Known widely as the Skylane, though its official name is ‘Charoensuk Monkolchit,’ this much needed sporting complex closed in April last year for a major overhaul. The result ten months later is a spectacular world-class cycle track that is almost certainly the first of its kind anywhere. What’s more, it’s free and open to everyone, regardless of age, background or ability. And even though most cyclists wear lycra outfits and ride costly bikes, there are no regulations on these issues.
Apart from the refurbished two-lane main track that meanders past lakes and through the vast and surprisingly open grasslands surrounding the airport’s runways and passenger terminals, Skylane features a series of buildings that provide shaded rest areas with lots of seating and bicycle racks, restaurants, retail outlets, coffee shops and VIP rooms for sponsors. Elegant bridges and a dramatic spiral ‘cyclist stairwell’ connect the main area to car parks. Another interesting feature is an inflated canopy serving as another rest area.
The new-look Skylane is the brainchild of Dr Vichit Suraphongchai, Chairman of Siam Commercial Bank (SCB). He’s been assisted in implementing his vision by his long-term friend and colleague David Mulligan, a civil engineer from New Zealand, who in the past owned a company that provided the management, design and construction of the Bangkok Nursing Home Hospital.
The Bank approached the Airports of Thailand (AOT), who manage Suvarnabhumi Airport, with the concept of creating a world-class cycling facility to promote a healthy social lifestyle for the good of all. Key to this was the vision to provide a range of facilities for the whole family in a secure and safe environment. After much discussion and aligning of objectives, the Bank and AOT reached an agreement to develop the facility and work started to realise the vision.
“A few years ago, Dr Vichit and I were cycling on the old Green Lane that was here previously, and Dr Vichit realised the track had enormous potential. He believed it could be turned into a world-class facility promoting a healthy lifestyle that was also socially and family oriented. When he came up with the idea, and we looked around at the potential site for the bike centre, it became clear that this could become a major Corporate Social Responsibility for the Bank and potentially other Thai corporate sponsors” explained David, who first arrived in Thailand in 1980.
“The Bank began discussions with AOT, who had taken the original initiative to convert what was previously the airport service road into a cycle track, and persuaded them that our joint vision was achievable.”
To finance Skylane’s major refurbishment and additional facilities, some major Thai companies were approached about sponsorship. Those that agreed include SCB, which is supporting the project for a ten-year period as one of its corporate and social responsibility initiatives. Others similarly attracted by the healthy lifestyle and family concept include True, ThaiBev, PTT, Indorama Ventures, Gulf and Bangchak Corp. Revenue from the retail outlets is shared with AOT. Also on board is Samitivej Hospital, which is supplying free medical and emergency services at the track.
COO and Director Iberry Group
“I love it and have been a regular here since it first opened many years ago. The new Skylane is an extremely convenient venue in Bangkok to practice riding skills in a safe and controlled environment for all levels of riders from beginners to professionals.
The new world class facilities make riding enjoyable whether people come regularly or just returning to the sport like myself. It’s a unique venue allowing me to ride at my own pace and practice group riding skills by slipping behind fast pelotons.”
In recognition of cyclists’ varying speeds and the paramount need for safety, the main track is divided into a purple lane for fast riders and a blue lane for more leisurely cyclists. Rest stops, complete with toilets and shade, have been located at strategic points along the way. Several that offer unusually close-up views of planes taking off and landing are invariably the most popular, especially for ‘selfies.’
Distances and location markers are provided along the way so that a rider’s position can be quickly reached in case of emergency.
There is also is a shorter track 1.6km in length and another track of equal length for joggers. Future plans include an Australian purpose-built cycle track for kids and beginners as well as lawns for events.
David, who now runs the project through the Cycle Track Management Company, which in turn is owned by SCB Bank Foundation, is a keen cyclist himself who can be seen on the track several times a week.
Since most visitors transport their bikes in their cars or trucks, the need for ample parking space is essential. Within the complex, there is a partially landscaped car park for 1,500 vehicles. The second plot, which is owned by AOT, is linked by a 1.2 km bridge and can accommodate more than 3,500 cars in. But such is already the popularity of Skylane, particularly on Sunday morning, space can be scarce, so some people leave their car on the main road. All parking is free except for the AOT long-term parking lot.
Beverly Jangkamonkulchai Parent Relations & Communications Manager St. Andrews International School Sathorn Campus
I like the New Skylane as it’s wider and allows for the faster cyclists to be a little further away! It’s great for someone who loves to exercise on their bike without having the risk of cars hitting them! I usually go every weekend with my family and any other days I have off!”
“Lots of thought has gone into this project to make it safe and eco-friendly,” says David. “Many of the track and car park lights are powered by solar panels, for example. We also plan to make plastic recycling and clean energy important components of the project. An example is the skewing inflated canopy, which is made from recycled PET (plastic bottles).
“The idea is to provide a safe and secure environment hence we work with Samitivej Hospital to provide free medical services for any accidents within the facility. They have two health stations - one at the bike centre and a one-half way around the track to ensure rapid response to cyclists.”
“Dr Vichit and I are passionate about this track,” continues David. “And if it inspires others to follow us, we are very happy with that too.”