Sky Lane at Suvarnabhumi Airport

There are a lot of times when infrastructure in Bangkok leaves me underwhelmed. But sometimes, the planets align and we have a piece of infrastructure that impresses. Such is the case with the recently-reopened “Sky Lane” bicycle track around Suvarnabhumi Airport.


The 23.5-km (14.6-mile) track opened originally in late 2014 or early 2015 and was so well-received that they closed it for five months to upgrade it, with the corporate sponsorship of Siam Commercial Bank. The track reopened in November and is been a big success. Some highlights of the project:

  • The track is double-width, striped with a passing lane and distance markers every quarter-kilometer, and paved to international standards
  • More than 600 light poles allow for after-hours riding. Currently the track opens at 6:00 am and last entry is 7:00 pm; I understand you can ride until 10:00 pm
  • Four sets of clean, large men’s and women’s restrooms are located in each quadrant of the track
  • Entry is controlled by snap bands with RFID chips, which can be obtained for free by registering with a photo identification
  • There is a 1500-space parking lot with security guards, lighting, closed-circuit cameras and plenty of room to safely on- and off-load bicycles and change gear
  • There is also a shorter 1.6-km training track near the parking lot, allowing families and those who need a shorter route to ride; this track has a parallel jogging track
  • I have made three trips there so far, all in the morning. Arriving at 6:30 this morning, the parking lot was busy and hundreds of riders were already on the track. Despite this, the facility did not feel crowded.

One thing you discover is that out in the open fields on the outskirts of Bangkok, there is a stiff breeze! Along one side of the track, it was easy to average a speed of 30 km/hour. On the other side, heading into the wind, it was tough to stay much above 20 km/hour!


As the track surrounds the airport, I enjoy the opportunity to watch the planes. There are a few good vantage points, although you are set back from the action, not right up against it. There are a few early morning arrivals and departures of larger jets and I suppose a true enthusiast could time his or her riding with the schedules of the most interesting airlines.

There appears so be some construction near the entry of the Sky Lane, presumably for some shops and hopefully restaurants. I’ve read on the website that bike repair facilities will be coming, too. Bicycle rentals would be an obvious addition, I hope.

All in all, this is a world-class facility that gives the every-growing cycling community a safe space to ride. If you have the opportunity and are so inclined, I would encourage you to check it out.


Bicycle Taxi = BIXI

Urban planning, public transportation, and bicycling – three of my interests that are rolled into one in a Montreal-based bicycle sharing program called BIXI, short for BIcycle taXI.  BIXI was introduced in June 2009, quickly growing to 5,000 bicycles.  The one-millionth ride was taken in the first five months.  Perhaps this is a model that we will see gain traction in other cities?


Already, BIXI has expanded into Melbourne, Australia and Minneapolis, Minnesota – and London, England and Boston, Massachusetts are supposed to be online this summer.  A system in parts of Washington, DC is scheduled to be on the way, too.  Other cities around the world are installing similar systems.

There is a bicycle rental program here in Bangkok, but it is only in the touristy section of the old city, designed for sightseeing, not transportation.  I do ride my bicycle here, but since there are few places to park, I ride it mostly for exercise and not errands.

Bicycling is an ideal way to get around for many of the errands we run or even for some of the distances we commute.  Much of the year, the weather is fine, and bicycling is faster than walking.  But one of the biggest obstacles is that we don’t want to lug our bicycle all over the place, especially if we need to travel by bus, train, or car for portions of the journey.

Bicycle sharing programs eliminate the hassle.  By providing a bicycle when and where you need it, you can easily integrate a bicycle into your overall transportation options.  The system allows you to take a bicycle from wherever you are and leave it wherever you are going, without having to worry about bringing it back to your point of origin.  A subscription program lets you rent a bike on the fly, free for the first thirty minutes, or you can pay as you go.

Bicycle 3

The bicycles are durable and designed to keep you from getting messy – chain guards and fenders keep the oil and puddles off you.  A handy basket lets you carry your belongings with you and even pick up a bag of groceries or other small items.

Bicycle 2

Best of all, in my opinion, is their convenience.  This map of most of Montreal shows how densely located the BIXI bike stations are.  They are everywhere – usually within a block of where you are!  Especially when tied into transit systems like bus and train lines and large car parks, the bike sharing system makes it easy to switch to a secondary mode of travel, one that is better for you and for our environment.

If you would like more information about BIXI, you can click here.  For more information about bicycle sharing systems in general, here is the Wikipedia article.  Sorry if this sounds like a marketing brochure – I just think BIXI sounds like a cool idea that should be the standard rather than the exception in more cities.


The Agonies of My Thule Bicycle Rack

A few weeks ago I wrote about my participation in Car Free Day 2009.  Some 5,000 cyclists came together for the event.  On my way back from the event, my rear wheel punctured a few blocks from home.  I didn’t have a spare tube handy and needed to go to the bike shop to buy one.  Since I’ve had the bicycle for three years and haven’t yet brought it in for service, I figured I would kill two proverbial birds with one stone.

