if there are no rocks or other jagged objects? In the end I decided to combat the number one enemy of bicycle racers – the little voice of doubt gnawing at the back of the mind. I kept things the same as any other race. Goggles, pads, gloves, same pedals and so on.

    The race track once again had quite a lot of pedalling. It should be no surprise really, that this particular shopping mall was devoid of rock gardens, table-top jumps and loamy berms. The course featured one entire lap of each floor before descending the escalator down to the next floor. On each floor was some kind of speed-sapping, cumbersome pump-track feature. Once on the 1st floor, after completing the circuit and passing the pump track sections, there was a ramp up to a raised section, leading off the barrier and down into the courtyard area below where the landing ramp was placed. After that, a sprint towards the finish, up a ramp again and then a step-down jump and across the line down a few steps into the car park.

    racing-the-downmall-thailand-championships-escalator

    When descending the escalators, since both the up and down escalators at that point had been designated to racers only, and since at the bottom of the escalators, there was a 90-degree right turn, it was most logical to take the left-hand escalator which also gave a much straighter line of attack when beginning the descent. The big step-down jump took some re-programming of the brain to assure oneself that, while it is a completely unnatural action to undertake, it is difficult to mess it up and it’s stacks of fun. The shops and mall features gave an unnerving sense of scale and proportion, which you don’t always have when mountain biking. Furthermore, there were no extra features such as trees or boulders to draw your attention.

    racing-the-downmall-thailand-championships-rutland-cycling

    Some riders had changed their normal tyres to some with very minimal tread, like you’d see on a BMX or Dirt Jump bike. These riders seemed to have far superior cornering abilities as a result. However, there are parts of this shopping mall which were not sheltered from the elements. After the big drop, there was a good 30 metres or so which was covered, before heading outside for the last feature and the finish line.

    Of course, being monsoon season in Thailand, it rained almost the whole weekend. On some corners by the bottom of the escalators, the wind blew in the most minute amount of water, which immediately turned the polished floor into a sheet of ice. Having taken a couple of unexpected tumbles in these corners and hitting the floor like a box of spanners, I ended up being quite cautious for the rest of the weekend which kyboshed my chances at number one spot on the podium. For the actual race, the track began right at the top of the shopping mall. On the roof. In the rain.

    racing-the-downmall-thailand-championships.race-start

    In my category, freeride, I took third place in the end. Taking the top spot for his first race win was Nicky, a half French, half Thai mountain bike trail guide from Chiang Mai in the North of Thailand. Second place was a good riding buddy of mine, a Thai police captain and trail-riding menace from Bangkok. Nicky had missed his qualifying run because he had come up short on the final step down by the finish, and folded his rear wheel up. Fortunately, our friend Eak who owns a local bike shop was present as a support mechanic and with my spoke key, rebuilt his wheel overnight for his victory ride the next day.

    Impressions

    Racing in such a novel place was exciting and it definitely felt like the experience of a lifetime. It’s an odd feeling to dine in a restaurant, then cross to the other side of the track for a gourmet coffee and with coffee in hand, pizza in belly, going up one floor to have a peruse through the bargainous mountain biking merchandise. It surely made for great entertainment for all the people happily sitting in restaurants and nail bars, seeing armour-clad adrenaline junkies blur past the windows.

    racing-the-downmall-thailand-championships-bike-expo

    Thankfully, at this event we had the voices of Thailand’s loudest and most enthusiastic humans giving an excellent commentary and amplifying the excitement and crowd support. The race series had a good representation of riders from around the world, in particular at the final race. Most of the riders were of course Thai but we also had representatives from Spain, England and Taiwan.

    Always growing as a rider

    This event highlighted to me what riding is all about. It was non-stop fun all weekend. Friends sharing laughs, discussing new bikes and equipment, getting adrenaline highs together and enjoying sharing our passion for biking with each other. At this race event, and how it should be at any race or gathering, we all had a thrilling time absolutely regardless of colour, nationality, mother tongue, age, gender, skill level, size or what bikes we rode.

    The-downmall-thailand-championships

    After the last race series in Thailand I told myself that it was too much psychological pressure for me and I was glad I completed the race series but did not want to race again – was happily done with it. Too many mechanical issues, too many errors to beat myself up over. That’s the main reason I missed the first few races of this series. However, this event also reminded me what I love about racing. The elation of finishing the race, even if the result isn’t as you’d hoped, is unlike that which one feels after any other ride. This race series changed my personal stance on racing and actually inspired me to keep at it.

    So, for all of you who absolutely love riding, but say to yourself “I’m not a racer” or “I don’t want to race”, I encourage you to give it a go. Attend a race and go with a relaxed and positive attitude. Your skills will rocket, you will make some amazing friends and you will more likely than not have a great time and get a taste for it.

    Graham bio

    Graham Slade

    My main passions in life are bikes, nature and lasagne.

    For me, cycling began when I realised that I kept breaking cheap bikes because I wanted more than the bike could give, and therefore I genuinely needed to spend lots of cash on a nice, hefty mountain bike.

    My real passion has always been mountain biking (downhill/enduro/trail). However, my cycling interests are varied and my collection has always featured some classic Italian steel dripping in Campagnolo.

    After years working in a few different bike shops, I left my mechanic job at Rutland Cycles to go and live and work in Thailand.

    For a while I hunted around looking for places to ride and people to ride with. Dodging giant lizards, tarantulas, silly-sized snails and the occasional snake proved entertaining for a bit.

    One year in, and when I finally sussed out some trails, I entered the Thailand Gravity Series. I’d never raced downhill before and was pitched against some seasoned team racers but was happy to take 3rd overall.

    Now, with a bike and fitness upgrade I hope to enter the next Thailand Enduro Series. I also hope to enter the Asian Enduro Series in the near future which will take me to Nepal, Brunei and Malaysia.

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