Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Newbie no more

It is always wonderful to introduce newbies to the wonderful world of cycling. Last Saturday, we had a new friend Hui join us for a spot of cycling. She is from Taiwan and sister of my ride buddy YC. She and her nephew are here in Perth for a holiday and what better way of enjoying Perth than to explore on a bicycle.

Trouble was that she had not ridden more than 3km. An accident some time back also made her loose confidence, which was very understandable. Challenge is how do we get her to the Lo Quay Cafe at Fern Bridge and back, some 18km without her fainting or dying from exhaustion if ever that happens?

Here is where my Prodeco E-bike comes to the rescue. I told Hui don't worry, anything happens you hop onto this and your worries are over. With that, she felt very assured and our group of 6 headed out to the beautiful Shelley Foreshore. It was a glorious late Spring day and the sun was shining nicely at a lovely 23c.

I made sure we took breaks at 5km and 8km for pictures and when I asked Hui if she was feeling ok, she smiled cheerfully, "No problem!"  We were very blessed to be able to get a table on a busy Saturday morning at the famous cafe and enjoyed our coffees.

Our return home was easy enough too. It was to be a last 500m gradual climb back to my home and I offered Hui the Prodeco. She gallantly and politely refused and managed to make it back in one piece, surprised that she broke her previous record of 3km by 6 times!

Perhaps it was the wonderful scenery, excellent bike path, great company, cool weather all put together but the most important thing was that Hui had fun. We will be cycling again this Sat for the Jacaranda Festival at Applecross, and I'm delighted to say that Hui is a newbie no more.

Pic - www.avis.net.jp marinos

Thursday, November 13, 2014

An unnecessary death

Rod and I were cycling along the beautiful bike path at Cottesloe admiring the emerald blue waters and expansive beach when we were stopped in our tracks by this bicycle memorial. A white "ghost" bike honours the memory of a young man Tim Anderson who sought to make a difference in this world.

This 26yo bright chemical engineer was killed at 8pm  in March 2012 while cycling along Curtin Ave by a hit and run drunk driver. He was training for a charity ride. Tim had all the safety gear (lights, hi visible clothes, helmet) but all that did not help as the driver was stoned drunk. He had been drinking in a Fremantle pub for 4 hours. What made it worse was that the drunk driver was racing with another car at 100km/h on a 60km/h zone.

Although the culprit was caught and jailed for 5 years, I can only imagine the pain, loss and grief his family faced and still are facing. The loss of a son is unimaginable. We were very touched to see this beautiful memorial put up for Tim and to encourage safe driving. It stands out with its gleaming white life-size bicycle overlooking the beautiful ocean. A memorial ride will be held this Sat Nov 15.

Which makes me think about bicycle safety and all those who have lost their lives needlessly to drunk drivers, particularly my buddy the late Paul Lim. I am very glad that the authorities are slowly paying more than lip service to making it safer for bicycles on the road and while demarcated bike lanes are good, the key is to separate the cyclists completely from drivers. This is the Dutch way and I reckon the best way to prevent drunk drivers from killing yet another cyclist.

Sadly as much as I hope not, you can be sure there will be a few more unnecessary deaths in the future.  Meanwhile, please ride safe and may God's protection be upon all of us. And yes, live life well and like the late Tim, let us all try to make a difference in our world with whatever God has given us.

A beautiful song dedicated to his friend Paul by CW.


Update 14/11/14 - A dear friend just brought to my attention that her former boss, an avid cyclist and a Professor at Curtin University was hit by a car from behind as she was cycling along King's Park Road about 2 weeks ago.  Tragically, shared roads somehow do not work very well unless cars and cyclists can learn to accommodate one another better. Given the "war" between both parties, this will be a real challenge.