All I had to do was repair the broken parts on my Thule bicycle rack.

You may recall that in February, Peter, Stuart and I went for a bike ride in Minburi, east of Krungthep, and our ride unexpectedly doubled in length when the bicycle rack failed on the way home.  Tawn drove out in a taxi and took the car and rack home while the three of us rode the extra thirty kilometers back.

Thule Detail 2.jpg

The rack, made by Swedish manufacturer Thule, is the model shown above.  It is adjustable, attaches to the rear of your car, and – according to the picture – can hold three bicycles.  In reality, the plastic pieces that hold the metal arms perpendicular bent under the weight of our three bicycles, causing the rack to collapse and the bicycle tires to drag on the road.

Thule Detail 1.jpg

Here’s a closer view of the schematics showing how the metal arms assemble using this plastic disc to hold them.  The arrows indicate the edge that failed.

Not wanting to throw out an otherwise usable (and expensive) piece of equipment, I started the process of finding replacement parts.  Unable initially to find a local number, I tried the North America customer service number, which connected me with someone in Quebec.  He searched for the model number and said it wasn’t in their database.  After taking my email address so he could do more research, Thierry responded a few days later that he couldn’t locate any information for that model.  Dead end.

Asking around at a few local bicycle shops, I learned that Thule actually had a company store in the Central World Plaza mall.  Sure enough, it was an emporium of racks.  Speaking with the person working there, he confirmed that such a replacement part did exist in the system, but it could take more than four months to receive from Sweden.  He told me this in a way that suggested he wasn’t keen to actually order it.

That seemed a bit ludicrous.  I returned to the Thule website and found an email address for a regional sales manager in SE Asia.  After a returned email – “This address not valid.” – I tried the Thule global customer service address.  A few days later a response finally arrived.  It was the form of a carbon copy of a message to another regional sales manager and the person in charge of the local store, gently admonishing them for making it so difficult for me to get the replacement part.

As the regional manager promised, the part was waiting for me four weeks later at the local shop.  The cost – about US$ 4.00 per part.


The old part still in place.  Note the damage in the lower left side.


Comparison of the new part, left, and the old part.  Interesting to notice that they actually changed the structural design of the part.  I wonder if this is just a different manufacturing process or a response to a design flaw?

Even thought I received the spare parts several months ago, there hadn’t been a need to transport my bicycle anywhere by car since then.  Now that I had a need, I finally got myself into gear and ten minutes later had changed the parts.


New parts installed, bicycle with flat rear tire loaded up for the drive to the shop.


A snail demonstrating the speed at which I would have traveled if I had not had the bicycle rack repaired and had had to walk the bike to the shop instead!

$60 later, my bicycle has been cleaned up, tuned up, had the cables, chain, brakes and sprockets replaced, and is ready to ride again.  And I have a working rack once more.


Bicycle rides and weddings

Sometime Tuesday evening, my left trapezius muscle got a kink in it.  Now, I’m unable to lean my head towards my left shoulder at all.  Movement towards the right shoulder is still good, however.  Don’t know why it happened nor what caused it.  I had just returned home from dinner with Tawn and a few minutes later I became aware of a tightness along the back of my shoulder and the left side of my neck.


Sunday evening we attended the wedding of one of Tawn’s former United Airlines colleagues, Som-O.  Her nickname means “pomelo” in Thai.  As part of the wedding favors, guests were given these nice canvas shopping bags with a silkscreened caricature of Som-O and her husband, Paun, in which we carried home pomelos and oranges.  Clever, huh?


The wedding was held at the Police Officer’s Club up near Don Meuang since Som-O’s father is a retired police colonel.  The reception was very large, probably 1,000 guests or so, and there were all sorts of tables set up around the perimeter of the room serving different tasty Thai food as well as a few western and Japanese foods.  Very nicely done.  Som-O is a professional wedding planner, so of course every detail was well attended to.


Tawn had a good time catching up with his former colleagues.  Some of them he is still very close to, while others have drifted away over time.  Many of them are still flying for various airlines and some rejoined United when UA reopened its flight attendant base in Bangkok a year ago.


In the morning before the wedding, Markus and I drove out to Minburi and rode 35+ kilometers.  It was a great day for riding, partially overcast and breezy.  Along the way we picked up some followers, a group of boys who were riding their bicycles and decided they wanted to race us.  After a kilometer or so, they tired and gave up.  We also rode past a large Islamic wedding being held at one of the villager’s houses along a khlong, and stopped for beef noodles at a small halal restaurant before returning home.  The area east of the city, out near the airport, has a large Muslim population and makes an interesting contrast to Khrungthep as a whole.  In more than one area, you have a wat (temple) on one side of the street and a mosque on the other.  Above: Workers prepare a rice paddy for planting. 

Below: Short video of the tail end of an obstacle we encountered while riding: