Cyclists all over Thailand rejoiced in December, as the long awaited re-opening of the airport track, ‘Skylane’ finally happened. Cyclists were not the only ones to be celebrating though, as the 23.5km track had been the main driving force behind a boom in cycling which has seen a whole new generation of cyclists created, and with them a raft of businesses from bike importers, frame & wheel builders, apparel manufacturers, nutrition specialists and coffee shops to name just a few. In fact, its closure for over 8 months in this latest set of upgrades also put many of those businesses in jeopardy, as the wave of cycling popularity was literally stopped in its tracks. When the Skylane was no longer available, an arguable 50% of all Thai cyclists, who had only ever ridden on it, stopped cycling completely.
The success story of Skylane started some years ago, with the newly emerging popularity of cycling in Thailand and South East Asia. Airports of Thailand spurred on by local cycling groups, followed the example of many other airports around the world, by creating a cycle track looping around the site of Bangkok’s massive Suvarnabhumi airport. The original track was green with a rubberised painted surface, and despite it now being a very much blue and purple colour, there are many Thai cyclists who still refer to it as Sanam Khiow (The Greentrack.) This first version of the track had a rough finish, and when riding a roadbike you were torn between knowing just how safe the controlled environment was, and the somewhat jarring corrugations of the poor surface.
Then along came Siam Commercial Bank, who took up sponsorship of the track, and started with a year long resurfacing project. I was lucky enough to visit the track during this process, and see the vision which SCB had planned for the track: Restaurants, concept stores and a snapband system for tracking users. All free of charge, and with a huge investment in quality. When the new track opened, it had been widened, and resurfaced in a bright blue. In the first weekend, they had tens of thousands of cyclists in attendance. Super rich executives riding prototype bikes, alongside local mechanics on home made machines, all levelled by the love of cycling.
In all honesty, I had feared that the closure and stalling of the popularity wave of cycling would cause the majority of Thais to move onto the next fad. Although the Thai cycling market is rarely a target for SpiceRoads, it does drive cycling infrastructure, and legislation which benefits us indirectly.
The newly re-opened track now has long overpasses to get from additional parking areas straight to the start point, it also boasts a purple fast lane, which allows high speed pelatons to whizz past without fear of less wary cyclists getting in their way. The infrastructure for the stores and restaurants is now evident, although much of it is still being completed. This points to a bright future for the skylane, with more improvements on the horizon. Most importantly though, that buzz of thousands of cyclists turning up at sunrise to get in a lap or two is still very much present. Cyclists of all kinds, arriving in couples, or teams or just on their own, to ride, chat and check out the latest bikes and gear.