Pic Ian Munro - The West Australian

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Folding to Mersing Part 2 - 55km

Pic KC

Pic KC

Pic KC

Pic KC

Pic KC

Pic KC

One of the pleasures in any Malaysian town is the wide variety of breakfast options available and Mersing typifies this. We had wanted the traditional Dim Sum but because we all slept in a bit, KC’s usual eatery was all sold out. The early bird certainly catches the dumplings here but we were not too disappointed as we still have tomorrow. Plan B warranted us to step into another coffeeshop teeming with people and for good reason. There were a variety of stalls selling all types of fare and we settled on the ubiquitous Wanton Noodles. For $4 RM, it delightfully satisfied our stomachs as well as our wallets.

Today was a leisurely one as all we wanted to do was not so much cycling but sightseeing. Our first stop however was to book our bus tickets for our return journey which was easily done. The bus station is just off the roundabout and we were spoilt for choice as there are quite a few companies offering the Mersing – Larkin JB route. Here is where the economic theory of Adam Smith's invisible hand becomes reality. At RM $12.60 or US$4 for a 150km journey, this is only possible because of competition.

The last time I really explored Mersing must have been in the 1990s and Air Papan, some 12 km north, was just a sleepy beach with a few huts. There is now a beautiful road that hugs the coast north of Mersing and we enjoyed spinning our wheels with the sea on our right, laced with shady Causarina and Coconut Trees. I was happy to see greater Mersing blossoming slowly with many shops, restaurants, resorts and even a brand new housing estate. A congregation of cars and motorcycles ahead piqued my curiosity. We stopped to see what was happening and happily stumbled upon a mini fish market. The morning boats must have returned and up for sale was all sorts of freshly caught fish including crabs, sting rays and a grouse looking gigantic cat fish that looked right out of a horror movie.

Pic KC

Continuing on, we hit a T junction and a right turn across green and open padi fields some 3km brought us to Air Papan. Despite being a weekday, the beach had a fair share of holiday makers and vendors selling drinks, ice cream and snacks. We resisted the temptations as our engines were hardly warmed up and rode another 1km to the end of beach where it was peaceful and deserted. I took the opportunity to wet my feet in warm clear waters of the South China Sea like I always do to "connect" with God's majestic creation.

Meanwhile Heng and KC were busy feeding their cameras. KC as usual, came up with his unique soon-to-be patented water-bottle camera stand. And it works, when there is no wind blowing! 

Pushing on northwards, the beautiful road towards Penyabong runs parallel to Highway 3 on the inland and ends near Endau. Heng tells me that this is a stretch his roadie friends use for training and I can see why. Rolling hills, very little traffic and smooth, like green velvet on a billiard table. Like Porsches on an Autobahn, we opened up our throttles. Drafting behind Uncle KC, we were sitting on a very respectable 30-35km/h on our foldies, hitting 40+ on the downslopes. It was an exhilarating workout for me. However as it was past 1pm, the sun was really starting to blaze.

Pic KC

KC led us to his favourite spot, an island which was accessible by a narrow land strip. This required us to do a bit of on beach riding which was rather fun. I cannot help but marvel at how our simple bicycle opens up such wonderful avenues of adventure. 

As usual, KC had fun clowning around the mangrove swamp but I was getting really famish. I noted the one and only Warung (a Malay eatery) opened for business some 3km down the road and told the boys to meet me there. At this time, it was hovering about 40c and I thought I was going to faint as I cycled slowly to the oasis of sustenance.

My face must have been crimson red when I pulled into the cool shade of the Warung and the ice cold tea tasted like heaven. When I finally settled, I got up to the trays of food displayed and chose a simple lunch of rice and Assam Pedas Fish. Though hungry, it was really too hot to eat. 

Heng and KC pulled in soon after. Apparently, they had a great time fooling around together with a kampong game. All hot and sweaty, they too could not eat a full lunch but chose to nibble on cakes and savouries. But one thing that we really enjoyed was ABC – Air Batu Campor or mixed ice topped with sweet colourful syrup and that really did the trick.

Pic KC

Revived, we were ready to take off once more but a circus of sorts pulled into the Warung. Before our eyes were a whole lorry load of alpha male monkeys. I have read about these expert coconut pickers and have never seen these clever animals up close. They each had a chain around their neck and looked rather forlorn. Who wouldn’t if all you do is to climb up trees and pluck coconuts that you can’t eat? If there was any consolation, their master appeared to feed them well as they looked very healthy.

Pic KC

Our ride back was another no holds bar sprint along the Air Papan Autobahn. However, the clouds started to turn dark and unloaded with a vengeance. One moment its searing hot and the next its blistering wet and cold. Experiencing such extremities in weather would make anyone fall sick but fortunately, our health held up. Though I was soaked to the skin, this was far better than riding in desert like conditions!

Pic KC

Arriving at the Embassy Hotel, I hit the showers and rested. Heng had taken another route while KC was busy exploring the port of Mersing. I really admire his sense of curiosity, and zest for life. We later rode to the main jetty which is the launching point for Tioman and other lovely islands. Then it was a quick climb to the beautiful main Mosque in town.

At the roundabout, we stumbled upon Sarawak Noodles which turned out to be average. I found it a bit too dry and we went searching for dinner part 2. As we were roving the streets, I noticed a very famous Cantonese restaurant Loke Tien Yuen all lighted up with its 2 red lanterns, inviting us in. 

It is renowned for traditional home cook food, super clean premises and down to earth prices. I have been there quite a few times before on our fishing trips and got acquainted with its friendly owner, Margaret Siew. It was like a homecoming as we chatted like long lost friends. It was a pity that our stomachs were already half filled so we could only order 3 signature dishes. 

That dinner was by far the best and truly brought us immense joy as we cleaned out the dishes. Heng was caught slurping the last drops of gravy of the black bean bittergourd pork rib dish.

We went to bed feeling very pleased at how well our day of exploration unfolded. Determined to wake up early for Dim Sum breakfast, we turned in early and slept like logs.

There is always something magical about Dim Sum. It is not just a place to enjoy amazing treats but it is the social epicentre of the Chinese community in Mersing, at least it appeared so in the busy coffeeshop we were in. Everyone seemed to know each other and exchange greetings, very much like a traditional village in China. We were served by a very kind elderly grandma who made sure we had enough tea, and always offering a smile. 

As our bus only left at 1130am, we had all the time in the world and ate leisurely, just like the locals who did not seem to be in any hurry. We had time to slowly pack our stuff and then reluctantly make our way to the bus terminal.

It was easy to fit the foldies into the bus luggage area but what was a real pain dealing with a very greedy and rude driver. "RM$10 each per bike! " he barked and scowled at us like we were some pariah passengers. I still don't understand his arrogant attitude but I gave his assistant RM$20 for 3 bikes, and that seemed to keep his mouth shut.

If ever there is a take home lesson here, it is to always bag your foldy to prevent psychopath drivers from getting unnecessarily stirred up. Our friend Chris Wee had this problem too in the Thai hamlet of Ranong bus terminal some years back with some bus boy.

We arrived at Larkin Bus Terminal in Johor at 145pm in what was an effortless ride. Joining us to celebrate the end of our adventure was Ying Chang who rode all the way from Singapore to meet us for lunch on his Dahon.

He had very much wanted to join us earlier but could not due to family commitments. So he being there with us on our last lunch as well as our first dinner meant a lot to us.

I can think of no better way to finish our folding adventure than to enjoy a spicy bowl of Laksa with great friends, who happen to be cycling legends too!

Thank you so much Heng, KC and YC for an amazing tour. Till we ride again... 


This song is dedicated to the 2 legends I rode with. Yes, we have seen the rain! Lots and lots!!!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Folding to Mersing Part 1 - 180km

Pic KC

Pic KC

Pic Heng

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Pic KC

I had the privilege to have Heng stay with me in Perth in early Oct. He comes every 4 years for a specific purpose - the 1200km Audax Perth-Albany-Perth race. This is a gruelling race done in 90 hrs patterned after the acclaimed Paris-Brest-Paris.

Pic Heng

We met when we first bought Dahon Speed Pros way back in 2006 and started our passion for small wheel cycling together albeit in different directions.

Pic Heng

When I returned to Singapore 3 weeks back, Heng asked if we could do a "short" ride from Singapore to Mersing via Sedili, up the East Coast of Malaysia. Roped in with us was Uncle KC, whose muscular twin piston legs alone send shivers down the spine of many newbie cyclists, and us oldies too. He can literally fly!

Pic Eugene Wee

Since we were all returning from Mersing by bus, it was to be a foldie ride. It's always a challenge to decide which bike to use as being enthusiasts, we all have many bikes to choose from. At the Changi Ferry Terminal on Tues 0745, it was to be a team of 2 Fridays and a Dahon Speed Pro (ridden by Heng). This is the place to catch a boat to Penggerang in Johor and to clear immigration. As it only leaves when it has 12 people, and this being a quiet weekday, it was a long wait. At 9am, we only had 7 people but everyone agreed to top up the fares and $24 poorer ($4 extra for bikes), we were on our way.

Pic KC

It was raining when we landed and this was so welcome as it meant a cool and fast ride. We took 40 mins to reach Sungei Rengit, some 17km away. A quick lunch at Beautiful Seafood restaurant and we were on our way again.

It was wonderful to ride on quiet roads with a slight drizzle. What was daunting for me was riding with these 2 ace riders as I found myself the slowest especially when they rocket up them hills. But if you want to improve, you have to fly with the Eagles. We arrived at Desaru some 55km in no time and punched a bit more to Tg Balau where we had a refreshing ABC ice dessert as well as a most interesting lesson on the number 0 by Heng, the Mathematician.

The second leg to Tg Sedili or Jason's Bay proved a bit more challenging as it was getting hot and the hills were coming in fast and furious. The heat triggered my migraine and it made it harder to push on, but with the encouragement of the dynamic duo, we coasted down the hill with beautiful Jason Bay on the right with plenty of time left.

It was nice that the rains came again and that cooled us tremendously as we entered Sedili Besar. We were to check in at the Tg Sutera Resort but not before a nice freshly cooked dinner. It was great to have YC and his son Wayne join us for dinner. They drove a long way to meet us. They brought with them cold drinks, a bike pump and an all important bike rack which was gratefully used to send us and our bikes to our hotel some 5km away along dark roads.

Pic KC

Tg Sutera Resort has been around for a very long time and I last visited there some 20 years ago. It is owned by the Alkaff family and is getting on with age. Fortunately, there is now a swimming pool overlooking the beautiful sea and is located at a very prime position. We splurged and got room # 22 - which is the only one with seaview but also comes with a premium rate of RM400. It took 3 of us comfortably and had ice cold aircon that helped dry our hanging laundry quickly.

We spend the morning just enjoying the muted sunrise and spectacular scenery. KC took his bike all the down to the rocky beach while I was happy to swim in the pool.  We enjoyed a simple Nasi Lemak for breakfast which was surprisingly satisfying. Our first stop was to cycle 3km to the long bridge between Sedili town and our hotel to admire the peaceful Sedili Besar river.

Then it was a short doubling back and continuing along a route through the oil plantations, leading to Tg Leman and eventually back to the usual Highway 3 to Mersing. This was exciting as I have never been on this quiet road. Turned out that it was peppered with plenty of rolling hills but at least the roads were beautifully tarred.

Pic KC

Unfortunately, while coming out of Sutera Resort along stony unpaved roads, Heng's rear Kojak tire got a nasty cut. It was at first not apparent until it started to swell and riding became a rather pregnant affair. Closer inspection revealed that a change of tire was needed, a rather simple job considering that Heng brought along a spare. However, the Speed Pro with its SRAM IGH system required a 15mm spanner to remove the wheel nuts, a very critical tool that we all somehow failed to take along. It was good to know that another legend in KL also experienced this problem. A case of having too many bicycles I reckoned! His innovation is what makes him a legend.

Pic MK

KC's ingenious solution was to hold the tire and tube with black tape. Luckily, it could be done without tools. The stop gap solution held on for another 20km or so until I heard a loud gun shot sound ahead of me. That was really the end of the road for the Speed Pro as we were in the middle of the boon docks.

We tried hailing down some kind soul on the road to take us to the next town, and although more than 10 vehicles passed, none stopped much to our disappointment. So I suggested pushing our bikes back as there were some shops 2-3km. At a junction, a driver stopped to tell us that there was a Felda housing estate that may have tools. He was right! I chanced upon a kind chubby young man who was thinkering outside his terrace house and asked if I could borrow some tools. He very kindly obliged and we jumped for joy. 20 mins later, we were on our way again.

It was good to be speeding along and with the high performance Stelvio tire, Heng was flying along with KC on his heels. I could only watch them slowly disappear into the horizon. It started to rain quite heavily too and I found myself slogging alone in the wet. I was however grateful for the wonderful opportunity to do this in relatively good health and burst out singing in the rain literally.

My solitude did not last too long as Heng and KC were waiting for me patiently and we continued on together until we arrived at Highway 3, the main trunk road. By this time, all the breakfast was well and truly spent and we needed a good feed. KC suggested going to their favourite eatery and we had delicious Malay rice with spicy dishes, washed down with cold drinks. We took a long break here hoping for the rain to take a break, but that was not to be.

So with lights on, we took off along this busy highway. It is a good thing that they have wide shoulders for cycling and that made it very safe. Cycling in pouring rain should be easy with a Da Brim. But my shower cap flew off mysteriously when I was flying down a hill at full speed and water was dripping into my eyes, making it very hard to see. However, I still much prefer this than to ride in 40c heat.

We stopped at a shelter just 5km from Jemualang to regroup and to warm up a bit. Heng had his special PAP blanket and I learned how important this is when cold strikes. It was fun just having a chat and sharing our food, enjoying warm fellowship with not a care in the world. This is what touring is all about and moments like this are truly special.

The lure of a good wanton mee in Jemualang got us braving the rain and we arrived there in no time. Unfortunately this being about 4pm, the stall sold out but the kind man pointed us to another coffeeshop located at one of the back lanes. Turned out to be even better as the aroma of garlic in a hot wok caught our immediate attention and we were soon enjoying piping hot fried noodles.

The ride into Mersing was relatively easy, just 20km to go. We had plenty of day light left and took our time. When we set off, it was still wet though the rain had peltered down. It was great to finally enter the outskirts of Mersing and soon, the familiar roundabout was in sight. There are quite a few hotels in Mersing but most cyclists would aim straight for the Embassy and for good reason. At US$20 for an aircon room with attached shower and 3 single beds, it was a no brainer. Couple that with their bike friendly attitude and located right in the heart of town, Embassy is a winner.

We enjoyed an average Chinese dinner after a session of a well-deserved massage. The PRCs have set up shop here some 2 years ago (50m before roundabout) but we cannot recommend it as the service was rather poor and annoying. It was clear that they were only keen on servicing their purses. But what is more important is that we had arrived safely, and in one piece after 2 days and 180km of riding in the wet.

It was nice to hang around the coffeeshop at Embassy to enjoy an after dinner hot drink. Time seems to stand still here and apart from some tourists chatting over beers, the locals were happy to just watch Chinese serials on TV. 

As this was not exactly our cup of tea, we opted to watch our own dramas in our dreams. Needless to say, we slept like babies, excited at a little exploration north of Mersing tomorrow.